Amidst a pandemic, I was apprehensive at the thought of traveling internationally. Something that is always a HELL YES from me quickly became a: let me research for hours on hours before making a decision. I didn’t know what to expect during a stay at Secrets Papagayo.
That said, a longtime partner of Women & the Wilderness, CheapCaribbean invited me to stay at Secrets Papagayo in Costa Rica. You can read more about my international travel experience here and listen to this podcast episode where I break down my experience traveling internationally during COVID-19 and provide tools and resources related to travel right now.
Back to traveling internationally during the pandemic as it relates to my experience in Costa Rica. I visited the Guanacaste province and stayed at Secrets Papagayo; this region also happens to have the lowest numbers of COVID-19 in the entire country. With that in mind and hours of research I decided to travel internationally. Here’s what to expect during a stay at Secrets Papagayo.
Arriving in Costa Rica via Liberia Airport
I flew direct into Liberia Airport via Newark Liberty International Airport (New Jersey). I was quite adamant about a direct flight to minimize my contact with more travelers, aircraft and surfaces than necessary. Once at the Liberia Airport I was pleased to see chairs blocked off, sinks in the bathrooms blocked off and markers on the floor in customs telling travelers where to stand- all in an effort to encourage (and require) social distancing. The customs line was a breeze and people, for the most part, respected social distancing boundaries. The United States could really take some notes!
Secrets Papagayo Arrival
My airport transportation was through Amstar. I had a private shuttle to and from the resort, a quick 25-minute drive. Before entering the vehicle, my driver gave me hand sanitizer and required me to step on a mat that would sanitize the bottom of my shoes, then onto a regular mat to dry the soles and into the vehicle. Small act, but I loved seeing this level of commitment to safety immediately upon arrival!
Once I arrived at the resort, the concierge provided hand sanitizer (that he pumped into my hand) and whisked my luggage off to be sanitized. I quickly learned this was part of their CleanComplete Verification system. I didn’t know what to expect during a stay at Secrets Papagayo, amidst COVID-19, but I quickly learned I needn’t worry at all.
Secrets Papagayo CleanComplete Verification
The CleanComplete Verification is a system that has been implemented across all AMResort properties (the parent company of Secrets). That means, every AMResort uses this system! This verification uses Cristal International Standards, one of the industry’s highest-level certifications, verifying best-of-class processes for quality and safety to ensure high quality safety and hygiene standards.
I mentioned the hand sanitizer upon arrival and luggage sanitization but here are some other precautions and practices that have been implemented with CleanComplete Verification:
- Frequent sanitation of high touch areas like the lobby and common spaces
- Sealed packaging of in room amenities, remote, tablet, and extra pillows and blankets
- Abundant hand sanitizer stations
- Distance between beach and pool lounges
- Social distancing activities
- Sealed packaging for spa amenities and amenities on request
- Social distancing friendly seating
- Reservations required for large groups
- Menus through a QR code
- Food service and glass barriers at buffet
- Masks required throughout property – for staff and guests when in a common area (aka away from the pool chair, up walking around, in a common area)
- Temperature checks
- Extensive wellness and hygiene training for staff
Secrets Papagayo is THE place to be for social distancing because the property is massive and built right into the coastline of Costa Rica. Perfectly situated on the Papagayo Peninsula, the property is beachfront (black volcanic sand to be exact) and surrounded by lush tropical gardens, jungles and ocean vistas. Oh and trails! There are two trails on the property that give you a bird’s eye view of the raw beauty that is Costa Rica. Pura Vida, anyone? PS when it’s low tide, you can walk the length of the coastline and in about 15 minutes you’ll find yourself on a secluded beach. Pack water shoes or shoes that you don’t mind getting wet (that actually stay on your feet) because the volcanic rock is rough on the feet!
The bungalow rooms, which feel more like villas, are so spacious! My bungalow seemed to be tucked away from the rest- which I loved. I think all-inclusives get a bad wrap when it comes to privacy but not this one! Complete with an ocean view and private balcony.
There are 6 dining options on the property and a 24-hour coffee/snack bar. After indulging in breakfast (my favorite meal) I was usually too stuffed to eat again so I held off until dinner. For dinner, I tried 5 of the 6 restaurants, here’s the breakdown:
- Aqua: healthy cuisine
- Barefoot Grill: the lunch spot! I did have tacos here and let me tell you, they were delicious.
- Himitsu: Pan-Asian cuisine
- Market Café: international buffet (the breakfast spot)
- Portofino: Italian
- Seaside Grill: Grilled specialties and seafood
My favorites were Portofino and Himitsu. I loved my experience at Portofino because I dined in the wine cellar and enjoyed the chefs tasting menu (and a bottle of wine). Perfect for celebrating special occasions! Himitsu for all of the flavor! I still think about that pork belly and red pepper edamame…
And, I just have to say: the chefs were so attentive to my dietary restrictions which I am always appreciative of! The chef at Market Café went so far as to make me my own breakfast plate (pictured below), insert crying face!
At the beginning of this blog post, I mentioned that this trip was in partnership with CheapCaribbean. Each year, Cheap Caribbean hosts the Noble Beach Prize. These are awards given to resorts, in the Caribbean and Central America, based on an outstanding amenity or feature offered, or for just being overall amazing.
There are 18 different categories and resorts submit entries to 17 of the categories, the 18th category is the overall winner. Internal judges within CheapCaribbean narrow each category down to the top resorts, and then a group of external judges choose the final winner. I was an external judge and Secrets Papagayo was voted the winner of the “most SPAwsome experience” category. You can read more about the Noble Beach Prize here.
Okay, back to the spa aka the whole reason I visited! The words that come to mind are: Tranquil. Intimate. Unforgettable. I think what I loved most about my spa experience was the tranquility. With so much going on in the world (and always up in my head) it was so nice to relax and disconnect. There are both indoor and outdoor rooms – which I loved! Reminded me a lot of a place I visited in Indonesia. Word to the wise, book a loooooong treatment! My 50-minute massage passed way too quickly! At least I could soak in the whirlpool after 😉
Secrets Papagayo Departure
I was in Costa Rica for 5 days and it was just the right amount of time. Did I want to leave at the end of it? Of course not! But this trip definitely helped instill confidence within me again when it comes to international travel.
To see how seriously the hotel (and country) are taking it and to see the new protocols and practices put into place was beyond reassuring. From the moment I checked in to the moment I checked out I truly felt like every single employee cared about my well-being.
Overall experience traveling internationally during COVID-19
International travel has changed, I think forever. When I visited Costa Rica in December 2020 I chose not to leave the property. Hindsight, I think I would have been fine! It was more of a comfort level thing. Now that the trip is behind me, I know I can leave property grounds on future international trips during the pandemic.
On that note, it is so important to listen to your gut! Do what you’re most comfortable with while exercising caution. If you’re thinking about visiting Costa Rica, Secrets Papagayo or any other international destination I recommend reading this blog post and all of the resources provided within it!
Planning your own trip to Costa Rica
Here are some extra resources if you’re planing a trip to Costa Rica:
SAVE FOR LATER
Women & the Wilderness was a welcomed guest of Secrets Papagayo on behalf of CheapCaribbean. As always, our opinions are our own.