by Stephen Jermanok
Surrounded by a jungle-like interior, where the vines of banyan trees drop down to the sands below, the Riu Guanacaste is not your typical all-inclusive resort. On any given day, you can watch howler monkeys and their young swing from branch to branch, and view large lizards as they scurry under the chaise lounge chairs. At this beach resort at the northern tip of Costa Rica, you’re immersed in a pristine natural setting.
The beach is an exquisite crescent of gray sand that leads to the shallow and warm waters of the Pacific. Aside from the Riu, there are no other hotels on the long stretch of beach, so you can walk for more than 30 minutes along the water’s edge and not pass any other beach chairs or any form of commercialism, a rare treat in Costa Rica. A verdant mountainous-terrain buttresses both ends of the beach. Coupled with large islands offshore, the scenery is striking.
If you prefer pool to ocean water, the Riu Guanacaste features a massive pool with two swim-up bars, man-made waterfalls, bridges, and a beach volleyball area. The entertainment team does a great job getting everyone involved, with daily water aerobics, ping-pong tournaments, and salsa dancing competitions. Whether you choose beach or pool, rest assured that you selected one of the finest all-inclusive properties in Central America — one where your week will go by far too quickly.
To learn more about Riu Hotels and Resorts, please visit Riu Hotels & Resorts.
Our Editor Loves
- The long stretch of beach and warm ocean waters
- The large pool area and swim-up bars
- The sightings of monkeys on the perimeter of the property
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Game Room
- Kids' Pool
- Kids' Theme Meals
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
We had a corner family suite with two separate bedroom and bathrooms. The master bedroom had a flat-screen television with international channels, ample closet and drawer space, a safe and a large balcony with water view. The children's room, with two twin beds, also featured an additional flat-screen television, but no balcony. The bathrooms had two sinks, shower/bath, and Riu liquid soaps and shampoos. There's a refrigerator with free drinks and alcohol, this being an all-inclusive resort. Also offered were large bottles of water, necessary for brushing teeth. The rooms also featured air-conditioning and ceiling fans to help cool down the rooms in summer.
More affordable is the standard room, which features two double beds, one bathroom and deck. Standard rooms are best suited for younger children under the age of 12. Otherwise, you'll be bumping into each other during the stay.
My family has been traveling abroad on vacations for 15 years, usually to all inclusives. We have also stayed at several Rius before. Never once have we been held hostage at a resort as we were at the Riu in Costa Rica. Unless you are of a Spanish descent get ready to also be treated as a second class visitor.
Pool is amazing
Beach is amazing
Shows and live band pretty good
Costa Rica is beautiful
Temperature is incredible day and night
Some bartenders are real speedy if you tip well
I've had some pretty bad food at other places and this ranks among the worst of them.
We waited in the checkout line for 30 minutes. As we waited patiently, locals would just walk right up around us and were immediately checked out! We tried that and were told to go get back in line. Finally fed up with that treatment we set the keys/cards down and left. They blocked us at the exit and refused to let us out. Held hostage we had no choice but to return to the resort.
Once we were allowed up to the counter they produced an extra extortion charge. They said one mattress was so "soiled" that they have to throw it away and wanted $100. We would have asked for them to produce this mattress, that doesn't exist, but they know we need to get to the airport. Defeated we had no choice but to pay it and hope to reverse the charge at home.
I would definitely return to Costa Rica, just not to the Riu. If you stay here take photos of everything in the room, like you would a rental car.
The Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica totally lived up to the standards of the Riu brand. Very clean installations, all the hotal staff are so kind and friendly and the food is above par - plenty of options to choose from (ignore any bad reviews). Located in the middle of nowhere, the hotel offers a breath taking view of the ocean and it's countless spectacular mountains! We loved every single moment of our stay and recommand it to anyone! One of the most amazing areas we have visited!! Pura Vida
If you are looking to book any excursions I highly recommend contacting Luis on Facebook (Prime Tours Costa Rica). All the trips we did with him was fantastic!
The grounds of this 701-room property are far more compact than most all-inclusive properties, so it's never more than a 5-minute walk from your room to the pool area, restaurants and beaches. Start your day by finding the perfect waterside spot for your family. The entertainment team usually shows up around 10 a.m. to start the day with water aerobics. Near the pool is a playground and small Riu Kids Club called RiuLand. Available during the day for children ages 4 to 12, RiuLand and its counselors lead the children on activities like sandcastle building, running meets on the sand and learning Spanish.
Down at the beach, you can grab a sea kayak or paddleboat to hit the water. For an extra fee per person, the water facility staff will take you on a short boat to snorkel on the reef. Don't miss this opportunity! This part of the coast is teeming with neon-colored fish, live brain coral, and cool looking sea critters like the long trumpetfish and the rock-like pufferfish.
On the beach you'll also have the opportunity to sign up with a tour company to go off-property on a number of expeditions. Try zip-lining, where you cruise on a cable through the forest; ride ATVs; go on a cruise through the wetlands of Palo Verde National Park with a good chance to see monkeys, crocodiles, and toucans or cross the border into Nicaragua to see the historic city of Granada. When you return to the hotel, you'll be happy to have that banana daiquiri, with or without alcohol, waiting for you at the swim-up bar. Note that there's also a small game room in the sports bar, just off the lobby, that features ping-pong, pool and some video games.
At night, the entertainment team puts on a show at the main stage. Young children can dance and play games in a warm-up to the main event. Then the dancers arrive to perform to the music of Costa Rica or Michael Jackson. Across the street from the main lobby is a discotheque and casino if mom and dad can manage to grab a babysitter for the night.
Every morning, we woke up to breakfast at the large buffet restaurant, Liberia. Choose to sit outside or inside and then grab the first of many plates. Standard offerings include omelets just the way you like them, eggs over easy, French toast, pancakes, bacon, and sausage. More indigenous fare includes rice and beans and huevos rancheros. The fresh fruit -- papaya, pineapple, sweet bananas, and mangos -- is delectable. On a nearby counter are yogurt, cereals, pastries and bread.
At night, Liberia has themed buffet dinners that usually focus on a region like Costa Rican, Italian or Mexican specialties. Like breakfast, you have the option of sitting outdoors in the long atrium, which is a great way to dine when the sun goes down and the temperature cools a bit.
One of the dining highlights was lunch around the pool at 12:30 p.m. Servers set up a special lunch, often accompanied by live music, that focuses on one food like nachos, barbecue or this being Central America, ceviche. Nearby is the restaurant, Ocotel, which also offers lunch. Expect to find salads, pizzas, pastas, hamburgers, grilled chicken and a heaping mound of French fries. The kids always finished with a bowl of ice cream, with flavors varying from vanilla and chocolate to coconut.
At night, Ocotel doubles as a steakhouse, where the waiters wear cowboy hats. Everyone starts with Caesar salads and chicken wings, then can choose between entrees of top sirloin, grilled rib eye, half braised chicken and a combination seafood and meat kebabs. For dessert, the restaurant serves baked Alaska.
The Italian restaurant, La Toscana, is another specialty restaurant. Like Ocotel, you have to wait in line for reservations at 9 a.m. that morning, which is a bit of a nuisance. Head straight to the buffet for the large appetizer selection, which includes mozzarella, basil, and tomato, as well as avocado, prosciutto, bruschetta, pizza, a salad bar and antipasti. Entrees feature a poached salmon with pistachios, fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, lasagna and seafood risotto. The chocolate profiteroles were a popular dessert item.
Our favorite spot for dinner was Furama, a Japanese restaurant. Appetizers include a slew of sushi, from tuna to tilapia to avocado. Grilled seafood and chicken, paired with fried rice, are offered as entrees. They also feature a special dinner entree each evening. The night we were there, the special was a yummy chicken curry that we all enjoyed.
Lastly, the resort features 24-hour room service. This comes in handy if you have young children who hit the pillow prematurely after a day in the sun swimming. Parents of young children will also appreciate the short walk from the rooms to the restaurants.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
Finding a long stretch of beach that's not yet built up in Costa Rica or the Caribbean is a treat. That will change somewhat when the Riu opens their second property onsite, the Riu Palace, in November 2012. Still, there's more than enough beach to go around and this one's a beauty. Take advantage of the setting to take long strolls in the early morning hours. Then take a dip in the warm, soothing ocean water.
We were pleasantly surprised to find very little hustling on the beach. There are several tour company representatives that will approach you when you first descend on the beach. But it's a mellow pitch that you can easily respond, "No thanks," and walk away without being harassed.
The maid service did a thorough job, cleaning up all the sand and discarded towels in the room and leaving us with animal-shaped towel sculptures like swans on the bed. Servers at all the restaurants were also extremely professional, returning your drink orders swiftly. This includes the breakfast buffet, where waiters return with a pot of hot coffee.
The Art of Smart Timing
The summer months in Costa Rica are referred to as the "Green Season," because the rains help transform the countryside into a lush blanket of greenery. Surprisingly, however, after a recent trip in late July, we experienced very little rain in this part of Costa Rica. Days were hot, with a nice ocean breeze at night. This is the affordable time of year, where you'll often run into Costa Ricans on vacation, mixing with Texans and New Yorkers who took advantage of the affordable flights and room rates. Winter months are the dry season and thus you'll pay higher rates, especially during February and March vacation weeks.
The Riu Guanacaste is only a 25-minute drive from the international airport at Liberia, Costa Rica. So don't make the mistake of booking a flight into San Jose, a four-hour drive from the resort! Often, the shuttle to and from the Riu is included in your price of room, so be sure to ask. There's really no need to rent a car, because tour companies do a decent job of escorting you off-property.
Mom and Dad are People Too
The same group of counselors who work at RiuLand double as babysitters at night. Take advantage of this opportunity to have a relaxing dinner for two at La Toscana or to dance part of the night away at the discotheque. While there's a spa and fitness facility directly across from the discotheque, you might want to receive your massages on the beach from local ladies who charge a mere $35 for an hour's massage.