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To kick off this post, (Why Costa Rica Is NOT An All-Inclusive Resort Destination; Part 1 of our blog series: Costa Rica All-Inclusive Resorts), I must admit that Costa Rica is in fact an all-inclusive resort destination. This is true in the sense that the country does offer a handful of all-inclusive resort options for travellers to choose from, most of which are located in the Guanacaste Province (primarily in the Papagayo area of the country). For those readers who are looking for a list of Costa Rica’s all-inclusive resort options, you will find this below. For everyone else who aims to learn why Costa Rica is not just another all-inclusive vacation destination, you have come to the right place.
Popular all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica:
- Hilton Papagayo (Guanacaste Province)
- Four Seasons Resort (Guanacaste Province)
- Occidental Grand Papagayo (Guanacaste Province)
- RIU Guanacaste (Guanacaste Province)
- The Westin Conchal (Guanacaste Province)
- Allegro Papagayo (Guanacaste Province)
- Barcelo Langosta (Guanacaste Province)
- Dreams Las Mareas (Guanacaste Province)
- Barcelo Tambor (Nicoya Peninsula)
- Doubletree Resort By Hilton Puntarenas (Puntarenas Province)
REAPING COSTA RICA’S REWARDS FROM OUTSIDE THE PARAMETERS OF AN ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT
The above list aside, Costa Rica is not an all-inclusive resort destination. It is not known for its wining and dining of tourists, modern resort properties, or luxurious amenities. Travel agencies and guidebooks may suggest otherwise (travel and tourism are competitive industries, after all), however Costa Rica’s popularity on this front pales in comparison to the offers of its greatest competitors: Mexico and the Caribbean. In fact, it is impractical to compare Costa Rica to these popular vacation hot spots as they have little in common beyond some obvious similarities – an abundance of tourism, a warm climate, and a variety of coastal destinations. You might as well be comparing fortune 500 companies to a successful small business – all are great sellers and likely deserving of their success, but the quality of the end product created by the homey, humble, and authentic small business is bound to be different than that which mass-production provides.
When it comes to the all-inclusive resort experience, I’ve had my fair share. Having stayed at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Costa Rica, I would skip repeat visits to each for a non-all-inclusive Costa Rican adventure any day. What Costa Rica lacks in resort formality it makes up for (and then some) in experience. True, natural, raw, emotional, foreign, enlightening experience, and no, you do not need to join Habitat For Humanity (Costa Rica chapter), volunteer to save the sea turtles, or plant a tree during your trip in order to obtain it. You also do not have to sacrifice the quality of your accommodations for a well-rounded trip that involves travel throughout the country, nor do you need to take up Spanish in order to be able to make it on your own outside of a resort’s grounds. Unbeknownst to first-time visitors, the country is both developed and progressive – one giant tourist-ripe banana, ready to be peeled if and when travellers are hungry for a bite.
So why is such an enlightening experience important when travelling? Because it is rewarding. When it comes down to it, all travellers (all-inclusive resort travellers and non-all-inclusive resort travellers alike) want the same thing: a relaxing, enjoyable, and affordable vacation. Three criteria that can be measured according to reward. Sure, all-inclusive resort-goers may suntan on the beach, sip cocktails by the pool, feast on the local cuisine, use free aquatic equipment, and enjoy nightly entertainment, but who doesn’t when visiting Costa Rica? Over 95% of the accommodation options available throughout the country are non-all-inclusive properties, yet many offer rewards similar to those provided by all-inclusive resorts and most often at more affordable rates (even when the cost of food and drinks purchased outside of an accommodation option are factored into the overall price). Ask around. You’ll be surprised to learn that many non-all-inclusive accommodation options offer complimentary cocktails and amenities (such as on-site hot springs and/or surfboard, bike, or kayak use). On the flip side, you’ll avoid paying for complimentary services that you neither want nor need. After all, you may be one of those travellers who actually utilizes a resort’s on-site gym, casino, or tennis court, but if you do not plan on accessing all three, why would you want the price of each worked into the calculation of your trip cost? Chances are you wouldn’t, which is why the “its great value” argument in favour of all-inclusive-resort travel rarely applies to all travellers.
Want greater rewards? Skip the resort and its “all-inclusive” hashtag. Travellers who opt not to stay at all-inclusive resorts reap loads of additional rewards, including the experience of actually touring a foreign country (not merely a foreign resort), opportunities to support local businesses, and real cultural immersion (beyond portrayals of Costa Rican festivities celebrated in nightly resort stage shows). To be fair, non-all-inclusive resort vacations do have their advantages, most notably their convenience as non all-inclusive resort travellers often pay for their trip items (accommodations, food/drinks, and activities) separately. When weighing the pros and cons, ask yourself the following: would you would prefer to know where each dollar of your earnings is being spent or do you feel comfortable signing off on a vague lump-sum vacation payment for the sheer convenience of cutting one cheque?
By this point, you may be questioning why all-inclusive resorts are such popular options if there are benefits to skipping them altogether. So why do travellers even bother with all-inclusive resorts when opting to visit Costa Rica? Because they simply do not know how to travel otherwise. Most travellers are uninformed of their options and unfamiliar with ways to experience Costa Rica beyond doing so via an all-inclusive resort. Hands down, one of the greatest misconceptions that first-time visitors have about travel to Costa Rica is that they must limit themselves to the confines of one accommodation (occasionally taking day trips to and from the accommodation and places of interest) in order to survive their trip. Few know that it is not only possible (and easy!) to travel throughout the country during their vacation, but that it can be relaxing, enjoyable, and affordable to do so. Who knew that rewards exist beyond those that on-site resort bracelets can get you – no chicken bus rides from point A to point B, eco-lodges with outhouses, or foreign translators required. Just a well deserved, well coordinated trip complete with the accommodation and service types you want, without the property boundaries of an all-inclusive resort holding you back.
WHAT ABOUT MY RESORT-QUALITY EXPERIENCE?
Have it! Costa Rica does not offer many all-inclusive resorts, however it does offer countless resort-quality accommodations. There is no need to ‘rough-it’ during your time in the country if you prefer not to do so, as gorgeous resort properties line some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches and plenty of sustainable eco-resorts hide amongst its in-land rainforest. The trick to obtaining a great resort-quality vacation by skipping the all-inclusive resort? Reshape your definition of “all-inclusive” to stretch beyond a resort’s freebies and include the authentic and holistic experiences that can be gained through travel to a new country. Plain and simple, Costa Rica – as a proud, culturally rich, and environmentally diverse country – offers far too much to see and do than that which all-inclusive resorts would ever be able to capture. For this reason, they are arguably anything but “all-inclusive”, so be sure to factor in the type of experience you wish to get out of your trip when researching all that goes into it. After all, is it a truly all-inclusive experience you long for? Or merely a visit to an all-inclusive, exclusive resort?
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE
If you enjoyed learning why Costa Rica is NOT an all-inclusive resort destination, see Part 2 of our Costa Rica All-Inclusive Resorts series: How To Have An All-Inclusive Vacation In Costa Rica WITHOUT The All-Inclusive Resort for assistance planning a non-all-inclusive vacation to beautiful Costa Rica!
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you experienced Costa Rica from a non-all-inclusive-resort perspective? How was the experience?