For many families, a tropical beach resort is the ideal vacation. Swimming, building sand castles and relaxing under the shade of a palm tree is an elixir for the stress of everyday life. But as blissful as this sort of holiday is, it can be difficult to get a taste of local color when you are ensconced in a resort. One island or country gives the impression of being much like another, especially at properties that are part of large chains. I appreciate that these resorts are safe, clean and convenient. What I don’t like is their generic feel.
My recent visit to the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa in Costa Rica was the antithesis of the cookie-cutter experience that you get at some chain hotels. It is set within a historic hacienda (ranch), so the colonial ambiance is intact, the sense of place authentic, the food traditional. If your family is looking for seaside sumptuous with a generous dash of local, read on.
The hotel’s location offers a spectacular natural setting of lush terrain and rambling grounds that are a hotbed of frolicking monkeys and tropical birds. The deep colors, sounds, scent (and insects, so bring bug spray) of the rainforest surround you. The interior of the hotel continues with the locavore theme. The 31O guest rooms and common spaces utilize luscious, dark-hued wood from the area with traditional Costa Rican handicrafts generously sprinkled as colorful accents. The beautiful beach and free-form pool, the largest in Central America, only add to the charm. It’s rustic Costa Rican luxury at its finest.
The kid’s club is free for children age 4-12. The program is a standout, thanks to its emphasis on acquainting young guests with local flora and fauna through games and crafts. Acquiring a few words of Spanish in a non-pressurized way is promoted, so expect the kids to learn a few new palabras.
Costa Rican food is a mild and well suited to young palates. The hotel has four restaurants and two bars. Mansita is where you will find a bountiful breakfast buffet overflowing with regional fare. Start to your day by tucking into the fortifying national dish, gallo pinto. It is a combination of rice and beans mixed with onion, bell pepper and cilantro. Native fruits like mango and papaya are abundant. Cas, a small green fruit also known as sour guava, is worth trying. It is crunchy, loaded with vitamins and minerals and so tart your mouth will pucker.
Guanacaste is cattle country. Book a table at Sabanero and you can sample the region’s fine local beef. All of the restaurants offer children’s menus and American standards for the finicky or unadventurous eaters in your family.
The resort is located under an hour from the modern airport in the city of Liberia, with non-stop service to many U.S. cities. The hotel can arrange airport pick-up with advance notice.