JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Located in the Hacienda Pinilla resort community on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula, the JW Marriott Guanacaste is a beautiful Spanish Colonial-Style hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The hotel has 316 rooms and 21 suites built around a 25,000 square foot pool (the largest pool in Central America) with several courtyards lined with hammocks and sitting areas.
The JW Marriott is located in the Northwestern part of Costa Rica, in the Guanacaste province of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is about an hour and a half drive from the Liberia International Airport and 5 miles away from Tamarindo, a great little Costa Rican town known as a big surfing hangout.
Even though it is only 5 miles, the drive to Tamarindo will actually take about 20 minutes due to the condition of roads between the hotel and town. You may even have to wait for some cows to get out of the way.
The resort is very tranquil and relaxing, but it is definitely remote, as are most of the resorts in Guanacaste, so plan on either taking a car or shuttle bus to just about everything. There is an Avis location on the hotel property, so getting a car will not be a problem, even if you don't reserve one in advance.
We stayed in room 525, overlooking both the pool and ocean on the highest floor. The room was very well appointed with dark wood accents, terra cotta floors, luxurious bedding and a large balcony with a table and sitting area. The bathroom featured a separate soaking tub and rain shower. The room was great… no complaints!
Since the hotel was built in 2009, I knew everything would be up to date and nice, but I must admit the quality of the hotel exceeded my expectations. It was one of the only times that I can say the hotel was actually nicer than the pictures on the website – that never happens!
The resort has 5 restaurants to choose from, casual dining on the beach at Azul Grill, Asian Fusion cuisine at Tamarine, a Guanacastecan style Steakhouse called Sabanero, a full buffet at Mansita and the Nau Lounge and Bar.
There is an equestrian center, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course. We did not try any of these – with an average temperature during our stay of 96 degrees, there was no chance we were going to spend a couple of hours baking in the sun with any of those three options, although I am sure they are very nice.
The pool was huge and there were two main beaches to choose from. The beach located right off the pool was nice, but was not very “usable” due to the large number of rocks and undercurrent. However, walk down the beach for 5 minutes and you will find a beach club that the hotel shares with the Hacienda Pinilla Development, which is very nice and has a much better beach if you want to swim, surf or snorkel.
The Beach Club has the beach, a pool, a restaurant, a bar and several water activities to choose from (you can rent kayaks, boogie boards, snorkels, etc..). The pool was pretty quiet though, so I would only go there for the beach or for lunch – if you want to hang out at the pool, stay at the JW Marriott pool, it is much more lively. If you want a small pool and quiet surroundings, this pool is for you.
Points and Elite Status:
The JW Marriott Guanacaste is a category 5 hotel, which requires 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. We stayed for 5 nights which cost us 140,000 points (when you stay 4 nights with Marriott Rewards points, you get the 5th night free). I would consider this a very good value for the caliber of hotel.
Regarding Elite status, I have Marriott Platinum status and was upgraded to an ocean front room. Marriott does not generally offer suite upgrades for elite members, but since I booked a resort view room with my points, my elite status definitely helped out. We were given an ocean front room in the middle of the hotel with the best view of the pool and ocean. I was very happy with the room we received.
As with most Marriott resort properties in the Carribean and Mexico, there was no concierge lounge or free breakfast, but I did get free internet with my Platinum status.
How to Stay Here Free:
At a cost of 30,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, there a couple of ways to stay here for free. The first is through staying at Marriott properties and earning enough points through stays and promotions. Marriott's loyalty program is one of the highest point earning programs for stays, so this can be done easier than with other properties, like Hyatt or Hilton.
The fastest way to earn free nights at this hotel, if you are not a frequent traveler, is to apply for a credit card with a solid bonus offer such as the Marriott Rewards Premier Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Between the sign up bonus and ongoing spending you can rack up some points pretty quick.
Random Thoughts and Recommendations:
Our trip to Costa Rica and stay at the JW Marriott Guanacaste far exceeded our expectations. I look forward to coming back and doing the trip all over again, now that I know a little more about the area. As with any trip to a new city or country, the first time is about learning and the second time back is about doing it the way you would have done the first time, if you had more knowledge.
Here are a couple of recommendations and thoughts based on my trip:
Spent more time in Tamarindo. We waited until our last day to spend a full day in Tamarindo. Next time, I would definitely spend much more time here. The beaches are great and there is so much to do and see.
Go to Nicaragua. We spent a full day in Nicaragua and am very glad we did. It was a long day, but gave our entire family a much better appreciation for the country, the people and culture of Nicaragua. I doubt we will ever go back again, but I am very glad to have had this experience.
Go to Lola's at Playa Avellana. This was the one place that I really wanted to go on this trip that we did not make it to. Next time, we will definitely go there!
Eat Local Cuisine. I was a little disappointed with our food choices in Tamarindo. We went to The DragonFly Bar and Grill which was highly recommended, but I didn't like it. The service was incredibly slow and I don't really care to eat Asian Fusion when I am in Costa Rica. The other place that wasn't that good, and was highly recommended, was Nibbana. The atmosphere was fantastic, but again, there was no regional food, it was more of an Italian and French menu. Next time in Tamarindo I would go to the more casual restaurants that have a regional menu.
Rental Car Insurance is very high. I normally always decline rental car insurance, but that is not an option in Costa Rica. Due to the road conditions, they require you to have insurance and they charge you quite a bit for it. Depending on the coverage you choose, the added cost will be between $30 and $50 per day! This can add up to a pretty expensive rental over a week. On top of that, they don't tell you about this until you arrive at the rental car facility, so just be aware of this before you rent a car. It was a bit of a surprise for me.
Before you go…. here are two minutes of the sights and sounds of sunrise from room 525 at the JW Marriott Guanacaste
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Award Category for Using Points: Marriott Category 5