Costa Rica with kids: Los Sueños on reward points

One of the hardest things about making use of someone else’s review is to know where they are coming from in terms of expectations and preferences. I’m not a resort person and I have a hard time fathoming paying cash to stay at a luxury place like Los Sueños. But I’m picky about food and service when I’m staying somewhere nice. We spent 5 nights at Los Sueños in early February, 2016 with a 19 month old and almost 6 year old.

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The Gist of It

This place is wonderful and we are having way more fun than I was expecting. If you are normally a crunchy treehugger (like me), you will need to suspend some aspects of your righteous indignation to enjoy yourself here…but not as much as you might think. This is a wonderful place for children and an easy place to be a grownup having fun with your children. If you can do it on points, DO IT!! If you are able to pay cash for this kind of luxury, then by all means do that too. We could never have, but it’s not like there’s some alternative fancy hotel we’d be spending $400 a night for instead, it just wouldn’t be happening.

Our Stay

The key selling points for this place are the pool, the service, and the food. The pool is amazing. It’s an interconnected system of pools, lazy rivers, waterfalls, and even a swim up bar and café. The salt water is warm and the chlorine is at an absolute minimum–cold water and chlorine are what I hate most about swimming pools so I was actually happy hanging out with my kids all day in the water, a novel feeling for me. The hotel spaces in general are awesome. We ran into the General Manager one morning and chatted about the space. He explained that they had found people weren’t using the lobby so had totally redone it with more lounge-esque furniture, board games, PS4, etc to make it more inviting. It worked. You’ll feel welcome everywhere.

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When staff are unhappy and turnover rates are high, you can tell. People won’t look you in the eye or be comfortable chatting and the basic maintenance has no rhythm, which is where a lot of service problems come from. This place runs like a well oiled machine and while there’s really no way to know what the reality is like for staff (Costa Rica has high unemployment rates, which keeps wages low as jobs are in high demand), every single employee we interacted with engaged us with confidence and openness. They talked and played with our kids, they answered questions with certainty, and we got everything we needed. We were there long enough to see some of the same folks over and over and enjoyed talking with everyone. The place is adequately staffed, so no one seemed stressed or acted hurried.

The rooms are expensive, but once you are in a room they don’t nickle and dime you for everything else. They don’t care if you bring outside food and drink to the pool, they offer tap water at the restaurants if you want it, no one looks at you oddly for washing your own clothes and hanging them to dry on the patio, etc. The kid’s club is awesome and offers four hours a day of free childcare for children over 4, with fun activities (arts and crafts mostly). Unlike a lot of hotels they don’t have the attitude that you must have come to get away from your children so they should keep them at all costs. We felt comfortable leaving our big kid precisely because they escorted him out to find us whenever he was ready to rejoin us–once out at the pool, once back to our room. It was a really pleasant surprise.

We tried nearly all of the eating options: room service, the coffee shop, the upstairs bar, the pool bar, and the main restaurant. The food was really good at every one, and I am picky. The food is fresh, not overly fried and fatty, and creative. It’s also different at each locale so you can try lots of different menus. The buffet breakfast is pricey, but you should do it once. I don’t even know where to start with how good it was. Local specialties, creative and delicious versions of the stuff foreigners are used to, fresh fruits and juices, really good coffee. I saved room for a huge fresh belgian waffle with thick whipped cream and fruit after two plates of incredible local fare. Yum.

Useful tips for making it fun, easy, and more affordable

First, if you can avoid arriving on a Sunday afternoon/evening we would recommend that. On busy beach weekends the main highway from the airport to Los Sueños is turned into a one way road back into the city. It was a nasty surprise to find our GPS trying to send us constantly to Highway 27 and every time to find it blocked. We had printed a map and also had one from the car rental place so, combined with stopping three or four times to ask directions and eventually calling the hotel and being emailed back road directions, we got there. But the trip took twice as long and me and the big kid were both horrendously car sick from the winding mountain road by the time we arrived.

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at least the view was nice 🙂

It’s easy to keep eating costs down (relatively, it’s still a resort) with a few tweaks. Stop at the really nice grocery store just outside the entrance and stock up on yogurt, vegetables, fruit, beer, whatever you need. If you drink tap water at home, drink the tap water here. The different restaurants have different food and different prices. Some of it is resort prices, but not all, and even when you do pay for the nicer places or room service, the quality of the food is incredible and is easily comparable to what you’d pay at a restaurant for that same food at home. We ate breakfast several times with the kids early in the morning at the 24 hour coffee shop, where food is served at the counter and you can sit anywhere you like. It’s cheaper than everywhere else. The kid’s portions are large and the upstairs bar has a kid’s menu, so we often ordered food for our kids and then just grazed on their leavings or shared a salad. Generally we tried to do two meals a day, with snacking in between, which made it more affordable.

Explore the area. There is less cool stuff to do nearby than in some other places, this is a place you mostly go for the place itself. There are all kinds of adventure services but they were pricey. We went to Pura Vida Gardens, which was neat but we’d recommend going in the early morning to make the most of it, as it was very hot. It’s very accessible for small children and the elderly. And if you double the weight capacity of your jogging stroller and burst a tire, for $2 you can get it fixed at the Bike Doctor in Jacó (if you have small children, this is probably the only thing you’d want to do in Jacó. It has several nice restaurants, but also a lot of prostitution and nasty men’s clubs to service tourists).

As we are foodies and were headed to Manuel Antonio rainforest after our stay at Los Sueños, we focused our explorations on food. Puesta del Sol is an awesome local fish spot (get the whole red snapper, or whatever the bilingual wait staff say you should get). You can walk down the beach to get there. We went at sunset and our kids took over the juke box while the mix of local and foreign fisherman cheerfully tolerated their antics. If your kid will only eat hamburgers, they have that too.

Dolce Vita and Lanterna Ristorante Italiano–in the marina complex–are awesome. Dolce Vita serves breakfast, lunch, and evening dessert and coffee. Lanterna is just for dinner. The food is great–they make their own yogurt, granola, bread, etc. We saw lots of folks stopping in to pick up orders of fresh bread. Lanterna is a nice restaurant, but they welcomed our kids in a way that, if you have small children, might make you cry at the end of a long day. The food was exceptional and their pastas are all homemade. That was our one evening restaurant splurge and it was worth it. The kids loved sitting outside watching the lights on the boats in the marina and throwing nuts and leaves into the water.

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the marina

There are some special things not to miss. Climb the big tower from the lobby to watch the sunset. The view is incredible. Our kids ran up barefoot, us with grocery store beers in hand, and had a delightful visit with the retired golfers we met up top. On the ground level there’s a huge hanging boat with messages in old glass bottles attached all the way around. It’s sort of tucked away, but really neat. The hammocks are amazing and are in shade most of the day. They are really comfy. So are the massive outdoor beds you can hang out on. For free. The beach is a hidden treasure of soft, black volcanic sand. It’s not fancy. It’s public. It’s almost completely deserted and warm and gentle. We spent three afternoons there through the spectacular sunset.

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top of the tower

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black sand at the beach

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sunset swim

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enormous leaves!

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jasper, shell, and coral

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nearby Playa Hermosa

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sunrise with papa on the beach beds

It was greener than I anticipated. All the food packaging and take out containers are biodegradable. The lights are all LEDs. Yes, it’s a golf course and a ridiculous use of water to keep all that stuff green in the dry season. But the gardens are all native plants and they did a better job of appropriate watering than any place I’ve ever been. All the watering happened between dusk and dawn–if your kids don’t get you up at 5am you won’t even see it. There are trees everywhere, shading parts of the pool at all times of day as well as keeping the playground in shade. Key for enjoying the day with little ones.

Two mornings we saw a mist of something puffed out over the grounds making a vaporous cloud. My little organic heart lurched and I wagged my finger at my husband and said “I knew it, covered in poison!” I saw a gardener and asked if it were a chemical spray. He said in surprise “Oh no, they fumigate with diesel fuel to prevent mosquitoes.” Sounded gross, but not as gross as poison. I was fascinated. It left no residue, no smell, and there were honey bees, birds, and wildlife all over. Turns out it’s a common practice at resorts and while you don’t want to stand in the grass while it’s happening, it’s about as benign as such things get. I want to go home and spray my yard with diesel fuel all summer.

Oh, finally, the critters. So many awesome critters! The iguanas are huge. They like to lounge on the roof of the poolside bar so that’s a great place to catch them. There are all kinds of birds around. Mapaches (raccoons, though cuter than ours, or maybe that’s just me) sometimes explore at night.

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little crabs

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observing the wildlife in its natural habitat

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pelicans diving for fish

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iguanas chomping

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squirrel eating almonds

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