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All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica; Part 1: Why Costa Rica Is Not An All-Inclusive Resort Destination

All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica; Part 1: Why Costa Rica Is Not An All-Inclusive Resort Destination

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on October 2nd, 2017.

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The below post is the first part of our two-part series about all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica. For the purpose of our series, the all-inclusive resort information has been divided into two sections:

#1. Why Costa Rica is not an all-inclusive resort destination (i.e., why Costa Rica should be experienced beyond the confines of an all-inclusive resort, without sacrificing resort-quality experiences)
#2. How to have an “all-inclusive” vacation in Costa Rica without the all-inclusive resort (i.e., steps to plan a trip to Costa Rica after the all-inclusive resort is skipped)


all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica
Nikki; at the Barcelo all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica


To kick off this post, which argues that Costa Rica is not an all-inclusive resort destination, we must first admit with contradiction that Costa Rica is in fact an all-inclusive resort destination; 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. For travellers who are looking for a list of all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica, this is provided 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!

  • Hilton Papagayo (Guanacaste)
  • Four Seasons Resort (Guanacaste)
  • Occidental Grand Papagayo (Guanacaste)
  • RIU Guanacaste (Guanacaste)
  • The Westin Conchal (Guanacaste)
  • Allegro Papagayo (Guanacaste)
  • Barcelo Langosta (Guanacaste)
  • Dreams Las Mareas (Guanacaste)
  • Barcelo Tambor (Nicoya Peninsula)
  • Doubletree Resort By Hilton Puntarenas (Puntarenas)


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 experience that all-inclusive resorts offer, we’ve had our fair share. Having stayed at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Costa Rica, we 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.

“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.”
~ Nikki & Ricky,
Costa Rica Travel Blog

So why is such an enlightening experience important when travelling to Costa Rica? Because it is rewarding. When it comes down to it, all travellers (both 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 98% 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’s “all-inclusive” hashtag. Travellers who opt not to stay at all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica 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 whether you would prefer to know where each dollar of your earnings is being spent, or whether you feel comfortable signing off on a vague lump-sum vacation payment for the sheer convenience of cutting one cheque?

“Skip the resort’s “all-inclusive” hashtag. Travellers who opt not to stay at all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica 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).”
~ Nikki & Ricky,
Costa Rica Travel Blog

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 in 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.


No! There are not a ton of all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica, however the country 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 among its inland 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?


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: All-Inclusive Resorts In Costa Rica; Part 2: How To Have An All-Inclusive Vacation Without The All-Inclusive Resort for advice 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?

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24 thoughts on “All-Inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica; Part 1: Why Costa Rica Is Not An All-Inclusive Resort Destination”

  • You put it beautifully! Last year I went to both Costa Rica and Mexico. In Mexico I stayed at an all-inclusive (never again!!). In Costa Rica I stayed in a couple of different cabanas on both coasts and stayed at Sirena in Corcovado. Absolutely no comparison. I will be returning to Costa Rica but probably not Cabo….

    • Rob Jones –
      I am so glad you agree! I am not anti-all-inclusive-resort, however I am pro-researching-other-options as many travellers simply do not know that there are other vacation experience possibilities out there. Can’t wait to see you in Costa Rica again one day – give us a heads up the next time you make the trip and we’ll help you out however we can. 🙂
      Pura vida!

      • Will definitely let you know when I’m heading back that way…I was hoping later this spring…but don’t know if the timing will work with my job and Grandma…I think an all-inclusive resort is a great place to go with a group like for a wedding…but I much prefer spending time out in the country meeting the people!

  • I’m terrified of driving in a foreign country where I don’t speak the native tongue. I want to travel on my own from San Jose to Limon Province. Is there hope for me? I’ve been to Costa Rica before, but had been driven around by others.

    • Bluebird Annie –
      You are terrified with good concern! Driving in any foreign country (especially with language barriers present) is a challenge and one that should be approached carefully. For your specific request (travel between San Jose and the Limon province), I should ask… is it the port town of Limon specifically that you plan to visit or another area within the Limon province (such as Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, etc.)? I will also ask… at what time of year do you plan to make the trip? Certain times of the year receive more rain than others, and when rainfall is prominent the Limon province (Caribbean coast) is one of the first areas to flood. Given that one major highway leads travellers out of San Jose towards Limon (and then on from Limon to the south Caribbean beaches), flooded areas can lead to road closures which you do not want to run into in any situation, let alone one in which you are the driver. If you plan to visit during times of the year when rainfall is more sparse, this significantly decreases the chance of flooding. In this case, the drive between San Jose (once you make it outside of the busy downtown core, depending on the exact San Jose location you will be departing from), is a fairly straightforward one. The road (that takes you through Guapiles and Siquirres) is paved, direct, and typically problem-free (with the exception of protesters who block the highway in and around the Guapiles area at random times throughout the year). If you plan to continue on from Limon to the southern Caribbean beaches, the road gets bumpier, however it is nothing that a 4X4 vehicle cannot handle. I would recommend renting a GPS with your rental vehicle (some companies such as ours – Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated – offer a free GPS with rentals through particular vehicle agencies) for the convenience of having one if needed, however with this by your side, a reliable rental vehicle, and plans to travel at times of the year when rainfall is not at its highest, you should have no problems along your journey. Of course, if you are hesitant to drive yourself to your final destination in the Limon province but you would like to have a rental vehicle once there (to explore the area), you can always take a shared shuttle service or private transfer service to/from San Jose and Limon (or the southern Caribbean beaches) and have a rental vehicle agency deliver/pick-up the vehicle where you will be staying.
      As always, if you have any other questions we are more than happy to help! 🙂
      Pura vida!

      • Thanks for the great detail! My destination would be Siquirres, but it’s possible I could go on to Puerto Limon for a day trip. No plans to drive down the coast. Time of year to travel is flexible.

        Maybe a shared shuttle would be good. You never know who you will run into in a shared shuttle …. I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once! No plans to get back to Costa Rica this year. Maybe in 2014. My two previous trips included ground transportation. Next trip will have to be “on my own.”

        BTW, I have stayed at Buena Vista Lodge in Guanacaste Province. I was there for a citizen scientist project banding hummingbirds. Although it could probably be technically categorized as an “all inclusive” … it is a rustic eco-lodge on a farm on the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. It was really enjoyable, but it’s not what one would think of as a traditional All Inclusive with beach front and upscale amenities. I have been to all inclusives in the Bahamas and Jamaica. I had a great time. Loved the properties. But, you’re right, Costa Rica is just not an “all inclusive” kind of place. It begs for you to get out, see the countryside, enjoy the culture, the people, food, flora, fauna up close and personal.

        For the first time, I saw a cruise advertised (Princess Cruises – Thanksgiving Holiday 2013 cruise) that listed one of the stops as Puerto Limon! What’s going on there? I heard they were expanding the port. Sounds interesting.

        Thanks again! Love your blog!!

    • crookedflight –
      Thank you so much for your interest! Whenever you are able to make the trip, just let us know if you have any questions, are in need of help planning, or are looking for discounts. We’re happy to help! 🙂
      Pura vida!

  • Great information! We are wanting to book a trip to Costa Rica and I am so grateful to have come accrorss your blog! I loook forward to exploring it somemore and reading Part 2. Thanks for the follow as well 🙂

    • tmarthaller –
      That is great news! Feel free to email us at Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated ( if you have any questions at all or are in need of trip discounts. We’re happy to help with your future trip planning however you may need. 🙂
      Pura vida!

      • I will take you up on that offer most definitely 🙂 I think this is such a great blog and wonderful idea for people who dont know where to start…AKA ME! Thanks again and we will be in touch soon.

  • I totally agree with you. I visited Costa Rica a few years ago and the country was beautiful, but my all-inclusive resort left me with much to be desired. I always had the feeling that going outside of the all-inclusive box would have made it better. Glad to know I was correct.

    • RatherBeEating –
      We 100% agree! There is absolutely nothing wrong with all-inclusive resorts, however there is so much to experience beyond them. So glad to hear that you feel the same. A Costa Rican adventure is calling your name – should you ever make it back send us a note and we’ll help you formulate an awesome experience without the all-inclusive resort this time! 😉
      Pura vida!

  • My parents travelled to Costa Rica years ago and loved it. Instead of doing the all-inclusive route, they stayed in BnBs and got to know the families with whom they stayed. They had done the all-inclusives in Cuba (which they loved) but they found that their experience was so much more varied in Costa Rica. Personally, I doubt I would do an all inclusive – the other way offers so many more opportunities!
    Also, thanks for following my My Sicilian Home blog!

  • Visiting Costa Rica can really turn out to be a dream vacation. With houses ranging from resorts to villas and that too at beautiful locations, make the experience more enriching.

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