Travelers considering All Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica sometimes discover their expectations and previous experience don’t apply.
There are some amazing resorts but there are things you should consider before you reserve a non-refundable week in Papagayo.
Geographic and economic realities encourage spending a few nights inland at an eco-lodge or boutique hotel first then finishing up with a few days at a beach resort to get the most out of your visit.
If a mini-suite with a balcony overlooking a pool, swim up bar and the ocean in the background is what you want then an AI might be the right choice, but Costa Rica might not.
Costa Rica has dazzling beaches and there’s nothing wrong with spending a week or two in a lounge chair on one of them but you’d never even have to know what country you’re in. Like land locked cruise ships, resorts are designed to be self contained and guests have a tendency to want to stick around since they’ve paid for everything in advance.
Really getting to know Costa Rica means traveling to see resplendent quetzals in their cloud forest habitat, heading to the remote Osa peninsula where Corcovado park protects Tapirs and Jaguars, or even visiting a working coffee farm steeped in traditions and history. Along the way you’ll discover some of the warmest people in the world and learn a little of the unique culture.
If you’re not planning to explore the national parks, wildlife refuges, volcanoes, rivers and rain forests Costa Rica is best known for you can probably find a beach two or three hours closer to home that looks pretty much the same.
No matter how much extra you’re willing to spend on tours you’re not going to see the cloud forest or coffee farm, go white water rafting, rappel a waterfall or soak in the volcanic hot springs while staying at an AI.
All of the resorts are located in a cluster on the northwest Pacific coast in Guanacaste where the regional micro-climate guarantees hot dry weather during the North American and European winter months.
That’s perfect for vacationers who want to escape to the beach. However it isolates the resorts 3 to 5 hours drive (one way) from the tropical nature Costa Rica is famous for.
Constant sun around the resorts reduces the local rivers to trickles precluding rafting and drying up waterfalls. The volcanoes and hot springs are in the middle of the country as are the mist shrouded mountain tops known as cloud forests.
The trees around the resorts are part of the tropical dry forest and lose their leaves when the rains end. Cactus on rocky ridges along the shores create a landscape more reminiscent of desert than the lush jungle many people want to see in Costa Rica.
Six to ten hours round trip isn’t reasonable for a day. It makes more sense to stay inland in an eco-lodge or boutique hotel for a few nights.
Many people like the idea of an “All Inclusive” to help manage costs and it can be easier to see how much you’re spending. However in Costa Rica it may seem like you’re spending a lot for what you get.
Many people from the U.S. are familiar with bargains at AI resorts in Mexico and are frustrated by the prices in Costa Rica because there is less competition. For every AI room available in Costa Rica there are more than 17 on sale in Mexico. On the other hand, the opposite is true for eco-lodges where you may get more for your money in Costa Rica.
Additionally, the cost of living is higher meaning the resorts pay higher wages and everything from electricity to food and cleaning supplies costs more. These economic realities make the bottom line more expensive in Costa Rica.
You almost always get what you pay for – If you find an amazing bargain on an inclusive in Costa Rica please check out the property, location and reviews very carefully.
Beach chairs, umbrellas, boogie boards and kayaks to play in the waves are usually available but Jet Skis, canopy zip-line or guided wildlife watching are typically not part of the “all” that’s included. Mangrove kayaking, surf lessons, a catamaran snorkeling cruise (there’s not really good snorkeling from the beaches in Costa Rica) are probably going to cost extra.
Many resorts are the opposite of inclusive when it comes to connectivity. While most hotels, lodges, restaurants and cafes have free wi-fi most resorts charge extra.
AI usually means the room rate includes a buffet, some beer and some liquor. Ordering off a menu at the resort’s reservation only restaurants or choosing top shelf cocktails aren’t part of “all” either.
If you’re hoping to eat and drink your way to a bargain you better have a big appetite and a high tolerance for hangovers. For example, if you skip the “inclusive” you can buy a bottle of Cuervo for $30, a bushel of limes for $3 and even hire a private bartender to mix margaritas all night for about $30.
Our goal isn’t to talk visitors out of AIs. It’s to help everyone make the most of their Costa Rica vacation by providing the information to make the best choice.
We’ve done plenty of trips with groups of friends and extended family that would have been a nightmare without the flexibility that inclusive can provide. I can’t even imagine trying to round everyone up three times a day to decide where to eat. In fact we have some exclusive arrangements with a few eco-lodges to include meals and create semi-inclusive (remember there’s no such thing as “all”) trips that include beaches and the other natural wonders of Costa Rica. Request a custom trip plan now.