By Sheree Bykofsky
Nearing the end of the short four-hour flight, I peered down from my window seat and was amazed. I thought the plane had taken a wrong turn to the British Isles. I saw forested cliffs dropping down to the sea and white foam lapping against beaches. Further inland were emerald green farms and fields. I couldn’t wait now to land in the new airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, and be whisked away to the Westin Playa Concha Resort one hour away in Guanacaste.
My high expectations were exceeded by the experience. Before I even checked in to the Royal Beach Club, the adults-only section of the sprawling resort, I was handed a delightful alcohol-free mojito, lovingly crafted with fresh muddled mint and ginger. My hand was adorned with a bronze-colored bracelet, signifying that I was a guest at the Royal Beach Club and entitling me to its many offerings, namely, the 24-hour lounge with frequent treats and libations and use of the adults-only lagoon-style pool, where you can swim up to the bar for frozen margaritas and that addictive mojito, this time with tequila.
The newly renovated resort under the direction of its well-liked manager Mr. Hernan Binaghi is a breathtaking property with thatched-roof bungalows, a lake brimming with waterfowl, gardens, ocean views, and a spectacular spa. Everyone who works there seems to genuinely love their job, and the service is universally as warm as the tropical environment of Costa Rica. The resort’s dedication to the environment is evidenced by their hiring of an energetic Social Responsibility Manager, Gabriela, who will proudly show you how you don’t need to sacrifice luxury while caring for the earth.
Relaxation room at the spa
My private concierge David showed me around my suite. I already knew about the famous luxurious Heavenly Bed ™, which I still don’t know why I haven’t ordered for my home, but when I saw the giant whirlpool bath outside on my third-floor balcony as well as the enormous soaking tub in my bathroom, I wondered how I would ever bring myself to leave the room. Later that week, returning back from a scrumptious three-course meal at one of the eight fine restaurants at this all-inclusive resort, I found on my balcony a steaming hot bubbly bath decorated with a thousand red hibiscus flowers artfully arranged by David with perfection in and around the tub. Exotic fruits, whole lychee nuts and a bottle of wine were nearby to enjoy after a good soak. Other features of the many resort suites are fine soap amenities, robes and slippers, a separate granite shower and a bidet. My suite was on the third floor of “tower two,” overlooking the Royal Beach Club pool, but most of the accommodations at the resort were free-standing thatched-roof bungalows with private entrances graced by tropical flowers and foliage.
The Ideal Spot for that Romantic Dinner
If you stay at the resort for a week, you may be able to find time to visit all of the eight restaurants. The Westin, under its new management, proves that All-Inclusive can still mean great food and impeccable friendly service. The buffet-style restaurant Mitra is excellent for every meal, but breakfast is most notable. Be sure to try the icy fresh mango shake at the shake station along with whatever your heart may desire for breakfast.
The resort is big and lovely to walk around, but during the months when it is very hot, you’ll appreciate the free shuttles that arrive within minutes to whisk you wherever you want to go. Enjoy the main pool, the beach which is easily accessible from the resort but not part of it, tennis and a Robert Trent Jones golf course. Don’t play golf? Not a problem. At 4:00 go to the golf course anyway and take a free guided golf-cart tour of the entire 18 holes. The exotic birds you will see include brilliantly colorful roseate spoonbills, great egrets, blue herons, and orange-chinned parakeets. But the real treat is to sit in your own golf cart beneath a stand of tall trees and watch the howler monkeys playing on the branches and watching you! Even without the monkeys in them, the malinche and carao trees provide fragrant canopies of color along the edge of the immaculate course. Adorable pizotes take daily pilgramages across the property in singles and in large groups and you are sure to see a good number of iguanas in various colors and sizes. Many wedding vows have been shared beneath the romantically sweeping branches of the lucky walking tree on hole seven overlooking the ocean.
And if you can’t get enough nature on the golf course and the resort grounds, consider a healthy hike through the Conchal national mixed wild life refuge right outside the resort but on the same property, known as the Conchal Reserve. Woodpeckers provide the music while blue crabs aerate the mangrove forest each time they make a mad dash into their little holes, and howler and capuchin monkeys will round out your nature experience. When you get back to the Westin, be sure to stop into the spa for a soothing massage and swim in the heated pool.
The Lagoon style pool
A feature of the Westin that I didn’t experience but which impressed me was the resort within the resort designed just for families. The children are able to enjoy the many offerings of the Westin Kids Club® even before the adults have finished checking in! And they have their own area at the main pool just for families, which keeps everyone happy.
Abalone sports bar and lounge
On my last day, my Costa Rica DMC tour guide picked me up at the main lodge and took me for an interesting one-hour drive through many small towns to the El Viejo Wildlife Refuge & Wetlands in Filadelfia, which is a 2965-acre private Wildlife Refuge & Sugar Cane Hacienda that offers boat tours of the Tempisque River where you can see crocodiles and capuchin monkeys up close and partake in a thrilling zip line experience. Lunch at the refuge in the 150-year-old plantation house is a delicious journey back in time and just a few steps away from the hacienda is an educational ox-operated sugar mill.
A relaxing and exhilarating adventure of a lifetime; unsurpassed luxury and comfort; fine service; enticing food and drink: Now I finally know why so many people say that Costa Rica is their favorite place. I can’t wait to go back.
Westin Playa Conchal Resort and Spa
Guanacaste, Costa Rica