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Costa Rica: Love at First Visit

Updated: Feb 28

What can be said about Costa Rica? I feel words always fail to describe the immense beauty of the country and its people, one must visit to truly understand.

We travelled to Costa Rica every summer for five years, between 2013 - 2017, and plan on returning again. With the first visit, we fell in love with the Pura Vida lifestyle and attitude. Costa Ricans (Ticos) are for the most part, hard-working, friendly people who love life and truly appreciate the natural world.

Matapalo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The first year we stayed at the Hotel Riu Guanacaste, and for the following three years at the neighbouring hotel, the Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica. Both hotels offer great room options, great service and great food on the same amazing plot of beach. The Guanacaste is the least expensive of the two, and is more geared to family and/or party vacations. The resort offers more activities and entertainment, plus games and music by the pools. It feels alive, pulsing with the excitement of never-ending entertainment. The Palace is a little more pricy, but geared to a more laid-back, romantic crowd. Though there is also pool-side music and entertainment, it is more subtle and spread out. The atmosphere is one of relaxation and space. Staying at the Palace also gives you access to the Guanacaste, so if you feel the urge to party, you only need to walk next door. Last year we ventured out on our own and rented an amazing house in Tamarindo through Pura Vida Luxury Rentals. The pictures do not do this rental justice. It is phenomenal.

Between the two RIU resorts, the Palace is more our style. The following is a small sample description for the Palace. If you need more information, feel free to contact us and we will be happy to help.

Riu Palace, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Riu Palace, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Hotel/Rooms: The hotel is spacious and beautiful. The grounds are lush and they are constantly working to keep it lovely. The design, like other Palaces, is modern and colourful, with a sea theme in the lobby. The lobby is air conditioned, but since it is huge and has doors that keep opening and closing, it’s not as chilled as the buffet or your room. The standard room is big with a huge shower and jet tub. Yes the tub is in the open, not tucked away in a separate room.

Spa/Services: There is a small gym attached to the spa that is free. All guests may use the steam room and hot tub located in the spa, also for free. The steam rooms are in the individual change rooms but the hot tub is unisex and shared. It is a large circular tub in a huge semi open room with a Grecian theme. The tub has many jets with a giant urn in the center than spills water on each side. When you’re had enough of the hot tub, no need to leave right away; the room has loungers to relax on and they offer cool water and warm tea free of charge as well. It’s so pretty and relaxing, especially because it is a little off the main resort path and many don’t venture further than the restaurant or the pools.

Customer Service: We recommended the Palace to friends of ours, who traveled there one year a few months before we did. I simply emailed Customer Service and asked if there was anything that could be done to make their stay special, and they arranged for a welcome bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to be left in their room for when they arrived, along with a note from us. On another trip, Customer Service arranged for the room to be beautifully decorated with balloons and flowers to celebrate a birthday. All free of charge. Seriously, all you have to do is ask. If you want a king bed, or a certain floor, or certain side of the hotel or anything, just contact Customer Service before you arrive and they will do everything in their power to make your stay magical. They really are great. Pools: The pools are big and open, surrounded by tall palm trees. These trees are not yet fully in bloom and soon the branches will provide more shade, but for now they only provide some. That being said, there are a ton of chairs under canopies for shade, plus the swim up bar has some cover and the seating area behind it. Speaking of the swim up bar, try a Howler Monkey. I can only describe it as a mojito-daiquiri; a sumptuous example of heaven in a glass.

Food: The food is so "terrible" we both gained 10 pounds in 2 weeks. The food at the Guancaste is also very good, but the Palace is better. One year before we stayed at the Palace, we read a review from someone who claimed they could not find something to eat at the breakfast buffet. I could not get it out of my mind, especially while I ate my pancakes and waffles, warm croissants, fresh donuts, yogurt, fruit, cereal and milk, personal omelets, scrambled eggs, egg whites, eggs made to order in shapes to fit bagels ad breads to make your very own breakfast sandwich, bacon, hash browns, veggies, rice & beans (gallo pinto), fresh sliced bread, freshly baked loaf bread, nutella, peanut butter, cheeses, meats and oatmeal. Seriously, I don't know what you eat if you can't find something in the selection offered. We ate at the buffet for almost every meal. Everything is great. I'm a Pescatarian who is lactose intolerant and has a variety of things I cannot eat, and I always had something delicious (and different) to dine on. At the dinner and breakfast buffet, we tried to always sit in the same section, outside, so we could be served by Gina. She is amazing. Often at dinner, they have live music. The saxophone player is particularly good. We would stay even after we finished eating to sip wine and listen to him.

Howler Monkey, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Beach/Jungle: The beach and mountains are simply amazing. There are no words to describe how peaceful it is to float in the cool ocean, staring up into the tree-covered mountains. Yes it is dark volcanic sand, not your typical white-sand beach. It is thin and grainy and the shoreline is very rocky when the tide is strong. The water is clear, but when the tide is strong, the sand gets caught in the waves and it looks murky. When it's calm, you can not only see the bottom, but many fish swimming around you. (If you’re lucky, you will feel them swim against your legs). Water shoes are a must if you have sensitive feet. When the sky is clear, you can see distant mountain ranges. Nothing can make you feel small and insignificant like vast mountain ranges. Life is instantly put into perspective in their presence. Yes the dark sand can get very hot, so when the sand is dry, it's near impossible to walk on without shoes, but you can walk along the shoreline no problem. All beaches are public in Costa Rica, which is fantastic. On any given day, you will see locals enjoying their country and will run into local tourist company representatives on the beach. They are not bothersome or overbearing, they simply want to provide you with information. If you’re not interested, a simple “No, Gracias” and they will be on their way. You are in a tropical country, so yes there are bugs and birds and animals. We often saw hawks, falcons, vultures and pelicans. There are monkeys in the tress and tons of little birds, dragonflies and butterflies. Iguanas and geckos are everywhere. Nothing with bother you if you don't bother them. Just lay back and enjoy the natural spender. Bring bug spray and sunscreen. It's hot, close to the equator hot, so yes you need shade and water and sunscreen, but it's so very worth it.

Excursions: We have been recommending Alex on the Beach for years and keep going back to them for any excursions we want, as they are locals who will customize package for you. They always do a little more than you expect. Booking through the hotel is also good, just research and see what you prefer. If you can't find one of Alex's representatives on the beach (white polo shirt), go down the beach to the Monkey Bar and ask to speak to someone about booking a tour. They will call or get someone to come in person. Go to the Monkey Bar regardless, as they are a local, family-run restaurant with good drinks and great attitudes. They have a monkey trail you can walk down as well. They are sweet and a great example of how nice the Costa Rican people truly are.

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