For our 10th Anniversary, Husband and I treated ourselves to a first class trip to Costa Rica. Our first stop in this beautiful and friendly country was dry, sunny Peninsula Papagayo.
We flew directly from Newark to Liberia, the smaller of Costa Rica’s two major international airports, located in the country’s dry northwest. While I usually use points for flights, we were able to secure first class seats on United for the 5 hour flight, for under $500 each, by flying on a Wednesday. Note that for this trip we chose an “open jaw” route, flying into Liberia and home from San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. I often search for this type of route, which allows flexibility in finding the cheapest/ lowest point flight choices, and also allows for movement within the trip without backtracking.
We secured a rental car through Vamos, a local company. The rental car experience felt very local … we were shuttled to a small office that could have (and probably did) double as someone’s home. There was a short wait for the car, a 4 wheel drive Dihatsu – which helped us acclimate to “Costa Rica time” – and then we were off to the beautiful Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo.
Shout out to an article on The Points Guy, a very helpful and friendly website for those who want to maximize the use of credit card points, for making me aware of an excellent deal using Hyatt Points via my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. For only 15,000 points per night, we booked our room at the Andaz, a beautiful resort situated on a steep hillside overlooking Culebra Bay on the Gulf of Papagayo. A tremendous bargain, as the rooms typically go for up to $700 per night.
The points deal was supposed to offer us only a “Forest View”, but we were very pleased with the view we had, which included Culebra bay. Bright morning sunlight awoke us each morning, but the sunrise was worth the early waking time.
A few things to know about Papagayo, if you plan to go:
- It is close to Libera airport – less than an hour by car
- It is extremely hot and sunny in March, and really, for most of the year. See this link: Annual Average Weather for Peninsula Papagayo.
- If you’re afraid of monkeys, staying there may be difficult; they are everywhere in the trees and even visited us by the pool once or twice. We were warned not to leave anything on the open balcony of our room, because the monkeys can be a little grabby…
- The peninsula is developed as a luxury destination; while there is dry forest wilderness surrounding each resort, there are also luxuriously landscaped grounds and golf courses. Other nearby resorts include the Four Seasons, Secrets, and the Kasaiiya Papagayo Luxury Wilderness Retreat . In fact, the entire peninsula is gated and available only to guests or visitors to these resorts. We went through two sets of gates to get to the Andaz.
- Because of the gated, resort nature of the area, there is no town or city to wander to find restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Therefore, it’s likely that you will end up dining at your hotel most evenings for dinner. Quiet relaxation is the order of the day.
We enjoyed each of the Andaz’ 3 main restaurants, Chao Pescao, a small plates venue; Rio Bhongo, which was the only restaurant serving breakfast; and Ostra, the resort’s special occasion, seafood specialty restaurant which served us the most amazing ceviche I’ve ever had. Because we had noted our anniversary on the reservation, we were treated to a bottle of champagne and special treat with our meal at Ostra:
We also pampered ourselves with spa treatments, a specialty at many of the resorts in this area. Pricey but worthwhile. The spa includes its own small, shaded outdoor pool, where Husband and I were the only occupants for several hours.
When we visited the resort’s main pool one afternoon, we were treated to a visit from a family of Capuchin monkeys. They seemed quite comfortable posing for the camera and entertaining the resort’s guests.
Despite the heat, relaxation, and excellent dining, we did manage to leave the resort a few times. We booked two private day tours with Tico Tours, a local company. The first was their “Palo Verde” tour. This tour was so informative and interesting, I wrote a separate post about it! Click here for my review of Tico Tours’ Palo Verde tour. Highly recommend. The other tour was an ATV tour of the vistas and beaches, found here on Tico’s website: Tico Dune Buggy Tour We enjoyed this tour too – plan to get dirty though!
The Dune Buggy tour included a stop at an excellent beach bar/restaurant called Aquasport in the tiny enclave of Playa Hermosa. This is the kind of place I could spend many, many hours … couldn’t you?
Another day, we chose to drive ourselves around the Guanacaste area, discovering the small beach town of Playa Coco. The vibe in Playa Coco was truly unique; extremely casual, full of extremely suntanned surfers, locals, and a number of Americans, many of whom have relocated to Costa Rica permanently, or “snowbird” there during the winter. Each bar and venue we stopped at (and we stopped at several!) felt like Cheers – it seemed that everyone knew one another’s name.
We even found an “Irish” pub in Playa Coco – a necessary stop, because it was St. Patrick’s Day!
Our stay in Guanacaste was an excellent introduction to northwestern Costa Rica. What we were soon to learn, however, is that it’s the diversity of Costa Rica’s experiences that make it such a fantastic destination. There is just so much more to uncover – and while Guanacaste is a very friendly, relatively developed, and not particularly remote beach area, its scenery and experiences are far less dramatic than much of the country has to offer. Click here to read about our next Costa Rican stop, which included The. Best. Resort. I’ve. EVER. Visited.