Marriott's CasaMagna Cancun completed a $2.5 million renovation in mid-December, upgrading all 450 guest rooms and 38 suites, renovating the Mikado Restaurant, and moving the children's activity center into a larger space.

Shangri-La's Mactan Island Resort, which opened in 1993 with 359 rooms, will open a new 188-room wing in mid-1997 on its 32-acre site near the city of Cebu, Philippines. The expansion will also add a ballroom, restaurant, and pool to the beachside property.

Also in November, the Conrad International Centennial Singapore opened with 509 business-ready rooms.

Rosewood Hotels & Resorts this month will open Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, with 60 suites and 114 villas looking out over the Sea of Cortez. The resort will offer an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones II golf course.

During a recent visit to Costa Rica's capital city of San Jose, I attended an outdoor reception in the balmy Arboleda room at Camino Real San Jose--attended by no less than the President of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres--celebrating the hotel's joining The Leading Hotels of the World. Camino Real San Jose is an impeccable business hotel, as well as a comfortable base from which to explore this diverse country. Close to downtown and 15 minutes from the international airport, the hotel has 261 rooms and suites, four meeting rooms, a ballroom to accommodate 900, and a spa, casino, tennis court, and outdoor pool. The Camino Real Club floor offers express check-in; valet and concierge service; along with Continental breakfast, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon, and refreshments and coffee served in the private lounge all day.

Our group's activities were handled by destination management company Swiss Travel Service, which escorted us from volcano rim to rain forest while our guide Myriam regaled us with historical tales and detailed information on Costa Rica's flora and fauna as we traveled through this tiny country only about half the size of Tennessee. Spanning the isthmus from Atlantic to Pacific, Costa Rica encompasses a range of microclimates. With its several active volcanoes (including Arenal, which will often oblige visitors with nightly fireworks displays), its balmy Pacific resorts, its rainy east coast, its lush coffee plantations, and its vast lowland rain forests and delicate, epiphytic "cloudforests" on the upper slopes, Costa Rica is notable for its efforts to preserve its natural beauty. One-quarter of its land is protected as conservation areas. There is a well-developed infrastructure for groups to take advantage of all the country has to offer, from volcano rim walks to white-water rafting to rain forest treks.

Because we visited during the rainy season, our afternoon excursion to Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo was delayed by a late afternoon rain and lightning storm of Old Testament proportions. When we returned the next day, raging mountain streams had subsided a bit, the roads had been cleared of mud slides, and the forest was lushly green and teeming with life. The open-air tram took us, five at a time plus guide, through the forest filled with brightly colored butterflies, exotic birds (Costa Rica has over 800 species), poison dart frogs, and shockingly vivid snakes coiled in the crotches of moss-laden trees. Returning at canopy level, we drank in the heavy scents of tropical flowers.