PLAYA HERRADURA, Costa Rica - The third tee shot at La Iguana Golf Course can wait.
Jose Quesada, the PGA director of golf at Los Suenos Marriot Ocean and Golf Resort, and I are on a mission. We're scouring the treetops of the surrounding Costa Rican jungle for one of its most beloved creatures: a sloth. Quesada says one usually frequents the area, but we wouldn't have any luck this day. We could have spent more time looking, but ... nobody wants to be accused of being a sloth on the golf course.
When I returned for sunset pictures later that afternoon, I photographed monkeys and iguanas while heeding signs warning players not to mess with the crocodiles and snakes in a few ponds.
Playing golf in Costa Rica can feel a bit like an 18-hole safari. La Iguana is such a wild kingdom that resort guests can sign up for free guided walking tours to explore the surrounding rainforest in search of exotic creatures, including more than 150 different species of birds.
Golfers aren't the only adventurous travelers who will love Los Suenos, which is located along the "Green Coast" of central Costa Rica less than two hours from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, the capital. Families can relax at the pool and the beach. Adrenaline junkies can wander the jungle by zipline, jeep, horseback or hiking.
Los Suenos is set to host the 2024 Marriott Bonvoy Cup in December, a fun two-day tournament that gives Bonvoy members a chance to win great prizes, including one million Bonvoy points for a hole in one. I was one of 100 golfers who competed in the 2023 event at Reserva Conchal a couple of hours up the coast. I stayed and played at Los Suenos before the tournament to scout out the 2024 venue for you. It's a winter destination you won't want to miss.
It's hot year-round in Costa Rica, so come prepared to sweat a little on the course, even if you play early. The tournament dates thankfully avoid the rainy season, which typically runs from May through November.
Playing golf at Los Suenos
Once you get past the first four holes - which are quite demanding because you're climbing so uphill - La Iguana turns on the charm's of enjoyable resort golf. Ted Robinson Sr. and Jr. designed the 6,698-yard course in 1999. Since then, some minor tweaks have made it more forgiving. Many holes are cut through the jungle with no civilization in sight. Other fairways are framed by million-dollar homes sitting high on a ridge well out of play. "Awesome course, beautifully designed to make you feel like you’re in the jungle," wrote GolfPass reviewer 'haroldazurdia' in November 2023.
I've never played a course that capitalizes on social media marketing so well. La Iguana promotes its unique name multiple ways. The logo merch in the pro shop is great, from hats to shirts and ball markers. On the course, the metal tee markers feature the outline of an iguana.
Hole-in-one plaques laid into the cart path near the tee boxes of the par 3s are the most ingenious way I've ever seen for honoring someone who made an ace. Quesada said the plaques drive repeat business. Golfers who make a 1 often return with friends to show off their golf immortality.
Architectural purists might frown upon the sod-shaped iguana inside a bunker guarding the approach shot on the par-5 15th hole. I call it creative maintenance.
The final branding opportunity comes at the 17th green, a fantastic risk-reward short par 4 over an inlet from the Herradura Bay. Your aiming point over the greenside pond might be one of the letters from the words "La Iguana" on the rock wall. The spectacle at sunset is otherworldly.
The resort life at Los Suenos
The hotel itself is simply immaculate. Its hacienda style gives every room, restaurant and outdoor space its own artistic appeal. I stayed in a beautiful and spacious upper-level room which afforded the incredible view you see in the article's lead photo. I was a bit jealous, though, that I wasn't staying in one of the new 13 swim-up rooms added in 2019 on the ground floor. Floating breakfast in a private adult pool sounds like an ideal way to start the day.
The main pool features a maze of corridors for exploring. There's a swim-up bar near the Zoe restaurant where I dined on fresh shrimp ceviche and plantains for lunch after golf. Between the Hacienda Kitchen, Bar Ocho and 18 & Greene (the steakhouse in the golf clubhouse), there's a nice mix of menus and dining experiences on property.
Playa Hermosa is expansive, although it lacks the pure white sand that makes others so special. Guests can stay at the resort and relax (check out the resort's Sibo Rainforest Spa & Retreat) or go on excursions to see the beauty of Costa Rica. Local options range from whitewater rafting to ziplining or touring Jaco, a cool beach town that attracts surfers and art admirers. Jaco sits on a wide bay with rocky headlands at either end and backed by a gray sand volcanic beach.
Wherever you go, the friendly locals will share Costa Rica's ethos of pura vida - their way of proclaiming "Life is good!" Costa Rica has its problems - the traffic is insane and everything feels expensive - but the reward for visiting is the chance to see and experience one of the world's most natural, scenic places.