Friday, June 8, 2012

Resort Review - Riu Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Riu Guanacaste

Four hours on some of the worst roads we've experienced in Costa Rica traveling from Monteverde to Guanacaste brought us to the Riu Guanacaste resort. Located about 45 minutes from the Liberia airport on paved roads brings you to the hotel. The resort is currently in the process of building a Riu Palace  next door schedule to open in November, 2012.

We arrived by bus at the front entrance at about noon, passing a casino across the street as we came in. Being with a group, our luggage was off loaded and placed in the lobby. We could not check in until 3:00 sharp, so we completed the required paperwork, had bracelets strapped on and were invited to eat at one of the restaurants, Ocotel, for lunch.  Before doing that, we stopped at the reservation table for dinner reservations for the next day. Unfortunately, at Riu you must make reservations for dinner a day before and the only restaurants available were the Asian or Italian restaurants for the next day, but we wanted to eat at the Asian restaurant so that wasn't an issue.

Our lunch was buffet style at Ocotel.  We found ourselves a table and walked around the huge restaurant to see what was offed. There was salad, cheeses, guacamole, chips and taco fixings, paella, the ever present and delicious rice and beans, some meats and a whole section of Costa Rican native dishes.  The food was very good, but it was difficult to find a server to bring us some soda. There was tapped beer and wine, water and orange juice and soda available as self service.

After lunch we checked into our room, 1018. Our building was away from the construction and we faced a nature preserve, which delighted us as we we able to sit and watch howler monkeys from our balcony. These rooms are called jungle view and in our opinion, they are the best views.  The beach is swimmable but not very pretty, as many beaches on Costa Rica. The sand is brown and appears muddy. However, the water is delightful. No waves and warm.

The jungle view rooms are quiet because they face a jungle. There is no noise from the pool area and it is delightful to sit on your balcony and watch the animals.

Our room was nicely appointed. Upon entering we were in a wide hallway with the closet, safe and across from it the refrigerator and mini-bar. On top of the mini bar were bottles of vodka, gin and tequila. There were also various soda, beer and water in the refrigerator, all included. The liquor was all house brand. There were two bars that served Smirnoff vodka - the sports bar and the lobby bar. Otherwise, you will be drinking house brands. Same goes for the wine. Air conditioning worked well - after staying at two hotels with no air conditioning, it was a pleasure to arrive here and crank the thermostat down.  It was VERY hot here in May. 

The bathroom was large with double sinks, bathtub/shower combo. The only amenities in the bathroom were a shower cap and soap. If staying here, make sure you bring your own shampoo and conditioner. There is a group of stores outside the hotel that does sell toiletries but they are very expensive - $24 or $47 for a bottle of suntan lotion!

The food was surprisingly better than we expected. The buffets were plentiful- there were so many choices that it would be difficult NOT to find something palatable. Every morning,   one restaurant is open for a buffet breakfast near the lobby and Ocotel is open for lunch, near the beach.

For dinner there are four choices - the buffet, Ariago the Asian Restaurant, An Italian Restaurant or Ocotel, a steak house. Ariago is another all buffet restaurant. Food ranged from sushi prepared fresh to tempura vegetables and Japanese and Chinese offerings.

The Italian restaurant had a salad buffet but you order your dinner off an a la carte menu.

There is corny nightly entertainment in their "theater". Shows ranged from karaoke to a review night, to a take off the mens' t-shirts and have them act like fools  to get them back show.

There were plenty of pool activities, from exercise to dance lessons to Bingo. There are two pools, one for adults only which had the swim up bar and another zero entry pool for kids. In addition, there was a small kids playhouse, pool and playground equipment.

Water sports included were snorkeling, Hobie cats, kayaks and peddle boats. There are optional excursions that can be purchased in the lobby. On the beach area were peddlers offering fishing, jewelry, dresses, wooden items and massages - $35 for one hour. I opted to purchase a spa treatment from the Riu. A 25 minute hot stone massage was $49 and I was sorry I didn't take a longer option. Other massages, facials and body wraps were similarly priced. We found these to be the best priced spa treatments in Costa Rica.

As we stated before, there is a small casino a five minute walk away with a night time disco.  Neither seemed very busy at night.

The hotel is beautiful, well maintained with comfortable rooms, but this resort is similar to many resorts in the Caribbean and you do not get the true essence of Costa Rica here.  I suggest taking excursions to other areas, such as Arenal to see the volcano and hot springs or some nature walks and zip lining.  This resort would be a perfect end to a multi stop itinerary where you would fly into San Jose and travel up to Guanacaste through Monteverde or Arenal to do many of the great activities offered. Cap off your stay with a few days of total relaxation before flying out of Liberia.

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