We flew with Air Canada. The flight was uneventful. Bags came fairly quickly at the airport. Immigration was pretty quick also. The Air Canada Vacations representative was visible immediately upon clearing immigration and we were quickly taken to a waiting bus. The ride to the hotel is only about 30 minutes away.
We booked the Grand Romance Package as it was the only package available at the time of booking that guaranteed an oceanfront view. We loved our room. It was in building #24 with a beautiful view of the water. It was spacious. We were told that the Deluxe Rooms in our building were larger than the ones in the stacked building closer to the main building. The only complaint is the bathroom. I expected more from a 4+ star hotel. The bathtub had flaking enamel & the soap and shampoo dispensers were broken and falling apart. Included in our package were some nice touches: a bottle of champagne on the first night, a plate of chocolate covered strawberries the second night, nightly turn-down service, bathrobes (though they were a little small!), a beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers mid-way through the trip, and two 30-minute massages outside. That was heavenly! I’d highly recommend this package. We were also to get continental breakfast in bed, but we were always too hungry in the morning to settle for a small breakfast & instead got the buffet. A romantic dinner is also included which we also ditched.
Restaurants and Bars: The buffet was fine. It’s much smaller than ones I’ve been to in other all-inclusives, but the food was fairly tasty. After a few days, it gets a little repetitive: each night, there is the same beef, chicken and fish in a different sauce. The snack bar is ok by the pool. As others attest to, the bars are far from the rooms, and with the ‘hilly-ness’ of the resort, makes it inconvenient to go out and get drinks. As well, only the lobby bar is open after 6, so went we wanted drinks in the evening, we’d go to the lobby bar and order 2 each and take them back to our rooms we knew we were not going to make the long trek back to the main building to get any more drinks. We had been told that there were 2 a la cart restaurants: the Oriental and the Italian. We could only get reservations at 9 p.m. for each of them on the days that we booked. They were both OK. The Oriental restaurant had sushi and sashimi which were not high quality, but not too bad. The teriyaki dishes were on the sweet side, but OK -worth a night away from the buffet. The Italian restaurant had nice main dishes: we had beef tenderloin and mahi mahi. Very nice. Tiramisu dessert was terrible.
We found out on our last night that there was another a la cart: The Grill Restaurant. We were ticked off that the business centre staff had never mentioned it, not was this restaurant mentioned in any of the hotel literature. We tried to book on our last night, but it was totally booked up.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach is not fantastic, but we knew we were on the Pacific side, so not the whiter sands of the Caribbean side. The sand is brown, so if you’re looking for pristine white sands, this isn’t the place for you. However, we enjoyed ourselves on the beach. The water isn’t as clear as in other countries I’ve stayed, but still, the salt water was nice and it sure beats Toronto in February! The pool was nice, but too small for the size of resort. It was often difficult to get beach chairs after about 10:00 a.m. It was difficult to actually swim in the pool because of the activities happening in and around the pool. It was extremely annoying when the ‘college-boys’ engaged in games of football across the whole length of the pool making it impossible for people to relax in the pool or on the chairs surrounding the pool. It would have been nice to have a lap pool or another pool where people could relax without activities going on.
The grounds were beautiful – well maintained. Beautiful tropical flowers. However, when researching this hotel, some sites had spoken of bird-watching and wildlife. While the birds were plentiful, there was not much variety – maybe 3 or 4 different kinds. We saw one monkey from a didstance. There were occasionally quatimundi’s (like racoons) walking about the resort – they’re harmless.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: Activities on the Resort: almost non-existent. The 2 or 3 Fun Club staff, while energetic, didn’t do a lot – at least not in comparison to other places I’ve stayed. They did a very quick AquaGym class in the mornings and a quick dance lesson in the afternoon – 1 song only! They sometimes started a volleyball or water polo game in the pool, but that’s about it! There is not much entertainment in the evenings. There were only 2 shows while we were there and you don’t find out about them unless you’re hanging out in the lobby and the Fun Club staff happen to tell you about them. The lack of entertainment was disappointing given that the hotel is isolated and there’s nowhere to go in the evenings.
We went on 3 tours. Two were with the Air Canada Vacations tour operator: CRT. The third was with Avispas Adventures. We had researched Avispas on the internet prior to going to Costa Rica, with the intention of calling when we got there. However, they found us – one of their reps was selling tours on the beach. We went on the Avispas Miravelles Volcano Adventure. I can’t say enough about Avispas as it was a fantastic trip & they are a far superior tour operator to CRT. I talked with Amy on the phone before booking as I wasn’t sure if I should try the Arenal Volcano Tour or the Miravalles Volcano. She highly recommended Miravelles as there is a lot packed into the day and the travel is not very long. She advised that the Arenal Volcano is not always active or visible and is a 3 hour drive. She said that customers are often disappointed to travel a total of 6 hours to not see the volcano. The Miravelles trip was awesome! First we went zip-lining. Very scary, but after the first line, the rest is easy. The zip-lining crew was amazing. They kept our spirits up with their jokes all morning. Then we went to a Costa Rican restaurant. This was the best food that we had the entire week in Costa Rica! Amazing! Then we went to the volcano. We first went horseback riding for about half an hour part-way up the mountain, then we hiked for another half an hour and saw some beautiful waterfalls and the lush forest. Then we rode the horses back and toured the crater of the Miravalles volcano. At the end of the tour, we had a mud bath right there in the crater! Then we bathed in the hot springs. The Avispa tour guide, Mario, brought us a bottle of wine to drink while we were in the springs. Heaven! This trip was $145 and there were only 4 of us. The personal attention was worth every penny. We were able to go to souvenir stores and stay as long as we liked. I would absolutely recommend Avispas Adventures to anyone wanting to tour in the Guanacaste Region.
The CRT tours were lackluster in comparison. First we went to Santa Cruz & Guaitil to see where the beautiful Costa Rican pottery is made. CRT first charged us $75 as only 2 of us wanted to go, but when they found 2 other couples, they dropped it to $50. Thank God, as this was not a $75 trip. It was barely worth the $50. Santa Cruz is a tiny little town. The town centre is interesting as is the church that the guide took us to, but this only took about 10 minutes. Guaitil is interesting, though the pottery demonstration is only about 15 minutes and then each pottery shop is pretty much the same as the last. However, we did meet a lovely woman potter and bought a few things from her and her family. The CRT guide was very impersonal. We weren’t too impressed. We did see a tree full of howler monkeys along the way and he let us out to take pictures. The second CRT trip was to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Don Juan Coffee Tour. Again, paled in comparison to the Avispas Adventure Tour. There were about 40 people on this tour, so there was zero personal attention. The bus was crowded and cramped, and this was a long trip, so these conditions made it very uncomfortable. We joined up with a group who were doing a 2-day Arenal Volcano/Monteverde Tour. They said that they didn’t get to see the Arenal Volcano go off the night before, so I’m very thankful that we took Avispas’ advice and didn’t spend the money to go to Arenal. The coffee tour was interesting. The cloud forest was beautiful, but again, with CRT, there’s no personal attention, so we were pretty much left on our own. The walk through the cloud forest is about 3 km and we did it ourselves with no guide to point out plantlife, wildlife, etc. Very disappointed. I wouldn’t do the Air Canada tour again.
I was disappointed that I didn’t see much wildlife on the tours. If I was to go back, I’d do the Palo Verde boat tour as the people who went on this one said that they saw crocodiles, monkeys and lots of birds.
Overall, I would say that the Grand Papagayo is a beautiful hotel with some really nice staff. Ana Mary in the buffet & snack bar is particularily lovely and remembers everyone’s names. Even though I’ve been a little critical, I do think that the hotel is a good value and if I was to come back to this region of Costa Rica, I would stay here again. As many travel sites state that this hotel isn’t appropriate for those with physical disabilities – take this advice seriously! It is quite hilly. My travelling partner had a sprained ankle and it was unbearable for her often on the hills and steps. However, the shuttle bus is available to take you around, so don’t let the hills stop you.