The walls of the open-air lounge at Rancho Armadillo Estate are adorned with newspaper clippings with headlines that read “The Kindest Hotel Owner in Costa Rica” and “Rancho Armadillo: Like Visiting a Friend With a Really Cool House.” There are pictures of local children’s soccer teams too and hand painted gifts of thanks from school groups. This is all evidence pointing to the conclusion that the estate’s owner, Rick Vogel, is a really good guy.
It doesn’t take long into my time in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica to experience this first hand. I’m sitting in the lounge eating what is probably the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy, a thin-crust, mozzarella and mushroom pie from La Caveja, a pizzeria operated by the local Italian ex-pat community that Rick recommended upon arrival. Though morning will reveal a stunning and uninterrupted view of tropical forest cascading down to the sparkling, blue ocean, at this hour the view before me is of vast darkness, illuminated only by the bright flicker of stars.
Rick bounds up the stairs and sets up his telescope, perfectly aligning it with Jupiter so that as I look through I can see the distant planet’s rings and moons. He takes out a green laser pointer next and Orion’s belt shines brilliantly in the sky as he points out Orion, Scorpius and other constellations.
Rick points to the moon, which is a small, horizontal sliver, a Cheshire cat’s grin, not the vertical sliver I am used to seeing from California or Maryland. Rick explains that, this far south in the Northern Hemisphere the moon tilts that way. Despite spending the past year and a half living in Costa Rica, it’s something I’ve never noticed before.
This leads me to my second lesson about Rick – he’s not only kind, he is also incredibly knowledgeable, and not just about the night sky. Ask Rick about a vast number of topics – Costa Rican history, weather patterns, driving directions, road trip stops, and government – and he gives a detailed and accurate answer. Each room at his property also comes with his own personal indepth guides to the area’s best offerings, food and more.
There’s no hot air inside of Rick at all. He’s filled with pure thoughtfulness and facts.
The History of Rancho Armadillo Estate
A native of Detroit, Rick moved to Costa Rica in 1998 in search of a warm place to retire. Costa Rica’s literacy rate, residency laws and the fact it has no military also attracted him to the Central American nation.
He drove around the country looking for somewhere to live and, though he didn’t intend to get into business, fell in love with the view at Rancho Armadillo Estate and decided to make the 25-acre property his new home and business.
When he first moved to Playas del Coco the roads weren’t so good so they called it potholes to paradise. In 2004 the Liberia airport opened to commercial airlines, and the region of Guanacaste saw a boom in tourism and infrastructure.
A Peak Inside Rancho Armadillo Estate
Today the estate offers six rooms and suites in three different buildings on the property. During my visit I stayed in the Shark Room, which boasts one of the first bathtubs in Guanacaste.
The house was built in 1979 by a ship builder. My room feels a bit like a ship itself, with a hand painted port hole on the door and a wood ceiling that looks like the inside of a ship. The bathroom also has more beautiful painted glass.
Artwork abounds on the property, and many murals are the work of John English, a Vietnam veteran who moved to Costa Rica in 2000 and painted many works of art around various businesses in Coco.
In addition to rooms, suites and the open-air lounge, Rancho Armadillo Estate also has a commercial kitchen, pool and a balcony with hammocks, seating, a library and the best view in town. He has plenty of games to entertain families and an ipod with 8,000 songs for his guest’s use.
Touches of Kindness
On the final morning of my stay Rick not only gives me a detailed walk through of the varied items of his breakfast buffet, but also mixes strawberries and chocolate into his home-made batter and makes me a fresh waffle.
“The view is stunning,” I say for what must be the fifth time as we look out at sea.
“That’s why I bought it,” he responds.
Wildlife is abundant here. There’s 78 species of birds on property, howler and capuchin moneys, a skunk and three cats. During my breakfast a curious coatimundi wandered by to say hello.
As I move to a table to enjoy my breakfast, a couple who is also staying here wanders into the lounge. They sit next to Rick and plot out their day. Rick hands out maps and gives them explicit driving directions and road trip tips down to the very detail that they should arrive at the Las Pumas Rescue Center at 2:30 p.m. because they feed the cats at 3.
Rick pops up to my table and hands me maps too for the drive back to San Jose. Tucked underneath is a blue folder that reads “Memories From Paradise.” It’s a picture he took of me and my Tico travel buddy Diego from the pool, printed out from his home computer.
I’m incredibly touched. This attention to detail may be common at a place like Disneyland, but, based on my own experiences this past year and a half, in Costa Rica is incredibly rare. Rick truly thinks of everything for his guests.