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Dec 14 / Jane

Costa Rica

This year, Alex and I spent the first week of December with six friends at an all-inclusive resort in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We flew from Newark to Liberia Airport early Saturday morning, arriving at the Riu Guanacaste Resort just in time for check-in. The first days we spent exploring the hotel and beach, lounging and relaxing; eating, drinking and reading on the beach.

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The beach!

On Monday, the other three couples went on an adventure excursion, horseback riding, zip lining, river tubing, etc. Alex and I opted out; I’m not a fan of zip lining and Alex isn’t into horseback riding. The next day, all eight of us went on a different excursion, on a National Park River Boat Tour. After a bumpy van ride, we arrived at the river. There we saw crocodiles, different species of monkey, bats, and lots of iguanas and birds. After the tour, we saw a local pottery demonstration and enjoyed an authentic Costa Rican lunch. It was only a half-day tour, so we arrived back in time to enjoy an afternoon at the pool bar. Unfortunately the authentic lunch did not sit well with me and I ended up with a rough next 24 hours suffering from some serious food poisoning.

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The River Boat Tour

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Dan getting lots of great photos!

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Alex and I on the boat

I ventured out next on Wednesday at dinner. We made a habit of meeting in the lobby bar, the Filadelfia, around 7-8pm and picking a dinner spot from there. The hotel had a buffet open each meal and three speciality restaurants. The steak house was the only one you could reserve ahead of time. Unfortunately, you needed to do so a day ahead of time in a particular location, between a certain hour in the morning. Their menu also did not offer anything other than steak, which would have been difficult for myself and the other vegetarian in the group. So, we never ate there. The other restaurants were first come first serve. We’d go to the hostess and put our name on the list and they’d give us a cell phone that would ring when our table was available. One night we ate at “gourmet,” which was a little of everything, but everything was too salty. Another night, we tried the Asian Buffet. They had sushi and it was pretty yummy. The last place we visited twice, the Italian place. Appetizers and desserts were buffet style, but the meal was plated. The regular buffet had the most variety, but everything was hit or miss. Most meals I could find something I liked, sometimes lunch was rough though. And after my bout with food poisoning, I was very wary of what I ate. Overall, I’d say the food was okay, not good, but okay.

Inside the hotel lobby

Inside the hotel lobby

On Thursday, we did our last group excursion in the afternoon, a sunset catamaran booze cruise with snorkeling, my favorite! The boat ride was beautiful. We anchored in a cove where we set out with snorkeling gear. The sand in Costa Rica is dark, due to volcanic activity, so it was tough seeing the bottom at times. The fish we did see were neat and a crew member came out with us and pulled out a puffer fish, puffed up! And then a sea urchin, that was really cool. Dan had a waterproof camera he was able to get some pictures, but I haven’t seen them yet. Back on the boat, we had a snack of chips, salsa, guacamole, fruit and BBQ chicken, oh, and cookies. The sun set on our way back to Coco Beach setting a picture perfect scene. What a great trip!

The last two full days we spent at the resort, lounging or reading on the beach and drinking at the pool. On Friday, Matt, Claire, Alex and I walked the beach around a rocky point to a beautiful white sand beach of coral and tons of hermit crabs. Saturday, the eight of us walked down the beach to the Monkey Bar, a local establishment just off the beach that served drinks and food and a perfect location for spotting howler monkeys.

Coral beach, our hotel is in the background, about 1mi away.

Coral beach, our hotel is in the background, about 1mi away.

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Shadow in the pretty sand

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Group picture at the Monkey Bar

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The Monkey Bar

Sunday morning, I went out to the beach for my last run, toes in the sand. I had all intentions of completing a running streak, 1 mile a day from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, however getting sick made that impossible. I missed two days on vacation, then fell off the mile-a-day streak even further back in cold, snowy New Jersey. Regardless, my last morning on the beach was beautiful. We met up with everyone at breakfast, then headed to our room to finish packing. By early afternoon, we were up in the air, from 90 degrees and sunny in Guanacaste to 30 degrees and snowing in Newark. Brr!

The path to the beach

The path to the beach

Ready for my last beach run

Ready for my last beach run

So, Costa Rica is a beautiful place. The beach and grounds and National Park, Coco Beach, everything, was just amazing: scenic and interesting and different. The people were friendly, the hotel staff were great, the tour guides were great. The hotel itself was okay, it was up kept nicely, everything was clean… But it wasn’t 5-stars, like advertised.

They didn’t book our rooms together, so on the second day, Alex and myself and Flo and Dan moved rooms to be in the same wing as Matt and Claire and Issy and Dan. We chose an interior room since they were “upgraded,” but that was a mistake. We had a view of the courtyard, beyond the roof, and an extra bed in our rooms (I suppose that was the upgrade?). It was comfortable, but loud. The nightly entertainment was an outdoor theatre into the courtyard. So, there was no way to go to bed before 11pm, which was only really an issue one or two nights, but still, Matt and Claire and Issy and Dan were smart to keep their jungle-facing rooms. The entertainment was also okay, they had a show at 9pm every night that was generally well done, if not a little strange (their Vegas show was a Broadway knock-off). Before and after they had some singers and sometimes dance lessons in front of the stage. It was all just okay and it was the only thing happening between 8pm and 11pm. At 11pm the disco opened, but it was separate from the hotel so the drinks were not included (same with the casino). Alex and I only went to both the last evening just to see them, and they were nothing special, so we didn’t miss out on anything not going before. The best part really was the beach, it was just awesome. Darker sand, but not crowded. Every day, we had no problem finding a beach chair or a spot in the sun or the shade. That was just perfect.

After dinner drinks one evening

After dinner drinks one evening

I’m still missing my early morning beach runs. And sitting outside in the warm breeze for all meals, whether the food was good or not. The ambiance was great, the service was good and it was fun with friends. I’m not sure I’d go back to this particular place, I’m more of the been-there-done-that mind frame.  But it was worth it and there’s still tons more to see, so maybe rainforest-stay next time?

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