By Jonathan Harris | Special to The Tico Times
If you’re like us, based near San José, with a seemingly constant barrage of friends and family coming to “know” Costa Rica, you probably don’t want to take them to places where most of the signs are in English, most of the people are from California or Florida, and the restaurant staff hasn’t heard of gallo pinto. You want to take them somewhere close that serves Tico food, and somewhere that will give the impression that the country is inhabited by Costa Ricans.
Of course, there are the national parks, the volcanoes, the National Theater. … But what about a nice two- or three-day getaway to the beach? And what if you have kids, of any size, and at least some budgetary concern?
Our answer, on several occasions now, has been the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Central Pacific – an all-inclusive resort a mere 45 minutes away.
Where to go is a constant issue for us, especially with returning guests. Our backyard is fine for a day or two, and I make a mean gallo pinto, but can’t we just have a change of scenery now and then? The best thing, by far, about the DoubleTree is that it is right down the road. It’s literally the first hotel you come to when going to the closest beach. I grew up when Puntarenas was pretty much the only beach you could get to in less than five hours, and the dark sand and warm, relatively calm water seem like home to me.
I learned to surf at Boca de Barranca, right next to the DoubleTree. People expecting some Caribbean notion of white sands and turquoise water will be disappointed, but my son and I love swimming way out, with little undertow, a beautiful sky and two ports full of cool ships in the distance.
The DoubleTree was once the Fiesta Hotel, which Hilton has upgraded into a more-than-passable resort, with three building complexes, each with their own pool and our favorite feature – the swim-up bar. The food is surprisingly good, for buffet food. It is abundant and conveniently served at mealtime. For those who can’t stand not snacking between meals, there are Gringo-style snacks, like mediocre pizza and hamburgers, available all day.
The trick at DoubleTree is to insist on a room with a balcony in building 3, known as a “deluxe” room. Don’t bother going if you can’t get one of those, as the other rooms were all designed with Dallas or Tulsa in mind, with hermetically sealed windows. The upstairs rooms in building 3 provide an ocean view from the balcony along with the constant sound of waves to lull you to sleep. They’re also the newest rooms, and right next to the swim-up bar.
If you’re in the mood to be critical, you might initially have a tough time. We have yet to meet an unhelpful, impolite or non-bilingual staff member. You won’t find anything wrong with the cleanliness of the beautiful pools. You might suspect that the booze is watered down, but creative ordering can get you around that.
The most demanding guests will potentially take issue with the bureaucratic check-in and check-out procedures, the former of which is mitigated by a welcome cookie and tropical drink inside of a coconut. It’s possible you will encounter a bare bulb, a broken handle or a threadbare set of towels in an otherwise pristine room, but the real downer is Internet access. It’s pricy, and the process of connecting is annoyingly laborious. Finally, you might notice a charge for getting there before the 4 p.m. check-in time, the lack of nightlife options for your teenagers and the meager menu of activities compared to a Club Med or even the Barceló hotels around the country. But just keep in mind, it only took you 45 minutes to get there, and the concierge desk can set you up with just about any off-site activity possible.
After you notice all those things, take a swim in the ocean at sunset, retire to the perfect pool, swim up to the bar, reflect on how much more you could have paid and watch all your worries float away. That’s what we do.
Take General Cañas Highway, turn right on route 3 Circunvalacíon, turn right on Highway 27, drive dowards Caldera, 4.3 miles after passing the port, the resort will be on your left. For rates, see www.doubletree3.hilton.com.