On my way to Panama for a Spanish Immersion class, I stopped off in Costa Rica for a few days. Somehow, despite having been to all seven continents, all 50 states, and around 60 countries, I had never made it to Costa Rica, despite its close proximity to the USA and my desire to visit.
How to get to the W
Southwest Airlines offered a low fare to Liberia, so I snapped up the opportunity and booked a stay at the W Hotel on Playa Conchal and invited my friend Tina. I was slightly hesitant to spend five days at a resort, as I get a little antsy when stuck on an isolated property, but our stay at the W was wonderful!
The W Hotel on Playa Conchal is located about one hour southwest from the Liberia Airport. Upon booking through Hotels.com, the staff at the W immediately reached out to me regarding transportation needs and tour options. Given my recent and extensive travels around the South Pacific, I’d hardly done any research and took them up on their shuttle services which are provided by Go Costa Rica Transportation.
At $135 per person one way, I’m certain I could have found a cheaper alternative and perhaps even rented a car for five days for the two of us for less than the overall cost, but our arrival and departure were at different times, and I chose the W in order to set aside any travel coordination.
The enormous complex, which covers 900 hectares, includes the W Hotel, the Westin, and condominiums, with the W being the newest. The guarded entrance protects a forested area with a winding road that passes a golf course, trails, and the Westin complex before it reaches the secluded W.
The Reception Area
Check-in takes place in the open-air lobby at the end of a corridor with one wall featuring a fountain. The lobby, which also includes a colorful bar called the Living Room, looks out onto the terraced pool which features a bar and the Wet Deck with an excellent, though limited poolside menu.
Also, in the lobby area are the casual Cocina de Mercado restaurant (best for breakfast) and the swanky gift shop which sells items such as clothes, jewelry, bathing suits, hats, lotions, coffee and chocolate. Despite all the choices, I did not see sunscreen, so be sure to bring some along.
Below the Living Room is a fancier restaurant called Latitude 10⁰ North which serves a Thai fusion cuisine because Costa Rica is on the same latitude as Thailand. It opens for dinner at 6pm and is closed on Friday.
The aforementioned area is the main section of the W and is also the closest to the three, six story, non-descript hotel room towers. Originally with a garden view room, we were upgraded to an ocean view room with two queen beds and sofa, in exchange for writing this post.
While we loved our room, complete with lots of closet space, an in-room safe, a mini-bar, complimentary water and coffee, a lovely balcony, a giant shower with two rain heads, a bathroom with two sinks, and chocolates with turn down service, the upgrade has little bearing on this post as we spent most of our time outside of our room.
Every day we explored different parts of the complex, participated in free classes, and even took a few excursions to the neighboring towns, Brasilito and Tamarindo.
Our days began with breakfast at Cocina de Mercado where we skipped the all you can eat $40 buffet in exchange for the delicious ala carte options. The two eggs atop rice and beans with avocado and plantains was my favorite plate, especially when Roberto waited on us. He came from Nicaragua, spoke perfect, English and served us promptly and efficiently.
After breakfast we either took a hike on the W’s network of trails, visited the small, but well-equipped gym, or went for a walk on the beach. Several trails, wide enough for a car, wend through the jungle home to coati, monkeys, and birds. Though I believe some of these “trails” are roads for future development, we enjoyed listening to the birds chirp and monkeys howl.
While we didn’t spot the monkeys on the Congrejo and Congo trails, we saw them in the trees at the end of the beach. There were also several parakeets that flitted from tree to tree. The crescent shape beach extended all the way to the Westin, so our walks were both a good length and pleasantly quiet in the morning. With the progression of the day, however, the activity increased.
When it wasn’t too windy, people went kayaking, paddle boarding or jet skiing on the beach’s Pacific shores. Vendors sold their wares and local women gave fantastic massages for only $20. I’m not sure how the W’s superb spa with saunas and hot tubs can compete with that.
The Spa and Gym
The spa is connected to the gym which is half-way between the reception area and the beach. The gym equipment which includes elliptical machines, treadmills, bands, free weights, and a few weight machines was very nice. Towels and fresh fruit were also available.
After our first activity of the day which took a 1-2 hours, we lounged at one of the two pools until the free 11am class. Our 11am classes ranged from water aerobics, to stretching on a raft, to yoga on the beach. I’ve never taken a water aerobics class, and I liked it much better than I expected. Though sort of difficult, there was no impact on our joints which our old body parts appreciated.
The Board to Stretch class was somewhat different than I expected. I had seen the larger-sized, reinforced rectangular rafts by the pool, so that wasn’t the surprise. But the surprise was twofold. First, it wasn’t stretching, it was yoga. Second, the rafts were strung together. The eight of us who participated were connected.
This may have been the funniest exercise class I have ever been too. I guarantee there is a YouTube video out there somewhere, as those lounging around the pool stopped to watch the chaos. In certain positions our buttocks pointed toward the lounge chairs. If one person fell, it was inevitable that someone else would. In downward dog, it was easy to belly flop on the raft as our hands slipped off the slick surface. It was free entertainment for both the participants and the spectators.
Unlike Board to Stretch, Yoga on the Beach was closer to stretching as the instructor, JP, individually stretched out each one of us at the end of the class. We regularly reviewed the activity schedule, especially for the exercise classes on the Wet Deck, as they ended with a complimentary glass of freshly made juice!
Of course, we returned to the lounge chairs poolside after our classes. Though occasionally we had to change locations due to the intense sun and wind which prevented us from using the umbrellas. I understand the windy conditions only occur in January, which frankly we welcomed as otherwise, the air would have been hot and stagnant.
By now, we had usually worked up an appetite, so we ordered lunch poolside. Both the Wet Deck at the pool by the reception and Zona Azul Beach Club at the pool by the beach serve excellent food. My favorite lunches were the lobster tacos and the salad with fried goat cheese from the Wet Deck and the fish tacos and guacamole with plantain chips from the Zona Azul Beach Club. The portion sizes were larger for a similar price at the Zona Azul Beach Club, so we tended to gravitate to the lower pool.
Cooking and tasting Classes
After a few more hours at the pool, we generally ventured up to the Cocina de Mercado where we participated in rum tastings, coffee tastings, and a hot wing competition. We also learned how to make a bean and rice dish with chicken and pico de gallo which ended up being a free afternoon snack!
Aside from the hot wing competition, each class was sophisticated and tame. As a result, when we attended the Hot Wing Competition, we were surprised to find we had to race other guests in eating four wings with one hand behind our back. The wings were both HOT with spice and heat. The winner won an ice-cold beer.
I can’t drink beer and Tina is a vegetarian so we were trying to let a young man win, but he couldn’t handle the spice. With the staff standing around cheering on our very slow race, I felt obligated to finish a little faster as our efforts were quite pathetic. With tears from my watery eyes streaming down my flushed face, I claimed the price from which Tina benefited!
At four pm we either attended a mixology class or headed back to the room for a shower. The mixology class was basically a way to get an alcoholic drink at a discounted price. Each day featured a different drink. If we didn’t want the specific drink, we didn’t go.
After our showers, we arranged our dinner plans which ranged from ordering room service, to attending a free party for Marriott Bonvoy members, to taking a shuttle to the nearby town Brasilito. All were excellent choices.
Our first night, we were more adventurous and went to Brasilito. I might be farther to drive out of the W complex than it is to drive to Brasilito once on the main road. Regardless, it was just far enough not to walk, especially in the hot afternoon sun or at night on the dark street without sidewalks.
We arrived in Brasilito just in time for sunset. It was particularly fun to watch this local girl try to board with her dog playing alongside. After taking in the sunset, we had dinner at Camaron Dorado. We both ordered the fish prepared different ways. The food and the atmosphere with tables on the beach surrounded by hanging lights made for a nice evening.
Marriott Bonvoy Party
The free party featured fancy bite sized hors d’oeurves which included mussels, crab bites, ceviche and chocolate mousse after our late lunch and Hot Wings Competition.
Finally, the room service was both very good and efficient. As I write this, I feel like we were so lazy and spent most of our time in the prone position, but we had a very good time and felt relatively busy every day.
For a change of pace, on Saturday, we took the $25 shuttle to Tamarindo. We were very excited to see this beachside town we had heard so much about. We really wanted to visit the Saturday market. In the end, we were somewhat disappointed by Tamarindo. The market may as well have been in the United States. Aside from an authentic vegetable stand, almost every vendor was an expat.
After a short stroll through the market, we headed to the beach which was loaded with people! We both wondered aloud, “What had we done?!?” We seeked out some shade at El Be, and after a nice beach side lunch aside from being pestered by vendors, we caught the first shuttle back to the hotel. I think we hardly spent two hours in Tamarindo.
While we were thankful for the experience, we definitely enjoyed the life of luxury at the hotel better! To us, there was little reason to leave unless we wanted to do a tour. The tours, however, were rather highly priced, and at this point in my life I had already been ziplining, river rafting, and hiking around volcanoes enough times that I didn’t find the need to go again.
Perhaps the next time I visit Costa Rica, likely in the southern area of the country near San Jose, I’ll be more adventurous, but for this trip, I truly enjoyed relaxing at the W with my friend Tina.
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