Pros and Cons of All-inclusive Resorts in Costa Rica
Updated: Apr 19
If you belong to any Facebook groups devoted to travel in Costa Rica, you will often see a post like this: “what’s the best all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica?” These posts result in a firestorm of replies, sounding something like this: “don’t stay at an all-inclusive if you want an authentic Costa Rican vacation.” We think there are pros and cons to all-inclusives. And we do often include them in the custom itineraries we create, and in some of our vacation packages as well. But we also really want our clients to have an authentic cultural experience when they visit, so we often split a client’s vacation with some time spent at an all-inclusive, and some time spent in other parts of the country.
Most all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica are found in the Northwest corner of Guanacaste province, along the Papagayo Peninsula. Interestingly, there are almost no towns or attractions near these resorts. This fits well with the all-inclusive mission, which is to provide everything a guest needs onsite. In order to visit some of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica (rainforests, cloud forests, volcanos, wildlife preserves, eco-adventure parks, etc.) it requires a drive of 2-3 hours from most of these resorts. The resorts offer excursions which include transportation, but keep in mind there is likely to be a long drive. An exception to this is Diamante Eco Adventure Park, which is close to RIU Guanacaste and RIU Palace and not too far from some of the other resorts.
They are so pretty!
PRO: Most all-inclusive resorts have extensive grounds with landscaping, providing a lush oasis of greenery, flowers, palm trees, well-maintained walkways, pristine swimming pools, attentive customer service, and most also provide beach access. Many people are looking for this type of setting for their vacation.
CON: All-inclusives are not representative of the surrounding areas. For those seeking an authentic, local experience, you won’t find it at an all-inclusive. Large resorts also use a lot of natural resources, such as water, to maintain their artificially lush environment. They can create a large amount of waste as well, sometimes putting a strain on local infrastructure.
Food and drinks included is a good thing, right?
PRO: Food and drinks are included. There is usually plentiful food, and drinks are available throughout the day and evening, and you can usually eat and drink as much as you want. There are several restaurants to choose from onsite, and they often serve familiar cuisine, such as Italian, seafood, and even burgers and fries.
CON: The food is often not great at the mid-range all-inclusives. However, we should note that at the higher-end resorts the food can be fabulous. Our experience is that the majority of visitors book at the mid-range all-inclusives, so this observation seems fair. There is sometimes an Americanized version of a few local dishes, but it is not likely to be truly authentic local cuisine. If you’re not a drinker, you are paying for drinks anyway in your package price. Also, with alcohol flowing like water, it can result in quite a party atmosphere, which may not be the vibe you want for your vacation. You might have to queue up in long lines at mealtimes, or remember each day to make a reservation at the restaurant you want to dine in that night. Each resort has their own set of particular rules and some are great at improving efficiency and equal access to amenities, but it’s good to know ahead of time what you might encounter.
Are all-inclusives a good deal financially?
PRO: All-inclusives can be cost effective. You can truly get a lot of bang for your buck. If you take advantage of everything offered at your resort, you can stay busy with yoga, tennis, golf, pool games, beach time, nightime entertainment and more, already included in your stay.
CON: There are often upsells once you arrive. Everything from premium liquor, to enhanced wifi service, to off-site excursions, to rounds of golf, can cost extra. You can research ahead of time what to expect at the resort you have chosen.
I just want to sit by the pool with a drink that has an umbrella in it!
PRO: All-inclusives offer a low stress vacation. Leave your wallet in your room safe and relax by the pool. Maybe hop in the water to play some volleyball, or stroll down to the beach for a morning yoga class. Or do nothing at all. To many people that is exactly what they are looking for in a vacation.
CON: If you are an adventure traveler (and so many people who come to Costa Rica would identify this way), you may find yourself feeling bored and restless after a few days and a little isolated, given the location of most Costa Rican all-inclusives. Excursions will help, so be sure to sign up for some!
I’m traveling with my family
PRO: All-inclusives can be a great choice for families, with lots of activities, kids clubs, entertainment geared for children, etc. There are many resorts that are specifically family friendly, so do your research.
CON: If you are on your honeymoon, a family-friendly resort may not be the answer! Fortunately there are adults-only all-inclusives, and you can easily search for one that is better suited to your needs. Also, if you are traveling as a family and you want your child to better understand the country they are visiting, they are unlikely to leave with any sense of what Costa Rica is all about or what life is like for those who live here.
All-inclusives can sometimes have a negative impact on the surrounding communities. They offer mostly low-wage jobs to locals (tipping well can really make a difference in the lives of the workers who serve you drinks and clean your room). There isn’t a lot of incentive to leave the resort, which means your dollars aren’t being spent in the local community. Most all-inclusives are owned by large companies headquartered in other countries, so the profits leave Costa Rica, rather than staying to improve the lives of locals. You can minimize some of these impacts by making it a point to leave the resort at times. Book an excursion with a local tour company (you can often find local tour guides on the beach!). Take a taxi or shuttle to the nearest town (if there is one) and spend some money at their shops and restaurants.
Whenever a client expresses a desire to spend at least part of their vacation at an all-inclusive, we happily oblige. Our recommendation, though, is to also include some time spent in other parts of the country. For example: A boutique hotel in Monteverde with exploration of the cloud forests; an eco-lodge with incredible wildlife viewing on the Osa Peninsula; ziplining adventures in the bustling town of La Fortuna with views of Arenal volcano; surf lessons and nightlife in the popular beach town of Tamarindo; a laid-back experience on the colorful Caribbean side of the country, etc. If you want to see some examples of vacations that combine all-inclusives with other adventures, visit our vacation packages page and check out the itineraries for our Family Fun Adventure, The Ultimate Girl’s Trip to Costa Rica, and the Costa Rica Luxury Tour. These packages feature stays at RIU Guanacaste, Planet Hollywood, and the Westin at Reserva Conchal. We can also help you plan a custom vacation, perfect for your family or group's interests and budget. Just fill out a custom itinerary form here, and let us get to work for you!
However you choose to vacation in Costa Rica, we say pura vida and bienvenido!
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