Chairs—and solitude—on a beach in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

For years I’ve heard stories describing Costa Rica and all it has to offer and for years, I’ve been eager to experience a particular region of this country. Recently my quest to visit Central America came to fruition and Guanacaste, Costa Rica didn’t in any way fall short of everything I had hoped it would be. Below are 15 reasons to add Costa Rica to your list and why the JW Marriott Guanacaste is where you should check in. Bottom line: I can’t wait to go back.

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One of many daytime hammocks at the JW Marriott Guanacaste

1. The lifestyle/Pura vida!
By definition it means “pure life.” For Costa Ricans and for many revisiting, it shares a myriad of definitions including, “full of life,” “this is life,” “life is good,” or “real living.” It can be used as a general greeting or when departing and embodies a cultural celebration of life that can be heard and seen throughout all of Costa Rica. With everything that’s offered in this amazing part of the world you’ll find yourself living and saying pura vida just moments after arriving and long after you’ve left. It represents the lifestyle in Costa Rica that you’ve heard about and a way of life you shouldn’t wait to discover.

The JW Marriott Guanacaste

2. The JW Marriott
The JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa is located in Guanacaste, in the Northwest Pacific region of Costa Rica. Away from the bustling city life of San Jose, the terrain here consists mainly of beautiful beaches, lush green rainforests, and endless farmland. Located in the private gated property of Hacienda Pinilla, the resort is a must-visit if planning a trip to this part of Central America. The hotel has an impressive 310 rooms, 20 suites, a presidential suite, and all the amenities you desire when visiting a luxury resort. It’s the perfect destination if you’re looking to unwind and relax while also having endless options for adventure. Rooms start at around $269 (with a king bed) and go up to about $1,200 for the 1-bedroom presidential suite (with a plunge pool and an oceanfront corner location).

The people of Guanacaste are amazingly friendly

3. The people of Costa Rica
I was only in Guanacaste for several days but found the people of this region of Costa Rica to be incredibly kind souls with a passion for life and pride in their country. They’re fantastic! They were constantly going out of their way to make sure my stay at the resort or the activity I was taking part in was spot-on.

ATV riding in Guanacaste

4. The endless opportunity for adventure
I arrived at the resort on a Thursday around 1 pm and left Sunday around noon—and I didn’t stop for a minute in between. The image above is of a guided ATV tour that took me through the rainforest and then along miles of empty beach. While the scene appears a bit rocky, the beaches are pristine. You can go solo or tandem—both will run you $100 for 2 hours—and it’s worth every penny. I also took advantage of the opportunity to take 11 ziplines down from one of the highest peaks in the area ($50) and had a guided horseback tour though the forest and along the beautiful and remote Langosta Beach ($56 for an hour and a half). I should also mention the riverboat tour on which we searched of crocodiles, howling monkeys and all of the other local wildlife. And there’s lots of it!

How did I arrange this all? The concierge service at the resort takes care of literally everything. You can just give them a list of what you’d like to achieve while visiting and they’ll make all the arrangements. They are spot-on.

The pool at the Hacienda Pinilla Beach Club

5. The Beach Club
If you’re looking to change up your pool scene, the Hacienda Pinilla Beach Club is located about five minutes from the main resort. It’s part of the JW Marriott resort, and there are shuttles that run back and forth to and from the main property all day until 6 pm. You can also rent paddleboards for about $30 a day here and surfboards for about the same, as the club is home to an amazing surf spot. On the day I surfed this location there were only two others surfing and there were countless waves. There’s also an impressive large private room for wedding or functions.

The ceviche served in a coconut at Azul Grill

6. The food
There are four fantastic restaurants at the JW Marriott, so whether you stay local at the resort or head into nearby Tamarindo, you’ll have plenty of great options. There’s: Mansita for breakfast, Sabanero for steaks and traditional tastes of northwestern Costa Rica, Tamrine for Asian fusion, and the Azul Grill (Italian) are all located at the resort and all are home runs. Try the ceviche served in a coconut at Azul by the pool for lunch or any of the steaks accompanied by Costa Rican dipping sauces at Sabanero for dinner. They’re both off the charts.

The Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club

7. The Hacienda Pinilla Golf Club
Located just minutes away from the hotel, the Hacienda Pinilla 18-hole championship golf course will suit all your golfing needs. I didn’t have time to hit the links, but I did have a chance to check out the course, and it looks fantastic. Not many golfers were out and so the course was wide open. The rates are $150 for 18 holes and $80 for 9. If your short game or putting needs some work, the club also offers private lessons that run $100 an hour or $55 for 30 minutes. They also rent clubs if you plan to travel light.

Surfing Playa Avellanas

9. Surfing Playa Avellanas
Often known as “Little Hawaii,” the Playa Avellanas surf spot is one of the best in Costa Rica. The long stretch of pristine, coral-colored sand with both right- and left-breaking waves makes this a destination for surfers from all over the world, but there’s plenty of space and no shortage of waves so overcrowding isn’t an issue. It’s also home to Lola’s, one of the best beach bars I’ve come across. In addition to Playa Avellanas there are two other breathtaking beaches located on the Hacienda Pinilla property: Playa Langosta and Playa Mansita.

The pool at the JW Marriott Guanacaste

10. The pool at the JW Marriott
The pool at the resort is gigantic! At an impressive 23,000 square feet, this infinity pool is one of the largest in Costa Rica so there’s plenty of space for privacy. And if you’re looking to change up your sunning situation, you’re just steps away from an amazing beach and the clear blue Pacific.

Tip: While visiting Costa Rica be sure to ask about rocks before running full-speed into the water. There are some areas that are not suitable for swimming, and starting your day by diving into a bunch of rocks is not very “Pura Vida.”

10. The JW Marriott rooms
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in my room but after a long day the bed at the JW Marriott felt like a cloud. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and almost all of them face the pool or ocean. Between the sounds of waves crashing, birds chirping and the patter of intermittent rainfall, a good night’s sleep is just about guaranteed.

The JW Marriott Spa

11. The Spa
The spa at the JW Marriott was the perfect way to wrap up my trip. After a couple days of chasing adventure I managed to check one last thing off of my JW Marriott to-do list: an hour-long Swedish massage. If you’re looking for the same, book it early, as appointments are required for all the treatments they offer, including body scrubs, body wraps, couples massages, mani/pedis, and of course massages. The friendly staff and zen-like atmosphere will leave you relaxed and either ready to start your day or ready to end it. They have all sorts of package deals so be sure to visit their website for offers.

A crocodile on the guided river tour

12. Take the guided river tour through the rainforest
The boat tour with lunch at the El Viejo Wildlife Preserve Refuge—plus transportation from the hotel and back—will cost you a mere $100 and is worth every penny. The river is bustling with life and the guides are local professionals that don’t miss a thing along the way. Hats off to these river sabaneros, who were very impressive in not only their knowledge of the river but of Costa Rican history as well.

13. The incredible breakfast
Loaded with everything you can think of and featuring what is hands-down the best fruit presentation I’ve seen in some time, the breakfast at the hotel is amazing. It starts at 6:30 am and is located right next to the pool. There’s no better way to start a day than with a lights-out breakfast and at the JW Marriott, that’s every day.

 14. And second-to-last but not least, to see this guy
Why? Because he delivers cold Imperial beers and a fresh-squeezed watermelon juice during lunch at the El Viejo Wildlife Preserve. Pura vida!

A travel note: I flew in from JFK and the fairly new direct flight into Liberia took only 4.5 hours. That’s the same amount of time it would take to fly to San Antonio, Texas from New York. Nothing against San Antonio, but I’ll choose Costa Rica as my next getaway.

A note for groups: While I was at the resort I noticed several groups and separately a wedding taking place. If you’re planning a destination wedding or a company retreat, the JW Marriott seems to be a home run. The people I spoke with from both groups told me they had an amazing stay in Costa Rica and attributed much of it to the JW Marriott Guanacaste.

15. The photos, in a gallery:

The entrance to the JW Marriott
The JW Marriott pool
One of many JW Marriott daytime hammocks
Entrance to the Beach Club
Umbrellas at the Beach Club
The Beach Club pool
A guided horseback ride along the beach
A courtyard at the JW Marriott
An empty beach
A baby howler monkey
Breakfast spread
The famous Lola
Four-wheeling along the beach
A secluded beach
Chairs at the beach
El Viejo Wildlife Preserve
Dinning room at Azul
Table at Sabaneros
The chef from Sabaneros
Petite filet at Sabaneros
Lunch at El Viejo
Breakfast at the JW
Breakfast at the JW
Table at Sabaneros
The chef in his kitchen
An odd duck
Roaming lizard
Hammock at night
Horns at Riding Club
Our guide and sabanero
A ride through the rainforest
Horse at Lola's
White-faced monkey along the river
Our trusty river guide
Deck at El Viejo
El Viejo corral
Breakfast tables @ JW Marriot
Poolside Ceviche
The Golf Club
The Golf Club
JW Marriott at night
Baby lizards
Sleeping monkeys
Papa howler monkey
Four-wheeling through the mud
River guide
Spa and massage therapists
Gabriel making a delivery
Yoga zone
Zipline crew
Launch pad
Ziplining through the trees
The best zipline crew
The best zipline crew
Lola's bar
Sabanero and the one that got away
Sabanero chasing the one that got away
Successful sabanero
Sunset from the JW Marriott
Tim Gaylord

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1 Comment On "Adventure and solitude at the JW Marriott Guanacaste in Costa Rica, in words and pictures"
  1. Valerie C.|

    Stayed here in October 2012 as the final stop on a Nicaragua/Costa Rica birthday trip with some friends – it is a BEAUTIFUL property from the beach to the pool area and the rooms are so comfy. The hotel had many reviews indicating that they were famous for switching room types at the last minute so I went in prepared for a fight and lo-and-behold, even as a Marriott Platinum, they had changed both of the rooms I had reserved for my guests and I and claimed there was no way to rectify the issue. I forced them into comping us breakfast the next morning but be prepared with a print-out of exactly what you reserved (at the time of reservation…Marriott’s system sometimes changes your reservation if you’re upgraded) to ensure you get what you paid for.

    It’s really a shame such a beautiful property has slimy management practices such as this, I was quite disappointed.

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