Monday June 4th, 2012 – My first trip to Costa Rica, I cannot wait to start this adventure. Our flight to Costa Rica went smooth, a quick 1 hour connection in Atlanta and we landed by Noon at the Liberia airport. We filled out two forms before entry to Costa Rica that we turned in when we landed (one set per family with the same address). The first form was turned in with the passport check and the second one was turned in after customs. It took about ten minutes to get through the new terminal, very easy.
This trip is part of a “familiarization” trip – where travel agents go and explore an area and visit hotels. Our 4 nights in Costa Rica will be spent at the Westin Playa Conchal Resort and Spa, about 1 hour from the airport. Our rooms are in the Royal Club area, complete with butler service, free wifi, any brand liquor we want, and an adults only (18+) pool area. For dinner tonight I had Mahi Mahi which was excellent. All the food at the hotel is very good. Following dinner our group went to the evening show and then back to the room, we have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow.
Tuesday, June 5 – After a buffet breakfast, we went to the Flamingo Beach Resort & Spa. The property was small but nice and had a good beach. We spoke to some people staying there and they said that they had stayed there the last five years and really enjoyed it; they enjoyed being able to twalk to town but they also rented a car during their stay. The property has a nice pool and access to the beach is across a dirt road which only seemed to have walkers on it. The property offers a 24 hour gym, a movie theater, casino, family center with ping pong and pool tables, a mini market and Free wifi. This would be a great family property with the studio family rooms holding up to 4 adults and 2 kids (no balcony).The next property we saw today was the Barcelo Playa Langosta Beach Resort. This property is a 20 minute walk down the beach to the town of Tamarindo or a 5 minute taxi ride for $5. The beach here is great for surfing not swimming; however, if you go to your left there is a narrow area to walk out to the swimmable beach area. Currently there are no ocean view rooms at this hotel, the hotel is fronted by the national park and the trees block the view to the ocean. There is an a la carte restaurant that is included one time complimentary if you stay a week, otherwise you pay for the restaurant. Note, reservations for this restaurant are required and it is also open to the public. They property has six handicapped rooms and the public areas are all non-smoking. The property does have internet/wifi available for a charge. This property also offers a spa, ideas of prices…a one hour facial is $60 and a manicure and pedicure is $40. I would recommend this property for families.Next we toured the Tamarindo Diria in the town of Tamarindo. The hotel is almost “divided” into two parts, the original part being on the beach and the new section across the street with a pool (no wifi). They property offers sunset ocean view rooms and sunset ocean view premium rooms which are larger and have free wifi. They have a beautiful beach area with a long stretch of beach to walk. All the beaches in Costa Rica are public and vendors can be on the beach. If you tell them no, they say thank you and leave you alone. You can take surfing lessons here and you can also swim. We ate lunch outside by the beach – it was beautiful. Because this property is in town we were able to go shopping and you would have many options for dining as there were many restaurants available in town. I really liked this property, the location is great, I would recommend this property for anyone who wants to be able to experience the local life.
Our final hotel inspection today was at the Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa. This property is built on a hill so the views were spectacular, a very quiet and peaceful location. The rooms are bungalow style and two rooms and can be connecting to make a “suite” type of room with one room having a king bed and the other room having two doubles. It is a very large property built on a hill with lots of steps, but they do run shuttles around the property so you could ride instead of walk to different areas. Wifi is available for a charge in the rooms though it is free in the lobby. This is an all-inclusive property that does not require wristbands, a nice touch. The Hilton also offers four junior suites with outside plunge pools, very nice. The property offers a spa and an adults-only pool. Though this property is on a hillside the beach is very nice. Good to note…if you have trouble walking, this may not be the property for you because it’s built into such a steep cliff area.
We had a great dinner tonight at the Hilton, it was wonderful. The chef showed us how to make sushi and then we had hors d’oeuvres. For the main course we had Octopus and Mango Ceviche, Cream of Shrimps with ginger, Mahi Mahi with vanilla sauce accompanied with pumpkin and mini vegetables, and “Cas” fruit ice cream with mini chocolate tart.
Wednesday, June 6 – Today we headed to the RIU Guanacaste for breakfast and a site inspection. This is a huge property with the Riu Palace being built next door, scheduled to be open November 2, 2012. The Riu offers a wide variety of accomodations and activies for everyone. From weddings on the beach or in the garden to multiple dining options. Please note…smoking is allowed in rooms but not in the public areas. Family Rooms can accommodate 4 adults or 2 adults and 3 kids. They also offer 8 larger Two Bedroom Family Suites. They also offer Jacuzzi suites, Jacuzzi is outside on the deck area with a staircase leading to the Jacuzzi area of the deck. The property offers a spa with a Jacuzzi, steam room and gym in a the “village” area between the Guanacaste and the Palace. The spa area is free but services are additonal. Riu also offers a doctor on site. The new RIU Palace next door will be a more expensive property with upgraded amenities includeing free internet, junior suites with double beds and a sofa bed or just a sofa. They will have suites with a jacuzzi on the balcony, more restaurants and they can use the services at the RIU Guanacaste.
Next we were off to the Occidental Grand Papagayo – This property is also built on a hill with a lot of steps and pathways, but like the Hilton they also offer shuttles around the property. This would be a great relaxing property, they do not offer a lot of activities, and the average guest age is 30+. Weddings are available on site and they have a beautiful pool area. Note that the buildings are more than 150 yards from the beach due to natural building restrictions.
Our final stop today was at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa. This is a hacienda style property, that is more secluded. They have six junior suites with plunge pools, which you can request but they are not guaranteed. They have the second largest pool in Central America after Panama. Internet is available throughout the property. Due to the location of this property it’s great for those who just want to “sit” and hang out. Otherwise a car/taxi is required to get around.
Thursday, June 7 – Up at 5:30am…breakfast and then we left our hotel at 7:45am for the Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs Rainforest Adventure. Along the way, Gustavo, our tour director from TAM tours, was a wealth of information about Costa Rica and the things we were seeing. We had the opportunity to stop and see three toed sloths and howler monkeys. We ate lunch in Fortuna at Restaurant Rancho La Cascada, a great place with very good, reasonably priced food (our tour included the meal). When we left the restaurant, we drove about ten minutes to the rainforest walk where we saw a male, female and baby three toed sloth. Interesting fact…if the babies fall, the mothers just leave them, apparently because they know they can have more babies…yikes! We also saw leaf frogs with red eyes and blue jean frogs (poisonous), several varieties of butterflies and plants/flowers.
We then drove to The Springs Resort and Spa. You could see the volcano on the drive and from the resort, but we did not actually go to the volcano. Because the Resort was totally sold out, we saw the lodge with the restaurants and bars, the pool and hot springs areas only. Each of the pool and hot springs had a sign with the depth and the temperature of that particular one. Then we had time to go into the pool/hot springs. They also offer horseback riding, kayaking and inner tubing on the river and there are a lot of places to go hiking. This is not an all-inclusive property but you would need to have all your meals her unless you were going to rent a car and drive somewhere, nothing close by to walk to. The resort is about 3 hours 10 minutes from San Jose and 3 hours 45 minutes from Liberia, it’s a wonderful property that would be best for a more luxury experience in Costa Rica.
It was a wonderfully long last day day in Costa Rica, we arrived back at the Westin at 11:00pm exhausted and ready for bed.
Friday, June 8 – Today we are heading home so after breakfast, I stopped at the artisan shop on the Westin Property. They have very nice items to purchase and well worth a stop. We checked out, which you do need to do (no online check out) and during check-out we were given our transfer voucher to give to the bus driver to get back to the airport. Note, Costa Rica has a departure tax, currently $28, that we were able to pay to our TAM representative…they gave us a receipt we were able to use for the airport. The Westin is approximately a one hour drive from the airport so we had plenty of time to relax on the bus before we arrived at the airport.
We used TAM Tours for our transfers and optional excursions, they were wonderful, and I would highly recommended that you take your transfers and/or tours with TAM. They offer you a lot of information and you know what you will get on the tours and that they will be reliable. When you take the transfer, they do offer an orientation meeting to give you more information.
I would suggest that you do not book excursions with the vendors on the beach, you never know what you’re getting.
I found the people in Costa Rica to be are very friendly and happy and I felt very comfortable in all of the resorts no matter the star rating. The Costa Rican peopel are highly educated with the population at 60% middle class, 10% upper middle class, 10% rich, 10% lower middle class and 10% poor. The roads in Costa Rica have been improved in the last 2-3 years and are very good to drive on. Being pretty well traveled I would not feel at all uncomfortable driving, but would get a GPS in the vehicle.
I really enjoyed my trip to Costa Rica. It’s a longer plane ride than other areas of Caribbean but well worth it…go for at least a week and if you have the time longer…so you can really explore this amazing destination..