First of all, we stayed here using a timeshare where all-inclusive is mandatory - we did not book as a hotel. We had never done all-inclusive before but had read here that the restaurants were good so we were happy to try it. The resort is WONDERFUL! We have stayed at many timeshares and hotels around the world with our children and this resort is in our top three.
The pool is enormous - I read the largest in Central America. With the all-inclusive, you have access to snorkeling equipment and rafts for the pools, and other sports equipment such as tennis rackets and bicycles. We really wanted to spend a lot of time exploring Costa Rica but we spent two days at the hotel just enjoying the pools, beach and grounds.
I went in expecting to request a specific building based on reviews here, but since we used a timeshare, we were in one of the condos which is in a different area. We got a first floor unit with a view of the lake and golf course which was great for us. The room was spacious, comfortable and deluxe. The beds were very comfortable and we all slept well. There is a mini-kitchen and with the all-inclusive, they stock the mini-fridge with sodas, beer and water every day. Maid service is every day and the room was kept very clean (and you do not always get daily maid service with a timeshare). One note on this - do not leave room service dishes and trays on your patio at night unless you want to be woken up by coati and raccoons looking for a snack. The service at this hotel is wonderful. We got to know the drivers of the transportation carts and they were all very friendly and eager to please. The restaurant staff were also very friendly and accommodating. My only complaint is we had a broken hair dryer in our room and when I called to get it fixed, they put in a worse dryer (that sparked and almost caught on fire). Not a big deal, though. We saw many iguanas and lizards, different kinds of birds, interesting insects, kittens (my kids were thrilled) raccoons and coati (a large family with babies) around the resort. We also heard of a troop of monkeys but did not see them.
Restaurants: The main buffet is *wonderful* and we enjoyed breakfast daily there which included a fresh juice station with tropical fruits, an omelet station, numerous baked breads, cheeses and authentic Costa Rican dishes. We also at lunch at the buffet once and dinner once as well - all were very good. Our favorite restaurant was the Italian, and we were really impressed with the service, atmosphere and food. Our kids loved the fact that a raccoon came by every night looking for snacks on the outside patio. We ate at the snack bar for lunch most days and they have wonderful hamburgers and pizzas (baked in a brick oven?). We tried the Mediterranean Restaurant and also thought it was good, and the staff was kind of enough to bring my son a dessert with a candle and sing to him on his birthday. We did not have any bad food while we were there.
Family-friendly activities: We were there with our two children, ages 10 and 8. I could not find much information specific to the area on family-friendly activities. I was also not clear based on the timeshare description whether some tours would be included in the all-inclusive but they were not. We had a rental car, and based on our experiences, I would highly recommend a gps (we rented one) and if you can swing it, an upgrade to four wheel drive (we did not pay for this as it was much more expensive by about 4X). As it states in guidebooks, many of the roads are not labeled and we surely would have been lost and frustrated without the gps. Some roads are also in VERY poor condition with potholes the size of bathtubs. We had to turn around at one point when, after a big rainstorm the night before, we came across a river in the road. Locals were passing through, but my husband was not comfortable our car had clearance. The car took a beating, but it got us to all of the activities and we saved a TON of money not doing packaged tours (which often ran $180 a person for the day).
We did the following activities with our children, all which are within a three hour drive. We went horseback riding right on the beach at the hotel and they took us down the beach to the nearby town. You will see the horses coming by every day and we just walked over and they gave us two to ride (around $50).
We also went to the nearby town of Tamarindo several times. There is decent shopping there, and a great surfing beach. The beach parking lot, though there is a security guard, is known for car thefts so don’t leave valuables and we were advised to leave our glove box open to show we had nothing of value. In Tamarindo, I called Iguana Tours directly to ask if we could take a boat tour through the mangroves. I was told we could so we drove over. This was an interesting tour, though the boat was small and tipsy, and there were not life preservers. My children and I were a little nervous, as we saw around 6 American Crocodiles and our guide told us bull sharks all come into the river from the ocean. There were iguanas and land crabs and various birds along the trip, and our guide parked and walked us to a known family of howler monkeys which he made howl but hitting the tree with a stick. This was an interesting tour and we saved a lot calling directly and driving ourselves.
Also in Tamarindo is a smaller canopy tour called Monkey Jungle. After visiting Monteverde Cloud Forest, and seeing one of the biggest/fastest zip line tours in Costa Rica (no thanks!), we were ready for a smaller, tamer version with the kids. We just drove by Monkey Jungle tours (not in the guidebooks) and hoped we could be scheduled for a tour. We drove through the back way (the direct road into town and up to this tour was the one with the river) and we were fortunate they were taking a group up and could accommodate us. The minimum age is 8 and I asked that both of my kids be hooked to guides which they agreed to with no problem. This tour was great and the guides were really nice. We had 7, I think, zip segments and were standing very near a group of howler monkeys at one point. They also provided fruit and drinks at the end and had a large Tarzan rope swing which my kids loved. The only issue here was that we were to pay afterwards (we paid $30 a person when I heard them charge others on a tour $50 a person), and I did not have that much cash, assuming they would take credit card. This was an ordeal and the guide had to drive me into town to an ATM (embarrassing). I paid him extra for his trouble, but remember that many places to do not take credit card in Costa Rica.
About an hour and a half away is the Rincon de Viejo National Park. There is a hike there at the base of the volcano that was amazing. There are boiling “pots of mud,” geothermal pools of boiling water, a *gorgeous* waterfall with a family of howler monkeys living in the trees above, and plenty of adventure for the kids (ie: rope bridges, things to climb over/under – but not difficult). There were white-faced capuchin monkeys and large blue butterflies along the trail. This ended up being a little longer than expected but one of my favorite experiences of the trip. From there we wanted to try the hot springs and mud baths. There was one near the base of this hike that was closed when we went by and he directed us to one a bit further and I am so glad we went to that one. The hot spring baths were along a beautiful river and there is a neat hanging bridge you have to cross to get there. They paint you with volcanic mud and then it dries and you soak in the hot spring. SUPER cool experience and only $10 a piece I think (again, would have been $$ with a tour).
Finally, we drove to Monteverde Cloud Forest hoping to tour both it and see the Arenal Volcano Park . The town at the base of Monteverde is Santa Elena and it is a neat little town. We ate at the Treehouse Restaurant, which is built into a large fig tree, and the food was great (I think there is also an adjoining hotel). The drive to this town, especially the last hour, is TERRIBLE. Bumpy, unpaved road. Crazy. Our goal here was to take the gondola through the cloud forest and to walk on the hanging bridges then head over to Arenal. There is also a gondola at the Arenal Volcano owned by the same company. The gondola ride was uneventful and a bit scary since he mentioned they close it in high winds and a big wind hit when we were mid-way up, but pretty. The hanging bridges were really neat. This is a guided tour and we found a group of howlers that were eye level with us about 200 feet up. They put on a little show for us and apparently even sometimes leap on the bridges. Again, I was a little nervous as you could see through the bridge bottom down, and the bridge would tilt slightly and bounce as people walked and looked over the side- not great if you have a fear of heights, but one of the highlights according to my kids. You can make a reservation for this tour, and when I called I was told they were booked but we went up anyway and they took us out. We skipped the huge zip line tour that normally starts at the top of the gondola. The guidebooks seemed to say we could take a ferry over the Arenal area to see the volcano which I really wanted to do, but apparently this trying to see both is a multi-day activity. I would plan to spend the night in this area if you want to see both. The volcano was not very active at the time anyway, I was told. My husband wanted to drive back before dark because on the way there we were pulled over for speeding and the police officer seemed to have pocketed the money we gave him (no receipt) so I think we experienced a “shake down” but he was nice and my husband was going way over the limit of 80Km per hour so I think it could have been worse.
All in all, a great trip and I would LOVE to return to this resort one day. I would also like to explore different areas in Costa Rica. Gorgeous country, friendly people, fabulous resort. Hope this helps!
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