Just to drop a few names, Papagayo is home to the exclusive Four Seasons Resort, the Hilton Papagayo Resort & Spa and Grand Papagayo Resort. Despite the resort cluster on this slab of land that juts out onto the sparkling waters of Papagayo, few hotels are within walking distance to each other.
Few restaurants, shops, bars or much of anything exists on Papagayo outside the resorts, which is why most of them are all-inclusive. For those who wish to enjoy their pools and amenities without having to stay there, most Papagayo resorts offer day passes. Also, much to the dismay of luxury resort operators, all Costa Rican beaches are public by law, so anyone who seeks to enjoy Papagayo’s golden sands may do so.
The resorts offer scores of onsite entertainment and water sports activities to ensure their guests don’t turn into beached whales (unless they want to, that is). Papagayo is home to the magnificent 18-hole Arnold Palmer Golf Course, ranked as one of the 100 best golf courses outside the United States by Golf Digest. The Golf Course attracts golf fans and nature lovers alike, because it is also a nature reserve offering the magnificent Trail of the Giants tour, an exploration of 250 acres of flora and fauna native to the province of Guanacaste.
Planning a vacation to Papagayo
We do not recommend staying more than 4 nights in the Papagayo area. While it is a nice beach destination, it is brutally hot and there is no jungle, little wildlife and even less sense of being in Costa Rica. To see the jungle, cloud forest, conical volcano with hot springs or the country’s best adventures, you will have to drive 4 hours in each direction. In working with hundreds of clients over the years, we have found that a stay longer than this amount of time nearly always results in rearranging the schedule at the last minute at full penalty by the resorts. Planning in advance to see other, more interesting parts of the country will result in a much more fulfilling vacation.
There are no budget hotels in the Papagayo area, but there are plenty of resorts and all inclusive resorts. Here is an abbreviated rundown of those hotels: The Occidental Allegro Papagayo is a reasonably priced mid-range all inclusive hotel, but the service is mediocre at best. The Hilton Papagayo is similar to the Allegro Papagayo in many regards, but is closer to nearby Playa Hermosa, so you can at least escape the daily routine. The Grand Papagayo is a step up from the previously mentioned all inclusive resorts, but still lacks the character of feeling like you are anywhere other than a dressed up Holiday Inn on the beach. The Four Seasons is a nice luxury hotel, but located at the very end of the peninsula. Therefore, going anywhere will require a minimum of a half hour drive (even just to a restaurant or store). The recently opened Andaz Papagayo Resort by Hyatt is a luxury hotel which looks as though will become the nicest in the area.
If you are up for the drive, plenty of Papagayo tours can be organized such as ziplining, horseback riding, tubing, and ATV riding, while visits to attractions can also be arranged. You can take a dip in Rincon de la Vieja Volcano’s natural hot springs and enjoy its magical, winding trails, or join a jungle riverboat safari through Palo Verde National Park, where you will most likely run into a few monkeys, giant crocs, and stunning shorebirds.
You will not need a rental car to visit the Papagayo area as taxis are readily available and can easily be arranged through your hotel. However, if you plan on doing any exploring, it is nice to have a rental car.
Reasons to visit
- It is conveniently located near Liberia Airport (LIR)
- There are several all inclusive resort options to choose from
- You prefer to stay within the confines of an American style resort and relax
Reasons NOT to visit
- You want to see the real Costa Rica
- You would like to see wildlife
- You would like to see jungle or cloud forest
- Arenal Volcano, Monteverde and other popular attractions are 4 hours away
- You want to experience local culture
- There is no nightlife
- There is no shopping
- It is very hot
- Many of the all inclusive resorts feel more like retirement communities than tropical resorts
How to get there
From San Jose: Take the Autopista del Sol or the Interamerican Highway from San Jose to Caldera and turn left after Puntarenas. Follow the road signs to the Friendship Bridge (Puente de la Amistad in Spanish) and cross it. Make your way to the town of Liberia (follow the signs). Turn left at the main intersection there, driving towards Santa Cruz and going south past Daniel Oduber Airport. When you get to a giant hardware store called Do-It-Center, turn right and stay on this road for approximately 26 kilometers, until you reach Papagayo Peninsula.
Weather and packing list
Although the Gulf of Papagayo enjoys variable amounts of precipitation year round, heat, sun and perspiration are practically guaranteed in Costa Rica’s Northwest Pacific region, even during the worst of the wet season in September and October. During the day, temperatures range between the sizzling upper 80s to lower 90s, while at night they are usually in the upper 70s.
When packing for your vacation to the Papagayo area, make sure to bring a swimsuit and beach clothes, including flip flops and a towel or sarong for sunbathing on the sand, shorts, t-shirts, some rain gear, a lot of sunblock and aloe vera gel to relieve the pain of any nasty sunburns.
Fun Fact: Despite the allure of all-inclusive resorts, don’t make the mistake of staying there for your entire Costa Rica vacation. This isn’t Cancun or Aruba and Costa Rica has much more to offer than one resort and beach area. Combining your vacation with a visit to Arenal Volcano or Monteverde could make this the trip of a lifetime!