pura vida: luxury shmuxury

theromanticIf Finca Rosa Blanca was the best surprise of our trip, Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was the biggest. Prior to the trip, this was our “luxury” stop. Based on everything we read, I was positive I’d be disappointed that we were leaving Arenal and Tabacon after just two short nights.

The biggest draw of Tabacon is very clearly the hot springs and the adjoining world-class spa. Our last hot springs experience was in Santorini and it didn’t result in the lux relaxation we had hoped for… we had literally jumped off a pirate ship into lukewarm muddy water that stained our swimsuits.

This was decidedly the polar opposite:

And honestly? The Santorini pirate ship/poop springs combo was probably more our style. I don’t know what that says about us, but I preferred coming out of it with a little bit of a story, you know?

Tabacon was far from a bad hotel, it just was not our style. For every piece of Costa Rican authenticity we loved at Finca, Tabacon went ten steps in the opposite direction. In the end, we decided it felt like the Las Vegas interpretation of Central America.

Yes, the hot springs and surrounding pools at Tabacon were absolutely gorgeous and impeccably manicured. The staff was pleasant, and soaking in the springs was one of the most relaxing parts of our trip.

Still, something just made us uneasy. We spent most of our time at the resort trying to pinpoint why things felt a little off, and I think my biggest issue is this:

Our initial introduction to Costa Rica made us feel like we were in a country where people care immensely about their environment. The rain forest was a huge point of pride, and maybe it was the sustainable coffee plantation clouding our opinions, but this just felt like Tabacon had re-worked a lot of natural beauty to benefit their resort. Though the springs themselves were completely natural, the intertwining paths were like something out of Disney World.

It was beautiful… and a little unsettling. This was made even more clear when we went to the spa and a hummingbird was stuck in the rafters of the open-air women’s locker room. I let the staff know, and each person I told just said, “oh no!” without making much movement to free the bird. I know it’s a small and maybe silly thing, but something about that just made it clear that Tabacon’s priorities didn’t  align with anything else we saw or experienced in Costa Rica.

Also, the room was a real buzzkill.

Why so stingy with the pillows?!?! And if anyone can explain the awkward placement of this tree, I will buy you one of your very own:

It’s like he’s been slowly tiptoeing away from the wall to see how far he can get before someone notices. I NOTICED, tree.

So anyway, hotel two of the trip? Not so hot. But Arenal is worth a visit! Here’s what I would advise:

Don’t skip the hot springs. It was definitely something worth seeing, and a relaxing way to spend the day (especially when we sat at the swim-up bar and watched the Olympics). BUT you can do it without staying at the resort! We passed tons of cute hotels on our way there (talk about a tease), and I have a feeling it would have been better to stay elsewhere.

Downside to staying anywhere that’s not Tabacon? You miss out on the cheesy saxophonist that plays through dinner at the main restaurant. Give and take, my friends.


the romantic



  1. August 27, 2012 / 15:29

    I really do love Arenal and the hot springs. That tree in the middle of your room? Not so much. Please tell me it was at least real.
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  2. John
    August 28, 2012 / 08:42

    Did you hear about Tabaconcito while you were there? Apparently it used to be part of the resort but had to be turned over to the public because of its location on public land. Just around the corner from the Tabacon resort, it’s a hot springs river complete with waterfalls, natural slides, and more. Best of all, it’s filled mostly with Ticos and provides an awesome, free alternative to Tabacon. It doesn’t have the luxury properties, but it’s great if you’re looking for a story. Also, I just dove off a pirate ship into the muddy hotsprings in Santorini….post to come!
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    • August 28, 2012 / 11:14

      ahh i didn’t hear about this! that’s great advice though, and definitely bummed we missed out. can’t wait to hear about your own santorini experience!
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  3. August 28, 2012 / 13:01

    OMG that tree. Crazy! When we were near Arenal, we were advised by our innkeeper to skip Tabacon and go to Baldi Hot Springs instead, mainly because it costs a lot less. I was comfortable with our decision then, and you just made me feel even better about not going to Tabacon. I hope that hummingbird made it out.
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    • August 28, 2012 / 15:59

      yeah, i’m not bummed that we went because it was pretty relaxing, but there are clearly other options that are more worth your time!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..the wino’s returnMy Profile

    • August 28, 2012 / 18:01

      it shouldn’t make you feel left out! it should make you plan a trip! just not to tabacon and NOT with that sneaky, sneaky tree.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..the wino’s returnMy Profile

    • Pola (@jettingaround)
      August 29, 2012 / 13:45

      No worries, Raul, I haven’t been to CR and these posts make me want to go! CR has officially entered the JA Bucket List…

      That being said, I am no fan of resorts, especially those that don’t seem to care much about their impact on the environment. I sure hope someone freed the poor bird…

      As for the tree, what in the world was that about??
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      • August 30, 2012 / 09:54

        yeah, the more resort experience we have, the more “meh” i feel about it all. just not our kind of travel style, i guess!
        Lazy Travelers recently posted..jetsetters: @DTravelsRoundMy Profile

  4. August 28, 2012 / 22:54

    I agree Arenal and La Fortunada are must stops… but my time was so long ago, I stayed in a $3 hostel bunk room and grabbed 400 Colones Imperials in town and taxi-ed down to Tabacon with a group to only to go into the natural hot-springs right next door… the water was the same water used by Tabacon… a totally different adventure.

    stay adventurous, Craig
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  5. August 30, 2012 / 05:04

    Did they free the bird??!? Ugh, Gerard knows best I hate hotels with stingy pillows. Glad to be home with my 6 fluffy pillows. Hehe. What on odd place to put a tree. Lol
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  6. August 30, 2012 / 08:13

    I love this post! I felt really similar about the area, too Disney and fake for my liking, and like you say it just didn’t sit well with me either. We decided to do another hot spring instead of Tabacon that was a little less glitzy but I can’t remember which one it was now. It was still all a bit too resorty for my taste but fun for a day out. I think it says something about what sort of traveller you are, I like luxury sure, but not if it feels totally incongruous with the rest of the surroundings or to the detriment of the natural landscape. We had 2 days at Arenal and honestly I would rather have used those days in other less touristy parts of the country, or even over the border in Nicaragua. It didn’t help that it was cloudy & misty so we didn’t even see the Arenal volcano whatsoever even though it was right in front of our noses!
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    • August 30, 2012 / 10:24

      it was really hazy when we were there, too! i’m glad we were able to explore the area–more on that soon–but i definitely could have spent one day less in arenal. also glad to hear other people felt the same! the hubs and i were worried we were missing some luxury appreciation gene.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..jetsetters: @DTravelsRoundMy Profile

  7. August 31, 2012 / 01:03

    I’m not going to lie, I really appreciate your honest review of the resort. I think we’d probably share the same sentiments. I was really excited to read more about these natural springs, but in the end I’m glad that you showed us what the place was really like. Poor hummingbird!

    Also, that creeper plant might have been the more hilarious thing I’ve seen all day!
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  8. January 27, 2014 / 14:45

    Some jungle lodges deeply amaze me.
    But I suppose you can still meet a poisonous snake “in the back yard”, am I right?

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