After a week of vacation, I'm generally ready to return home. This trip was the exception.
My wife and I spent a week at the Hilton. It was our first time in Costa Rica, and it provided the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation.
We had 6 full days at the hotel, given our travel before and after our first and last nights. We mixed things up with 3 days of activities and relaxation at the hotel and 3 days of tours. We're a younger couple with travel experience ranging from do-it-yourself drives across Alaska to all-inclusive European cruises, so are writing from that perspective.
Here are my thoughts on the various aspects of our experience:
Feedback on this site seemed a bit mixed regarding the hotel, but we thought it was wonderful and was an excellent value for the food, service, rooms, and recreational opportunities. Here's my breakdown of each.
Breakfast was a large buffet with multiple offerings. We loved the fresh fruit.
We at lunch nearly every day at El Bocadillo. Good food, not too heavy.
For dinner, we rotated between the 3 restaurants which required reservations, and enjoyed each one. We never ate at the buffet for dinner, but overheard some negative comments about the food quality.
In comparison to our previous all-inclusive experiences (cruises on Holland America, Carnival, and Disney), I would say the food was better than the latter two but not as good as Holland America, for what that's worth.
I had read a post on here in which someone complained there wasn't enough to do on-site. I would have been bored had we spent all 6 days on site, but having 3 full days, with a couple of half-days, was a nice mix.
Snorkeling: I took full advantage of the free snorkeling offered through the hotel and went 4 times during our stay. The recommended snorkeling site is a rocky area on the left side of the beach, as you're facing the ocean. I snorkeled a low and high tide, and had my best experiences during low tide. I saw all sorts of fish and even a sea snake (scared me a little). I don't consider myself an extensive snorkeler, but have been to Hawaii many times and would classify it as a middle-of-the-road snorkeling experience relative to the various sites I experienced in Hawaii--can't complain if it's free.
Kayaking: Again, another nice free offering. They have single and double kayaks available. We kayaked to a nearby beach which is just beyond the resort property, then walked around and explored that area (they ask that you not go much beyond that). Given the gulf's relative calm, it's not an exciting experience of riding waves, but a nice experience to mix things up a bit and explore an area that doesn't seem to be accessed much (we only ran into one other person during our 30 minutes on the beach).
Biking: Again, a free experience--a guided bike tour! This one surprised me a little bit in that it was more adventurous than I thought it might be. Every morning, the hotel offered a one-hour guided tour on mountain bikes to a nearby town. We called the activities desk the day before to make our reservation, and toured with 2 other couples (they had 7 bikes--one for the guide). We saw howler monkeys on the trip--our first monkey sighting on our vacation--and rode through the streets of a nearby town (can't recall the name). We then traveled back on a dirt path through the forest and took in the views at a nearby beach.
Hiking: There are two marked trails on the resort property. Both are fairly short hikes--maybe 30 minutes each--and one offered beautiful views of the property, gulf, and ocean. The resort does a guided sunset hike each evening up this trail. We got our favorite picture together at the top of this hike.
Pools: We absolutely loved the pools. The main area offered 3 different levels of pools, and we spent hours soaking in the sun and cooling off in the water. I would go back just for that.
Other free activities: The activities staff offered activities during most of the day, and provided a schedule for us when we checked in. Activities ranged from guided kayaking and snorkeling to Spanish lessons to a game of giant Jenga to pool volleyball to beach soccer. I was a fan of the pool volleyball game, which happened every afternoon at 4 pm, and was a nice opportunity to meet some of the other guests and get a little physical activity in. We weren't avid participants in the activities, but they usually seemed to have a group of at least 5 or so people as part of these.
Jet skiing: We rented a jet ski through Resort Divers (on-site) during our last afternoon. Rental was $65 for 1/2 hour--a little pricey, but comparable to what I've seen at other resort sites. The day was a little windy and the water was choppy, which made for some exciting jet-skiing in the gulf. 1/2 hour was plenty of time, and it made for a little adventure on one of our days spent at the resort.
I didn't see any of the other rooms besides ours, so can only comment on ours. I had seen comments on here that the rooms could use a little updating, and can't disagree with that, but had no complaints. Our room was always clean and had a nice little patio. Multiple TV channel offerings (many in English), which came in handy in the evenings (as others mentioned, not a whole lot to do on-site in the evenings), but would have been nice to have some pay-per-view movie offerings. Internet access was paid in the rooms, free in the main hotel lobby, and I learned that if you accessed the Internet at the lobby, you would receive a code at the time of access which you could then use throughout the resort for continued access for free for 1 hour total.
I had also seen comments about the fridge--we were told the first night our fridge in our room would be restocked daily with beer and Coke, but found that wasn't the case. After 2 days, we called down and asked that it be restocked, and found that every day after that it was stocked.
If we go back again, I will bring a supply of 1s and 5s. We rarely saw anyone tip, but the one time I can comment on this was a woman who left the server a couple of bucks for bringing her beers at the pool. This was during one of those pool volleyball games, and by the end of the game, she had 6 full beers lined up at the side of the pool (hadn't requested them, and we were all sort of laughing about it together). Needless to say, I got the impression that a little bit of tipping would go a long way.
The resort information they provide states that a 10% gratuity is included in the stay, but guests are welcome to tip additionally. We didn't tip at the time of the service, due a lack of small bills (I asked the front desk for bills, but they didn't have these), and had no complaints about the service (a little slow at dinner and the bar a couple of times, but not horrible). We did leave tips on our credit card at the end of our stay (again, not requested or required, but something we chose to do), but I thought those tips would have gone a lot further had we left a couple of dollars here and there, with, say, a 5 at dinner. Again, I rarely saw anyone else doing this, so I wouldn't go with the expectation that this would be something to plan for, but I had just made a mental note of this as something I would do if we return.
We booked our tours on-site at Swiss Travel. I've included below the price for each, but I'm guessing there's some seasonal variation. We didn't try to negotiate for lower prices, and didn't look into other tour providers. If I were to do it again, I would book with Swiss Travel. The operation was very professional, and our longer drives were on large, new, air-conditioned buses--which seemed to take some of the bumps out of the road and provided large windows to take in the views. We did tours on days 2, 3, and 5 of our 6 full days at the resort, which provided for us a nice mix of resort time and an opportunity to experience much more of Costa Rica.
Ziplining. $50/person. This was surprisingly good--I was expected a couple of zip lines in the forest that you would do a few times. The site had a network of at least 15 ziplines traveling through the forest canopy, with platforms suspended high up the trees between each one. I don't think it's something I would do when returning, but it made for a fun afternoon.
Palo Verde National Park. $60/person. Nice afternoon adventure which included a stop at El Silencio, a historic site, and a one-hour boat ride on the Tempisque River. If I had to choose 1 of our 3 excursions to do without, this would be it, although we had a nice experience. We saw several howler monkeys, included a mother with a baby on its back, at El Silencio, and saw capuchin monkeys along the river on the boat ride--our only capuchin sighting during the trip. The boat ride offered plentiful views of crocodiles and iguanas.
Arenal Volcano. $120/person. We started this all-day trip from our hotel at 7:30 am and returned at about 9:30 pm, and while this was out most expensive outing, I also felt this offered the best value and greatest overall experience. The drive through the Costa Rican countryside was beautiful--we traveled about 2 hours, then had an included lunch provided at a restaurant near a lake at the base of the volcano. We then traveled by boat across the lake, which provided beautiful views and great photo opportunities of the volcano. We hiked through a rain forest at the volcano base, which was our only opportunity on the trip to truly experience a Costa Rican rain forest. The tour then included an hour and a half at a hot springs at the volcano base--not quite as hot as I had expected (as an avid hot-tubber, I would put the temperature at around 100 degrees, at best), but a refreshing experience. Finally, we had an included dinner at a 5-star hotel with amazing views of the volcano. The drive back (3 hours) was a killer for someone like myself with significant motion sickness (even with Dramamine), but that's my only negative feedback about the tour. We did this tour for our second-to-last day, and it provided the perfect capstone to our Costa Rican experience.
Overall, we absolutely loved our experience, both as our first time in Costa Rica and our experience with the hotel. We were fortunate enough to have perfect weather throughout our stay, which certainly enhanced our experience. We're the types who like to experience different places and have new experiences when vacationing, so don't often talk about returning to a site with regularity, but, with this site, we've already been thinking ahead about a possible visit next year or sometime in the near future.
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