Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Travel&Dining > Luxury Hotels and Travel
Reload this Page >

the luxury hotels of Costa Rica

the luxury hotels of Costa Rica

Old Feb 6, 14, 7:52 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
Four Seasons Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Berkeley, CA
Programs: Virtuoso, FSPP, STARS, MO FAN Club, PEN Club, Bellini Club, Dorchester Diamond Club, Travel Leaders
Posts: 1,791
the luxury hotels of Costa Rica

I made a one-week trip to Costa Rica from February 2-9, 2014, the destination’s high (dry) season. The goal of this trip was to explore what Costa Rica has to offer visitors interested in eco-tourism, as well as to report on a few of the luxury resorts.

Our itinerary (see all four resorts on this map) had us flying into San Jose, the capital city. We began our stay with two nights at El Silencio Lodge, about a mile about sea level in the country’s “cloud forest.” Next we spent two nights in the Arenal region, lower and warmer in the “rain forest.” We finished our trip with three nights at Four Seasons Costa Rica, on the beach some 40 minutes west of the Liberia airport, in a “dry forest.” We planned our itinerary and arranged our transfers with the assistance of Rico Tours, and all of their services were provided flawlessly and precisely on time. Rico Tours is the Virtuoso on-site (destination management company) for Costa Rica, and I use them to arrange anything beyond straight hotel bookings.


El Silencio Lodge — Costa Rican cloud forest

About a 90 minute ride from the San Jose airport, we arrived at El Silencio Lodge after 11 p.m. on a clear, dark, and very chilly night. Despite the late hour, our van was greeted by several members of the staff who welcomed us, whisked our bags away to our suites, and quickly showed us the room and its features. (Check-in was thoughtfully delayed until the next morning when we were rested after our long journey).

An upscale eco lodge, El Silencio was designed by Costa Rican architect Ronald Zurcher. Situated in a remote tropical cloud forest, the beautiful and quiet (hence the name) natural surroundings are the entire point of a visit here. The 15 Suites, detached cottages really, are large (about 600 sq ft) and comfortable, with King beds and sitting areas that can be made up into two twin beds. A family of four could comfortably share a Suite. A large front porch is equipped with rocking chairs to gaze at the scenery. Bathrooms have travertine marble floors and dual travertine vanities. The step-in shower has a shower curtain rather than a glass door, and a deck outside the bathroom was equipped with a jacuzzi tub… but herein begins the tale of the resort’s limitations. The jacuzzi takes at least two hours to get hot, there is no central heat whatsoever at the resort, the bathrooms have no heat source, and this remote region of Costa Rica has somewhat scarce electrical resources. One day, while running the space heater and jacuzzi simultaneously, our room’s power went out; my solution was to unplug the minibar! Nevertheless, if you want to experience this wonderful cloud forest, just accept that this remote region has quite limited infrastructure.

El Silencio offers a comfortable way to get to know the cloud forest, and its staff offers personal and sincere service. Encompassing 500 acres, the resort has six miles of hiking trails, a daily complimentary Forest Immersion Hike, and optional off-property tours as well. We took the cultural tour of Bajos del Toro, the small village a short 10-15 minute walk away. I enjoyed seeing the village and its two bars (separated by the police station and medical clinic), and even had lunch in a local family home. El Silencio does offer a unique set of creature comforts: good food, great coffee, Escencia Spa (3 treatment rooms right in the forest), and a Happy Hour from 3-4 p.m. daily that features complimentary Costa Rican Hot Chocolate (or herbal tea) served in the Main Lodge or in your Suite. Virtuoso guests receive the following amenities:

  • Daily full breakfast, for up to two in room guests
  • $50 USD equivalent Spa Services credit
  • A 250g package of gourmet Costa Rican Coffee
  • Private Coffee Tasting Experience

And let me not close this report without rhapsodizing about the starry sky the evening we arrived. Far from any urban light pollution and in the thin air a mile above sea level, the night sky is nothing short of amazing (on a clear night). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen stars shine so brightly!



The Arenal Area — Costa Rican rain forest

Nayara

We visited Nayara for a site inspection and lunch en route to The Springs Resort. Nayara opened nearly six years ago in December, 2007. We were greeted in the resort’s open air lobby with chilled wash cloths scented with mint and vanilla, and the Concierge showed us around the resort.

We were able to see one of each of the three room categories. A boutique resort, there are 66 guest accommodations — Deluxe Casitas, Nayara Suites, and the new Spring Villas. Rooms are decorated with contemporary colors, shades of orange, yellow, and green. Although I had initial doubts when I saw these vivid colors on the website, I found the rooms quite attractive when in them!

Lead in Deluxe casitas are a generous 850 square feet. The King bedded room we were shown had hardwood flooring, a private deck overlooking lush foliage, and its own outdoor jacuzzi. The marble Bathroom had a single vanity, indoor step in shower, outdoor shower, and WC.

Nayara Suites are larger (1130 sq ft) and octagonally shaped (the design reminding me of the Rondeval Suites at Jumby Bay). The bedroom occupies the majority of the space, the large bathroom being located behind the bedroom. The Suite features a large balcony with hammock and jacuzzi. The bathroom has two separate marble vanities, step-in shower with dual rain shower heads, and an outdoor shower with two shower heads.

Built on both sides of a deep jungle canyon, a long bridge joins the two halves of the property. The newly opened Spring Villas are on the far side of the bridge, a “resort within the resort” with private check-in. These spacious suites are nearly 1300 square feet in area with a large sitting space within the room. The best feature of Spring Villas is the private infinity-edge plunge pool fed by hot water from the natural springs.

Although Travel + Leisure has named Nayara the top resort in Central and South America (and the #4 hotel in the world), I find it difficult to agree with that verdict. There’s a lot to appreciate here: large and luxuriously appointed suites, a beautiful spa and pools; and great restaurant choices. The location is convenient for exploring the Arenal National Park and the many area attractions. Rates are also quite reasonable with the three room categories priced at $280, $390, and $590. But Nayara seemed overbuilt to me, too many Suites squeezed into five acres of land.

  • Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
  • Daily buffet breakfast, already included in the rates
  • $100 USD Spa Services credit, to be utilized during stay
  • Early check-in/late check-out subject to availability


The Springs Resort

Though not a Virtuoso property, we spent two nights as guests of The Springs Resort (due to availability issues at Nayara). We were assigned one of two 2BR Junior Springs Suites (#317). Because the resort was otherwise fully booked, we were not able to see other rooms, but all of the rooms share the same interior styling. We had a large King-bedded master bedroom with large picture window facing the volcano. Our private patio had a sitting area with two hammocks and two oh-so-comfortable rocking chairs to sit and take in the view. Our bathroom had dual vanities, a large soaking tub, large step-in shower, and WC. The connecting twin-twin room had its own shower, double vanity, and WC, but the room itself was a bit narrow … and its windows did not open, forcing the use of air conditioning. The interior styling was a bit dark and heavy for my taste. But beyond these issues, we enjoyed our stay.

The Springs does not fall into any of the usual genres of hotel or resorts. It’s a fairly new property that I would categorize as a four star resort, but to say that misses the point of its unique location and offerings:
(1) Built on 165 acres of land, every guest room has a straight on view of the north face of the Arenal Volcano.

(2) The property has 18 hot springs fed with geothermally heated water. Water in the warmest pools is a very comfortable 103-104, and as it flows to the lower pools, it cools off for those who don’t want such warm water. There’s also a waterside between two of the pools! All resort guests have free access to these pools.

(3) Club Rio, located at the “bottom” of the resort along the river, offers a host of onsite activities including more hot springs, horseback riding, white water tubing, an animal refuge, and a rock climbing wall.

(4) The Springs has four restaurants, bars, a spa, and locker facilities for day guests.

The main building is a massive facility built on five levels with the lobby, restaurants, bars, a spa, locker rooms, and meeting space… but there are just 50 guest rooms! These are contained in an imposing edifice just down the hill from the main building. Though billed as an eco-lodge, The Springs really does not blend into the environment. So there’s something of an identity crisis going on here. The Springs is both a boutique hotel … and a mega resort to which Day Guests can purchase two-day passes for $50 per person. Click this link to see a resort map to get a sense of the range of facilities: http://www.thespringscostarica.com/i...prings-map.pdf


Where to stay in Arenal?

You have two quite unique choices when visiting the Arenal area, and it’s important to have clear expectations of what each resort offers. Nayara is a true five star resort that feels somewhat crowded. The Springs is an expansive four-star resort with a vast array of activities on property for its guests. Either resort would provide a good base for active vacationers who enjoy such activities as hanging bridges through the forest canopy, zip lining, and white water rafting.



Four Seasons Costa Rica — Costa Rican dry forest

It's a long drive from Arenal to the coast, about four hours, and having someone else do the driving was certainly a luxury. Two stops along the way — the first stop at a souvenir stop with facilities, and a second stop for an excellent, authentic, and inexpensive Costa Rican meal at La Chosa de Laurel, an open air roadside restaurant near the airport. About a half hour later, we knew we had "arrived" when we entered a gated enclave on Peninsula Papagayo with green lawns bordering the road and picturesque glimpses of the golf course. Four Seasons Costa Rica is part of that complex, at the southern tip of the peninsula.

The welcome was warm and personal. We were greeted by the GM, our bags were whisked away, and we remained in the lobby for a welcome drink and cold towels. The front desk made copies of our passports so they could make time-saving arrangements for the Costa Rican departure tax three days later. We were then driven by golf cart to the accommodations for our stay (we had been upgraded into a 2BR Residence), and the Preferred Partner amenities were explained during the very short ride.

FS Costa Rica was designed by the same architect, Ronald Zurcher, who designed El Silencio, and the resort is stunning while blending into its setting. There are several categories of accommodations — regular guest rooms (Terraza, Brisa, and Cielo), Canopy Suites (with and without private pool), Residences, Villas, and Estate Homes.

Guestrooms are large and comfortable (600 sq ft) and provide everything you'd expect from a FS resort. King or Queen-Queen beds. Beautiful hardwood flooring, marble bathrooms with dual vanities, a soaking tub (with sliding partition that allows you to see through the bedroom towards the view), separate step in shower, and WC. Each room has a large screened porch that brings the outside in. The three guestroom buildings are convenient to the resort's pools and beaches. Four stories in height, first floor Terraza (ground) rooms can be entered from the ground level and are shaded by the forest canopy. Second floor Brisa (breeze) rooms are a bit higher, offering more natural light. Cielo (sky) rooms are on the highest two floors with the most natural light and best views of the ocean. The one building on the Pacific side (the "quiet beach") is primarily for adult couples. The two buildings on the Bay side (the "active beach") have connecting rooms available, and families with children are blocked here.

Canopy Suites are 1000 square feet, and the Canopy Plunge Pool Suites are about 1200 square feet. We were able to see a Canopy Pool Suite. The master bedroom is large with a standard Four Seasons bathroom. The sizable living room is equipped with a pull-out sofa bed. The living room of Pool Suites is large enough to accommodate a rollaway in addition to the sofa bed and has an additional bathroom with shower.

We stayed in one of the resort's Residences. A very spacious accommodation (1900 sq ft), you enter the front door into a large open air screened porch. To one side was the Master Suite with a large living room (with sofabed), full kitchen, dining area, a small office, powder room, and (a pleasant surprise after four days traveling) a washer-dryer unit complete with detergent. The second bedroom on the other side of the porch also had a King bed (though double beds are available) and the familiar FS bathroom.

I was shown a 3BR Villa this morning, and it was an amazing accommodation with gorgeous ocean views from above the canopy and your own private infinity plunge pool. The large living room has a pullout sofabed, and these are available with either three King bedrooms or two Kings and a double-double room. Fabulous accommodations either for a family or several couples traveling together. The only drawback is that you'll most likely be requesting golf carts to get to and from your room.

Finally, I was shown one of the three Estate Homes in the rental pool. A WOW in every way. Four bedrooms (and another room for a nanny), plentiful living space, full kitchen (with breakfast cooked for you daily in your villa), a large private infinity pool, your personal butler assigned to you for your stay, and did I mention the views? Panoramic views of both the Pacific and the Bay. Already booked for Festive Season '14, but available for Spring vacations.

Some general impressions: Four Seasons has created a fabulous resort in the same class as Maui, Hualalai, Nevis, and Manele Bay. Better beaches than Hualalai, more space than Maui (and plenty of lounge chairs on the two beaches and around the pools). A quiet beach and adult-only pool on the Pacific side. Periodic "treats" while lounging — cold towels, small cups of fruit smoothies. An active beach with volleyball and complimentary non-motorized water sports on the bay side. Easier to reach than Hawaii from the Midwest and east coast with Saturday nonstops from ORD, MSP, and LAX and daily flights from New York, Miami, and Dallas. About the only drawback is the geography of the resort. Because the residences, suites, and villas are located uphill, most guests will depend on the resort’s golf carts which are always on call to take you around the property.

When to come? I'm here during the dry season, but I'd like to come back during the wet season, roughly May through November, when there is typically a rain shower lasting about an hour every afternoon (and a few rainy days); the benefit of being there in the wet season is that the "dry forest" greens up.

One last word: the spa. I booked at the Preferred Partner rate and used my $100 Spa or Golf credit for a 60 minute Swedish massage yesterday. Ask for Paola, not the typical resort therapist. Her work rivals that of the best bodyworkers I've ever experienced.

Last edited by DavidO; Feb 6, 14 at 8:07 pm
DavidO is offline  
Old Feb 6, 14, 10:16 pm
  #2  
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Posts: 5,823
Thanks David! Enticing...

I told my daughter about this, and she said: "Eco Tours are where you stay in a tent or shack and work on a project to help the people and the country you are in!"

I like your definition better.
LarkSFO is offline  
Old Feb 6, 14, 11:01 pm
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: CPT
Programs: BA BD SA
Posts: 4,447
Originally Posted by LarkSFO View Post
Thanks David! Enticing...
Seconded!

Costa Rica is hardly a convenient destination from CPT but we have it firmly on our wish list. Maybe late this year...
Cheetah_SA is offline  
Old Feb 7, 14, 3:56 am
  #4  
Aman 5+ BadgeFour Seasons Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Programs: UA1K, *G & Wife of UA1K MM
Posts: 3,224
This is great, David. Another destination to add to "the list". What activities did you do while you were there? Any good animal/bird sightings?
Ericka is offline  
Old Feb 7, 14, 6:21 am
  #5  
Original Poster
Four Seasons Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Oct 2003
Location: Berkeley, CA
Programs: Virtuoso, FSPP, STARS, MO FAN Club, PEN Club, Bellini Club, Dorchester Diamond Club, Travel Leaders
Posts: 1,791
Originally Posted by Ericka View Post
This is great, David. Another destination to add to "the list". What activities did you do while you were there? Any good animal/bird sightings?
Most of our animal sightings were on the Hanging Bridges walk at Arenal. We were lucky went in the afternoon when there are less tourists to scare away the animals and saw howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, a large family of wild pigs, toucans, and some other animals I can't remember.

Also, quite a collection of rescued animals at Springs Resort - but no longer in the wild.

There are also monkeys living in the trees outside our Residential Suite at FS.


Went on a 4 hour snorkeling trip (by boat) from the FS. Decent but not great snorkeling...

My wife, her friend, and her 81 year old mother also went ziplining while at FS (while I looked at hotel rooms). Apparently, the best ziplining is at Arena.
DavidO is offline  
Old Feb 7, 14, 7:46 am
  #6  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Location: VCE
Posts: 14,161
Thanks for this- I have been thinking for some time of a return trip to Costa Rica and this thread makes me want to do it sooner rather than later.
TRAVELSIG is offline  
Old Feb 10, 14, 10:10 am
  #7  
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: DC
Posts: 134
Originally Posted by DavidO View Post

Nayara

Although Travel + Leisure has named Nayara the top resort in Central and South America (and the #4 hotel in the world), I find it difficult to agree with that verdict.
+1. Spent 4 nights here last February. I must have received 25 emails afterwards to take a survey for them for the Travel And Leisure award(annoying).

During our stay front desk service was not great, pool service was awful, and overall service had a very corporate feeling compared to other places in Costa Rica. The rooms are huge, the food was good and location wise it's great -- that's probably most important as there are a TON of activities in Arenal (and Costa Rica in general).
nestafaria is offline  
Old Aug 13, 14, 10:55 am
  #8  
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Posts: 97
My recommendations:

Andaz Papagayo Peninsula
Tortuga Lodge (Tortuguero)
gunit770 is offline  
Old Aug 13, 14, 11:43 am
  #9  
DSI
formerly declinespecificinformatiom
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Location: USA
Posts: 1,140
Stayed at the Westin several years back and definitely not luxury. Would be a good all-inclusive option for a $500 a night budget, though.
DSI is offline  
Old Aug 13, 14, 2:36 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Mem
Programs: Delta GM, Amex Reserve, Amex Plat, JP Morgan Palladium
Posts: 823
Just got back from 10 days at the Four Seasons. It is fantastic. We stayed in a 3 bedroom Pacifico residence for a week and and in connecting Cielo rooms for 3 days. I would say the resort is a tiny step behind Hualalai and Punta Mita. My main glitch is that there are no restaurants that sit right on the sea like at Hualalai and Punta Mita. Fire away with any questions.

We went to the Andaz for dinner one night. It was a ghost town. The Four Seasons was very lively but did not seem crowded.
Valveking is offline  
Old Aug 14, 14, 3:40 am
  #11  
Aman 5+ BadgeFour Seasons Contributor Badge
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Programs: UA1K, *G & Wife of UA1K MM
Posts: 3,224
Valveking, refresh my memory.....do you have children? Did any of them participate in the kids program?

Animal sightings? Activities?
Ericka is offline  
Old Aug 14, 14, 7:04 am
  #12  
In memoriam
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Near Jacksonville FL
Posts: 3,987
Originally Posted by Ericka View Post
Valveking, refresh my memory.....do you have children? Did any of them participate in the kids program?

Animal sightings? Activities?
We did lots of "nature sightseeing" in Costa Rica. We especially loved Manuel Antonio National Park (named one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world by Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/pictures/eikg4...io-costa-rica/ - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manuel_..._National_Park) - and Poas Volcano National Park (http://www.forbes.com/pictures/eikg4...io-costa-rica/).

I did a lot of shelling on the west coast - but that may not be to everyone's taste (I can kill hours looking for great shells).

There were no luxury hotels in Costa Rica outside San Jose when we visited. We stayed at a place in Quepos on the west coast - the Mariposa - so we'd be near Manuel Antonio. Great views. Poas is a day trip from San Jose (forget where we stayed in San Jose).

The roads in Costa Rica are often pretty bad - and one should definitely not drive after dark. We hired a car and driver for our trip to the west coast (not that expensive).

We don't have kids - and didn't then. I'm not sure Costa Rica is such a swell place for young kids. Because a lot of the nature sightseeing isn't "controlled" and things don't always appear at specific times of the day. I'm not sure kids have the patience for that kind of thing (a zoo where the animals perform at 1/3/5 pm might be more to the point).

Also - we found places like Manuel Antonio were almost totally unregulated/unguarded by US standards for major tourist attractions. Think back country trips in remote areas of our national parks as opposed to the "beaten path". Crime - especially pretty crime - was a non-issue outside San Jose when we were there (San Jose was another story - rich peoples' houses were ringed by barbed wire and armed guards in front of them were not an unusual sight). I thought nothing of exploring deserted beaches myself. I might have second thoughts about that today. Best to check things out for yourself in terms of your possible destinations.

Also - the ocean water on the Pacific side is - like most Pacific water - pretty cold (at least for my taste). So ocean swimming isn't much of an option. The Atlantic side is much warmer (we took the "Jungle Train" to Limon one day - http://www.nytimes.com/1985/07/28/tr...gle-train.html - but I'm not sure it's in operation now). Robyn
robyng is offline  
Old Aug 14, 14, 7:22 am
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Mem
Programs: Delta GM, Amex Reserve, Amex Plat, JP Morgan Palladium
Posts: 823
Originally Posted by Ericka View Post
Valveking, refresh my memory.....do you have children? Did any of them participate in the kids program?

Animal sightings? Activities?
We have 2 kids aged 11 and 6. We we traveled with another family. They didn't do the kids program this time. We hired some guides for some great outings into the jungle. The wildlife down there is incredible. There are monkeys swinging out of practically every tree it seems. This is a great trip with little ones.

We had one really funny moment on a tour. We went down a 500 foot long waterslide in the jungle. You sit in the slide and a guy literally opens the floodgates with river water and you fly down this thing for about 45 seconds into a pool at the end. The other dad went down and when he got to the end, they were yelling at him to get out. It turns out he had been accompanied down the slide by a six foot long snake. It was priceless! I can't see that happening in the ole US of A!
Valveking is offline  
Old Aug 14, 14, 3:56 pm
  #14  
In memoriam
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Near Jacksonville FL
Posts: 3,987
Originally Posted by Valveking View Post
We have 2 kids aged 11 and 6. We we traveled with another family. They didn't do the kids program this time. We hired some guides for some great outings into the jungle. The wildlife down there is incredible. There are monkeys swinging out of practically every tree it seems. This is a great trip with little ones.

We had one really funny moment on a tour. We went down a 500 foot long waterslide in the jungle. You sit in the slide and a guy literally opens the floodgates with river water and you fly down this thing for about 45 seconds into a pool at the end. The other dad went down and when he got to the end, they were yelling at him to get out. It turns out he had been accompanied down the slide by a six foot long snake. It was priceless! I can't see that happening in the ole US of A!
I've seen 10 foot snakes playing golf here in Florida - just sunning themselves on the fairways.

Was it a dangerous snake - or just a plain old big snake (big doesn't necessarily = dangerous - some of the smaller snakes - at least here in Florida - are the most dangerous). Robyn
robyng is offline  
Old Aug 18, 14, 3:18 am
  #15  
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: CPT
Programs: BA BD SA
Posts: 4,447
Originally Posted by robyng View Post
I've seen 10 foot snakes playing golf here in Florida ...
I hope you took photographs!
Cheetah_SA is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search Engine: