If you’ve never been to Peninsula Papagayo on the north Pacific coast of Costa Rica, here’s the first thing you need to know: it’s isolated. Very isolated. Now, depending on what type of traveler you are, that might sound incredibly alluring -- but just keep in mind that the nearest “town,” and the airport, is around 45 minutes away.
That said, the 15-mile peninsula is actually quite developed, in fact operating like a gated community -- you’ll need to drive through a security check-point before entering. Within the confines of the gates, there are more than 30 beaches, palatial private villas, an 18-hole golf course, and two high-end hotels. So Peninsula Papagayo is the kind of place where spending four days without leaving your resort is entirely possible. Adventure-seekers can rest assured, though, that activities like jet-skiing, ATV-ing through the rainforest, and ziplining remain pretty accessible. (If you're visiting for a few days, we'd recommend a combo tour that'll give you a taste of all three in one day.)
And that leads to the second most important thing to know: Peninsula Papagayo is pricey for Costa Rica. But we can still recommend it because you do get what you pay for here -- in the form of five-star service, luxe beachfront views, and unrivaled privacy. Travelers looking to stay on the peninsula have three accommodation options: The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica (around $500 per night), The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort (around $350 per night), and villa rentals through companies like Homeaway, VRBO and Exclusive Resorts (prices vary).
Each of these are splurge-worthy in their own right, but if you’re looking for something more affordable, there are a number of great options on the opposite side of Culebra Bay. Occidental Grand Papagayo, for one, offers an equally picturesque setting at a more reasonable price. Rates at this adults-only, all-inclusive resort start around $230 per night. There’s also the all-inclusive Hilton Papagayo Resort, a family-friendly option where rates average around $258 per night. Why are all of these properties all-inclusive, you ask? Again, the general region is rather remote, so dining options outside the hotels are limited.
No matter where you stay, we suggest renting a car for some exploration and local flavor. It'll be an evening well spent if you take the 45 minute drive to the quaint fishing village at Playa del Coco, or Coco Beach. Just be warned: There are no street signs or traffic lights -- and Google Maps/GPS devices tend to be inaccurate -- so ask your hotel’s front desk for a map. You'll find plenty of bars, restaurants and casinos bustling along Main Street during nighttime. For affordable drinks, head to the open-air Bar El Ancla, down Main Street on the way to the beach, for the strongest margaritas in town. They cost, believe it or not, less than $5 each. And after a day of lounging or ziplining, it’s the perfect place to grab a stool at the bar, basque in the ocean breeze, and soak up the local scene.