Last year, we uncharacteristically booked a long weekend trip to Costa Rica with only one week’s notice. (We’re usually planners.) This year, we uncharacteristically decided to go back to the Andaz Papagayo. (We usually like to try new places.) But getting a big, beautiful room in paradise for $75/night is hard to beat. As holders of the Chase Hyatt Visa card, we each get a free category 1-4 night every year. The card’s $75 annual fee is totally worth it when you can redeem the free night on a hotel like the category 4 Andaz Papagayo, which would’ve cost us $500 + resort fees per night had we booked it normally. Our third night was a mere 15,000 Hyatt points, which is a steal relative to the value.
We were happy to find that we hadn’t overly romanticized the resort in the year since we’d been. It was every bit as nice and relaxing as we remembered! Instead of reprising all of the basics, I wanted to focus on the details that
made make us want to go back, as well as a few new discoveries.
Last year, we arrived at night, so I was giddy thinking about pulling up to the beautiful open-air lobby during daylight this time. The incredibly friendly staff immediately asked us to sit in the comfortable chairs overlooking the vibrant blue bay, then served us pineapple + mint juice and chilled towels to cool off. After checking in, our bags were loaded onto a golf cart, and we were driven through the resort’s gorgeous landscape to our room for the weekend. I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly the greeting I want to have when I arrive for a relaxing vacation.
The service at the resort is relaxed (this is Latin America, after all) but attentive. Every single staff person we interacted with was warm, friendly, and helpful. The resort accepts USD ($) and most of the staff speaks good English, so you don’t have to exchange money or dust off your high school Spanish skills unless you want to. Extra touches like towel service, sunscreen (and bug spray), and drink service at the pool and beach go a long way to make it feel like a luxurious retreat. And the wi-fi keeps you connected throughout the resort, including at the pool and the beach.
It’s not often that resorts have very large standard rooms. At 560 square feet, the “worst” rooms at the Andaz Papagayo are bigger than junior suites at many hotels. The rooms have great storage space, a balcony big enough for morning yoga, and a huge, open-air shower. As a light sleeper, I really appreciated the big, dark window shades–plus it’s a thrill to open them each morning to see sweeping views of the Culebra Bay, tropical forest, and maybe even monkeys!
The beautiful, organic design of the rooms (and the resort as a whole) is inspired. The aspects that really stand out, though, are all of the thoughtful details throughout the room. Complimentary amenities include a non-alcoholic minibar and snack selection that are replenished daily, coffee and tea, fedoras, flip flops, and a beach bag. Motion-sensored lights in the bathroom mean you don’t have to fumble for light switches if you need to get up in the night. Panels of controls on both sides of the bed (and by the door) make it easy to control the lights and fan without getting up. The iPod/iPhone speakers actually had a lightning port adaptor, rather than the outdated ten-pin ones that many hotels still have.
Starting each morning with a hearty Costa Rican breakfast with a breathtaking ocean view is ideal. Because of my Puerto Rican heritage, I grew up eating black beans & rice, plantains, and avocados (before they were cool), so I felt right at home with Rio Bhongo’s breakfast menu. Local fruit juices, smoothies, and the barista’s coffee specials top off the first meal of the day.
Our favorite lunch option is ordering ceviche, kabobs, or sandwiches at the adults-only pool. The attentive wait staff takes your order from the comfort of your lounge chair and delivers your food to you. Easy peasy. Poolside ordering is also available at the family pool, but we prefer the peace and serenity (and lack of splashing) at the adults-only pool. We’ve also had fabulous pre-golf lunches at the Four Seasons’ CR Burger Shack, which is just a free shuttle ride away. Their gourmet burgers and sandwiches are grilled to order, and they offer surprisingly good sides like sweet and spicy sweet potato fries, watermelon and mint pinchos (which inspired my watermelon skewers recipe), and milkshakes.
I LOVE ceviche, so the Andaz’s upscale restaurant Ostra is a dream. You can order a limited selection of their ceviche at lunchtime, but for dinner, you can customize your order with the chef at the ceviche bar (mango and avocado for me!). I also love the complimentary welcome drinks offered at Ostra. This time they had a mango-passionfruit sangria and a non-alcoholic strawberry-cinnamon juice. Another fun dinner option is ordering tapas at Chao Pescao. In reality, they’re more like “medios” or medium-sized plates, rather than tapas or small plates. Two to three plates was usually plenty to fill us up! We loved the chicken arepas, salmon tiradito (a raw preparation), and pinchos (skewers) with chicken, beef, chorizo, and veggies. Their live music on the weekends is lively.
This year, we got to fully check out the Onda Spa because Nick gifted me a spa treatment for my birthday (and I insisted he get a massage, too, since he’d barely slept the week before our trip due to work). If you can fit it into your vacation budget, I highly recommend it! I chose the Guanacaste Journey, which included a scrub, hot stone massage, facial, and head massage all using organic, Costa Rican ingredients. I got to choose the setting (open-air room, duh) and customize the music (nature sounds, of course). The open-air treatment room was basically a treehouse overlooking the bay, and the sounds of waves crashing were hypnotic, for sure.
One of our favorite discoveries was that you can sit in the open-air spa “lobby,” whether or not you’re getting a treatment, and they’ll serve you cold green tea and chilled towels. (We went everyday!) We already knew that the steam rooms, gym, and other spa facilities are open to all guests, and we definitely took advantage of those again.
Once again, we had a fantastic experience playing golf at the Four Season’s Arnold Palmer Signature course. The service is top notch (think chilled towels and water bottles delivered throughout the round), the course is in very good condition, and the views are stunning.
Another fun discovery for our second trip was the e-concierge service on the website. You can use it to book spa appointments, dining reservations, airport transfers, etc. The “Special Room Requests” tab is the winner, though. We used it to let them know we were celebrating my birthday, and we were greeted with birthday decorations and a little birthday cake in our room! You can also use that tab to alert them if you’re honeymooners, celebrating an anniversary, or same sex travel companions (so that you’ll get appropriately sized flip flops).
Why we’ll go back
I usually love the thrill of exploring a new place, but sometimes a comfortable, relaxing vacation is what we need. Costa Rica’s gracious hospitality might even beat Southern hospitality for its warmth and friendliness (heresy, I know). A 3.5 hour, nonstop flight from Atlanta, then a 30 minute transfer make getting to the Andaz a relative breeze. Having wi-fi available resort-wide eases some of the discomfort of traveling internationally. And all of the thoughtful details at the resort make it feel like more than just a place to rest a night. There’s a high likelihood that the Andaz Papagayo will be at the top of our list when our free Hyatt anniversary nights come around again.