A visit to Costa Rica can include all the luxury brands that you trust but with a level of service that’s pleasant, helpful and not smothering — all accentuated by the country’s de facto slogan, “Pura vida.” The phrase directly translates to “pure / full life,” but it’s aptly used as a salutation and as an affirmation; it embodies an attitude, happiness and a way of life.
We visited Guanacaste in the country’s northwest, bordering the Pacific Ocean. This region of Costa Rica consists of dry forest, meaning there are two seasons — wet and dry. The former lasts from May through November, with moderate rains every afternoon around 2:00 to 4:00; the latter lasts from December through April. Tip: Plan outdoor activities in the morning to avoid the rain during the summer months.
Inland, the Tempisque River is a major waterway, providing a habitat for crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas and birds. Nature lovers should consider a boat tour of the river. On the coast, the beaches are a mix of white sand and black volcanic sand, so double-check with the hotels so that your clients aren’t picturing a white-sand beach on the plane ride only to find the hotel doesn’t have one. Just off the coast, travelers can enjoy whale-watching nearly year-round (August to April), and there is also what’s known as Monkey Head Island (named for its resemblance to a monkey’s head), which is an excellent place for diving.
The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo is located on a thin peninsula (jutting out of the larger Peninsula Papagayo), spanning its entire width. This means guests have beach access on the ocean side and the bay side — and it’s less than a five-minute walk from one side to the other.
The hotel caters mostly to families and couples, and — unlike several other resorts in the area — is pet-friendly. Guests have the choice of 180 standard rooms, 34 suites, 19 residences and villas, and three Estate Homes. The latter are the most requested and offer private butler service. They range from 5,342 square feet to 6,727 square feet and sleep between six to 10; amenities include a heated infinity swimming pool, a barbeque, whirlpool and marble bathrooms.
When we visited, we weren’t able to get a peek at the Estate Homes but of the accommodations we saw, the Canopy Suite with Plunge Pool and Three-Bedroom Villa were the nicest. The former is best suited for couples, while the latter is suitable for groups (particularly multiple couples, since it comprises three separate buildings connected by a terrace and plunge pool).
The general manager is Rajiv Malhotra, but advisors would receive faster responses from their respective travel industry sales managers: Aleks Butman ([email protected]), Midwest U.S., Europe, Asia Pacific; Carey McNeeley ([email protected]), Southeast U.S., West Coast U.S., Canada; and Anthony Utard ([email protected]), Northeast, U.S., Latin America, Caribbean.
The Cielo Room at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica allows guests to witness the natural wonders of the surrounding forest and enjoy partial ocean or bay views
The recommended dining event here is the al fresco “Taste the Stars” multi-course dinner. Reservations can be made starting 30 days prior to arrival.
Priscilla Rodriguez, director of catering, can help plan any wedding / romance events such as vow renewals, elopements, and weddings, including décor, entertainment, officiant, photographer, rooms and meals.
Another popular offering is the couple’s massage in the spa’s Pacifica Suite, which has a two-person shower, a waterfall whirlpool and sauna. The massage includes a sea salt foot soak and a customized 90-minute treatment, unique to each person.
There are also 18 additional treatment rooms with the Rainforest Aromatherapy massage being the most requested. The full-body message is great for a novice spa-goer, as they can choose their own fragrant essential oils. Spa Director Viviana Quesada ([email protected]) or Assistant Spa Manager Pablo Camareno ([email protected]) can be contacted for bookings.
Throughout the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, guests will find nature incorporated into the architecture and interior design. Case in point: Guestrooms, restaurants, and meeting spaces are often rounded, wood structures, with the latter surrounded by large branches, built to resemble cocoons.
The 153 rooms, including 21 suites, are divided among seven three-story buildings. Good to know: The ground floor is the second floor, with the first and third floors down and up one flight of stairs, respectively. All of the resort’s suites are located on the corners of the buildings and have their own plunge pools.
Our favorite part: A pair of fedoras hanging on wooden posts near the door in each guestroom, complimentary to wear around the resort — and even take home.
VIPs should book the Andaz Presidential Suite. It has its own full-size pool. Tip: The resort is pet-friendly.
The 11,170-square-foot spa includes a spa treatment “mixology,” where guests can select from regional ingredients such as volcanic clay, rice, beans, coconut, purple corn, a handful of spices, and more, to create a unique scrub to be used during the massage. There are nine treatment rooms, five of which are outside. One is designed for couples.
Couples treatments rotate by the season; current offerings include the Wake Up at Andaz and the Deep Tissue massage. A popular add-on for couples is the Onda Bath, and a popular single treatment is the two-and-a-half-hour Guanacaste Journey. Onda Spa Manager Francisco Vindas ([email protected]) and Onda Spa Team Leader Vanessa Vargas ([email protected]) are available to help book treatments.
There are three dining options: The open-air Rio Bhongo, the Latin-influenced Chao Pescao, and the seafood-specialty restaurant, Ostra. We had lunch at Rio Bhongo, and sampled nearly the entire menu. Tip: The ceviche, skirt steak and quesadillas were to die for.
The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal has a lagoon-style pool, gardens, tennis courts and a championship golf course
For the best seats, however, request a table at Ostra, which is more discrete and romantic. Guest Service Manager Sergio Bahamon ([email protected]) handles reservations, which should be made before arrival. Bahamon can field any other questions you may have.
Couples looking to tie the knot have the option of the cocoon-shaped wedding pavilion, a secluded beach, or an intimate ceremony on a pool deck. Services for couples include three-course dinners, newlywed cooking classes and breakfast in bed. For requests regarding romantic travel, advisors should contact Maria Victoria Gomez ([email protected]), the resort’s wedding specialist.
Andaz can organize zip lining, trips to Rincón de la Vieja and other national parks, and even watersport activities.
The Westin Golf Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal was our home for our stay in Guanacaste. The resort seems massive, but with the assistance of golf cart and trucks — all of which will be electric by year’s end — traversing from one side to the other is only a matter of minutes.
The top suites here are the Royal Beach Suites, which have marble floors, a walk-in closet, double rain showers and sinks, and an outdoor tub on the balcony. These rooms are located on the top floor (the third) of the Royal Beach Club Towers, and measure 990 square feet.
The Royal Beach Club is the adults-only section, which has its own private check-in /check-out, 24/7 room service, premium liquors in the minibar, personal concierge service, daily turndown service, breakfast and lunch dining venue, pool and poolside bar.
Good to know: Both the Royal Beach Club and Westin Family rooms have private butler service. The latter is located next to the renovated Westin Family Kids Club, which has environmentally friendly activities.
The Heavenly Spa has six treatment rooms, including couples and hydrotherapy rooms, saunas, hot and cold whirlpools and a relaxation room. The signature treatment is the Shells Massage, a fusion of organic coconut oil and hot shells for a relaxing and revitalizing experience. The spa also has 50- and 80-minute couples massages, and bridal party buyouts (maximum of 12 people) at the pool with cocktails, snacks and “spa bits:” mini facials, feet massages and traditional massages.
To book a treatment, contact Heavenly Spa Manager Yazna Collao ([email protected]).
El Mangroove, Autograph Collection by Marriott is an 85-suite property with an infinity pool
The Robert Trent Jones II-designed Reserva Conchal Golf Course has an Audubon International Certification and is a Carbon Positive course, both achieved for the preservation of wildlife habitats during construction and for its environmental friendliness. The resort even offers tours to learn more about the native species that you can find at the course. The Golf Manager is Carlos Rojas ([email protected]).
Note: The spa and golf course are shared with the neighboring Reserva Conchal, home to vacation residences.
The Westin Golf Resort & Spa is located on the beach with private access, although the beach is technically a public beach. The Sunset Cruise catamaran is a popular off-property excursion. Drinks and snacks are served while guests look for dolphins, stingrays and turtles. Adventurous couples should consider the “Mega Combo,” which starts at the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, offering the best views of the region. From there, the guests trek through the forest canopy with 12 individual stations separated by hanging bridges, allowing guests a chance to spot (or hear) howler monkeys, toucans and more. After the Canopy Tour, guests will slide down a 1,300-foot waterslide through the forest into a pool. Here, horses are waiting for the guests to take them to the spa for a volcanic mud mask.
The head concierge is Maricruz Ugarte ([email protected]), who can book any excursions.
El Mangroove, Autograph Collection by Marriott is an 85-suite boutique property that opened in 2014 and was accepted into Marriott’s Autograph Collection in February 2016. As part of its induction into the group they had to create a ritual “make their mark.” In theme with many of the other hotels — and Costa Rica as a whole — they aimed for something sustainable. In groups of 20, guests can plant trees while enjoying infused cocktails; this is called Leave Your LEAVES: A Lifetime Contribution.
Of the 85 accommodations, only two have ocean views: the El Mangle and Canopy Grand suites. This is due to the shape of the property: all of the buildings run in a line perpendicular to the beach. Both of the aforementioned suites have their own whirlpool and double sinks in the bathroom. All suites have a similar configuration, with the living space being the first room you enter; it’s open air and separated from the bedroom and en suite by a sliding glass door. For queries, contact Tour & Travel Executive Jonathan Rojas ([email protected]).
El Mangroove, Autograph Collection by Marriott has a couple of restaurants, including Makoko
Good to know: El Mangroove has a black sand beach as well as a “beachforest;” as they call it. It’s a small strip of land in between the resort and the water, which has trees growing through the sand. Guests can see Monkey Head Island from the beach here, where the hotel offers snorkeling and sunset tours. Other popular off-property excursions include zip-lining, rainforest and hot spring tours, hiking and wildlife sightseeing, and diving.
Tip: The five private cabanas at the pool have 32-inch HDTVs and minibars. They can be reserved through Concierge Heizel Arrieta ([email protected]).
Looking to relax? Head to any of the spa’s seven treatment rooms, four of which are outside. Depending on the treatment it’s suggested that guests book 24 hours in advance. Cindhy Gomez is the most requested masseuse and the Rebalance Massage is the most popular. The Journey for Two is available for couples, and comprises a renaissance massage, a Nature’s Best facial, hand and foot massage, and time in the relaxation couples area with a Jacuzzi. Advisors may contact Spa Supervisor Mayansi Leiva ([email protected]) or Spa Concierge Paola Solano ([email protected]) for reservations.
The best way to fly into Guanacaste is via Liberia, the region’s capital, at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (also known as Liberia International Airport), which is about 45 minutes from the coast. Another option is Juan Santamaría International Airport in San Jose, which requires another 30-minute flight into Liberia or four-hour drive to the West Coast.