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A Boutique Revolution in All Inclusive Travel Hits Costa Rica

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Tired of being overlooked by the all inclusive vacation market, Costa Rica’s new fully staffed vacation homes offer guests a care-free vacation without skimping on quality.

The term “all inclusive travel” generally evokes images of sitting poolside sipping a fruit daiquiri served by the bronzed wet bar attendant in any of many sunny, tropical destinations. While the desire to step into a Jimmy Buffett melody is unlikely to go out of style, today’s travelers are searching for something a bit more authentic than a palm lined free form pool and all-you-can-eat nachos.

Destinations like Costa Rica, the birthplace of eco-travel and a vanguard in the tourism industry, have long played second fiddle to Mexico and its all-inclusive resort offerings. With its strict coastal no-construction zones and plentiful national parks and nature reserves, the country’s lodging options have always run on the boutique side, incorporating nature instead of destroying it. Rather than mourn the shortage of sprawling resorts, the local tourism industry has actively set out to differentiate itself from the Punta Canas of the world, focusing on its charming local character and access to many natural wonders.

Nonetheless, the all inclusive clients continue to knock on Costa Rica’s door, often turned away due to a lack of mid-ranged resorts. To meet the demand, a new boutique trend in all inclusive vacations is slowly emerging along the country’s shores. Starting in Guanacaste with the high end Villa Buena Onda and spreading to popular coastal towns like Manuel Antonio with Punta de Vista (opening 2010), a handful of new rentals have been built as private resorts with industrial kitchens and staff quarters set to attend to groups of travelers.

For discerning cost conscious travelers, the concept of all-inclusive vacation homes is the best thing to happen to travel since the advent of the compass. A property like the 7-bedroom ocean view Villa Buena Onda in Playa del Coco offers guests three meals a day, an all-inclusive bar option and nine full time staff members to orchestrate the vacation of a lifetime.

What sounds like high end luxury designated for celebrities and millionaires with maids, a personal chef catering private meals and an in-house Concierge planning your days, has become an affordable reality comparable to a stay in a 5-star all inclusive resort. With all inclusive prices averaging around $200 per person, Villa Buena Onda has become Costa Rica’s answer to clients seeking a luxurious all inclusive getaway, according to travel executive Richard Bexon of Costa Rican Vacations.

“Before Villa Buena Onda opened last year, we had very little to offer clients in terms of high end all inclusive resorts at competitive prices,” Bexon said. “The Villa is our go to property for groups of 8 or more because we can rest assured that guests are well taken care of. I have stayed there several times myself and its like being at your own private Four Seasons. The staff isn’t just there to keep the property running; they work hard to set the tone for the perfect vacation.”

The success of the villa has not gone unheard and several new projects are set to open in the market in 2010, namely the Punta de Vista villa in Manuel Antonio. The villa, a family project, is truly turning into a work of perfection. Christien Johnson, co-visionary of the project, explained that the idea to run the villa as a full-service all inclusive property came about after noticing the lack of all inclusive properties in the region.

“Currently, the only other option for guests looking for a carefree vacation in Manuel Antonio is to rent a villa and pay an additional fee for a chef and groceries,” Johnson said. “While this is a family project, our team shares a wide array of talents from architecture to local tourism to interior design and it has been a great experience working together and watching this amazing home take shape.”

Richard Bexon, who has already visited Punta de Vista, said he anticipates a huge demand for the villa. “The modern architecture and artistic design of the villa is truly ground breaking in the region,” he said. “Noting the success of Villa Buena Onda in Guanacaste, I have no doubt that Punta de Vista will be a huge hit in what is the most popular coastal town in Costa Rica.”

While Costa Rica will never be Cancun with its cookie cutter vacation packages and man-made shoreline, guests can still enjoy a care-free vacation while remaining true to the “green” ideal and this boutique twist on the all inclusive concept.

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Written by Claire Saylor

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