Our trip was last minute. We (A COUPLE...aged 37 and 46) booked an all-inclusive 3 days prior to departure.
OUR HOLIDAY GOALS were:
- must have fabulous weather
- must have great ocean swimming
- must be a no thinking trip (we typically camp or backpack with little advance planning)
- must be quiet and feel intimate (i.e not part of a long beach of hotels, or feel like a large hotel)
- must fit our restricted budget
DECIDING ON AN ALL-INCLUSIVE SUPPLIER AND THE TRIP LOCATION
We didn't really care where we we were going so surfed through various all-inclusive suppliers on the internet. We eventually found a few amazing price options on Tripcentral.ca (partnering with Nolitours).
Our final location decision came after reviewing The Weather Network forecast for the various locations and checking satellite images of the resorts in question. Tambor in Costa Rica was forecasting only sun for the entire 7 days of our vacation with temperatures of over 35 degrees Celcius (yahoo!). From the satellite images, the Barcelo Resort was nicely spread out and hidden in a lovely jungle with not much around it.
Booking with Nolitours was easy although we had a couple of situations where we did not feel informed enough (see upcoming notes). Our flight from Vancouver to San Jose was direct with Air Transat.
ARRIVING IN COSTA RICA...A FEW SURPRISES
We arrived in San Jose at 3 p.m. local time and found the Nolitour rep who informed us that we were spending the night in San Jose as we had missed the last internal flight to Tambor for the day. Apparently the last flight to Tambor actually leaves before the Vancouver flight arrives in San Jose as they can not risk landing on a runway with no lights. We feel the communication from Nolitours could have been better in this respect. Had we known we were going to spend all this time in San Jose we would have planned for it. We were put up in the San Jose Barcelo hotel for the night (all part of our package) and then picked up at 6:30 a.m. the next day for our flight
ARRIVING IN TAMBOR VIA AN INTERNAL FLIGHT ON SANSA AIR FROM SAN JOSE
Upon booking with Nolitours you can chose between a long car/ferry transfer (apparently around 5 hours), or the short flight (about 25 minutes) with Sansa Air. We typically like the long journey option as you learn more about the country. This time we chose to pay a bit more to take the flight. A note that these flights can be bumpy (which can be a bit scary). It is not for everyone.
Upon arriving in Tambor we had 2 more surprises. We did not know that we had to pay a $2.25 US airport tax each (a note that you need to pay this on the way out too). We also did not know that a taxi had been arranged for us to bring us to the resort (Nolitours arranges the taxi both ways). We knew the airport was just down the road from the resort so we decided to walk.
BARCELO TAMBOR RESORT
Based on a suggestion from a Trip Advisor review, we let Nolitours know that we were looking for a quiet room. We were booked in building 6 on the ocean side away from the main pool and entertainment area. It was perfect.
The Barcelo Tambor Resort was a wow for us.
- clean facilities and well maintained grounds
- great security
- lots of wildlife roaming on the grounds (Iguanas, parrots, squirrels, horses, howler monkeys, racoons, crocodiles...)
- buffets with ample selection that varied daily. Lots of fruit, protein, etc. Not always the most flavourful food, but it certainly energized us. The coffee is not great (coffee loving Vancouverite opinion)
- a very long swim friendly beach with air temperature water
- friendly staff
- lots of activity options (boogie boarding, kayaking, tennis, golf, horseback riding, gym, mini golf, etc). The resort is very child friendly.
We were able to dine a la carte on a couple of the nights. The El Racho experience was un-memorable. A romantic location by the beach. The service was slow and food tasteless. The blaring TVs at the bar broke the magic of the room. The Sushi restaurant on the other hand was a wonderful experience. We were scared of it at first, so entered the empty room with trepidation. The idea of raw seafood in such high temperatures... It turned out to be amazing. Great service from Pedro and wonderful flavours.
Apparently there were 700 people at the resort while we were there. You would never have guessed. On the busiest day, 20 people were in the ocean or on the beach. The pool was the most popular location for sunbathers. Lounge chairs are claimed early in the morning for the entire day. (A note that the pool area has dance music playing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fun if you are looking for an energetic atmosphere. You can hide at the endless beach if you want peace).
We had read Trip Advisor comments about the beach being rocky. We experienced a dusty type of sand under the palm trees lining the beach. Then there was a strip of pebbles about 6 feet wide that you had to walk through to reach the silt style of fine sand on the beach where the tide goes in and out. Between high and low tide, we had about a 70 metre difference. Pure soft silty sand to walk and play on. It felt lovely on our feet. The beach is great for families. The surf never felt dangerous and there is no rip tide.
We were very happy to see that about 90% of the guests at the hotel were Costa Ricans. If the locals are going there it must be good! All the shows were in Spanish as a result, except on the last night when a large group from both Toronto and Montreal arrived. Then the show was translated to English to encourage participation. Even with the show in Spanish we could still follow what was going on. One show with competing couples had us laughing so hard we were crying (even though we didn't understand a word!).
THINGS TO PACK
You don't need much! We had carry on bags only and still feel we packed too much for 7 days.
- suntan lotion (it is not cheap in Costa Rica)
- reading material. The resort had a lot of books to lend, but only in Spanish, German and French
- outstanding value. Incredible, quite frankly. Not sure if it was because we booked last minute
- the resort responded to the vacation goals that we had