Monday, July 8, 2013

Visa Renewal in Costa Rica and a stay at the RIU Guanacaste

view from our room at the RIU Guanacaste
In order to renew our Nicaraguan Tourist Visa we only need to leave the country every 180 days (roughly 6 months). I think it's funny that before we moved to Nicaragua I thought how fun it would be to have a "forced" vacation every 6 months. In reality though, we have found that a trip to Costa Rica hasn't been as carefree and fun as we anticipated. It's not that we have encountered any dangers, and Costa Rica is certainly beautiful but somehow we've always come home feeling that we "missed" something and the expense of the trip wasn't worth it.

In April it was time to leave Nicaragua to renew our Visa but this time we decided to have a different experience in Costa Rica. Instead of having to "count our pennies" for every expense we decided to try something totally new for us - an all-inclusive resort. Yes, I hear you! Anyone who knows us has heard us say that we don't think an all-inclusive vacation is the way to go.... So.. we are eating our words! After checking out some of the resorts in the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica we finally decided on the RIU Guanacaste. Now, according to the folks on TripAdvisor this resort has a sketchy past in regard to it's treatment of the environment and although I respect their concerns we decided to stay there because the reviews from travelers were mostly favorable and they had the best price.
Chizu and Pat at the border

A few days after we booked our 3 nights at the resort we found out that our good friend Chizu was going to be visiting us and wanted to come to Costa Rica with us. We couldn't be happier to share this experience with her. We did have to change our plans to a certain degree. In order to meet her at the airport we needed to arrive in Managua the night before she was due to arrive. We opted to stay at the Best Western Las Mercedes across from the airport.  Although they aren't what you would call "budget accommodations" we enjoyed the opportunity to just relax and not worry about anything.

Chizu's flight was at noon and after grabbing a quick bite to eat we headed to Casa Silas in Granada for the night in preparation for an early departure the next morning. We again traveled to Costa Rica on TicaBus but this time we left from the Granada terminal. The trip across the border was uneventful and we arrived in Liberia about 11:30 a.m. We had scheduled a transfer to the RIU Guanacaste with Maleku Tours since there is no bus service that would take us past the resort.

front lobby heading towards the pool - RIU Guanacaste
We arrived early at the RIU Guanacaste - long before the official check-in time - although our room wasn't ready they gave us our bracelets and told us to go and enjoy lunch and return later to check into our rooms. We were starving by this time, so we literally raced down to the buffet lunch and dug right in! We were almost overwhelmed by the selection - remember we have been in Nicaragua for a year - there was so much to choose from. Check-in was a breeze and we were happy to find that we had adjoining rooms. The rooms were nice but not extra special. We had a view of the ocean from our little balcony but didn't spend any time out there. The grounds are well kept and we enjoyed walking around them. We saw quite a few iguanas sunning themselves on the pathways.

buffet decoration - RIU Guanacaste
We found that the food was good whether you ate at the buffet or at one of the specialty restaurants. The only restaurant that we didn't have a good experience with was La Toscana - the Italian one. While the food was good, we found the service was terrible. The table that we were seated at was totally blocked from the view of the waitstaff. Others that came in after us were served before us and we had to ask for everything - bread basket, wine glasses refilled, dishes cleared etc. The night that we were at this restaurant we were asked to fill out a survey - and you can bet we did!

On our last night at the resort we enjoyed the Grill and Steakhouse - you have to make a reservation to eat here. The food was excellent and the portions were huge. We also loved the location because it is the closest restaurant to the beach and so there was a beautiful sunset while we enjoyed dinner.

pathway leading to the pool - RIU Guanacaste
So, besides eating what else did we do at the RIU? Well, the pool was a huge draw - and not just because there was a swim-up bar! Although the resort has a nice beach area we found that there was a big undertow and Pat (who can't really swim) didn't feel safe - so we spent most of our time in the pool.

The animation team put on Water Aerobics everyday which Chizu and Pat eagerly joined. There was also a nature walk that took us along the beach and the guide pointed out different plants and animals. The highlight of the walk was seeing a large troupe of Howler monkeys with a number of babies - they were a lot of fun to watch. I would recommend joining this free tour if you ever stay at the RIU Guanacaste. There was also nightly entertainment - a Michael Jackson show, karaoke and another show that I can't remember the name of. The shows were both ok - fun to watch but they won't win any awards with them.

So... all in all, I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed our 3 night vacation at the resort. In fact, we were talking about meeting Chizu there again next year! We found that we definitely got our moneys worth going the all-inclusive route and we came away relaxed and happy with the overall experience.

Pat, Debbie and Chizu enjoying a cold one in the pool - RIU Guanacaste

pool aerobics - RIU Guanacaste

view from the Steak House - RIU Guanacaste

fabulous steak dinner - RIU Guanacaste