Have you ever seen the movie Six Days Seven Nights, starring Anne Heche and Harrison Ford? If you haven’t, where have you been? Seriously! The movie is a fabulous depiction of a pilot and his passenger who get stranded together en route from one island to the next and will have you rolling over in laughter. My point? Well, the movie might have been filmed in Hawaii but when it comes to getting stuck on an island – or in this case a mainland – my vote goes to Costa Rica.
We flew in on boxing day after the Christmas rush, a first for my family but the beginning of what will surely become an annual tradition. Out of Pearson International, we arrived, about six hours later in Liberia, Costa Rica. We flew with Sunwing Vacations – affordable with obvious downfalls like no personal entertainment system and a rather limited selection of food and drink, but hey, the price was right and we got a glass of champagne soon after take-off. Sold! After we pulled in to what was a surprisingly large airport, we made headway to the bus that would drive us the additional 30 minutes to Guanacaste and the Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica. We arrived at sunset to this view of the resort… need I say more?
Located on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is beautiful, surrounded by mountains yet still the driest part of the country. The hotel itself was located on the beach of Matapalo, a bay tucked away between mountains for tourists to enjoy. The beach however, was public, which was awesome. All beaches in Costa Rica are open to residents and tourists alike which meant that throughout our stay at the resort, we got to swim, play volleyball and share the beach with other Costa Ricans (known as “ticos” or “ticas”) and visitors from the regions, with many people coming from Nicaragua both temporarily or in search for a better life. Since the Costa Rican average salary is $500/month, many Nicaraguans head to Costa Rica looking for work and stay once they find it. People working at our hotel seemed to come from all over the country; many of the employees were from San Jose or Limon and lived on-site (the trip to Limon from Guanacaste is approximately 8 hours).
Food at the Hotel Riu Costa Rica
The food at the hotel was unlike anything I’ve ever experience at an all-inclusive. It outdid anything you can find at resorts throughout Cuba or the Dominican Republic… times ten. Because Costa Rica is so fertile, much of the produce is local which means that tastes and flavours are doubled. The hotel however was largely responsible for the huge assortment of foods and cuisines found on-site. A the main restaurant, one could enjoy a breakfast buffet filled with cheese, fruits, western favourites (pancakes and potatoes), yoghurts, cooked meats and juices of every colours under the rainbow. I started every day with an ensemble of passion fruit, yoghurt, pistachios, pineapple, papaya, fried plantain and a teeny tiny croissant.
For lunch, guests had the choice of dining Italian or visiting the restaurant at the beach, also buffet style. The Italian restaurant was open for lunch and dinner and had a delicious variety of appetizers including caprese salad, carpaccio (fish and beef) and mushrooms, asparagus and tomatoes rolled in the most delightful vinaigrette. The other lunch option for those lounging by the pool was a festive Mexican burrito (chicken, beef or veg) accompanied by baked beans, nachos, guacamole, hot sauce, salsa and cheese drizzled overtop. Mouth-watering and super healthy, I’m sure.
For dinner, guests were invited to make reservations at a gourmet restaurant, a Japanese restaurant or the Italian restaurant. We tried the Japanese restaurant once and to be honest, it’s the best Japanese food I’ve ever had at a resort – that being said, it didn’t compare to the plethora of choice you get form the buffet. The Italian restaurant is definitely something worth trying and since it’s open for lunch and dinner without a reservation (first come, first serve) it’s also the most accessible.
Facilities at the Hotel Riu Costa Rica
The facilities at the hotel were amazing. The hotel offered four separate pools that were located next to one another, which means that a family made up of both adults and children can visit the pool area but swim in whichever pool they please. There is one swim up bar located at the lower pool, a volleyball net set up for the more active vacationer and lounge chairs that are at just the right angle, allowing you to read without soaking yourself. A word of caution – December marks the start of summer in Costa Rica and in Guanacaste, the sun is hot! Bring lotion, a good cover up and your favourite hat unless you want to leave looking like a fried tomato.
Besides the pools, the hotel offers a fitness room (open to both the Riu Palace and the Riu Guanacaste, the neighbouring hotel – get there early if you like to work-out in the morning as all the machines are taken by 7:00am), a Spa (note: the Spa has a Jacuzzi and steam bath that aren’t well advertised but available to guests free of charge), a 24 hour lounge for mid-night snackers, two bars near the reception area (one for coffees and pastries, one for alcoholic delights) and finally, a bar on the ground floor next to the main stage. In fact, there are two stages; the first is where the animation teams performs it’s daily show, and the second is where the band comes on who follows the show – normally jazzy, Latin music to cap off your day.
The hotel staff also run activities throughout the day that range from Yoga and Pilates to Beach Volleyball and Bingo. There’s something for everyone! I personally sampled the beach volleyball and the zumba and can vouch for a whole lot of fun in (and out – classes are held in a shaded pavilion) of the sun. Just check the schedule at the bottom of the stairs or ask any member of the animation team.
The beach at the Hotel Riu Costa Rica
If you, like me, hate gross, gunky bottoms of lakes, oceans and fresh water swimming holes that are spotted with weeds and plant like things reaching around your legs – you’re going to love Costa Rica. Since we pulled up at sunset, we thought “what better way to christen our holiday than plunge into the ocean?” and honestly, I was shocked. After 5 inches of pebble like texture, the sand just faded into silky softness under our feet.
Not only was the sand super soft (despite being very dark because of volcanic activity) once you were in the water but the water itself was really inviting. While, at times, it was “refreshing”, on the whole it was a mild temperature that gave us a nice little break from the overbearing heat. One thing worth noting – the rip tides they talk about are not just a scare tactic for tourists – they’re very real. Two steps in and you can drop instantly to above head level – and that’s a long way up for a long-necked giraffe. Be careful when you swim and don’t leave kids unattended!
Loving Costa Rica? Read about my visit to a working coffee plantation! Also, soon to come… walking the Cloud Forest in Monteverde and zip lining my way through the rain-forest.