My husband and I recently returned from our first experience in Costa Rica and loved it! (Traveled February 16-23rd). We found other reviews extremely helpful, so we have a few things to recommend and keep in mind...
I'll get the negatives out of the way first:
*They need "smokers only" areas at the pool and in the lobby. Neither my husband nor I smoke and are very sensitive to smells so we were very turned off when we were trying to relax at the pool or checking our email on the lobby and were surrounded on all sides by smokers. On a cruise ship they designate certain areas for smokers which we have appreciated in the past. The smokers issue was our #1 complaint. Riu REALLY needs to think about changing that. Next time I will do my homework and pick a property that has designated areas for smokers...which means we may not be staying at another Riu.
*Spiders in our room was a major turn off! I hate spiders!! We had a ground level room and I realize we were in a climate where spiders live, but I didn't not appreciate having to kill at least 7 large spiders with really long legs in my sleeping quarters. We didn't spend much time in the room, so we didn't ask for a new room because my husband was fine to just kill the spiders.
*My husband's swim shorts were...stolen? On our patio one morning, we put both our swim suits out on our chairs on our balcony. When we returned from the pool late afternoon, my suit was still there, but my husband's was missing. We checked the lost and found thinking maybe it had blown away and someone picked it up, but no one turned it in. The next few days we realized that the wind never touched our balcony. When we were packing on our departure date, we had a few more items out to dry on the same chairs and saw a grounds worker checking out our stuff. When he walked up to the balcony (leaving his lawn mower behind) and saw us in the room, he turned right around and walked back to his lawn mower. It was a little suspicious. Swim shorts are easy to replace, but you may want to be careful what you leave out. It was our fault for leaving them out for the wind or whatever, so we didn't complain to the management.
*Bugs on the beach. Part of the fun of traveling for me is to take photos of beautiful places. The first morning out on the beach I was eaten alive. Again, I read all the reviews about the bugs, and I brought bug spray, but forgot to put it on at such an early hour. I remembered the next time I ventured out early and the bugs left me alone. The bugs biting were tiny black bugs, not mosquitos but they left a welt itchy and red like a mosquito.
*Scuba Diving. We like to dive when we travel, but the visibility was so poor that we didn't want to waste our money. Major bummer for us!
*February is very dry. I can't say that is a complete negative because that is why we picked Guanacaste because we wanted to enjoy the sun. That being said, the property its self is very green and lush and beautiful. Where the property line ends and the tropical forest begins, there was very little greenery. It was very dry. If that is a deal breaker for you, visit in June or October when there is more rainfall keeping it more hydrated. I'm only putting this in my negative category because my beach photos were not my favorite with all the dry growth around. The pictures featured on the website were taken during the rainy season.
Now for the positives:
*Free WiFi in the lobby. We could always find a seat, and the open air and breeze was comfortable no matter the time of day.
*Security on the beach. I read reviews of people getting robbed on the beaches within walking distance of the hotel, so my husband an I stayed on our beach where there was always a security officer watching out. I felt safe at 5:00 am when there was no one else out there, but I'm sad I didn't dare explore another beach.
*The wildlife. The howler monkeys showed up from 3:00-5:00 behind RiuLand most days and were so neat to see! Iguanas were all over the grounds and fun to photograph. There is such a variety of birds in Costa Rica (some are from our home region living in Costa Rica for our winter!)
*The pool. When we weren't on an excursion, we spent our time at the pool. The days were very hot so we put our towels out early on the chairs (at 5:00 am on our way to the beach to take photos) and got the chairs we wanted. You do have to get up early to get the best chairs. We are not drinkers, so we stayed at the far end of the pool away from the bar and weren't bothered by obnoxious drinkers at all. They have lounge chairs built into the pool which were heaven sent, allowing you to still get sun while cooling down in the pool. They also have photographers that will take your pictures at the pool and the beach. It costs you nothing to have them take your pictures and they do a good job (they will even get right in the pool with you to get a better photo). I use a tripod and a remote to take pictures of ourselves, but checked out their prices because the tripod thing is not ideal. If you want to buy the pictures they take of you during the week, it is $85 which includes 2 prints and the digital files (up to 8 photos I think). If you would like to hire them for 50 minutes, they will book you for either 10:00 am or 4:00 pm and charge you $105 (which is what I would charge people at home for a sitting as well so I didn't think that was too outrageous). They do a decent job editing the photos as well, so it would probably be worth your money. We didn't use the service, but you should consider it if you don't take your own photos.
*Massages on the beach. We were charged $65 (plus tip) for a couples massage on the beach by a local vendor, not through the hotel. It was very enjoyable and worth the money. Absolutely plan on a massage!!
*Excursions. We booked two excursions. We used Swiss Travel because our Travel Agent had booked our transfers from the airport with them as well. We chose the Arenal Volcano and the Palo Verde boat tour. The Arenal Volcano was my favorite part of the trip! It took an entire day (7:55 am - 10:00 pm) but was amazing. It was $135/person and we were fed a traditional Costa Rican lunch and dinner. We had a little hike through the rain forest (were rained on) and took a boat ride at the base of the volcano and got beautiful pictures. The hot springs were awesome too!! We were in a full tourist bus so there were a lot of other people with us. I actually thought that I wasn't going to like that, but we made some new friends and had so much fun! The Palo Verde boat tour was interesting too because we saw crocodiles and monkeys and a lot of wildlife. Again, we got some fun pictures and had a really fun tour guide and boat driver. It was $72/person (a little steep) but I'm glad we did it. We probably could have saved some money going through the guys on the beach, but they kept discouraging us from the Arenal Volcano which I really wanted to see so we ended up booking everything through Swiss Travel instead.
*Safe in the room for valuables. Both my husband and I brought our laptops, iPads, iPods, and all my camera gear. When we didn't have it with us and were leaving the room, the safe was plenty big to keep everything (laptops included) protected. We didn't have a problem with anything (other than the shorts off the balcony), but our friends had earrings taken from their room.
*Departure tax. When you leave the country, you have to pay like $28/person. We paid at the hotel before we left and avoided a very long line at the airport. We paid $31/person at the hotel, they only accept VISA or MC, no cash, so keep that in mind. The extra $6 was worth it.
Positives and negatives aside, I do have a few pointers for you. Bring cash and don't bother exchanging it. They all take US Dollars but do be sure to bring plenty of $1 bills. The smallest bills we brought were $5 and didn't want to leave those every day for the room. After the night when they left us a beautiful swan and flowers in our room we left them a $5, but they never did anything after that so I'm not sure tips make a difference with that. Bring bug spray (it was necessary on the beach early morning and in the rain forrest). Enjoy time at the pool. Take excursions and see an amazing country! Try all of the specialty restaurants but keep in mind that they are all still buffet style except for the stakehouse. The sushi at the asian restaurant was nothing special but was nice for variety. Our favorite meal was one day at lunch, they had amazing shredded chicken and pork with rice and beans and lettuce over a tortilla. AMAZING!! (Similar to what you could get at a Cafe Rio but SO MUCH BETTER!) We wish they would have offered that every day. I was a little disappointed with the protein choices at lunch and dinner. I don't eat red meat, pork or fried foods so there wasn't always a lot to choose from in that regard (but that is typical of buffet style and I knew that going into it). I did enjoy the mangos and pineapple at each meal but was sad when they didn't serve mango at our last breakfast. The fruit drinks were very poor for the most part...all but the banana drink, it was pretty good. Bring plenty of sunscreen because it is very expensive to buy down there (we had friends tell us they paid almost $50 for a spray bottle of 50SPF).
Would we stay again? Probably not because there are so many places to see that its hard for us to go to the same place twice. This was our first experience with an all inclusive, but would do an all inclusive again for the convenience (like a cruise ship) and the freedom (unlike a cruise ship).
Would we recommend the Riu in Guanacaste to our friends or family? Depends on what they are after...If they want to have a lot to do and see, then yes! If they aren't smokers, they would be as turned off as we were, so NO! If they wanted a lush green tropical paradise I would send them somewhere else as well.
Enjoy your stay, we did!
- Also Known As:
- Hotel Riu Guanacaste Costa Rica
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Opening winter 2009/10. Situated in northern Costa Rica, in Guanacaste. Located on Playa de Matapalo beach. Complimentary sun loungers on the beach. 6-storey main building. Surrounded by 35,000 m2 / 41,86 sq. yards of lush gardens. Closest village: Nuevo Colon. 13 km / 8.1 miles from various shops. 33 km / 20.5 miles from Liberia airport. Credit cards accepted: MasterCard, Amex, Visa ... more less
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