There’s a family-friendly Costa Rica hotel to keep travellers of all ages happy whether they’re after water sports, movie nights or spa treatments, as Harriet Mallinson found out.
Costa Rica is a land of many colours, from the giant blue Morpho butterflies, the many-hued Toucan and the golden burst of the sunsets to the vibrant colourful houses, the lush deep green of rainforests and even the thunderous grey of the rain-swollen clouds.
Nearly everyone who visits the country falls in love with some aspect of it, whether it’s the countless opportunities for adventure or the chance to relax, reset and enjoy the nation’s famed pura vida (the simple life) – so why not get your children hooked from an early age on this colourful smorgasbord of central American delights?
Family Traveller enjoyed a stay in Guanacaste in the north west, a stunning region known for its tropical paradise, unparalleled wildlife and fabulous beaches, and took a peek at three Costa Rica hotels where families can base themselves in comfort no matter what tempo of holiday you’re after.
Planet Hollywood Costa Rica: for stars in the making
If Batman greeting you on a red carpet waving a flare doesn’t it do it for you, then how about the authentic Hollywood outfits worn by the likes of Harrison Ford or Lisa Kudrow lining the corridors?
Yes, all-inclusive hotel Planet Hollywood Costa Rica, at the base of Papagayo Gulf in Guanacaste, does exactly what it says on the tin – only it’s not just the celebs and superheroes who are the stars, you are too.
During the day the pool issues its siren call. For the adults, there’s the swim-up bar (the Pina Coladas are delicious) and plenty of space to get some lengths in while children enjoy the fun kiddy splash zone and games regularly organised by cheerful staff – a good opportunity to make some holiday pals.
Poolside cabanas are available for those after a bit of privacy and VIP pampering. Complete with a plunge pool, loungers, sofa and TV for those “I’m bored” moments, they’re also tended by dedicated cabana wait staff.
Get active or relax at the spa as the kids are looked after
If you fancy something a bit more energetic, a raft of water sports out on the blue are also available just moments away. We enjoy a kayak tour to explore the local coast and even hop out for a swim in the gorgeously warm water relishing lovely views of the beach and verdant hills of the gulf as we breaststroke.
Need to ease aching muscles from the day’s adventures? Planet Hollywood’s spa is excellent should mums and dads need a spot o’ me-time – a mint olive oil massage does wonders after an afternoon of zip lining (an activity not to be missed in Costa Rica!).
The hotel’s kids club will take good care of your offspring if grownups need to do their own thing. It’s open every day from 10am to 5pm for ages four to 12, offering all manner of Hollywood-themed activities from fancy dress and karaoke to scavenger hunts.
Take your pick from eight different restaurants
Hungry? To keep the whole family fuelled there are eight restaurants to choose from. Want to feel like a Mafia don à la The Godfather? Sunset Strip restaurant is an homage to the golden age of Hollywood, from the decor to the music – and the private room is perfect for big celebrations.
For something al fresco (or maybe a parents-only night), Planet Hollywood can organise a dinner on the beach with food from nearby Italian restaurant Gusto. Lights strung up in the tree and fire torches in the sand as the waves whisper make for a wonderfully romantic evening!
Over at Asian restaurant, Teppanyaki, you’re treated to a real slice (no pun intended) of theatre as the chefs throw knives and utensils in the air with great skill as they prepare your meal in front of you – occasionally flipping tiny tasty morsels into the air for diners to catch in their mouths, much to the merriment of the little ones.
Planet Hollywood doesn’t have Hollywood in its name for nothing
Entertainment doesn’t just stop at dinner, nightly shows are high quality and range from live music and dance numbers to circus acts; the kids loved the talent on display on Oscars Night which showcased some seriously impressive gymnastics against the backdrop of classic movies playing on the big screen.
For kid-friendly Hollywood relaxation back in the room, consider splashing out on the extra movie night package. It comes with an incredible feast of film-themed treats – think balloons, lurid coloured popcorn, fizzy sweets, sparkling candy floss, marshmallows, Skittles and more, all beautifully presented in a miniature Ferris wheel. All in all, every child’s sleepover fantasy come true.
The Westin Reserva Conchal: another all-inclusive Costa Rica hotel
For further all-inclusive fun, there’s The Westin Reserva Conchal resort on Playa Conchal Beach in Costa Rica’s North-Pacific Riviera. The hotel caters excellently for both families and parents enjoying their own adults-only getaway.
For those indulging in the latter, the adult-dedicated accommodation is fabulous and benefits from its own pool and restaurant. Breakfast at Faisanella is fantastic, think Bloody Marys and Champagne teamed with traditional and classic brekkie options plus it’s open until 11am – perfect for that lie-in!
Fussy eaters and adventurous diners are all catered for
There are eight restaurants in total at The Westin Reserva Conchal so you can take your pick depending on what mood you’re in. Chic Asian eatery Bamboo plates up yummy sushi while Italian restaurant Spirula is a hit with the little ones thanks to the crowd-pleasing pasta and pizza dishes on offer (and the aubergine confit is divine!).
Afterwards, check out the live music at Imperial Bar – the children have a whale of a time boogying to the saxophone and cavorting on the outdoor decking under the stars.
And, when sleepy heads begin to nod, simply call for a little buggy to do the hard work and zip you back to the room (the property is vast so these come in handy – although it can be frustrating when you’re in a rush!).
Find the perfect hotel room to fit your family
Accommodation for families is plentiful at this Costa Rica Hotel: suites boast two doubles and a sofa bed or there are bunk bed rooms with a king bed, sofa bed and bunk bed.
Going all out? Top of the chain is the Master Family Suite with a king bed and two day beds for kids. Here you’ll also bag exclusive access to Family Concierge and the Family Club Lounge where you can benefit from a daily breakfast and evening happy hour as well as private check-in and checkout, daily turndown service, video games on request and a welcome kids package.
No matter where you stay the enormous family-friendly pool is at your disposal with a plethora of games and toys to keep kids busy or if you really want to get sporty, head to the gym, tennis courts or championship golf course (and should the kids not share your passions, Westin Kids Club opens daily for children aged four to 12 and babysitting is available on request).
Don’t miss the beach whether you want water sports or relaxation
You’ve also got the biggest pool of all – the Pacific Ocean – right on your doorstep. The public beach here makes for a beautiful spot with fine shell underfoot, bobbing boats and vegetation-backed sands while resort guests have access to on-site snorkelling and kayaking.
A walk along the seafront to soak up the scenery is very pleasant indeed, alternatively, take a hotel lounger out onto the beach and embrace the sunshine – if you can field off the locals offering knick knacks and massages.
On the topic of which, treatments at the hotel’s spa are terrific – my holiday companion is in a near daze afterwards she’s so thoroughly unwound – and the outdoor hot and cold pools offer lovely further relaxation.
El Mangroove: the eco-conscious Costa Rica hotel
If you’re after something wilder and more away-from-it-all in a Costa Rica hotel, then stay at El Mangroove Papagayo, a charming and peaceful property situated on the Gulf Of Papagayo in Guanacaste.
The sleek main pool and its stylish loungers are reminiscent of Soho House set to the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the rooms benefit from the rainforest right outside the window.
Reinforcing the feeling of being at one with nature, the emphasis here is on eco-friendliness – glass bottles are provided in rooms and water refill stations positioned throughout while full-size refillable toiletries reside in the bathroom.
Watch some of the world’s most spectacular sunsets with a drink in your hand
Thirsty? Sand underfoot at El Mangroove’s bar Matisse lends a rustic beach vibe – perfect for kids coming straight off the shore – and its seaside location makes it ideal for watching the dying sun daubing the ocean’s surface with gold and orange. There’s a reason Costa Rica is famous for its sunsets!
The eats at Matisse are casual (and the ceviche gets rave reviews) but for evening formal meals head to poolside restaurant Makoko where the cocktail list is excellent and drinks come beautifully garnished with giant dehydrated orange slices and flowers.
A decent children’s menu will keep kids happy, serving fish fingers, spag bol, burgers and more. Incidentally, if you opt for the all-inclusive package at El Mangroove, children under two can eat for free while youngsters aged two to 12 have a 50% discount on the meal plan.
However, it must be said there was very little evening entertainment here when we stayed, so this hotel might be better suited to parents travelling alone or with babies, unless you have impressively resourceful offspring. That said, accommodation is family friendly with sofa beds available in most rooms, and we find early nights and early mornings are best, especially if you’re aiming to get out and explore Costa Rica.
Explore the range of sporty activities available
Should you prefer an afternoon-in though, El Mangroove offers private and group yoga classes upon request and the multifunctional gym is open 24-hours. Alternatively, head out onto the big blue to try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing and surfing – or simply go beach hopping with an on-site boat.
Back at the hotel, relaxation is the order of the day, whether you’re strolling along the scenic beach, lazing by the pool or checking in at the spa. The latter is very peaceful – I opt for an al fresco treatment among the mangroves and relish the rustling of the trees, the chatter of the birds and what I suspect are the growls of howler monkeys a little way off.
Massage or not, do take a moment to soak in the pura vida while staying at this heavenly bolthole. Listen to the soundtrack of cicadas, low music and the crash of the waves, feel the soft glow of the lights strung across the bar’s bamboos cane ceilings and admire the odd curious bug scuttling in the undergrowth or maybe even a bold (and inoffensive) skunk – you’re never far from wildlife in Costa Rica.
In fact, sometimes it’s worth taking a lesson from the country’s furry flagship animal, the sloth, and just live life in the slow lane for a spell.
How to plan a trip to Costa Rica
How to get there
Direct UK flights to Costa Rica take from 11 hours, 35 minutes.
Where to stay
Find out more about our mix of all-inclusive resorts and tranquil boltholes in Costa Rica: