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Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer

A Happy Move to the Hilton Papagayo, Costa Rica

It was in 2004 when Rui Domingues first came to Costa Rica. He was general manager of the Hilton in Caracas, Venezuela at that time and sent by the parent company to have a look around the small Central American nation whose appeal as a tourist destination was beginning to be recognized. Rui was smitten by the beauty of the natural landscape, the rugged mountains and unspoiled beaches, the Pacific Ocean on the western coast and the Caribbean Sea on the east, the wondrous wildlife -- from the monkeys who scampered through the trees to the birds and butterflies in their glorious range of color and shape. There were no Hilton properties in Costa Rica back then, but apparently the possibility was brewing.

Now it is six years later, and Rui Domingues is the general manager of the Hilton Papagayo, a luxurious resort and spa in the Guanacaste Province of northwest Costa Rica. "I left Caracas the next-to-the-last day of the last year of the first decade of the 21st century," he tells us. "Chavez had taken over the hotel the month before. The environment was tense and difficult. And I was struck by the fact that I was leaving a country whose government had been usurped by a military junta and coming to one that had no army."

At home in a new Hilton: General Manager Rui Domingues

It did not take long for Rui to realize no small part of Costa Rica’s appeal lay in its citizens, the kind of people who would disband an army and distribute funds once reserved for the military to education. From the start, he says, he encountered a spirit of cooperation and affability that has made his move all the more welcome.

At the same time, there is the appeal of the 15-acre resort overlooking the deep, blue horseshoe-shaped bay which flows into Gulf of Papagayo. Terraced gardens rise up from a white-sand beach to the multi-level public area of a property that spreads out at the base of a forested mountain. Here one finds a pair of linked endless pools, three thatch-roofed restaurants, lounging areas, shops, function rooms, a children's center, tennis courts, and secluded walkways. On the steep hillside behind are 202 rooms and suites set into different levels (bright green jitneys transport guests to and from rooms along winding roads day and night). All are directly accessed from the outdoors and have private terraces or balconies with spectacular water or garden views.

To occupy a junior suite in the row of attached bungalows on the "Panoramic Area" is to indulge in the illusion of total solitude. Glass doors at the rear lead to a patio, plunge pool, and small garden where branches provide convenient landing zones for a variety of exotic birds. On either side, ceiling-high hedges insure privacy but directly ahead the view is open revealing a dramatic drop down to the bay and the mountain on the other side where resorts and houses spaced amidst the greenery light up at night like so many jewels.

Guests at the Hilton Papagayo can avail themselves of day trips to volcanoes, national parks and wildlife refuges in a country whose extraordinary degree of biodiversity and equally extraordinary commitment to conservation and environmental causes belie its small size. They can go scuba diving and snorkeling, horseback riding and sport fishing; they can ride the rapids on rafts and float among the treetops on canopy tours. Or, should the spirit move them, they can just stay put, relax around the pool, walk the beach, get a massage at the full-service spa, and hike the trails that wind through the hillside forest. If they've brought the kids along, they can rest assured the little ones are properly entertained and well taken care of at Kidz Paradise Club which features a volcano-inspired outdoor play area.

They can dine at any one of three restaurants. There is La Cosecha where flamboyant open-kitchen performances and overwhelming breakfast buffets are continuing attractions. There is Grill del Fuego where the focus is on Italian cuisine as well as healthy dining options. And there is pool-side El Dorado which features Tapas--Costa Rican style. Eric, our smiling server from neighboring Nicaragua, described a routine where diners are encouraged to "mix and match," "taste and graze" and guided us through a menu that included clams with slices of avocado and smoked tomatoes, tuna spring rolls with crushed peanuts in a chipotle sauce, prosciutto with pineapple and local corn bread, roasted wild mushroom mousse with plantain chips, flambé beef loin tips in jalepeño brandy cream, toasted fresh corn tortilla, paquera oysters and leek gratinée, and grilled shrimp pinchos with tamarind chutney presented on long sticks and wrapped with pita bread -- all washed down with refreshing Costa Rican beer.

The Hilton Papgayo reveals itself like one of the brilliant tropical flowers that bloom in its many garden beds. It unfolded before us when we toured the property with catering and events manager Andre Brathwaite who was born in Trinidad and Tobago but moved to Costa Rica at the age of three when his father became Director General of the Inter-American Cooperation for Agriculture sector of the Organization of American States which is based in Costa Rica.

Catering & Events Manager Andre Brathwaite - click to enlarge
Catering & Events Manager Andre Brathwaite

"A lot of people go to Caribbean locales to enjoy the weather, the beautiful surroundings, the beaches," he told us. "In Costa Rica, you have all this and something more: eco-tourism. There is a great movement on the part of the government for hotels to be green. Leaves are awarded for steps resorts take to become more environmentally attentive. We have just  been awarded our fourth leaf and are on our way to the ultimate fifth. "

Ask Rui Dominguez how he feels about the change his life has taken, and he is quick to reply. "I moved from a big hotel in a major capital to a small resort in a small country. But I am very happy," he says. "I believe when one door closes, another opens. It's been only a short time that I've been here, but already I can tell you -- this place is a blessing."

Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa
Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Phone: 506-2-672-0000

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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