Disclaimer: the only reason I get to go on these five-million-star trips is because I write about them for MailOnline. Unfortunately this is not my normal life.
Costa Rica: one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, bursting with parrots and sloths and thick with lush, ancient forestry.
Being a real nature lover, but also a professional-grade creepy crawly phobic, my mission in visiting this beautiful corner of the earth was to dodge the spas and the manicured beaches and spend as much time as possible enjoying its flora and fauna, without suffering any sort of insect-related nervous breakdowns.
I split my ten-day jaunt into two parts; the first spent at a luxury ‘eco-friendly’ resort perched on the edge of a seaside mountain (the easy bit) and the second spent at a real-deal lodge nestled deep in the jungle, where I was promised a truly ‘authentic’ nature experience (the risky bit).
My first stop was Rancho Pacifico, a small, exceptionally beautiful resort run by an ex-supermodel and frequented by stars from around the world, whose tanned grinning faces lined the restaurant bathrooms.
Here I was treated to the treetop villa, which was set a little way up the hill from the main compound, high enough that when the late afternoon mist rolled in, your head was quite literally in the clouds.
As usual, I burnt my sun-starved English skin to a crisp on day one of my stay, so my time spent staked out by the resort’s inky blue infinity pool was short-lived.
Instead, a lot of my reading hours were spent huddled up on the balcony that wrapped around my villa, overlooking the most astonishing green forestry and thinking – as I recall – that if I believed in any sort of god, I would be congratulating him profusely on this bit of the world.
The food at Rancho Pacifico was, and I’m not exaggerating here, consistently the best I’ve ever had in my life; rich, tropical fruit-laced salads and rice medleys, saffron coconut milk soups and molten cocoa lava cakes galore.
The land on which this resort sits boasts a number of hike trails.
The route was tricky enough to warrant a series of tree-mounted ropes to cling onto as the trail dips steely down towards the gushing waterfall, the view being well worth it.
The only time I left Rancho Pacifico was in search of dolphins. I chose Bahia Adventures on the basis that they took their responsibilities as a boat tour company very seriously.
The team at Baia never chase dolphins down – as many tour companies do – or allow guests to hop overboard so they can say they’ve ‘swum’ with sea creatures.
They don’t even guarantee you’ll see dolphins.
Luckily we did – a school of about 50, mothers and babies slicing through the gentle waves and racing each other alongside the boat.
My mouth was agape for the duration of the four hour-long ride and I can safely say that for £60 it was one of the most magical things I’ve ever witnessed.
We finished up with some snorkelling in the soup-warm, tropical fish-infested water close to the shore and I slithered into bed that night, between the softest of sheets, with a feeling of profound bliss.
I would later find out that most of these resorts ‘spray’ bugs into oblivion, so that explains that.
There was definitely no spraying at my next destination, the Luna Lodge, located on the Osa Peninsula near Corcovado National Park in southwestern Costa Rica.
When the Luna Lodge says it’s eco-friendly, it means it. There’s no air conditioning, the internet only runs for a few hours a day and insect repellent is considered very poor form.
Run by an impossibly youthful 52-year-old yogi called Luna Wedmore, who started building in it 1998, the Luna Lodge prides itself on being 100 per cent energetically self-sufficient and carbon neutral.
The lodge sprawls across 150 acres of tropical wilderness and boasts 16 accommodations dotted around an open wooden restaurant area, a sun-soaked bird watching deck, and a warm salt water pool shrouded in trees full of monkeys.
My journey to this staggeringly remote region was via a two-seater plane the size of a small car.
It dived and wobbled its way through the sky over the dense forest canopy, and though my eyes were indeed filled with wonder, my knuckles were white with fear until we made our jittery landing.
I asked the pilot whether, as planes go, this was a scary one to land, and he replied ‘yes, every single time.’
A number of different accommodation styles are on offer at the Luna Lodge – a bumpy 15-minute car ride from the plane’s landing strip – and my first was essentially a large private tent, situated a whopping 100 steps up a steep stony peak.
I should make it clear at this point that I’m not the sort of girl who gets edgy around insects.
I’m the sort of girl who has such a profound fear of anything with more than four legs, I once broke my arm having thrown myself down three flights of stairs to flee a spider.
I wasn’t expecting my tent to be open to the elements, but it was.
There was nothing in between the bathroom area and the sky, and I made the monumentally stupid error on my very first night of accidentally leaving the light on upon leaving my tent for dinner – a cardinal sin at the Luna Lodge, and quite rightly so.
I returned with a stomach-full of delicious food and wine to my very own worst nightmare: a sleeping area teeming with crunchy-shelled antenna-waggling beasts.
I didn’t handle this very well, and I certainly didn’t get much sleep that night. My only rational option, I reasoned, was to seal myself under the covers and boil alive in the stifling heat so as to avoid any beetle confrontations.
Lana later moved me to the honeymoon suite, a beautiful dome-shaped bungalow closer to home base with a thatched roof and a giant king-sized bed, complete with mosquito net.
The room was still open to the outside world, by way of the foot-long gap between the walls and the roof, so you can forget about having a reading light on at night unless you want your net to be dive-bombed by illumination-seeking insects.
Despite these hazards, there is something incredibly special about the Luna Lodge, and about Luna herself; a perky, wise, maternal woman with ice blonde hair, blinding turquoise eyes and an earnest personal mission to save the world, or at least her corner of it.
Luna teaches yoga every day on the property’s wood-floored meditation deck, to the tune of the whistling birds and howling monkeys that rustle within the forest it overlooks.
Every evening, guests gather to enjoy a fresh, seasonal buffet dinner and sip cocktails as they mingle – Lana dancing from table to table asking people about their day and helping them plan their next adventure.
For several years, she has been raising money to buy up the 12 properties which are for sale between the Corcovado National Park and the Carate river basin, all with the view of keeping it protected for the local jaguars that are all-but extinct now.
Incidentally, I now know exactly what to do in the unlikely event of seeing one of these majestic beasts.
Back away slowly, extend your arms to create the illusion of size, and never, whatever you do, make eye contact, according to Luna’s informative but frankly terrifying welcome book.
Unlike at Rancho Pacifico, I had a companion to take me on waterfall hikes around the property in the form of Lana’s beloved rescue dog, Osa.
For touring the beach, I had Bella the dappled horse, who I cantered up and down the pristine shores as the sun gave way for the moon each night.
And to witness the swampy lagoon that sat parallel to the ocean, I had a guide named Gavin; who led me across its glass-like surface on a pair kayaks at dawn, and who promised – in between bouts of giggling – not to point out the crocodiles that lurked beneath.
It was here that I had my second earth-moving Costs Rican wildlife experience, gazing up at a tangle of squabbling spider monkeys as they flung themselves from branch to branch with their tails only yards from my swaying kayak.
By my last evening at Luna Lodge, I was sitting around the dinner table with a gaggle of people I had grown really quite fond of. This is unusual for me, the archetypal solo traveller.
Along with Lana, her brilliant staff and a few other guests, we talked, played games and laughed well into the night as fruit bats flickered in and out of the dining area and Osa snoozed at our feet.
I have to concede that during my time at Luna Lodge, I didn’t come face-to-face with a single horrifying spider, scorpion or even snake.
The constant, nerve-frying threat of such an eventuality, however, was enough to keep me on my toes, which just goes to show what a spectacular waste of energy a phobia is.
I don’t think there are many places in the world like the Luna Lodge, or people as good as Lana, and I can’t think of many projects as worthwhile as her White Hawk initiative.
I’ve never eaten better than I did at Rancho Pacifico, which is its own sort of paradise, if comfort and indulgence is what you’re looking for.
If I could have done anything differently, I would have first gone to the Luna Lodge to fall in love with the magic of the land, the animals and the people; then spent the last few days on Rancho Pacifico’s spectacular terrace and thanked the heavens for the lack of creepy crawlies.