Our Anniversary Getaway to Costa Rica: a Trip of a Lifetime

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you probably know that I’m a fan of strategic splurging. If I have an overnight layover in a place I’ve never been to, I try to book a nice hotel  in order to take advantage of our limited time at that particular destination. After all, who knows when/if we will ever be back.

The same goes for short getaways. Obviously, I prefer to use points whenever possible. That said, I’m not against spending cash if a place looks really special. However, I’m much more likely to splurge on a resort where we will be spending most of the time in the room as opposed to a city hotel.

Some of you may remember my ill-fated plan to go to Costa Rica in 2019. Due to a hurricane threat, I had to scrap it at the last minute. I was planning to rebook everything sometime in 2020, but you know how that turned out.

Well, this year I’ve decided to make up for the lost time and git-r-done.

My original plan vs. what actually happened 

I’m the type of person who likes to kill two birds with one stone. So, when I was debating between going to Andaz Costa Rica and Nayara Springs, I decided why not do both! Thanks to all the readers who chimed in with their own experiences at these two places. Sure, it would involve multiple long transfers, but who knows when I would get back to Costa Rica.

So, the plan was to fly to Liberia airport from Orlando (via Frontier’s newly added route), and stay there two nights. Then we would hire a transfer company to drive us to Nayara resort, located 4 hours away near Arenal. We would then spend two nights there and fly to Orlando from San Jose on Jet Blue. After some back and forth, I decided that Nayara Springs resort was too expensive at $850 per night. Nayara Tented Camp, their fanciest wing that opened last year, was running at $1k per night. Nope.

Fortunately, I discovered that Nayara Gardens Resort and Spa (the original/least fancy wing) had just added some bungalows with private pools. They call this category a “rainforest pool villa”, and there are only a few available.  Judging by photos, they looked incredible, though obviously not as fancy as their more expensive counterparts at the other two resorts.

The biggest selling point: Nayara website quoted me a price of $425 per night all-in over Labor Day, only $35 per night more than the villa without a pool. Hmm, I may be cheap, but I’m definitely willing to pay an extra $35 per night to have a private pool. It was still a ton of money, but half the price of Nayara Springs. I figured we could swing it for two nights. After all, it’s our special anniversary trip, and my husband and I don’t get away that often.

But it gets better. I noticed that Expedia.com classifies Nayara Gardens as a VIP property. A few years ago, I got an Expedia credit card that came with Gold status (which got extended due to Covid pandemic). This status gets you special perks at VIP properties, at least in theory. I got the card mainly for the points, and found that Gold Expedia status doesn’t mean much. I once got a bottle of cheap wine, and even then I had to fight for it. I certainly never got anything close to an upgrade.

Nevertheless, if I booked Nayara Gardens resort through Expedia, I would get a $75 dining credit, $35 worth of points towards my next hotel booking, plus some portal cashback. A triple stack. So, that would technically bring down the price to $370 per night all-in.

There was one problem. Expedia did’t have rainforest pool villas listed, since the resort just added them recently. So, I reached out to Nayara Gardens via email and asked them if I could book the regular rainforest villa through Expedia (same price), and then pay the $70 difference for two nights at check-in. The agent replied and said it would be no problem. It was a leap of faith, but I certainly didn’t want to miss out on my triple stack, plus a potential (unlikely) upgrade. Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that private pool, knowing I overpaid.

There was another issue: the rate was non-refundable. I avoid booking non-refundable rates like the plague. However, I felt this was such a good deal relative to their normal rates, I decided to take a chance. Spoiler alert: it was a good deal, since this pool villa now runs at $650 or more most of the year. Anyway, I went ahead and booked it back in February.

Naturally, I reserved the two nights in Andaz Costa Rica via Hyatt points transferred from Ultimate Rewards. At 17k points per night (low season) it’s a no-brainer compared to cash rates. I also booked my return airfare on Jet Blue via points. Everything was coming together nicely.

I decided to wait to buy Frontier flights, since I don’t have any of their loyalty points. The plan was to watch the rates and book the tickets one or two months in advance. I also decided to purchase a back-up flight from Orlando to San Jose on Jet Blue, just in case. I could always cancel it and get all the points back, with taxes going into Travel Bank. That way, if Frontier flights were too expensive, we could just hire a transfer from San Jose to Andaz (a 4 hour drive). Are you with me so far?

Unfortunately, about a month before the trip, I discovered that Frontier has changed the schedule for this route. They would now fly from Orlando to Liberia on a Friday instead of Thursday. Since our Nayara villa was already booked from Saturday to Monday, we would only have one night in Andaz Costa Rica. We could, of course, fly from Orlando to San Jose via Jet Blue on Thursday and drive 4.5 hours to Andaz. But that seemed like a lot of trouble.

On top of it, we found out that my MIL would need a shoulder surgery only three weeks before our trip. That meant temporarily not being able to use one of her arms. So, my SIL would need to help her and take care of my kids.

I was seriously thinking about scrapping this trip altogether and cutting my losses. Since I purchased cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance, it meant I would get most of my money back. However, my wonderful in-laws convinced me to keep it. Still, I didn’t want to leave for more than three days, so I decided to just add one extra night stay in Nayara. But, as mentioned earlier, I discovered that the price for my pool villa has now increased to $650. Nope.

So, I came up with an easy solution: booking a one-night stay at Tabacon Resort and Spa for 17k Hyatt points per night. I went ahead and purchased a roundtrip transfer from San Jose airport via Costa Rica Shuttle for $320 all-in. They would drop us off at Tabacon resort and pick us up in Nayara. Definitely recommend, and I will use them again when (not if) we go back to Costa Rica.

Tabacon resort is located only eight minutes by taxi from Nayara compound, so I figured switching hotels would not be that big of a hassle. Plus, it would give us a chance to try out famous Tabacon springs, since access comes complimentary with the room.

Also, when you book this resort with Hyatt points, breakfast is included. I’ll do a separate post with the review of this resort, but here is the bottom line. It’s an amazing place and an incredible deal via Hyatt points. The cash rate for our  night would have been $400.

My husband actually wondered why we even needed to switch hotels in the first place. He said he would be happy to spend all three nights at Tabacon since it’s highly unlikely that any place would top it. But that was before we actually went to Nayara…

Hitting a jackpot at Nayara

When we pulled up to Nayara Gardens, I was mentally prepared to fight for my $75 dining credit that I was sure would not be honored. Instead, a friendly agent met us at the entrance and told me she had a surprise in store. Apparently, due to my VIP status on Expedia, we were upgraded to Nayara Tented Camp villa at no additional charge. Yes, the one that normally costs $1k per night.

And yes, in case you are wondering, I would still get my $75 dining credit. I felt like screaming for joy, but held back. Be cool, Leana, be cool. We were then whisked away to our glamping “tent” via golf cart and saw this:

A  private pool fed by natural springs (that’s me in the photo, I didn’t see a stranger in our pool)

Honestly, I can’t think of any appropriate superlatives to describe our villa and this resort in general. My husband had to concede that yes, Tabacon resort can be topped, indeed. While  I’m  certain that we would have been perfectly happy  with the villa we originally booked, this was the upgrade of the century.  All due to my ridiculous Expedia Gold status. We got free room-service breakfast, free laundry and much more.

We were also able to access the brand new Nayara Tented Camp infinity pool via a hanging bridge located near our  bungalow.

Oh, and we got to see this guy hanging out (literally) on Nayara property:

Naturally, I plan to do a more detailed review of this place. For now, all I can say is that this resort is worth the price even if you pay $1k per night. This one is special. It’s getting harder and harder to impress me, since I’ve been spoiled via miles and points over the years. Staying in the overwater bungalow in Bora Bora is just one example. But I was blown away by Nayara Tented Camp. It just doesn’t get much better than this. I think?

If you can swing it, I highly recommend it for a special anniversary or a honeymoon. Got CSR card? This is definitely a place to burn your hard-earned UR points at 1.5 cents apiece.

It is an unbelievably gorgeous resort, as long as you don’t mind a 3-hour transfer from the airport via a twisty mountain roads. Then again, if it was easier to get to, it would probably cost even more. Anyway, I’ll save the rest for another post.

A few words on Costa Rica and its people

I’ve heard that people in Costa Rica are some of the happiest on earth. I always thought it was likely a gimmick promoted by the tourism board in order to attract tourists. The thing is, it’s true. All of it.

Everyone we’ve met was super friendly and happy to talk to us. Granted, we’ve stayed in two of Costa Rica’s fanciest resorts, but even beyond that, folks just seemed content with life and thrilled to share their beautiful country with foreigners. This whole “pura vida” concept seems to be a genuine thing there and not just a corny slogan.

My husband commented that this was the missing piece of the puzzle during our stay in Bora Bora. Perhaps we got unlucky, but aside from a few individuals, we just didn’t feel super welcome in French Polynesia. Not the case with Costa Rica. Honestly, it’s one of the main reasons I want to come back to this amazing country.

Whether you pick Andaz, Tabacon, Nayara or some other resort, I don’t think you will regret visiting Costa Rica. Especially if you share the experience with the love of your life.

How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.

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