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Costa Rica luxury travel
Ah, Costa Rica. Land of verdant forests, bountiful wildlife, active volcanoes, hardworking people, rice and beans, award-winning coffee, and… luxury?
Costa Rica is a revered vacation destination for countless reasons, the most popular of which tend to be the nation’s beaches, biodiversity, adventure tours, and natural landscape. From one home base during a single visit you can surf or practice yoga at a pristine beach, spot elusive birds and mammals in the wild, zipline around treetops in the rainforest or the cloud forest, and peer into volcano craters. Just as easily, though, you can kick back at a top-rated hotel or resort, dine on meals that fuse elements of Costa Rican cuisine with signature dishes from around the world, participate in private activities chosen from a selection of curated experiences, soak in soothing hot springs, and pamper yourself with rejuvenating spa treatments. Though not as highly marketed to travelers as non-luxe Costa Rica vacations, Costa Rica luxury travel is a real and attainable experience.
We often work with travelers looking to experience the finer side of Costa Rica: the posh accommodations, the gastronomy, and the tailored service, among other things. The most popular questions we receive from these travelers inquire about places to stay; specifically, which resort in Costa Rica, all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, or eco-resort in Costa Rica is the best to stay at. If you’re wondering the same, first ask yourself what kind of luxury travel experience you want to have in Costa Rica. Do you want to be active? Be lazy? Nourish your mind and/or body? Conduct business? Be independent? Reduce your travel footprint? There are ways to accomplish these and other wants while simultaneously experiencing luxury in Costa Rica. To help you learn how, we compiled a list of the seven types of high-end accommodations you can stay at in Costa Rica. (Continue reading below to learn about all seven accommodation types, or see our article’s Table of Contents above to jump to the accommodation type that interests you the most). Across the various accommodation types, you’ll find many of the luxe amenities and experiences displayed in our photo gallery below.
Our photo gallery of luxe Costa Rica amenities and experiences
The quintessential resort experience
All-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s contribution of all-inclusive resorts are not unlike the all-inclusive resorts that fan out across Mexico and Caribbean nations. Most are large-scale, oceanfront properties that include three daily meals and unlimited beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks) in the cost of an overnight stay. The majority of all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica also treat overnight guests to: a) a collection of pools outfitted with poolside chairs, beds, and/or cabanas; b) a selection of on-site restaurants that incorporate diverse meal plans and themes into the dining experience; c) a few bars, including poolside bars or swim-up bars; d) sophisticated indoor and outdoor lounge areas; e) modern rooms and suites outfitted with comfortable and practical amenities; f) a full-service spa; and g) above-average service. You’re also likely to encounter the following common features, amenities, and services at an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica:
- Bilingual staff, a 24-hour staffed reception desk, and a concierge service that can coordinate curated tours and day itineraries
- Room service, daily housekeeping services, laundry services, and emergency services
- A gym or fitness center, a business center equipped with AV technology, and a gift shop
- Electronic keyed room entry
- In-room extras, including high-quality beds and pillows, an electronic safe, a mini-bar, a coffee maker, complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, air conditioning, a flat-screen television with complimentary international channels, and a private bathroom with a hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers, high-quality toiletries, and soft towels.
Depending on the all-inclusive resort you choose, you may also have access to the following:
- Private chef services, valet parking, and nightly turndown service
- In-room extras, including smart TVs that deliver complimentary streaming services, tablets/iPads, USB ports or charging stations, complimentary mini-bar items or in-room snacks and drinks, and black-out shades or curtains
- Currency exchange services, child care services, dry cleaning services, and shoe-polishing services
- Discounts for the on-site spa or gift shop
- On-site extras, including hot springs, waterfalls, and adventure or nature tours
- On-beach facilities and equipment, including bathrooms, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach towels, and watersport equipment
Non-all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica
You may be surprised to learn that the majority of resorts in Costa Rica are not all-inclusive. While this fact may disappoint some travelers, it’s actually one of the things we love most about Costa Rica luxury travel. In our opinion, non-all-inclusive resorts (compared to all-inclusive resorts) offer the best of both worlds. Choose to stay at one and you can surround yourself with all things lavish during the time you spend at the resort while also awarding yourself the freedom to discover other high-end Costa Rica experiences that take place off-site. The fantastic lunches and dinners that are served up at some locally-owned, top-rated restaurants are reason enough to consider selecting one of Costa Rica’s non-all-inclusive resorts over an all-inclusive resort.
Several non-all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica automatically include breakfast in the cost of an overnight stay. Many others, however, do not. Be sure to check the resort’s fine print for inclusion details. Keep in mind that if you do elect to stay at a non-all-inclusive resort, most have restaurants on-site which you can choose to dine at (for a fee) if you’d prefer not to venture off the resort’s grounds.
Akin to all-inclusive resorts, non-all-inclusive resorts are also typically large-scale, oceanfront properties that supply guests with pools (and accompanying chairs, beds, or cabanas), restaurant, bars, lounge areas, modern rooms and suites, a spa, and above-average service. The above bulleted lists of features, amenities, and services typically provided by all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica also applies to non-all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica.
The small-scale boutique hotel experience
If you love understated luxury, an upscale boutique hotel in Costa Rica may be exactly what you’re looking for. Boutique hotels are partly the antithesis of all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica because they’re usually small-scale properties that aim to provide guests with an intimate experience.
If there’s anything we’ve learned from staying at boutique hotels in Costa Rica it’s that the “intimate experience” that this particular accommodation type aims to provide is a subjective, evolving concept. It’s also something that cannot be generalized because the experience truly differs from hotel to hotel. Below are a few features, amenities, and services that can be experienced at a boutique hotel in Costa Rica, though you likely won’t encounter all of them at the same property:
- Use of a private pool or Jacuzzi, perhaps a salt-water plunge pool or an infinity pool
- A made-to-order breakfast
- An a la carte restaurant (as opposed to a buffet restaurant)
- Opportunities to engage in communal meals
- Unique dining opportunities, including chef-packed picnic lunches or dinners enjoyed in candlelit huts on the beach
- Opportunities to partake in meal and/or drink/cocktail preparation, or to participate in a formal cooking or mixology class
- Personalized celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, marriage proposals, elopements, honeymoons, and other significant events
- Opportunities to participate in small group activities with other guests, including singles and couples
- In-room spa services and equipment to loan for in-room fitness use
- Individualized service
Because Costa Rica’s upscale boutique hotels are rather small, their extravagance shines in the details, which tend to be bountiful and unique. Extras, like trendy style and design elements, fanciful food presentations, and personalized fine touches, make guests feel special. In contrast to larger resort properties, you’re more likely to be treated as a guest, not a room number, at one of Costa Rica’s service-minded boutique hotels.
Upscale boutique hotels can be found in almost every region of Costa Rica and in many unique environments too. Some, perched on mountainsides or positioned on the beach, take in magnificent ocean views. Others hide among the rainforest where Costa Rica’s world-renowned biodiversity is on full display. Regardless of whether you want to escape to a secluded spot or station yourself at one of the nation’s top destinations, there’s a boutique hotel awaiting your arrival.
The active, adventure resort experience
If you thought you had to choose between a luxurious Costa Rican getaway and an adventurous one, think again. Not only is it possible to satisfy both desires in Costa Rica—a known adventure destination—luxe adventure travel is the preferred experience of many vacationers.
Fittingly, catering to these types of travelers are Costa Rica’s adventure resorts, which provide guests with both resort-quality accommodations and an on-site activity center where a plethora of adventure and nature tours take place. If you want to be active during your trip, the advantage of staying at an adventure resort is that you’ll have a range of tour and activity experiences within walking distance of (or a quick shuttle ride away from) your room. Ideal for travelers with young children, senior travelers, and other individuals who prefer to limit the amount of time spent outside the boundaries of a resort, especially time spent traveling to and from far-flung tour sites, adventure resorts are a one-stop shop beloved by hedonists.
Most adventure resorts in Costa Rica are not all-inclusive. Inclusions vary, so be sure to check the resort’s fine print. Many include breakfast in the cost of an overnight stay, and sell add-on tour packages that combine on-site activities with meals. Examples of activities you can experience on-site at adventure resorts in Costa Rica include:
- Hiking tours
- River tubing tours and river kayaking tours
- Ziplining tours
- Horseback riding tours, mountain biking tours, and bird-watching tours
- Rock climbing runs
- Wildlife sanctuary tours
The high-end eco-resort experience
Costa Rica is a model of sustainability around the world, especially with respect to sustainable tourism. You can find all kinds of eco-friendly accommodations here, and eco-resorts—the product of eco-conscious resort developers—are no exception.
Eco-resorts shadow regular resorts in many ways. They can be large-scale, oceanfront properties with pools, restaurants, bars, lounge areas, modern rooms and suites, a spa, and above-average service. But they can also be small-scale properties that pay attention to detail, much like upscale boutique hotels. What makes eco-resorts stand out among other types of high-end accommodations in Costa Rica is their commitment to the protection of the environment, the proliferation of resident wildlife, and community growth. By choosing to stay at an eco-resort in Costa Rica, you’re financially supporting the same.
Sustainable practices differ across eco-resorts but nearly all aim to accomplish a combination of the following tasks:
- To reduce the use of natural resources (including water, electricity, and wood) through the use of solar panels and/or hydroelectric generators, low-flow toilets, energy-saving lighting, and furniture built using fallen/reclaimed wood
- To use biodegradable cleaning products in lieu of harmful substances, and to provide toiletries (soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc.) that are prepared on-site, void of harmful chemicals, and provided in refillable containers
- To protect the majority of the property’s land from deforestation, to work to reforest bare areas, and/or to build a living roof
- To serve farm-to-table meals prepared using local ingredients or ingredients grown/raised on-site
- To reuse or recycle materials whenever possible, and to use compost and/or bio-digester machines whenever possible
- To supply feeders and plants that help nourish birds, butterflies, bees, and other insects
- To provide tangible social and economic support (such as fair-paying jobs, skills training, and English-language learning) to members of local communities
It’s important to understand that, though eco-friendly businesses strive to minimize and reduce more than overindulge and embellish, the pillars of luxury hospitality—superb service, bespoke experiences, exquisite comfort, delicious food, and so on—still exist in Costa Rica’s eco-resorts. In fact, eco-resorts account for some of Costa Rica’s top accommodations, likely because the people running the places have their heads on straight. If they’re willing to spend extra time and money to make their property as green and low-impact as possible, imagine how hard they’ll work to make a positive and lasting impact on their guests’ experience.
To learn ways to reduce your carbon footprint in Costa Rica, don’t miss our related blog post:
The mindful wellness, surf, or yoga retreat experience
Quiet pockets of Costa Rica make perfect destinations for Zen vacations, especially wellness retreats designed to nourish your body, yoga retreats created to calm your mind, and surf retreats developed to help you find the water’s rhythm.
While not all wellness, yoga, and surf retreats in Costa Rica are luxurious (many cater to budget-minded travelers), premium retreats provide access to some of the nation’s top travel finds, including sleek accommodations, esteemed chefs, experienced instructors, and innovative programs. Retreat experiences vary, not only across host properties but also from week to week or from month to month depending on event schedules, so it’s difficult to define them singularly. But this is part of their appeal: they’re fluid enough to suit (and satisfy) the diverse interests of unique travelers, especially those looking to participate in a retreat that’s tailored to their wants and needs.
Here’s a look at some of the amenities and experiences you can have at a wellness, yoga, and/or surf retreat in Costa Rica:
- Healthy, often organic gourmet meals prepared according to your dietary preferences, including (but not limited to) vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free preferences
- Traditional spa treatments that make use of natural thermal water, volcanic rocks, or fresh, local ingredients like cacao (chocolate), coffee, and fruit
- A range of premium spa services, including ayurvedic treatments, Watsu water massages, and bioenergetic healing practices
- Refined, tranquil, and comfortable places to practice yoga and meditation
- Time spent with world-renowned yoga instructors, plus an opportunity to earn yoga teacher-training certificates
- Private surf lessons and one-on-one surf coaching tailored to your skill level and personal surf goals
- Professional surf photos and videos captured to advance your learning and serve as souvenirs
- Complimentary massages and/or guided adventure or nature tours
- All-inclusive room and board plans or breakfast-only plans
It is important to note that even if you do not participate in a health, yoga, or surf retreat in Costa Rica, you can still engage in health-conscious activities, practice yoga, and/or go surfing during your trip should you wish to do so. Many high-end accommodations have spas that offer a range of health services, and some accommodations have on-site yoga centers and surf schools. If your preferred accommodation is not equipped with these facilities, you should be able to attend a yoga class, surf lesson, or spa in the nearest town.
The executive-style hotel experience
If you’re in Costa Rica on a business trip, chances are you’ll spend at least part of your time in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city. While the metropolis is home to a wide range of accommodation types, it’s also where you’ll find the most concentrated number of executive-style hotel rooms, suites, and apartotels (apartment-resembling hotel units).
Most executive-style accommodations emit a similar streamlined (sometimes stiff) style. This is particularly evident when you compare the interiors of Costa Rica’s recognizable chain hotels across brands like Marriott (AC, Sheraton), InterContinental, and Radisson, among others. While these popular properties dot the downtown and environs, hidden among them are a few elite accommodations that fuse traditional executive style with warm, contemporary touches and rich historical charm.
In addition to standard hotel amenities, you can find the following features, amenities, and services at some of Costa Rica’s executive-style hotels:
- Rooms equipped with desks, chairs, and sufficient outlets, possibly USB ports or charging stations
- A business center equipped with AV technology and meeting rooms
- An executive lounge
- A gym or fitness center
- A gift shop
- Complimentary WiFi
- At least one on-site restaurant and bar, possibly a piano bar
- Valet parking
Outside of San Jose, executive-style hotels exist but in limited numbers.
The private villa/vacation home experience
Want to live the luxe life in Costa Rica alongside movie stars, musicians, politicians, and a boatload of Kardashians? At least for a few days, weeks, or as long as your vacation window and travel funds last? If so, look no further than Costa Rica’s exclusive, deluxe villas and vacation homes. Classy, clean, cool, and comfortable, you’ll love sinking into these grand residences and experiencing Costa Rica on your own terms in undisturbed privacy.
Like homes in most cities around the world, villas and vacation homes in Costa Rica vary from property to property. Some spread out over large lots and others are nestled next to a neighbor. Some sit in manned and gated estate communities and others are remote but have private watchmen. Some near the water and resemble Malibu or Miami beach houses and others are rustic—but modern—structures enveloped by forest. Properties also range in size, style, location, views, amenities, facilities, and inclusions.
A villa or vacation home is a great choice if you’ll be in Costa Rica as part of a family/group trip or a corporate retreat, if you’re planning a workation (work vacation), or if you want utter independence while traveling abroad. With the freedom to do whatever you want (within reason) and not concern yourself with unknown guests, you could enjoy the following at your home away from home in Costa Rica:
- Spacious rooms and lounge areas indoors and outdoors
- Private pools and Jacuzzis
- Custom meal plans, hosted dinner/cocktail parties, cooking/mixology classes, and/or homecooked meals either prepared by you or a private chef
- Access to private clubs (including beach clubs), golf courses, tennis courts, boat charters, restaurants, and other establishments
- Complimentary recreation gear, such as watersport equipment and bikes
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you stayed at a luxury resort, boutique hotel, adventure resort, eco-resort, wellness/yoga/surf retreat, executive-style hotel, or villa/vacation home in Costa Rica? Which one did you pick and what was your experience?