San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hilton Papagayo Resort Bides Its ‘All-Inclusive’ Time on Culebra Bay

Can’t remember who said this, but I agree: “The older I get, the more stars I want in my hotel.”

The older I get, the less inclined I am to retire to a saggy bed, gag down crappy food, share a bathroom with strangers or (gasp!) spend my late evening without a 100-channel TV.

Traversing the ItalianPeninsula in the 1990s, I made an art form out of finding $20 rooms in pensioni that consisted of little more than a single bed, an armoire, a small desk and maybe a sink.

These days, I want down comforters, inroom safes, large showers, Internet and proximity to fun and fine dining. I want comfort and convenience.

The older I get, the fewer hassles I can endure.

Which is why I was attracted to the chance to stay at the all-inclusive Hilton Papagayo Resort Costa Rica, located in a picturesque cove in the northwestern province of Guanacaste’s CulebraBay.

There’s something appealing about the terms “all-inclusive” and “Hilton” in the same sentence.

Soon after check-in, however, I became a bit disillusioned. Not included in the allinclusive is Internet service, which costs $9.95 per day in your room or $6 per hour in the hotel’s business center. There is no room service. Massage prices ranged from moderate to not gonna happen.

And the requirement to book the night’s dinner reservations by 1 p.m. – two hours before the strictly enforced 3 p.m. check-in – was puzzling.

Fortunately, the shortcomings were mitigated by the Hilton reputation for attentive, friendly service and attention to detail in the amenities. The beds are intoxicatingly comfortable, and the mini-New York Times on the doorstep in the morning a nice touch.

Luckily, the “all-inclusive” package’s days are numbered. Hilton – which opened the 33-hectare property, formerly known as the Fiesta Premier, in January – plans to be a regular hotel by the end of October, when all the outstanding contracts with travel agencies have been fulfilled, said Patricia Mendes, marketing and sales assistant at the Hilton Papagayo.

“The Hilton chain, in general, does not do all-inclusive,” Mendes said. Once free from its all-inclusive commitments, the hotel wants to offer guests more opportunities to get off the hotel’s property – which can get confining – to get to know the area better.

Until then, here’s what you can enjoy for the rather reasonable “all-inclusive” prices: all you can eat and drink at the La Cosecha restaurant, a buffet of continental and local fare; the El Dorado International, an upscale restaurant; the Grill del Fuego, an Italian grill overlooking a pool; the El Ritual Bar, where friendly bartenders offer up a wide range of cervezas and cocktails, poolside; El Bocadillo, a snack bar next to the pool; and the Fuente de Vida, the swim-up bar in the main pool.

You can dip in two pools, the main one with all the party atmosphere, and a more tranquil one by the spa. Both feature plenty of deck chairs and large thatched shelters, called palapas, nearby.

You can snorkel or take a kayak into the water, though motorized personal watercraft, sightseeing, fishing and diving tours cost extra. There are tennis courts and nature trails, and free scheduled daily activities, such as Spanish and dance lessons, water aerobics and croquet. At night, there is a song and dance routine in the massive covered amphitheater.

For my all-inclusive election, I chose to take a vigorous kayak trip around the cove. Then I lay on the beach, sipped an all-inclusive Imperial and, with the gentle wash of the bay lulling me into dreamland, pretended to be at a many-starred hotel on Capri…

Getting There, Rates, Info

From DanielOduberInternationalAirport in the provincial capital of Liberia, the Hilton Papagayo is 25 minutes by car. From San José, it’s about four hours.

The resort features 202 rooms, most in thatched-roof bungalows. A bungalow in the jungle costs $119.

One with a view runs $159, while a suite with a private plunge pool and view of the bay fetches $439.

For information and reservations, call 2672-0000 or visit

Hilton Promises to Keep

Papagayo Clean

The “Papagayo” name has been tarnished lately, thanks largely to sewage disposal problems of hotels on the other side of CulebraBay from the Hilton.

To keep its side of the bay clean, and thus maintain its ecological Blue Flag designation, the Hilton Papagayo says it sends all of its wastewater to an onsite treatment plant. The treated water, which is analyzed every 15 days, is used to irrigate the grounds.


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