Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review- El Establo Hotel, Monteverde, Costa Rica

What would make a nearly four hour journey from San Jose, Costa Rica to Monteverde Cloud Forest worthwhile? A stay at the four star El Establo Mountain Hotel. This ingenious hotel is built into the mountain it rests on, with each building offering it's own unique view of the small town of Santa Elena.

El Establo participates in Costa Rica's Sustainable Tourism Program by asking guests to use water and electricity only when needed, reusing towels if fresh ones aren't needed daily and having garbage receptacles in the room for organic or recyclable garbage and non- recyclable.

The hotel has two restaurants, La Riendas off the main highway next to the Reception area and Laggus below building six and the spa and also offers room service. The Green Leaf Spa, is open daily from 2 pm to 9 PM and is full service, offering everything from manicures go body wraps, massages and exfoliation.

There are two swimming pools and a gym. The gym is in a building with the second pool and offers wonderful views of the beautiful grounds and the town of Santa Elena. There is also a conference center. There is free internet in public areas, such as the restaurants, bars, pool areas and reception desk. A USB port can be rented for $10 per day that snaps into a laptop and offers internet access in your room.

There are seven buildings housing rooms. Because the hotel grounds are so large and steep, the hotel offers shuttle buses to pick up guests and take them around the grounds. Even a walk downhill from the building we stayed in, building 500, to Las Riendas was a difficult walk. If a guest has limited mobility or uses a wheelchair, this is not the hotel for them as it is too difficult to maneuver around. The hallways are very long and if you have a ground floor room, the hall floors are made of stone and can be slippery and difficult to walk on.

The views get better the further up the mountain your building is located. Buildings 600, 700, 800 and 900 were higher up.  You will need the shuttle, make no mistake about it, but the shuttles came very quickly when the front desk was called.

The rooms are well sized. Our room, 503, had two queen sized beds, flat screen t.v., corner shelving unit, refrigerator, long shelves and a good sized bathroom with separate shower and tub and sink.

Room 503 also was unique in the fact that it does not offer a patio as the other ground floor rooms have or a balcony for the second and third floors. But it has a separate living room with sofa, two chairs and coffee table that proved to be very useful to relax and read a book.

Even though this is considered a four star resort, there are issues with this hotel that should be mentioned. There is no air conditioning. This is not unusual in rain or cloud forest hotels, but there also were no ceiling fans OR screened windows to open to let in fresh air. That made for a very hot room at night during our stay in May. There were four very large windows in our living room area. Two didn't open and we didn't open the other two because without screens, bugs raced each other to see who could get to the lights inside the room first. That left very small louvered windows on the top of one of our windows for air - again with no screens. When the drapes were drawn at night, those windows are blocked off by the drapes and no fresh air circulates at all- making for very hot sleeping conditions. There are also louvered windows in the bathroom but we closed those as soon as we arrived - the hallways echo tremendously and the noise reverberates throughout the room if those windows are left opened.

Besides no air conditioning, the hotel also does not offer irons,additional lights or heaters. Electricity is normal 110 American volts. If guests need to charge anything that works with 220 volts, they can bring it to reception and have it recharged there.

Another issue that we found the first night is there are blackouts occasionally. We hadn't experienced this at any other hotels we've stayed at in Costa Rica. The first time it occurred 10 minutes after we arrived in our room but the electricity was back in less than a minute. The second, about a half hour later, lasted about 10 minutes. Luckily we had flashlights that we brought with us which we used (once we found them). Some who were walking to a restaurant were not so lucky, as they could not see their hand in front of their face.

Each room has it's own 40 gallon hot water tank. If you take a bath and use all the hot water, it takes 35 minutes for the water to re-heat. This was not a problem for us as we shower and had no problem with the hot water. A few things we noticed in our bathroom that shouldn't have been in a four star resort- a light fixture was missing from the wall. The plug for the hair dryer didn't work and when the shower was on, water leaked out of the tiles in the shower wall. The lack of maintenance in a resort of this rating was a concern, especially when we spoke to others who also had non-working plugs in their bathrooms and couldn't use the hair dryers in the room. We called for room maintenance when the curtain rod holding up the room drapes fell down and to report the leak and non-working plus and no one ever came to the room. 

The beds were comfortable. For Americans, the t.v. was sorely lacking- only one channel was English speaking and it showed mostly childrens' shows. One thing that many guests who were with us complained about was the noise. The was very loud Spanish music playing beginning at about 4 pm and went throughout the night that came from a bar across the street from the hotel. What we discovered on our last day was there was a Cinco DeMayo festival across the street and there was a carnival "barker" outside with a megaphone until 9:30 each night. We heard shouts of "Tora, Tora" until 1 AM. (The barker did move inside with his megaphone each night at 9:30,but we could still hear him until 1 A.M.). There is nothing that can be done about something like that, so if you are booking during Cinco de Mayo time, keep that in mind. 

This resort is not all inclusive but meal tickets can be purchased. The meal tickets do not cover soda or liquor. Restaurant food was tasty. For dinner, you are offered a choice of soup or salad, a main dish, and dessert. Soups and chicken were good, flan desserts tasty. Breakfast offerings were eggs, breads, rice and beans, fruit, yogurt, cereal, pastries, juices, muffins. At each meal a fruit juice is also included. Most were mixed berry drinks and very refreshing.

The hotels offers their own canopy tours and night walks. The canopy tour has 16 cables, a Tarzan swing, one rappel, two rope bridges and 150 ft. tower with 260 degree view- depending on the amount of cloud cover. The final cable was 1,000 feet long and most people didn't make it all the way across!

The night walk leaves every day at 5:45 PM for two hours of hiking. You see the transition from day to night and get a different perspective of the cloud forest.

The hotel grounds are lovely. The flowers are gorgeous and we marveled at the largest hydrangeas ever throughout the Monteverde area.There are many right on the grounds. The landscaping is lush and beautifully maintained.

 Our favorite part of staying here is the ever changing landscape. The clouds roll in and out constantly so your view changes as well. You can take 20 pictures of the exact same scene and they never look the same.

This hotel is within walking distance of the town of Santa Elena which offers ore variety of things to do within close proximity. Selvatura Park is a 20 minute ride away, offering walks through the cloud forest, ziplining, a tram, walking bridges and a train. We saw some unique birds and plants on our walk with very knowledgable guides. There was also a very good restaurant there as well.

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