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Blessed with an abundance of pristine natural wonders, Costa Rica has become Central America's premier tourist destination. Imposing mountains, lush cloud rainforests and an extraordinarily high biodiversity have given rise to a host of adventure activities, eco-tourism projects and therapeutic yoga retreats. However, it is on the idyllic sandy beaches and under gently swaying palms that visitors discover the true meaning of ‘pura vida’ (pure life). Coastal hotels and resorts have emerged to offer the ultimate in tropical beach escapes, providing relaxing and stylish accommodation with expansive ocean views and a wealth of ocean-based water activities. From scuba diving among colorful coral reefs, surfing breaks off deserted beaches and big-game fishing charters to relaxing in a shaded hammock or drinking cocktails while watching the sunset, Costa Rica has everything necessary to create the perfect beachside getaway. Here, our favorite stays around.
Best Overall: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
With a name that has become synonymous with style and luxury, the Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo proudly stands as one of the crown jewels of this renowned chain. The graceful timber building is set amidst green gardens filled with bright tropical flowers, leading down to golden beaches perfect for snorkeling, boating and lazing in the sun. The décor of the roomy suites is sympathetic to the natural setting, with soft beige and grey furniture surrounded by striking wood highlights. In the hotel courtyard, the sun lounges and plush cabanas lining the edge of the expansive infinity pool make a great place to soak in the tropical ambiance. The indulgent spa pampers guests with exfoliating coffee scrubs and relaxing massage treatments. The Arnold Palmer-designed golf course offers 18 meticulously landscaped fairways in a stunning natural setting. Guests can choose to dine on tasty Italian dishes and fresh seafood in the upscale Di Mare restaurant or relax over snacks and drinks at the poolside Congo's Bar & Grill.
Best Budget: Hotel Villa Amarilla
Mere steps from the surf breaks of Tamarindo, the Hotel Villa Amarillo cultivates a grungy surfer vibe that perfectly suits those looking for chill surfing days and lively social evenings. Rooms are basic but come with all the necessary amenities to keep guests in comfort, including all-important air-conditioning, and are brightened by colorful murals depicting local sea life and tranquil sunsets. The communal lounge contains plentiful hammocks for those looking to relax with a read from the trade-in book selection, and a ping-pong table creates a focal point for those looking to socialize with fellow guests. A selection of free fruits is permanently available in the guest kitchen, and pastries and coffee are on hand to start mornings right. Inexpensive massages are on offer in the grassy courtyard, where guests gather in the evenings to watch the sunset and share a drink with the friendly and helpful owners.
Best Boutique: Latitude 10
Six secluded beachfront bungalows built in the style of a Balinese beach lodge and set amidst verdant gardens make up the peaceful Latitude 10 hotel. The luxurious cabins feature wooden four-poster king beds, soothing rainfall showers and shuttered windows opening out onto a sheltered porch with large cotton hammocks. Surfboards and bicycles are provided for guests wanting to surf the popular beach breaks in front of the hotel or explore the nearby towns and forests. For a more relaxed day, an open-air spa offers therapeutic Ayurvedic flow massages and rejuvenating salt wraps. The Clubhouse restaurant offers a selection of salads, kebab skewers and local seafood dishes, and local beers and refreshing cocktails are served in the bamboo-lined casual bar. Guests can enjoy sunset ocean views while relaxing in the intimate infinity pool or on padded pool lounges in the surrounding grassy grounds.
Best Family: JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa
The JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort occupies a peaceful location on the sands of secluded Mansita Beach. Modeled in the style of a colonial-era villa, the whitewashed walls and terracotta shingles of the exterior are complemented by tiled floors, earthy tones and wooden décor in minimalist rooms. Large floor-to-ceiling sliding windows open onto shady terraces and balconies, where guests can relax and enjoy the beach and garden views. The enormous infinity pool is the largest in Central America and follows a free-form design that excellently exhibits the landscaped gardens, incorporating hot tubs and a separate shallow kids’ pool. The kids’ club provides supervised activities for young children while parents can enjoy body wraps on the fountained sundeck of the open-air spa. Five restaurants serve a range of delicious meals such as sizzling steaks and gourmet Asian fusion cuisine and provide a variety of dining settings from open-air wooden shelters and rustic hacienda halls to elegant dining lounges and scenic outdoor terraces.
Best Romance: Secrets Papagayo Costa Rica
Set within expansive landscaped gardens facing onto an isolated beachfront, Secrets Papagayo manages to incorporate all the indulgence and luxury of a large resort while maintaining the seclusion and privacy of a boutique hotel. Comfortable rooms combine modern minimalist décor with natural wood accents and come with walk-in rainfall showers, generous vanity counters and soothing hot tubs in select suites. Couples can relax under thatched roofs in the open-air spa, which features seaweed wraps and hot stone massages as well as a sauna and a whirlpool spa. The stone-lined pool comes in two tiers and with a chill swim-up bar as well as an intimate spa pool with ocean views. Guests can select healthy organic dishes, hearty Italian cuisine and Asian fusion creations at the six hotel restaurants, which offer cozy dining rooms and scenic open-air terraces. Post-dinner libations can be enjoyed in the intimate lobby bar, where a selection of top-shelf domestic and international spirits are available.
Best Luxury: El Mangroove, Autograph Collection
On the black sand beaches of the Liberian Peninsula, El Mangroove offers relaxed elegance and indulgent pampering amidst a tropical forest. Large rooms combine cream colors and wooden décor in a bright modern style that makes great use of natural lighting. Curtained cabanas and thatched sun shelters filled with padded lounges and suspended hammock chairs surround a picturesque pool running the length of the courtyard. Activities await adventuresome guests, with snorkeling, sport fishing and kayaking just some of the water-based excursions offered. On land, guests can immerse themselves in the local equestrian culture, observe ancient agricultural practices, and tour the farms, waterfalls and regenerated forests by horseback. In the outdoor terraces and treatment suites of the soothing Bearth spa, Swedish, Thai and deep tissue massages are available alongside algae, aloe vera and volcanic clay skin treatments. Locally-grown beef and freshly-caught seafood are used in exciting and modern cuisine offerings in the gourmet Makoko and casual Matiss restaurants.
Best for Singles: Occidental Grand Papagayo Resort
Just down the road from the restaurants and nightlife of Playa Hermosa, the lively Occidental Grand Papagayo Resort presents a magnificent visage, with the columned and terraced cream hotel building perched atop a hill of lush, fauna-filled jungle. In guest rooms, white drapes, mahogany furnishings and rich ochre floor tiles lend a stylish colonial air. Balcony views overlook the elegant, colonnaded twin staircase leading down to the graceful curving lines of the main pool and separate hot tub. Fun social activities, including volleyball, snorkeling, cycling and tennis fill the days, along with more relaxed options such as card and board games. The scenic hotel restaurants offer gourmet Italian fare, innovative Asian fusion cuisine and hearty international buffets along with regular live music entertainment. Four bars — scattered throughout the property — keep guests mingling, especially during the nightly parties held amid the colorful lights of the disco bar.
Best Business: Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort
Located on one of the closest beaches to the capital city of San Jose, Los Sueños Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort makes an ideal location to host conferences, business engagements and team development courses. The colonial-style exterior in earthy ochre tones, a private marina and a magnificent stone-tiled lobby with sweeping ocean views create an impressive introduction to the resort. Open air pathways offer tantalizing glimpses of the surrounding scenery as guests walk to spacious rooms featuring writing desks, LCD TVs and in-room phone lines. Other in-room amenities include high-speed Wi-Fi, a minibar, coffee machine and iPod docking station. Some 18 event areas can accommodate up to 400 guests in a variety of private boardrooms, stylish event theaters and garden settings. Relaxed business can be conducted over a round of golf on the championship 18-hole course, or while dining on local fresh seafood and modern cocktails in the Zoe restaurant overlooking the pool courtyard and beautiful Pacific Ocean.
Best Hostel: Casa Aura Beachfront Premium Hostel
Casa Aura Beachfront Premium Hostel is situated on a prime beachfront location. Dedicated and cheerful staff ensure the comfort and enjoyment of guests who flock to this popular beach-shack inspired property. The open-air design of the beautiful wooden structure, the modern and clean facilities and tasteful artwork decorating the sleek rooms lend an air of comfort and elegance usually associated with an exclusive hotel. Large, cheerful cushions line wooden couch benches and guests mingle around pool and ping pong tables in the social courtyard, which faces onto a large sandy beachfront area filled with shady trees and comfy string hammocks. A relaxed lounge with swinging wooden seats and plush grey couches adjoin the clean and well-equipped communal kitchen. Upstairs, the shaded wooden veranda offers an atmospheric location to enjoy spectacular sunsets filtering through swaying palm fronds.