We visited the Westin Playa Conchal Guanacaste from December 19-26 2011. It must be tough to run a resort like this, particularly an all-inclusive resort. Since its pretty expensive and for many it's their only vacation this year, many guests' expectations are practically unlimited. Still, there are reasonable expectations that that the Westin is obliged to meet. I've tried my best to apply reasonable expectations.
- The Westin is a generally clean and modern facility. They are upgrading a number of the cabanas as we speak so I'm hopeful that they will remain modern and well maintained.
- It seems that (as opposed to prior posts) all of the restaurants are open. You can eat at the pool and if you like thin crust the pizza is really good.
- The Westin seems to have good external security (see below for internal security). All of the entrances to the external world are guarded by men with guns. This shouldn't alarm anyone. I found it very reassuring. There was a very clear boundary between inside and outside. With the exception of the thefts described below, life inside was as carefree as anywhere in the Third World.
- The US Dollar rules here. I routinely paid in Dollars and the only time I had any Colones was when I received them in change. Most of the time prices were quoted in Dollars. The conversion is pretty easy, about C500:$1. Some of the Colones notes are pretty cool so I think I'll take a few C1000 (about $2) home as souvenirs.
- Point Break Surf School: Matt is an expat New Zealander so he speaks English pretty well. He's very good at teaching surfing, and he's a dad so he's good with small kids. We booked through Erick (one of the Westin's back gate vendors) for three hours total (about two hours in the water plus 1/2 hour there and a 1/2 hour back) for $50/kid and $15/watching adult. Two kids plus two adults = $130. Beware that Playa Grande, while excellent for surf lessons (good surf but pretty empty), has NO SHADE so you may want to bring an umbrella or some other type of shade.
- Palo Verde National Park Tour: We booked through Naldo at the Westin's Daily Tour Shop. Two kids plus two adults = $258. I hear that Erick is cheaper but I didn't use him for this. We were met in the lobby at about 2pm by Eric (a different guy, not Erick), an expat Frenchman, again excellent English. Travel time is about 1.25 hours each way, some of it is very bumpy. After a quick pit stop at El Viejo (Anastasio Somoza, President of Nicaragua's ranch) we boarded a very modern and safe tour boat at Palo Verde. We saw several species of monkeys, three crocodiles, bats, a half dozen different species of birds including Scarlet Macaws, and more iguanas than I can count. We were probably on the river for about an hour and a half and got back to the Westin a little before 7pm. It was an excellent trip. Bring a telephoto lens.
- Deep Blue Divers: I'm an avid diver and tried several shops. Before we arrived, I had booked through Deep Blue Divers in Playa de Cocos. $90 for two tanks because I brought my own equipment. They were very professional and friendly and they used acceptable equipment. Unfortunately getting to the shop from my hotel took an hour each way and cost $140 round trip in taxi fares so that kind of hurt. The diving within the Playa de Cocos bay is mediocre - there just isn't much to see but the water is pretty calm. Deep Blue only offers nitrox if you call the night before. They don't rent computers so if you want one, bring it.
- Pacific Coast Divers: Naldo at the Daily Tours shop hooked me up with Pablo who hooked me up with Pacific Coast Divers. $100 for two tanks and they pick you up from the Westin. They have acceptable gear but again I used my own gear. Both days with Pacific Coast we dove at Catalinas. We saw a Shark both days (reef shark one day, a nurse shark the other) and we saw Stingrays, Devil Rays, Spotted Eagle Rays, and a huge 20-25' wide Manta Ray, plus the usual assortment of reef fish, moray eels, lobster, etc. The bottom was stirred up both days so visibility was limited to 10-15' and photography wasn't great. The more advanced divers were dropped on the east side of Catalinas, where the larger pelagics live. It's a more difficult dive but well worth it. Beware, getting back aboard is very difficult and quite exhausting so be sure you're up to it. They don't rent computers and they don't have nitrox but their t-shirts are a bargain at $15.
- While a good number of the hotel staff speak some English, probably only 25% speak English well enough to have a conversation. These folks tend to be in the high contact roles like the front desk staff, concierge, and the restaurant hostess roles. The waiters and bartenders speak some English but little more than what's necessary to get your drink. If you speak only English, don't expect the maids and other maintenance employees to understand a word you say.
- While we didn't lose anything (so far) we heard quite a few stories from others about items stolen from their rooms. There is a small safe in each room and no one seemed to have anything stolen from the safe when it was locked but more than one person told us about forgetting to lock it or thinking that they had locked it when their things were stolen. You have to be careful.
- The Westin doesn't own the last 50 feet to the beach. As a result, when you walk out the back gate, it's "welcome to the jungle." The Westin has big signs stating that they take no responsibility for any of the tour operators once you leave the premises and if you walk out that gate be prepared to be besieged by vendors wanting your business. That's not all bad. Most of the vendors seemed responsible and some spoke much better English than the hotel staff. But if you find aggressive salesmen intimidating, be prepared.
- Towels: When you arrive, you're given 1 card per guest. You trade the card for a beach or pool towel and get the card back when you return the towel. The penalty for losing the card - or your towel - is $50. Are you kidding me?
- Internet: Free in the lobby, $12/day anywhere else. Be prepared: if you travel extensively this is not the Internet you're used to getting in major US hotels. There seems to be a very limited bandwidth you're fighting for. Availability gets better at night and always seemed OK in the lobby (where it's free).
- The restaurants and room service routinely screwed up our orders. In fact the only meals so far that haven't been messed up are at the buffets and the pizza parlor. In some cases, we received only three of four meals. In others individual items were forgotten or misinterpreted. The words "cream cheese" seem to be a tough one for them so I recommend you ask for "queso crema" or risk getting grilled cheese.
- The airlines just can't get the baggage situation right. Continental lost three of our four checked bags. When I called that night they said they had them and would deliver them starting a 5am the next day. When that didn't happen, I called and they told me they had already discovered the oversight and and that they were already on their way (keep in mind that the resort is an hour away from the airport.) We got two of the three bags at 5pm the second day. When I called to ask about the third, they said they were having trouble identifying it. When they returned at about 7pm, I couldn't figure out why it was so hard to identify it since it had my name on its outside in at least three places: the airline's baggage tag, the airline's sticker, and my personal baggage tag. Do yourself a favor - carry on all your bags! It will severely reduce your stress level.
- Westin doesn't yet understand that you can't be "semi-exclusive" and "all-inclusive" at the same time. The guests in the Royal Club towers have exclusive adults-only rights to one of the property's two pools and pool bars. Meanwhile, at the other pool, "family concierge" guests have exclusive rights to chairs on the side of the pool with both shade and a view of the pool in the afternoon. I recognize that Westin is trying to segment customers and stratify its offerings to enhance revenue but this is counter to the all- inclusive ethos. I'm aware that this is Westin's first all-inclusive resort so I'm willing to predict that this is something they later see as a mistake and correct.
- Compounding the semi-exclusive/all-inclusive conundrum is the fact that the restrictions are poorly (if at all) communicated. After eating breakfast at the Italian restaurant two consecutive days, I arrived the third morning to be told that breakfast there was restricted to Royal Club members and that I needed to go most of the way across the property to the open seating breakfast. While eating that breakfast I asked the waiter where I was to have breakfast for the remaining days. While he knew I was in the same place the next day, after that he didn't know (and seemed quite embarrassed about it). The "family concierge" chairs are set aside by a couple of easily overlooked potted plants. We didn't receive an activity listing until we day before we left. We never received anything describing what restaurants were OK and when and which were not. The main course is Confusion served with a side of Embarrassment and a little Anger.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Westin Playa Conchal is an All Inclusive eco-friendly retreat, located between the exotic forests and unspoiled beaches of the North Pacific Riviera of Costa Rica. Our secluded vacation spot is a perfect balance between unrivaled luxury and local culture, giving our guests an unforgettable vacation experience. Our All Inclusive experience includes all meals, drinks, use of our fitness center and kids club as well as entertainment options including non motorized water sports, daily activities and nightly events. The resort also offers an adult only all exclusive experience at the Royal Beach Club where guests have access to a private pool with concierge service. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Westin Resort & Spa, Playa Conchal Hotel Playa Conchal
- The Westin Resort And Spa, Playa Conchal