There’s a family-friendly Costa Rica hotel to keep travellers of all ages happy whether they’re after watersports, movie nights or spa treatments, as Harriet Mallinson found out.
Costa Rica is a land of many colors, from the giant blue Morpho butterflies, the many-hued Toucan and the golden burst of the sunsets to the vibrant colorful 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 in some lengths while children enjoy the fun kids’ splash zone and games regularly organised by cheerful staff – also a good opportunity for them to make some holiday friends.
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, cabanas are 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 watersports out on the ocean are also available just moments away. We enjoyed a kayak tour to explore the local coast and even hopped 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 after the day’s adventures? Planet Hollywood’s spa is excellent should mums and dads need a spot of me-time. Personal recommendation: a mint olive oil massage does wonders after an afternoon of ziplining, 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 stop at dinner. Nightly shows are high quality and range from live music and dance numbers to circus acts. Your kids will love the talent on display on Oscars Night which showcases some seriously impressive gymnastics against the backdrop of classic movies playing on the big screen.
For family-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 breakfast options plus it’s open until 11am – perfect if you want a long lie!
Fussy eaters and adventurous diners are all catered for
There are eight restaurants in total at the Westin Costa Rica so you can take your pick depending on what mood you’re in. Chic Asian eatery Bamboo plates up delicious sushi while Italian restaurant Spirula is a hit with the little ones thanks to its crowd-pleasing pasta and pizza (and the aubergine confit is delicious).
Afterwards, check out the live music at Imperial Bar – kids will have a great time dancing to the saxophone and playing on the outdoor decking under the stars.
Then, when it’s time for bed, 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 useful – although it can be frustrating when you’re in a hurry).
Find the perfect hotel room to suit your family
Accommodation for families is excellent 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 tree is the Master Family Suite with a king bed and two day beds for kids. Here you’ll also have exclusive access to the Family Concierge and the Family Club Lounge where you 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 kids’ welcome package.
No matter where you stay the enormous family-friendly pool is at your disposal with plenty of games and toys to keep kids busy. Or if you want to get sporty, head to the gym, tennis courts or championship golf course (and should your children not share your passions, Westin Kids Club opens daily for ages four to 12 and babysitting is available on request).
Don’t miss the beach whether you want watersports 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 and resort guests have access to on-site snorkeling and kayaking.
A walk along the seafront to soak up the scenery is another adventure. Alternatively, take a hotel sun lounger onto the beach and embrace the weather – if you can avoid vendors selling souvenirs and massages.
On the topic of massages, treatments at the hotel’s spa are terrific – my holiday companion was so thoroughly unwound after one, she was in a near daze – and the outdoor hot and cold pools offer 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 you’ll also find full-size refillable toiletries 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 formal evening meals head to poolside restaurant Makoko where the cocktail list is excellent and drinks come beautifully garnished with giant dried orange slices and flowers.
A decent children’s menu, serving pasta, burgers and more, should keep kids happy. Incidentally, if you opt for the all-inclusive package at El Mangroove, children under two can eat for free while two to 12 year olds receive 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 to stay at the hotel for an afternoon, 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 paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing and surfing – or simply go beach hopping with an on-site boat.
Relaxation is the rule at El Mangroove, whether you’re strolling along the scenic beach, lazing by the pool or trying out the spa. The latter is very peaceful – I opted for an al fresco treatment among the mangroves and enjoyed the rustling of the trees, chatter of the birds and what I suspected were the growls of howler monkeys in the distance.
Massage or not, do take a moment to soak in the pura vida while staying at this heavenly hideaway. 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 bamboo cane ceiling 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 vacation in Costa Rica
Where to stay
Find out more about our mix of all-inclusive resorts and hideaways in Costa Rica: