Go All-Inclusive in Costa Rica
The Pacific coast provinces of Guanacaste and Puntarenas
host an array of all-in-one beach retreats
By Kathryn E. Worrall
We've hiked the active Arenal Volcano, toured coffee plantations and soaked in remote hot springs. On one particularly adventurous day, we ziplined past monkeys, swung like Tarzan through a canyon and floated in inner tubes over rapids, capping off the day with a horseback ride in the jungle. My 6-foot-6-inch father received the smallest horse -- a pony, really -- and it's a memory we regularly laugh about. We boated down the Tarcoles River once, feeding resident crocs and some friendly capuchins. We've vacationed here six times now, and on almost every trip we stop by Playa Tamarindo or Witch's Rock for some surfing.
But at the end of the day, we always are content to return to our resort. We're ready for air conditioning, a pina colada and some pampering.
With a mix of ecosystems and a robust coral reef system, Costa Rica is crawling with wildlife -- monkeys, boa constrictors, sloths and jaguars abound on land, while sea turtles, dolphins and whales reside in the sparkling waters. It's a peaceful, eco-conscious place, with friendly Ticos (as the locals are known) embracing the phrase pura vida ("pure life") as a greeting and lifestyle.
Costa Rica's popularity and development have exploded since we first visited some 15 years ago, and today a smattering of all-inclusive resort properties dots its Pacific coast. And, thanks to an international airport in Liberia, capital of the Guanacaste province, discovering this slice of paradise is easier than ever.
With lodging, meals, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, an assortment of water sports equipment and other beachfront essentials bundled into a single prepaid vacation package, all-inclusive resorts simplify tropical travel. The following resorts, located in Guanacaste and the Puntarenas province, act as a perfect jumping-off point for any Costa Rican adventure. But their own draws, from beachside yoga to wildlife-filled golf courses, might tempt you to stay on site for their pura vida.
For more information and discounted rates on all-inclusive accommodations along the Pacific, contact the specialists at Vacations To Go.
YOGIS AND FITNESS GURUS
Breathe in, now out. Move into Downward-Facing Dog pose, and don't let the chattering of howler monkeys disturb your focus as the sun rises over the Papagayo Peninsula.
At the waterfront Planet Hollywood Beach Resort Costa Rica, an early morning yoga class is one of several on-site fitness offerings. A similar sunset class lets you unwind after a day in paradise, while pool yoga alleviates tension on joints and assists balance.
Other classes packaged into your all-inclusive stay range from a full-body boot camp and kickboxing to "Hollywood Abs" for those who don't mind getting a little sandy. It's difficult to come up with an excuse for not working out when all you have to do is move from a lounge chair to the pool for Zumba or an Aqua Fit class. For a challenge, a beach obstacle course inspired by TV hits like "American Ninja Warrior" tests participants' strength and endurance. The guest with the fastest time even receives a prize.
Ready to relax? The 294 suites in this recently opened resort boast custom mattresses, blackout curtains and private balconies or terraces, many overlooking the ocean. Two pools, a variety of eateries and bars and a kids club entertain multiple generations. For an additional fee, excursions like a catamaran sunset cruise or a journey to a waterfall explore the surrounding region.
Embrace the amor at Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica, set near the Nicaraguan border on Playa El Jobo. Couples discover Costa Rican culture with classes on salsa dancing or craft cocktails. Learn how to cook gallo pinto, a traditional dish of rice and beans often served at breakfast, and the art of using a chorreador, a drip coffee device, with local beans. A weekly beach party amps up the fun.
The 447 rooms have private furnished balconies or terraces with hot tubs or direct pool access and views of the jungle or ocean. Eight dining options include a buffet, grill, cafe and five a la carte restaurants, like the adults-only Portofino for Italian. Seven bars and lounges pour top-shelf spirits, wines and beers. Grab a margarita at the swim-up Manatees or finish the night dancing at Desires.
Bringing along the whole family? Explore the underwater world while snorkeling or shoot down a waterslide. Kids can play a game of beach soccer or splash around two oceanfront pools. For additional fees, fishing trips, surfing and scuba diving can be arranged by the resort, and an on-site spa offers body wraps, massages and a hydrotherapy area.
Playa Tamarindo is one of the country's top surfing locales, thanks to its largely rock-free waters and waves that welcome both beginners and professionals. The Occidental Tamarindo is one of the closest all-inclusive resorts to its namesake beach; while the hotel doesn't provide surfboards as part of its all-inclusive package, you always can bodysurf, sit back and observe the pros at work or recline on chaises on the hotel's own Playa Langosta.
You also can take a leisurely walk along the sand to the town of Tamarindo, where surf shacks rent boards and provide lessons for a small fee. The nightlife scene is a short taxi ride from the hotel as well.
Back at the 198-room resort, a tennis court and swimming pool lure guests. Views of the beach can be obstructed by trees, but glimmers of the sea peek out from between the palms, and howler monkeys often are sighted here. Palapas shade those sunning poolside, and two restaurants, a snack bar and a cocktail stop deliver tasty treats and cool drinks.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Fiesta Resort Central Pacific promises activities "from dawn to dusk," and the lineup of all-day offerings backs up its claim. Multiple pools, a stretch of dark volcanic sand and kids and teens clubs serve as gathering spots for many of them. The property's 408 rooms grant ocean, pool or garden views, and some suites boast two bedrooms, easily catering to families.
Gather the gang for a game of beach volleyball or soccer, or head to the tennis courts to get some practice in. Parents can partake in a cocktail class while the kids play pingpong, shoot pool or compete in miniature golf. This beachfront resort in the Puntarenas region offers kayaks and boogie boards, and back in the pool, water aerobics and polo keep guests in shape.
Learn the art of origami or pick up a few Spanish phrases thanks to Fiesta's cultural classes. Nightly entertainment offers family-friendly performances and late night dancing for the adults. A private pier extends over the ocean, and its Sunset Bar is a prime place to watch night fall.
GO WILD ON THE GREENS
Costa Rica has a range of ecosystems -- tropical rainforests, cloud and mangrove forests, Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, to name a few -- and its critters reflect this biodiversity. The 402-room Barcelo Tambor, at the end of the Nicoya Peninsula on Tambor Beach, capitalizes on this unique draw with its conservation program, which protects the country's largest population of scarlet macaws.
Living on the nearby Los Delfines Golf and Country Club, some 170 rainbow-colored birds flit through the trees above the 18-hole course. Barcelo guests receive a complimentary round for each night of their stay. Along with the macaws, golfers often share the greens with iguanas and roseate spoonbills.
Back at the resort, a white-sand beach and two pools with thatched-roof cabanas and a swim-up bar call for a quick dip. Sport options abound with tennis, volleyball and basketball courts and a field for soccer, Costa Rica's national pastime. Reach new heights on a rock-climbing wall and bungee trampoline station, or enjoy the salty sea while windsurfing.
For a fee, deep-sea fishing and horseback riding are offered. One tour worth the splurge? A trip to nearby Isla Tortuga, only accessible by boat. You might spot dolphins and whales along the way, and the isle is known for top-notch snorkeling and scuba diving. Sharks, manta rays and octopuses frequently are sighted, and three shipwrecks await divers' discovery.
ABUNDANCE OF ACTIVITIES
The 202-room, adults-only Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica packs a punch with an assortment of activities, keeping guests busy around the property. Six restaurants and a coffee shop please the pickiest of eaters, and complimentary Wi-Fi connects you to those back home.
Opt for water aerobics, rum and wine tastings, horseshoes and hiking. At the private black-sand beach, partake in volleyball or take off paddleboarding. Lounge chairs and umbrellas are on hand for days in the sun.
The resort has two pools, including a mellow spot found at the spa. The more active pool hosts games of water polo and often has live music. Activities like karaoke and games of blackjack, plus five on-site bars, keep you busy late into the night.
For an additional cost, rainforest canopy tours and Jet Ski and mountain bike excursions are available. Humpback whales migrate through Costa Rica's Pacific waters between July and November, and again from December to April. Whale-watching tours are popular, though eagle-eyed Secrets visitors might be able to spot some raised tail fins and blowhole spouts from their room's balcony or perch at the beach.
One tip: This resort is built into the hillside (as many Costa Rican resorts are), so be prepared for a trek between your room and the amenities. Complimentary shuttles run day and night and guests report a quick response time, but isn't a walk under the stars, spotting some nocturnal creatures along the way, a better way to end the day?
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Spring 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.