Where to Stay in Costa Rica

With so many different options to choose from, there’s something — and some place — for everyone By: Deanna Ting
Trogon Lodge sits in the middle of a serene valley in San Gerardo de Dota. // © 2010 Deanna Ting 
Trogon Lodge sits in the middle of a serene valley in San Gerardo de Dota. // © 2010 Deanna Ting 

During two recent trips to Costa Rica, I was thoroughly impressed to find so many different unique properties, from an eco-conscious organic farm to a top-of-the-line resort with amazing volcano views. If the following properties are any indication, Costa Rica offers lodging options to suit nearly every traveler, whether they seek adventure, luxury, art or nature.

Hotel Riu Guanacaste
There are very few hotel properties around the world that can boast that a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president was in attendance at its inaugural ceremony. Last October, when this 701-room all-inclusive hotel held its grand opening ceremony, its keynote speaker was none other than Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, who served as president for a second term from 2006 to 2010. In his opening ceremony speech, Arias heralded the hotel as a monumental milestone for the country’s growing tourism industry.

Room Details: Hotel Riu Guanacaste marked Riu Hotels & Resorts’ first foray into Costa Rica and is located along the beaches of Playa Matapalo in the northwest region of Guanacaste Province. Guestrooms are well-outfitted, and all rooms feature central air conditioning, a minibar, satellite television and a balcony or terrace. Family rooms containing two bedrooms and two bathrooms are also available, as are suites outfitted with a hydro-massage bathtub, a shower cabinet and a bidet, as well as a separate dressing room and an integrated lounge area with a sofa. Jacuzzi suites feature a private Jacuzzi tub on the terrace.

During my stay, I most enjoyed the number of available options and activities available on-property. The property features a casino as well as a pampering Renova Spa, and clients can also participate in various watersports on the beach. Dining was a major resort feature, and the quality of the hotel’s all-day dining buffet venue was rather exceptional. Optional dining venues included Asian and Italian cuisine, as well as a steakhouse.

Best For: Clients seeking a relaxing Costa Rican vacation with the ease and accessibility of an all-inclusive resort

Hotel Riu Guanacaste

The Springs Resort & Spa
When I first arrived at The Springs Resort & Spa, which is located near the Arenal Volcano, I was immediately awestruck by its amazing volcano view, even in the middle of the night. My experience at this expansive resort and spa was just as compelling and truly luxurious. The property boasts its own set of natural hot and cold springs, four different dining venues, a full-service spa/fitness center and even its very own wildlife preserve. To unwind after a long day spent touring throughout the country, I opted to spend some time in the on-site hot springs, one of which even had its very own water slide; it was blissful.

During my stay, I dined at the hotel’s Las Ventanas restaurant, where I enjoyed a delicious ceviche appetizer and a hearty salmon burger. The hotel also offers a gourmet buffet restaurant option (Tres Cascadas); a Japanese sushi bar (Ginger Sushi); and outdoor dining with spectacular views of the volcano (Treetops Grill).

I also took the time to stop by The Springs’ wildlife preserve, where they care for wildlife that have been confiscated from poachers or were donated by other private preserves or individuals. The majority of the animals housed at the preserve are wild cats, including a ferocious jaguarondi and a playful ocelot. Clients can easily get to the preserve by requesting transportation from the lobby.

Room Details: Guest accommodations truly redefine “luxury.” My Alta Vista guestroom featured 18-foot vaulted ceilings with floor-to-ceiling windows that showcased the nearby lush valley and volcano. The room was also equipped with its own minibar area, complete with a sink; a desk; lounge chairs; an outdoor patio; and a fully equipped bathroom with a hydro-jet tub and separate shower. The resort also offers Family Suites and Villa accommodations.

Best For: Luxury clients who want to experience the best of Arenal’s natural surroundings — including its therapeutic hot springs — without having to rough it

The Springs Resort & Spa

Monte Azul Hotel & Center for Fine Art
For anyone who doubts that eco-friendliness and luxury can go hand in hand, I suggest they pay a visit to this beautiful boutique hotel, located in Costa Rica’s Chirripo National Park. Monte Azul Hotel & Center for Fine Art defies traditional eco-friendly stereotypes with its exquisitely designed rooms and artful amenities. In fact, the hotel even houses its very own artist-in-residence program, Monte Azul Contemporary Art, and guests can literally purchase some of the amazing artwork to be found throughout the sprawling 125-acre property, which also doubles as a nature preserve. In fact, I spotted numerous white-face monkeys from the property’s open-air restaurant during my visit. Featured artists at the hotel include painter Alvaro Gomez, photographer Hai Zhang and sculpturist Paulina Ortiz. Monte Azul was also recently featured in Conde Nast Traveler’s 2010 Hot List.

Other features at the property include in-room spa treatments and services and Cafe Blue, a full-service restaurant that serves up Monte Azul’s very own crop of organic coffee, as well as homemade cheeses from its neighbors in the valley. Activities on the property include numerous hiking trails.

Room Details: Monte Azul has four 515-square-foot riverside Casitas that are designed to exude a modern, homelike atmosphere, even in the middle of the surrounding rainforest. Each Casita features its own garden, small kitchen and a bathroom, and complimentary amenities include high-speed Internet access, housekeeping and concierge services. Clients who wish to splurge might book the Casa Palo Alto, a 4,000-square-foot private house set upon 25 acres; it features a private swimming pool and private terrace, and is a five-minute drive away from the property’s Casitas and restaurant area.

Best For: Artistically inclined and eco-minded clients who seek a luxurious and peaceful rainforest getaway

Monte Azul Hotel & Center for Fine Art

Rancho Margot
I’m no hippie, but a brief day-long visit to Rancho Margot in El Castillo, not far from the Arenal Volcano, had me rethinking my convictions. This family-owned, self-sufficient organic farm boasts a number of guest accommodations, from 18 deluxe bungalows to a bunkhouse for student volunteers. The ranch, which is owned by the Sostheim family, aims to be completely self-sustainable: the farm produces its own meat, vegetables, energy and even soap, among other endeavors, while also providing its guests with unique, eco-minded voluntourism opportunities and wellness activities, including daily yoga classes.

Should your clients choose to stay at Rancho Margot, I highly suggest they take one of the daily farm tours, which will introduce them to all of the sustainable practices that are being exercised on-site, as well as insightful facts about the surrounding forests and natural wildlife. Clients will be amazed to learn just how the ranch is able to generate its own electricity, as well as see and smell some of the farm’s organic vegetables and plants — all of which are used at the on-site restaurant.

Room Details: While the bunkhouse is definitely suited toward student volunteers, the deluxe bungalows should appeal to clients who want rustic and romantic lodgings. Bungalows can accommodate up to four people and feature their own private terraces and hammocks.

Best For: Staying here truly feels like being part of a small community, so this property is best for clients who seek that type of social atmosphere. Eco-conscious clients will also love the property’s commitment to sustainable and organic practices.

Rancho Margot

Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge & Gallery
Eco-conscious travelers and nature enthusiasts will love staying at the Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge & Gallery, located in the rainforests of San Gerardo de Dota, the home of numerous wildlife species, including the resplendent quetzal bird at the nearby Los Quetzals National Park. The avant-garde, family-owned lodge manages to be both rustic and sophisticated, while achieving four-green-leaf Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) status (out of a possible five leaves) from the Costa Rica Tourist Board.

Guests of the lodge can book bird watching and hiking tours through the property, or choose to explore numerous hiking trails on Dantica’s nearly 50-acre private cloud-forest reserve. Daily breakfast is included in the nightly room rate. Families may also take advantage of the property’s children’s playground. The on-site gallery/store is a treasure trove of local arts, crafts and jewelry.

Room Details: Dantica features seven bungalows, one suite and one house. Each bungalow comes with either one or two bedrooms with a private bathroom and terrace. Bungalows outfitted for four people also feature a living room with a fully equipped kitchen. Bungalow bedrooms feature glass floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the nearby mountains and offer queen-size beds, heating, a minibar, a coffeemaker, satellite television, a Jacuzzi, a hair dryer and a safe deposit box. The suite contains an additional fireplace, a sunken Jacuzzi tub and a private forest garden with its own trail.

Best For: Families, bird-watchers and independently-minded clients with a soft spot for sustainable tourism

Dantica Cloud Forest Lodge & Gallery

Savegre Mountain Hotel & Spa
This family-owned 988-acre property, which is also situated in the heart of San Gerardo de Dota, is an ideal location for clients who want to engage in a number of activities — from horseback riding and spa treatments to bird watching, hiking and waterfall tours. Like Dantica, Savegre also boasts four green leaves from the CST program.

Approximately 80 percent of the reserve is untouched rainforest, making it a treat to explore. I took a horseback riding tour of the property and loved observing the natural surroundings, from lush green foliage and exotic birds — including the quetzal — to spectacular views of the valley.

Savegre has a buffet-style restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; a bar and lounge; a conference room that holds up to 50 people; and a newly opened full-service spa.

Room Details: Rooms, while rustic in appearance, are comparatively luxurious, featuring heating systems, private hot-water baths and comfortable beds.

Best For: Active clients, especially birders and outdoor enthusiasts, as well as spa goers.

Savegre Mountain Hotel & Spa

Trogon Lodge
Not far from Savegre Mountain Hotel & Spa is Trogon Lodge, a rustic 105-acre farm where clients can actually see and hear the Savegre River as it runs through the middle of the property. The ambiance at the lodge is both peaceful and serene, and its location is ideal for birders and adventurous types — the hotel even has its own zipline canopy tour on-site.

The on-site restaurant, El Quetzal, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the property also features Wi-Fi access in the lobby as well as in the adjacent bar area.

Room Details: Cabins are spacious and make guests feel as though they truly were staying in a rustic forest lodge. Heating systems make sure guests stay warm during the cold nights, and hot water is also available. What the rooms lack in modern amenities, such as Internet access (which guests can get at the lobby), they make up for in their comfortable features and natural surroundings.

Best For: Clients who don’t need lots of in-room frills but want plenty of access to nearby natural activities

Trogon Lodge

Borinquen Mountain Resort & Spa
Sprawling doesn’t even begin to describe this 12,000 acre upmarket resort and spa, located in the heart of Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The grounds feature an exquisite spa, stables and farm, as well as access to its own natural hot springs and a truly breathtaking zipline canopy tour. On-site activities include horseback riding, a canopy tour, an ATV tour and hiking tours. The spa features volcanic mud baths, hot springs and a sauna, and offers massage treatments, body wraps, body scrubs and facials. Four different dining options are available as well.

Borinquen is also committed to sustainability and engages in recycling, environmental staff training and community service programs. It has received a three-green-leaf rating from the CST.

Room Details: Borinquen features five different room types: Villa, Bungalow, Bungalow Superior, Bungalow Deluxe and Junior Suite. What each room type shares in common is attention to comfort and luxury, including satellite televisions, private balconies and/or terraces, air conditioning and more.

Best For: Clients who never want to leave their resort, spa goers and nature lovers

Borinquen Mountain Resort & Spa