My husband and I returned on January 31 after a week stay at the Riu Guanacaste and would go back in a heartbeat. We’d been twice to the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica (both occasions for 2 weeks) and when we were there three years ago, it was rumoured that Riu would be building down the coast. We knew at that time that once Riu was opened we would be there. I had read the reviews on Tripadvisor and Debbie’s Caribbean Resort Reviews, but knowing Riu’s reputation and having stayed at the Riu’s in Puerto Vallarts, Punta Cana, Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas and Ocho Rios, we felt confident that we had made a good choice.
Our Skyservice flight from Toronto was delayed 3 hours and we finally arrived at approximately 11:00 p.m. After the usual custom clearances and baggage pickup, we were met by Swiss Travel which is Sunquest’s agent in Costa Rica. We arrived at the hotel around midnight and were greeted with a welcoming drink. The check in process was effortless and we were in our room within 20 minutes of arriving at the hotel.
Our room was clean, quiet and on the top floor with an ocean view and overlooking the pool. There was never a problem with bugs or other insects. (The hotel is trying hard to keep the outdoor area insect free and succeeded during our stay.) The bed was firmer that we are accustomed to but we didn’t have any problem sleeping. Be reasonable folks with your expectations of receiving towel sculptures every day. Yes, it is a nice added touch, but you are on vacation after all. We tipped our maid every day and received 3 towel sculptures one of which had a flower in the middle of it. We usually leave a tip with a note in the fridge indicating that we would like the beer and/or soft drinks to be replenished daily, but did not do so this time around. Regardless, our fridge was replenished every two days. Besides if you run out of beer late at night, just slip down to the sports bar with or without your insulated cup and have a drink there or bring it back to the room.
Restaurants and Bars: Booking of the specialty restaurants was not a problem. We were told the desk was open from 9 a.m. to 2p.m. daily but found it open most days until 4:30 p.m. The wait was no more than 5 minutes. Book for the current day and one day ahead – you are allowed to book 3 times in 4 days – if you try to book more in that time period, the reservations computer will not accept the booking with the given room number. That being said, we had heard that some people got around it by either checking at the door of the specialty restaurant during seating time and if there were any cancellations, got in or if they were travelling with another couple, each couple would book days with their room number. We ate at the steak house twice. The rib eye steak was thinner than what we are accustomed to but done to perfection. The ribs and chicken were also good. The quality of the meals is really special at the Italian Restaurant. We did not eat at the Asian and therefore cannot comment on the restaurant. The two buffet restaurants are very similar to other Riu hotels – lots of selection and the items changed every day – look over the selection and then get what appeals to you most.
The service at the restaurants and bars is outstanding. We did not see an unfriendly waiter or bartender. The lobby bar was our main hangout between sunset and dinner. After the first day of drinking the cheap rum and then asking for Bacardi (light), our favorite bartender, Melvin (aka Mel Gibson), when he saw us approaching the Lobby Bar and when he was working at the Pura Vida bar, he would have our Bacardi (light) and coke and Imperial beer ready for us. The bartenders at La Plaza were equally as attentive.
Beach/Pools/Grounds: The beach is not the best we’ve been to in the Liberia area. Like the other two resorts we were at previously, the beach is dark volcanic sand, but unlike the other two resorts, the water line was a little rocky. Because the volcanic sand is very hot, wear water shoes. The only drawback with the beach is that there is no bar service available and it is a fairly long walk from the beach to the closest bar at the pool. If you brought an insulated mug, fill your mug from the room and when you need to move around a bit, head for the nearest bar at the pool and get a refill. The pools are beautiful and plenty of loungers, both at the beach and the pool and there never was a problem finding a good lounger if you wanted to move from sun to shade and vice versa. There is no need to get up at 6 am to reserve a lounger, unless there is some spot that is really to your liking. We were able to exchange our towels during the day for dry towels. The swim-up bar was great. This is the first Riu we’ve been to that next to the bar and throughout the pool area, there were tables with stools and it kept the bar area from getting overly crowded. Most days around the pool there was a bbq set up – a different fare each day – paella, tacos, hot dogs, hamburgers etc. The entertainment around the pool was good, water volleyball, bingo etc. The entire hotel was immaculate, spotless, well manicured and clean – the staff were constantly cleaning everywhere and anything. As the resort has only been opened since the end of October 2009, the landscaping is fairly new and not that lush.
Activities on and off the Resort/Hotel: We were aware of the activities offered daily. We did not participate and we were not hassled to do so. Because we spent most of our evenings in either the Lobby Bar, Pura Vida Bar or the La Plaza Bar, we cannot comment on the shows. Prior to our trip, we had booked a sunset sail cruise through Papagaya-Vargas Tours. We’ve used this tour company on our prior two trips to Costa Rica. We did not have the problem that others had complained about, of walking the 8 minutes to the front gate of the hotel. We were picked up at the front lobby and driven to Coco Beach where we were to board the sailboat. Dolphins were seen along the cruise and we watched the sunset from a location not far from the Riu. We were dropped off by boat at the Riu.
Other Comments: This is the dry season and as a result there was not a drop of rain. The weather was hot and great for tanning. Unless you want to ruin a perfectly good vacation by getting sunburned, bring lots of sunscreen. If you are lucky enough to find that one illusive spot at the south end of beach that has a signal for cell phone reception, you will not hear any cell phones ringing. If you absolutely must use your cell phone, take a trip to Coco Beach, where you can purchase your souvenirs as well, via the water taxi service or the land taxi. Both means of transportation costs only $15 – the water taxi takes 15 minutes and the land taxi, 40 minutes. The resort is isolated and off the beaten path, nestled in a valley between green hills that frame the resort with trees and the occasional palms. The road leading to the Riu is not in the best of shape – some parts are paved and other parts are washboard gravel – and it can add an extra 20 – 30 minutes onto your trips. Riu paved the stretch leading to the resort. The reason behind the rather unpleasant roads is that Costa Rica, being in the forefront for their “eco” is trying to slow down the development of new hotels. While you are at the Riu Guanacaste, visit the resort’s spa at the Spa and Wellness Centre. This was a real treat – I had an 80-minute combo treatment and it was really relaxing. If you check out the trees between the bar area and the Ocotal Restaurant, you will see monkeys. There are iguanas and lizards around the pool area and sea turtles climb up onto the beach at night to lay eggs at t his time of year. We would highly recommend the Riu to anyone thinking of seeing Costa Rica.