While there are just about a million other things to do in the midst of the holidays, let’s take a break from that list and escape into a few minutes of virtual paradise. Today we’re chatting all about our adults-only trip to an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica that we took a month ago!
I’m sharing highlights with some (hopefully helpful) takeaways and answering questions I’ve received from some of you, friends and family like if we would go back, what we would do differently, the resort, how we chose the area we did, excursions and more.
This was the second time traveling to Costa for Scott and I. Fun fact, we spent half of our honeymoon in the same area, in the same resort a little over twelve years ago. You can enjoy those *super awkward* throwback posts covering the trip in 2011 here and here.
There is A TON to cover, so know that I’m not diving into everything, but I’m going to do my best to condense things into categories that make sense and share a respectable amount of photos out of the *hundreds* I took while on vacation.
It’s not an easy task, but you’re welcome. 😉
Quick backstory …
I planned this trip as a follow-up celebration for Scott’s 50th birthday.
We originally wanted to travel during his birthday before we realized that the NYC Marathon was just two days later. I strategically scheduled this trip to happen after that busy weekend, and also after a long stretch of local events and overseas work trips for Scott. He needed a breather and opportunity to unplug, so I knew that would require me physically taking him somewhere with on-and-off service in order to do so.
We decided on a honeymoon reprise and to revisit some of the same spots we previously explored over a decade ago. We both remember saying “let’s come back ten years from now and do this again with friends!” back in 2011, and so we did.
Life is too short to keep saying let’s do things and not do them, and a milestone birthday was the perfect excuse to plan an adults-only vacation and actually make it happen.
Scott’s best friends from college, Joseph and Amanda, traveled with us and it was the first time the four of us were able to spend any considerable amount of time together outside of a few hours here and there on visits home to Arkansas/Missouri or to Houston to see family.
It totally worked out that they were flying in from Houston, which is also where we were dropping Skyler off to stay the week with his Aunt Brooke (Scott’s sister) and her family. We only had a few hours of a layover on the way down, but we extended our stay on the way back and ended up spending Thanksgiving in Houston before flying back to New York post-vacay.
It was great!
Our Adults-Only Trip to Costa Rica Highlights
Just to throw this out there, our resort was not adults-only, but we decided to make it a kid-free trip in order to fully relax, unwind and recharge outside of normal responsibilities. We stayed five nights and six days, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time away … but we were ready to get back to Skyler by the end of our stay in Central America!
“Pura Vida” is a phrase said all throughout the day, everywhere and it means “pure life” – symbolizing a simple, cheerful outlook and lifestyle.
People say it to mean “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “that’s great” and even “life is good.”
Costa Rica is said to be one of the happiest countries in the world, and I believe it … people seem to be drama-free and just do what’s expected. They look out for each other and obey laws without questioning them. It’s quite a different vibe than currently living in the United States, that’s for sure. *insert “yikes” emoji here*
Staying in the Cloud Forest region (Monteverde) during our honeymoon was awesome and somewhere we would both love to revisit, but Scott and I ultimately decided that being closer to the beaches was easier as a group.
On our last trip, we booked the cheaper flights into San Jose (about 4-5 hours away in the middle of the country) rather than into Liberia (about 12 miles or 20 minutes away). We opted to rent a car and drive across the country in order to do more of our own exploring and stop where and when we wanted to on our drive back, which is how we landed at the Hidden Canopy Treehouses Boutique Hotel in Monteverde.
That was really fun, yet questionable at times (lol), so keeping us closer and in one spot with more of an all-inclusive experience near the coast seemed like the best option. We didn’t want to rent a car this time, so we relied on hotel shuttle services and Uber to taxi us around to different restaurants and activities off-site.
Staying at Villa Sol Beach Resort – Playa Hermosa
Neither Scott or I are one to repeat stays or even restaurants in NYC, as there are infinite options and places to travel to and explore. That said, we stumbled upon Villa Sol Beach Resort in Playa Hermosa twice and went with it out of practicality.
We cashed in a prize that we won at an auction the first time, which included three nights and four days at the resort and covered the first half of our honeymoon. We enjoyed our time there and were surprised to see it pop up again as an option included in our timeshare travel options with Club Exploria/RCI.
I looked at few other places on the list, but I kept circling back to booking the Premium Ocean View Villa for the four of us at Villa Sol. Each couple had our own private room, and we shared two floors of a common area with a kitchen, living room and balconies.
We paid a small exchange fee and used some points for our stay, and we were each responsible to pay an all-inclusive fee of $75 per person per day. This covered all food, drinks, snacks and shuttle services on and across the property throughout the stay.
Compared to other all-inclusive resorts, Villa Sol was considerably cheaper. This might be seen as a red flag for some, but we felt good in our decision since we had been there before and knew what we were signing up for. *phew*
It was an ideal location to enjoy the beach, close enough to adventure tours, and nice enough to spend some of every day taking advantage of the included wet bar in the pool.
The resort is rated four stars … which might be a reach, but it’s a great place to stay, eat the meals you’d like to on-site, hang by the pool, and not feel bad about spending additional time and money dining out in nearby areas or on full-day adventure tours.
(More on food and drinks below!)
Activities + Excursions
Costa Rica is a top destination for Scott and I to travel together because it’s a great blend of chill and adventure. I want to chill on vacations and he wants adventure, so it’s a mix of both and as much as you’d like in both categories every day.
Where you stay can impact what type of activities you do, but the bigger resorts and hotels offer travel and tour companies for hire to take you just about anywhere. You can keep things low-key with sailboat rides, snorkeling, nature and animal walks or go more extreme with water sports like tubing, white water rafting, and adventure tours with zip lining, horseback riding, dips in the hot springs and more.
This time we planned three activity days that included a two-hour drive to Tamarindo Beach. Sadly, the weather wasn’t cooperative this day and it rained almost the whole time. We didn’t go surfing or have the beach tour across the three stops we imagined, but we made the most of our time in the area, had dinner on the beach and walked around the town before heading back to Playa Hermosa.
The next day was much more worth the hour drive to a nature walk through the rain forest and a stop through a coffee and chocolate farm. We didn’t have to walk too far to be able to observe exotic plants and animals in their natural habitats, and we saw toucans, frogs, snakes (woof) and three sloths!
We got up close and personal with this baby sloth, and our tour guide guessed that it was about eighteen months old.
It was sooooo stinking cute!
After the nature tour, we stopped by a coffee plantation about five minutes down the road. It was really neat to see, and we helped make (and sample) our own coffee and chocolate products.
We grabbed some souvenirs for family here, and I’m convinced that Costa Rican coffee trumps most coffee in the world with its rich flavor. (We discovered this back in 2011 when we went on our first coffee tour, and still feel the same!)
Locals LOVE coffee and drink it often throughout the day, but in small amounts, medium-roast, and mostly black.
The animals were a highlight, but I have to say that the boat ride and snorkeling trip on our last day was my favorite. We booked it while walking on the beach the day before, and it isn’t hard to find something to do this way.
It was much cheaper than the tours the hotels recommend, but I guess you’re rolling the dice a bit on the experience. Lucky for us, it was amazing and just what we needed to relax after several busy days on-the-go.
We boated over towards the private island that houses the Four Seasons hotel and snorkeled by Peninsula Papagayo for about an hour. I was done after thirty minutes and relaxed on the beach with a freshly cut pineapple from our boat driver’s back yard (no complaints at all), and Scott spent every minute he could in the water. He was definitely his element and said he swam with three different turtles!
Our driver took us over towards Monkey Head Island, and we all really loved cruising around the extra forty-five minutes or so. We took our time, listened to some tunes, took in the ocean views, and all agreed that this part was the breath of fresh air we all needed.
I would 10/10 recommend the nature tour, coffee and chocolate plantation tour and boat ride with snorkeling to anyone asking. Comment below, email or message me directly on social to get the direct contacts and booking information!
Food + Drinks (on and off-site)
The food at the resort was decent, but not great. The meals were good, but they could seriously improve their choices for the snack bars and in-between meals. I remember those being better last time, and there was also a restaurant on the property that was on the nicer side. This closed during the pandemic and never re-opened, which was a bummer to find out. The main dining hall is called Bahía Restaurant, which is where breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided with an impressive view of the ocean. It’s important to note, however, that it isn’t open all hours of the day and closes between 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., again from 3-6 p.m. and then closes for the night at 10 p.m.
I’m including this information because we almost went to bed hungry upon arrival as our flight landed at 8:30 p.m. and we didn’t get checked into the hotel until 9:40 p.m. Luckily, we asked about dinner right away and they called the restaurant to hold food for us. It was a close call.
Breakfast always included an omelet station (which I appreciated), freshly squeezed exotic fruit and vegetable juices, fruits, vegetables, pastries and rice, beans and plantains. Always rice, beans and plantains, ha. Lunch was surprisingly much better with house-made soups that were fresh and delicious, a salad bar and some type of meat and potato or pasta option. We only had dinner on property two nights, and it was good.
(More on the all-inclusive strategy and if it’s worth it below!)
They had one choice for beer (Imperial, the local Costa Rican lager) and a variety of wines and cocktails. I was pleased with the poolside cocktails – some were okay and sugary but others were fantastic like one I ordered on repeat with locally-made guaro (liquor produced from sugar cane), lemons and a hint of mint.
I would guess that we ate maybe half of our meals on resort property and the other half out.
The restaurants that we tried at nearby beaches were great!
We dined out twice on Playa Hermosa and once in Tamarindo. Joseph and Amanda lived on fish and he finished two huge plates like this while we were there!
We spent the second night out in Playas del Coco. Scott found a restaurant called Numu Taproom that was a hit. Our meal was delicious with a nice ambiance outside, and if we weren’t so tired we would have walked the strip of restaurants and night life spots.
My favorite find was within walking distance from our resort called Ginger Restaurant Bar. It had a beautiful outdoor setup in a treehouse with an Asian-fusion, tapas-style. We almost forgot that we were in Costa Rica!
It was a really nice way to spend our last night before heading back to the US.
Was All-Inclusive worth it?
The whole reason we chose to stay at the resort we did with an affordable all-inclusive fee was because we knew that we wanted to venture out, dine out, and that we would spend at least half of our meals and money elsewhere during our stay.
Had we wanted to stay more on-site, however, we probably would have considered upgrading the stay to more of a luxury brand and experience. We almost stayed at Dreams Las Mareas (World of Hyatt) in La Cruz, but it came with a much higher price tag for all-inclusive fees ranging anywhere from $275-$310 per person, per day. Knowing this, we wouldn’t have been able to justify getting off-site as much as we did.
So, if you’re curious if an all-inclusive stay is for you, think about how much time you want to spend at the actual resort and factor that into your accommodations experience. Is it a really nice place that you could dine out at in different environments and not get bored of the food? If so, awesome and your planning just got really easy!
If not, you may want to consider a different type of arrangement to get the most out of your stay, or consider staying at a place with “good not great” food at a more affordable rate.
That said, our strategy of picking a place that was good in a great location that allowed us to get out and adventure off-site without feeling bad for spending money elsewhere was perfect. We all agreed that how we booked our stay and explored around was the way to go!
Would we go back … again?
Abso-freaking-lutely. We really love this part of Central America!
Next time, however, we would stay in a new area to see different things. We might even take Skyler and experience the country in a completely new way. I guess only time will tell.
If you’ve made it this far in this lengthly post, congratulations!
I’m assuming that you clicked over for the photos and stories or you are curious about traveling to Costa Rica yourself and don’t know where to start. Thank you for reading either way, and please let me know if you have any specific questions in the comments below.
Until next time … Pura Vida!