Hotels of our free trip- InterContinental Guatemala City, San Jose, Costa Rica and more

IMG_4616

This past month we have been working on a bit of a “project trip” in attempt to demonstrate how one might go about an entirely free trip.  So, we combined a PointBreaks strategy with a United-stopover strategy to see Panama City, Cali, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala City, Guatemala for free.

With this trip just now rapping up today, Drew and I were discussing which hotels were our favorite, so I thought I’d do a bit of a review for the InterContinental hotels we visited on this trip, as well as the destinations themselves.

InterContinental Miramar Panama Hotel in Panama City

We spent 6 nights @ 5,000 points each for a total of 30,000 IHG points on PointBreaks.  Otherwise, the normal price is 30,000 points a night.

Location:  The location of this hotel is not bad at all as it is directly across the street from an impressive walking/biking track, new to Panama City as of the last few years.  I cannot emphasize how much use this track gets!  It follows the edge of the water and goes all the way from this business-district area (where the IC is) to the “Old Town.”

Using this walkway to get to the Old Town was a fairly easy mile and a half jaunt but all the while you’re walking by little activity areas with workout stations and park benches and even elliptical.  It’s really impressive.

Rooms:  We staid in a suite (as this was literally our last week to use Drew’s Royal Ambassador Status), and it was modern and spacious.  Definitely appears that the rooms are more updated than the other public areas of the hotel.

IMG_4152

IMG_4156

Lounge:  For instance, the lounge was a bit more dated.  Just in décor though, as it was otherwise fine, with plenty of seating, a decent view, etc.

Food was very much the Latin American lounge status quo of fried food snacks, chicken wings, cheese sticks, etc.  Latin America seems to opt for comfort food in their lounges and that is fine by me.  I do not need truffles to be happy.  I am fine with fried cheese sticks that are free.

Panama City as a destination:  Definitely the part of Panama City that interests me most is the Old Town, so I was glad it was within walking distance (at least by our standards) of the IC.  (I realize not everyone wants to walk ~3 miles roundtrip to see the sites, but we are walking-folk.)

The Old City sits along the water’s edge and otherwise has that interesting architecture and layout that speaks of European influence years ago.  There are beautiful buildings that are chipping and crumbling away into narrow, cobbled alleys.

In my opinion, Panama City is a great option for a short trip, because one could see the highlights without too much time or trouble.  Of course, we didn’t go see the Panama Canal so that could obviously take up a day of its own.

IMG_4230

IMG_4195

 

InterContinental Cali- Un Hotel Estelar, Cali Colombia

We spent 7 nights @ 5,000 points each for a total of 35,000 IHG points on PointBreaks.  Otherwise, the normal price is 25,000 IHG points a night.

Location:  This hotel is not necessarily in the coolest part of town, but it is a short walk from the walking boulevard, which is a cooler part of town and will take you in the right direction for Cali’s highlights, such as the Iglesia de la Merced.  (Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme.  We care about pedestrian-friendliness quite a bit.)

It felt like the hotel is in the business district as much as Cali has one, but it is less developed feeling and so this does not mean you’re in the center of a bunch of high-rises.  Rather that you are in the center of lots of traffic.  But again, after crossing the highway you’ll find yourself at the walking boulevard where you can climb through little alleys and work your way up the hillside or into the old-style courtyards.

Rooms:  We were given a suite here too and though it wasn’t a modern one, we really liked it.  It created a great work environment and almost seemed more like a little home or apartment than like a hotel room.  Hard wood floors, a little sitting area, and even a little balcony all contributed to this homey feel.

IMG_4302

 

IMG_4301

Lounge:  NA.  There is no lounge here.

Cali as a destination: We really enjoyed Cali, more so than Panama City.  Perhaps because we really like the novel feel of being in a different culture, and Cali is not quite as modern and developed feeling as Panama City.  It has plenty of the old fashioned courtyards and European-styled churches.  And lots of little local food stands and restaurants.  Just look for a sign that says “Menu del dia” and you’ll get the local cuisine experience.

Also on many evenings there was a lot going on around dusk with lots of food stands and little sales booths set up on the sidewalks.  Very Latin American.  We even stumbled across a spontaneous dance session going on in the middle of the walking boulevard.  But then on the contrary, some nights it was dead.  Sunday through Tuesday pretty much, if memory serves me.

DCIM101GOPRO

 

InterContinental San Jose, Costa Rica

We spent 4 nights @ 5,000 points each for a total of 20,000 IHG points on PointBreaks.  Otherwise, the normal price is 30,000 IHG points a night.

Location:  This hotel is located smack dab in the middle of a mall: the “Multiplaza” off of the highway.  The worst hotel for location we had this whole trip, though it would have felt like an awesome location if we were really into shopping and American fast food.  The mall was essentially the only thing in walking distance of this hotel.

Rooms:  Our room was nice.  In the case of this hotel, the common areas were more extravagant than the rooms, which is not to say that the rooms weren’t nice- ours was very nice.

But… pretty “vanilla”.  Very nice, but no bold design or amenity features to make it stand out and be memorable.  Just very nice and comfortable, while also being somewhat forgettable.

BUT…the staff was definitely not forgettable.  The staff was 100% lovely to us.  Made the fall from our RA status heights a bit more merciful.

IMG_4368

IMG_4375

Lounge:  NA.  We did not get lounge access here.

San Jose as a destination: The downtown part of San Jose is just an ordinary city, and the Old Town part of the city is definitely more interesting, but still not really why one would come to Costa Rica in my opinion.  (Though we admittedly did not explore that area very long…unless you count the hour we were lost within the streets of the Old Town trying to find our way towards the National Park.)  In my opinion, it’s the National Parks and fascinating areas of wildlife and rainforest that bring people here and in that case, San Jose is actually not a bad location for accessing a few interesting spots.

Our hotel was about an hour away from Carara National Park which provides a nice little walk through the rainforest.  From there, the coast is not far.  Going the other direction from San Jose, you’re also not far from the Braulio Carillo National Park, where you can also do some hikes, ziplines, cable cars, etc.

There are loads of other National Parks in Costa Rica and I’m sure the two within reach of San Jose are not necessarily the best ones, but we enjoyed them and they make great day-trips from San Jose.

IMG_4473

IMG_4498

 

 

InterContinental Guatemala City, Guatemala

We spent 7 nights @ 5,000 points each for a total of 35,000 IHG points on PointBreaks.  Otherwise, the normal price is 25,000 IHG points a night.

Location:  Again, this hotel is more in the downtown, business district area, away from the Old Town.  (There’s always an old town.)  There’s still a bit going on in this part of town with various restaurants, bars, malls, etc but if the old town is what you’re more interested in, it’s a 5-10 minute taxi ride away.  Or…an hour taxi ride when traffic is awful around 1 pm.  No joke.

Rooms:  Another nice room with a good work space.  Again though, it had pretty standard comforts and décor that left it “vanilla” and somewhat forgettable.

IMG_4554

 

Lounge:  We did actually get lounge access here, even with our newly demoted “Ambassador” status.  I guess that’s the perk of being at a hotel with few room types.  Since Ambassador status guarantees an upgrade, the next level up from standard was a club room!  They actually had no club rooms left, so they asked if we’d be happy with the lounge access even if we didn’t have a club room and we said that was great.

The lounge is small but nice.  No impressive views from this one.  And the food again affirmed this notion I have of Latin American lounges favoring comfort foods and fried snack foods, though they also threw some fancier hors devours into the mix.

Guatemala City as a destination: Guatemala’s old town is quite nice with a few impressive, European -styled buildings and a nice little courtyard.  We also happened to be there fore Guatemala’s Independence Day (which I’ll write more about later) so it was especially lively.

In addition to having a nice Old Town, there are also a few interesting day-trips possible from Guatemala City.  For instance Antigua is just an hour bus ride away.  Everyone will tell you that the buses are unsafe, and they probably are….so do what you feel comfortable with but we didn’t have any problems.  The taxi drivers were offering rides out to Antigua for ~$25, so that’s an option too if you want it, but the bus is around a dollar.  Again, do what you feel comfortable with.

Also, Pacaya Volcano, one of Guatemala’s most active volcanos, is not far from Guatemala City.

IMG_4628

IMG_4616

 

Conclusion

Which hotel was our favorite?  Based on rooms, I’d have to say the IC in Panama City.  But based on location (something more important to me,) I’d say the IC in Cali was the best as Cali was probably the most interesting.

 

2 Comments on “Hotels of our free trip- InterContinental Guatemala City, San Jose, Costa Rica and more

  1. Nice write up! I haven’t been to these cities but they’re on my bucket list. It’s nice to know the ICs are located in business districts vs. more interesting part of town.
    Found a small typo…
    InterContinental Cali- Un Hotel Estelar, Cali Colombia
    Rooms: We were given a “suit” here…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *