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“Great vacation but not 5 stars” 4 of 5 stars
Review of Hotel Riu Guanacaste

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Hotel Riu Guanacaste
4.0 of 5 Resort (All-Inclusive)   |   | Playa Matapalo, Sardinal, Costa Rica   |  
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Ranked #2 of 3 Hotels in Sardinal
New Jersey
Top Contributor
51 reviews 51 reviews
23 hotel reviews
Reviews in 23 cities Reviews in 23 cities
36 helpful votes 36 helpful votes
“Great vacation but not 5 stars”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 15, 2010

Spent a week in costa rica. We had stayed at the RIU Aruba so we had that as our expectation. RIU guanacaste was not as good as Aruba. The location of the hotel was in a great location remote but a20 minute car ride to resort towns nearby. The road in to the hotel was really rough but you are in Costa Rica it should be expected. It's part of the experience. The resort is only a year old so it is in good shape. The open air lobby and common areas are pretty unique and interesting. We really liked the facilities and beach. The sand is brown but again it's Costa Rica. It's volcanic. Bugs were not a problem for us. At sunset the bugs came out at the beach but we were ready to go by then. Never saw bugs inside the hotel or room. Don't know how they do that.
We did a lot of SCUBA diving with Rich Coast Diving of Coco Playa who picked us up from our beach. Lots of great diving here. Bat Island was incredible. Bull sharks and big manta rays. Very cool. Local dives and Cat Island also good.
Food at the resort is the biggest reason why this isn't 5 stars. Food quality was not great. Good in most cases but not great. Main buffet menu was really almost the same everyday. The specialty restaurants (Asian and italian) were good but you can only make a reservation every other day. Didn't eat at the steakhouse based on reviews and the quality of the beef at the buffet. Tough and stringy. The biggest compliant though was no room service or early breakfast. We had an early excursion almost every morning and your options before 7 am was nothing or a really bad cup of coffee and cheese sandwich at the sports bar. To be fair one morning they had some stale muffins. In Aruba you could get a continental breakfast brought to your room early. I did figure out though that from 6:30 am on you could some stuff at the main buffet. Just walk in and get what you want. No one helped you but were ok with people just walking in.
Drinks were fine and if you had a drink request the bartenders were happy to try to make it. Name brand liquor was virtually inn existent. Beer was the local Imperial brand and the wine was never named red or white from a big cask that's it. Really not good. If you want decent wine stop at one of the markets on the way in to the resort. You have to go to bar from beach or pool to get a drink but as soon as it's empty someone picks up the glass. Only one server ( Guillermo) ever brought a new drink when he picked up the empty. Why? The staff in general were indifferent and like robots. Never went out of their way to see if a guest needed anything or was happy. They just did their job. Aruba had much better staff.
The other thing that keeps the fifth star away is the fact that there is no valet to park your car. There is only a small lot and the rest of the time you have to park on the road into the hotel.
Lastly, the only free wifi service is in the lobby. Cell phone service was non existent. So the lobby was full of guests sitting on their computers sending emails. Kind of silly really. Not the look you expect in a 5 star resort.

We thought the resort was really nice overall and the price was a good value. Don't expect 5 star experience though but the price wasn't 5 star either.

  • Stayed July 2010, traveled with family
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 4 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
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Gainesville, FL
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
3 hotel reviews
Reviews in 6 cities Reviews in 6 cities
8 helpful votes 8 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed August 15, 2010

The Riu Guancaste is fairly accurately represented here but I thought I'd add my 2 cents.

This was our first time at an all-inclusive and we'd been wanting to try one for a while so we decided to give the RIU a try. We were in Costa Rica for a total of nine days and had a car and we stayed at the RIU for 3 nights. That was enough for me. Some people I talked with were staying for a week or longer at the RIU and I wouldn't recommend that. Way too much to do in Costa Rica to be at a resort the whole time. We enjoyed the local places we stayed better.

First off, yes it is in the middle of nowhere and there's a pretty bad road that leads back to it. People on here say it takes 30 mins on the road but I think it was less (maybe cause I was driving fast:) Also, about half way down the road it is paved so it's not horrible the entire way. This is Costa Rica though! We traveled around the country and ALOT of the roads we were on were in this condition or worse.

We got there around 6pm and check in was pretty easy. I asked about getting an upgrade to an Ocean front room and the guy was pretty weird about it and said he would check. He didn't check. So I asked again and he continued his weirdness and then didn't check. I walked away for a second and told my wife to ask again and she told him this was our honeymoon and he said he could give us the upgrade if we had our marriage certificate. Sorry, but we usually don't travel with that. Who does? But, no big deal.

The facilities are beautiful. The lobby area is huge and a very cool indoor/outdoor space which is pretty common in Costa Rica. Staff is always cleaning.

We went to the Philadelphia Bar and the bartenders are all pretty good and speak decent enough English. We liked Christian and I went back to see him often on our stay. Even though you don't have to, and most people don't, I tipped him at least once a day thoughout our trip. He remebered us and always took care of us at the bar. I don't think staff is paid much and they do seem to appreciate it.

The Michael Jackson show was really, really good. We missed the first couple minutes, but really loved what we saw. The MJ impersonator could definately work in Vegas. The other shows were pretty lame. After the shows, they introduce all the Entertainment staff and it gets old real quick. I guess they try but it's pretty hokey and annoying.

The buffet is decent. Kinda like cruise ship buffets, maybe a little better, and they have self serve Imperial beer on tap which is pretty cool. There's alot of variety on the buffet, but little variety from day to day.

The first day we got here late so we couldn't make any reservations for the "Specialty" restaurants. This is the lamest thing ever and really stupid. Instead of making reservations when you check-in (that would be way too easy and make too much sense), you have to go stand in line at the Reservation desk. I got lucky and there was only one person in front of me but for most of the trip I saw a line there. She didn't want to give me 2 reservations but I told here I didn't get one the first night and was only there for 3 so I wanted 2 in a row and wanted to make them now. She gave me the 2 reservations.

The steak house was pretty good but again, they seem to always find a way to put a damper on things. They bring out a Caesar salad (pretty good) but they bring out one that is barely enough for one person for both of us. The same with the soup. It was pretty good, but literally put so little in your bowl it's a joke. I asked for another bowl and he brought it. The steak? Was the thinest Rib Eye I've ever seen and not that great.

Next night, we did the Asian restaurant. It was a buffet, but we actually enjoyed it. Probably the best meal we had while there. Sushi, Tuna, Duck and other stuff you'd find at a China buffet. But I must digress. We forgot our resevation slip and our room number wasn't on the list. My wife speaks Spanish and was talking with them. They kept looking on their list for our number and it wasn't there. Finally I asked, "Are you going to seat us or not?" and had to go back to the room to get the slip. Kinda a pain because this place is so big a took me about 10 minutes. She was seated when I got back with the slip.

The reservation system is ridiculous. They should just let people eat wherever they want and if there's no seats they can wait or go to the buffet!

The beach was OK. We used the kayaks one day and had a blast paddling over to a little private beach. Wanted to wind surf but they had no instructor and it had been a while since I'd done it and needed a quick lesson. They said they didn't know when they would have one.

Pool was great. We were always able to find chairs but sometimes it took a little looking before we found a place. The swim up bar was pretty cool too.

Now I've come to realization that the most precious resource in Costa Rica is.......Pool towels! They give you a "towel card" so you can get your one towel. You can exchange it for a fresh one or for your card back. Another place we stayed did the whole "towel card" thing too. I just don't get it. I always grabbed extra towels from the maid cart for the room so we'd have extras.

The drinks are OK. Some our definately better than others plus it depends on which bartender is making it. We really liked the Guaro Sours and Dirty Monkeys made by Christian. Some Mojitos were decent, others, just plain nasty. The liquor is cheap so I mainly drank Imperial beer. David at the pool bar makes good drinks too.

There's a mini bar in the room that is stocked pretty good with 3 beers, 2 big waters, 2 cokes and a variety of other drinks. They refill it every 2 days. Why not everyday? Another annoying RIU practice. There's also 4 liquor bottles in the room, that we didn't use, but kinda cool.

There a snack station in the Sports bar that open 24/7. Not great, but nice if you're munchy once everything else is closed.

The manager seemed to be around the resort and very active. He was always talking to the staff and making sure things were going smoothly. Also, I overheard the mangaer talking with a man whose Nikon camera never made it up to his room from the bell boys cart. I felt sorry for him, but come on, use common sense. Don't leave your bags in the lobby. Insist that they bring them up with you or carry them yourself. We always locked our bags before leaving the room and had no problems.

I've read some other reviews on here that I think our overly harsh and others that are too "praising." I try to let people know all the negatives as I saw them but still had a good time. Some reviews talk about no staff speaking English, I found that to be untrue. I had no problem communicating. The RIU is fun, but you have to remeber, this isn't the US, so don't expect everything to be up to US standards.

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 3 of 5 stars Location
    • 3 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 4 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
13 reviews 13 reviews
6 hotel reviews
Reviews in 7 cities Reviews in 7 cities
32 helpful votes 32 helpful votes
4 of 5 stars Reviewed August 15, 2010

Not 5* but perfectly ok. Stayed for 13 nights.
Booked through Hayes & Jarvis who failed to provided transfers and when we arrived at the Riu had no reservation - not a good start.
A very long way from the UK as a non-direct flight, for that reason would not return.
We found all staff friendly and polite, infact we had no issues.
Managed to book the restaurants when we wanted good time was between 12-2 after we had lunch, the Steakhouse was good but the Italian was not worth a repeat visit.
The main buffet always had plenty even for a fussy eater like me, breakfast had the best range including the most fab looking smoothies, lunch was the same most days, dinner had nights which were great, most were ok - I was never hungry. Our room optics and fridge were topped up every day.
Got good loungers under shade most days, enjoyed the loungers in the misting area and the pool was the same depth throughout which meant you could walk from the pool bar back with drinks with ease, & most days the mobile bar passed round the pool.
Bars did have the named brands, Smirnoff, Jim Beam etc but not always on display & Roque in the sportsbar did the best 'specials' which were very strong -this was the best place to chill out as it had multi screens, air con & open 24hrs. Entertainment during the day was plentiful but you were left alone if volleyball etc is not your thing. The sound system for the evening entertainment was not great and found that I had to move away into the Sportsbar some evenings as the noise was awful.
The hotel did water & bus taxis to nearby Coco beach which had souvenir shops, ATM's, Supermarkets and the Lounge Lizard did a good range of beer, from the beach we met Nery Ortiz who owned a small sports fishing boat and arranged 6hrs for $300 with pick up from Riu beach. Coco is a bit of a dump with dead fish/birds on the beach but was a few hours away from the hotel. Other trips were booked as private tours with costaricaforeveryone and we had Roy who loved his Country and enjoyed sharing his knowledge, each trip could be customised and we stopped of at banks & supermarkets .
We saw some great animals but thought we would see more wildlife and failed to spot the bright green and red frogs as shown on all the guidbooks!
Summary : hot, relaxing,casual, nice design, plenty to eat and drink - just a bit out of the way

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 2 of 5 stars Location
    • 4 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 4 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Mitchell, South Dakota
Senior Reviewer
8 reviews 8 reviews
4 hotel reviews
Reviews in 6 cities Reviews in 6 cities
2 helpful votes 2 helpful votes
5 of 5 stars Reviewed August 14, 2010

Riu Guanacaste was a beautiful resort in a secluded location. Great honeymoon destination. Service and staff were amazing! Food taste needed a little improvement but there was a large selection to choose from. Kayaking, pattle-boats were some positives that were included! Down falls for people who like being immersed in the culture had to get a taxi and travel into the town. Some trip packages scuba diving, ATV, zip lines were over priced but enjoyable. The gym and fitness center needed more equipment. Free WiFi in the lobby.

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • 5 of 5 stars Value
    • 3 of 5 stars Location
    • 4 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 5 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
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Equinunk, Pennsylvania
13 reviews 13 reviews
3 hotel reviews
Reviews in 5 cities Reviews in 5 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
2 of 5 stars Reviewed August 14, 2010

We were very unhappy with our stay at the Riu.
Check in was an hour long because our reservation was mishandled. When we finally arrived at our room it smelled awful and we requested a new room. We were traveling with family and wanted to stay fairly close together so this posed a bit of a problem. They did give us a new room after they sent someone in to attempt to clean the smell away. Our second room was the same with the sewer smell quite strong. After another complaint and a trip down to the front desk to speak to the manager about this issue, we were moved once again....this time to another floor...with a nicer view (which was nice but as you read on you will see was not a great choice either)
This room thankfully did not smell....at first. The noise coming from the open-air lounge on the first floor kept us awake every night. Hooting and hollering and singing etc. could be heard through the closed doors up on the 5th floor! In the middle of the night the smell returned after one flush of the toilet. Our family occupied 3 rooms and 2 of them smelled like sewage at least 50% of the time. Gross to say the least. One woman that my husband met in the elevator had switched her room 3 times for the same reason! They obviously have a sewage treatment issue.
Bottom line....at a 5 star resort your room should not smell like poop!!
The hotel is very clean, but the foul smell even in the public restrooms poolside is a big turnoff. For a new hotel we were surprised that they were repainting many outside areas due to what looked like a mold issue. There are very few air-conditioned public areas, so if you do not like the hot and humid Costa Rican air you will not be happy there.
The food was just Ok. Breakfast was plentiful, and fresh. Lunch was mediocre at best.
Dinner in the Asian theme restaurant was quite good and we ended up eating there twice since we were not thrilled with the other options. The italian restaurant was OK for the appetizers ,but the main dishes were not so good. The steakhouse option was not really worth the walk. It is in the outdoor dining hall down by the pool and was quite hot and uncomfortable, and the food was just eh.
The hotel grounds are lovely. The beach is OK but not great. We went horsebackriding which was really nice, and snorkeling which was nice also. We did not take any of the adventure type trips because we had just come from the Arenal Volcano area and had done all that stuff already.
If we had to do it all over again we would absolutely choose another resort for the beach portion of our vacation because this simply was not all it was promised to be.

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled with family
    • 1 of 5 stars Value
    • 3 of 5 stars Location
    • 1 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 3 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Senior Contributor
24 reviews 24 reviews
13 hotel reviews
Reviews in 17 cities Reviews in 17 cities
34 helpful votes 34 helpful votes
3 of 5 stars Reviewed August 13, 2010

Just got back from 10 awesome days in Costa Rica. Loved it!
The first 5 days my husband and I stayed at The RIU. I was a little nervous about this after all the negative reviews, but we got a killer deal we couldn't pass up.
Arrived at LIR and had a transfer from Swiss Travel set up as the RIU does not have transportation. Private transfer was $60 for one way for the two of us. Bumpy ride, but not terrible like some of the reviews suggested. We had much much worse to Monteverede and Arenal. 45 mins and we were there! Beautiful at first glance! The bad news was we arrived at the same time as a huge tour bus! We walked up to the front desk to check in and they asked us to go to a different line. This was pretty strange, they had multiple tables set up throughout the lobby for check in. Got our wristbands, but room would not be ready for a while (we got there early) so we went to eat at The Liberia Restaurant. Food was exactly what I expected, just like a cruise ship buffet.
Went down to make reservations with the restaurant people. This does seem a little ridiculous that we can't make a phone call or sign up on line for this. To my suprise, we were only allowed to eat in one of the three restaurants every other night. So we were booked for 5 nights here and we could only make 3 reservations. This was the first I had heard of this, but hey, no worries! It's vacation afterall!
Checked in to our room right at check in time. Room was beautiful! Very clean and a fully stocked fridge. Changed into our suits and went to the pool. This pool is awesome! No trouble finding chairs at all.
Had dinner at Asian Restaurant. This is basically another buffet. All the food is already prepared and out for you to eat. Drink service was great.
They had some singers out on stage that were good. They have about 60% of everything in spanish and the rest is in english.
Here are the things that I would want to know if I were going to The RIU, both good and bad:
No issues with theft for us. We locked our suitcases when we left the room. When you check in they make you sign a waiver that they are NOT responsible for theft from your safe...Interesting!
The grounds are kept very clean! There were some reviews I had read about bugs in the hallway. This is unavoidable since the hotel is all open to the outside. You will find frogs and crabs when you head back to room at night, kind of fun!
The restrooms you find in the common areas are also very clean. They are individual and very private.
We had no issues getting chairs at the pool. The towel place will not give you clean towels after 5pm. So, if you are headed on a tour make sure to get them changed out before then.
When you walk out to the beach this is where the tour operators meet you. They are not shy and will find you without issue. But, if you can't find them they congregate at the big tree just to the right as you walk onto beach. We talked with a few. The one we used exclusively was Erick. We went ziplining, ATV'ing, horseback riding, mud baths and he took us to Tarmirindo for surf lessons! Great guy and very nice.
If you want your fridge restocked, leave the maids a tip and a note. We left them a tip everyday and we never had any issues with our room.
If you are expecting great food then this is not the place for you! Italian was the best out of the three. The buffets are good, but nothing exciting.
The entertainment is okay as well. I think it is nice that they try to offer something for the guests to do in the evening. But, they played musical chairs EVERY NIGHT! This drove me crazy!
The scuba staff were the only rude people we encountered. We walked over to go on the paddleboat and they were not very nice. They sent us down to the beach, where the rest of the staff was playing soccer and a few were using the paddleboat as the bleachers. We handed them our ticket for the paddleboat and they said it was broken. We told them we just saw it being used and they said we couldnt use it. So we opted for the kayaks instead. About 15 mins into our ride we saw that another couple had taken out the "broken" paddleboat. Pretty good timing since their soccer game was over!
The beds are very firm for sure.
We would recommend this hotel if you get a killer deal. But, make sure to get out and see the rest of Costa Rica!

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 1 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 4 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 5 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
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Toronto ON
11 reviews 11 reviews
11 hotel reviews
Reviews in 10 cities Reviews in 10 cities
16 helpful votes 16 helpful votes
2 of 5 stars Reviewed August 10, 2010

We stayed at the Riu for one week in the beginning of August. I must agree with some of the other reviews, it is not worth your time and money! I read some people complain about bad roads and volcanic sand at the beach as well as mosquitoes, this is unheard of for me! Bad road leading to the hotel, not a big deal! Most roads in CR are unpaved, if you plan on driving, get used to the Costa Rican massage! Volcanic sand, you are going to Costa Rica!!! This is what it's like there (not the hotel's fault)! If you want white sand and turquoise water, go to Cuba! The mosquitoes, it is open concept. Bring bug off and you will be perfectly fine! The food was edible, same thing every day! Very little selection and of the 2 a la carte restos we went to (Steakhouse & Italian), I recommend not to waste your time on the Stakehouse, it is horrible! We left and went to the buffet. The Italian, I ordered the chicken which was supposed to be stuffed with peppers. When I got the chicken, it was stuffed with bacon instead! I do not eat red meat so it was a problem for me (the entire chicken tasted like bacon). When I told the waiter about it, he said they were well aware and the cook chose to do nothing about it! I think the waiter should have at least warned me that I am not getting what I am ordering. I spoke to the manager of the hotel about it who ran to the resto to get this fixed, made another reservation for us at the Italian and apologized. When we went the next day, the chicken was with peppers and tasted great! I think it was the best meal I had in CR. So the manager was definitely willing to resolve the matter and listen which I thought was great! Now booking restos, another problem! You can only book one night in advance and you cannot go 2 nights in a row! They say it's 1 night buffet, 1 resto! First of all I think it is rediculous that you have to stand in this long line 3 times to get a reservation to all restos, I do not see why you cannot just book them all at once for the whole week! As well, we were driving for 3 days so we could not get a reservation to all restos. The alchohol is horrible, cheap stuff! The entrertainment is mediocre. The rooms do smell like mold. I had some clothes that I did not wear but I still had to wash them all cause they smelled so bad! Many people complain about hard beds, we had no problems with them at all. They bring beer to your fridge in the room, one day I saw the refill guy outside another room and I asked him to refill our fridge as well (he replied certainly, one moment). When we came back later on, nothing was refilled. Called reception and they said nothing they can do until tomorrow as the refill guys have left for the day! Check in was quick and they give you stickers to place on your luggage so it can be brought up to your room. One hour later we still did not have our luggage and had to go down to the lobby to get it, it was still sitting there! On the other hand, we had no problem with theft and felt very safe all the time. On the other hand, the casino will try to cheat you out of your balance on the card they give. When we took the card out of one machine, the balance was $14.77, when put it back into another machine, the balance had dropped down to $14.17. The amount is not significant but it is the principle! When we told the staff about it, they put the balance back and offered us free drinks! I guess that's how they fix the problem for the people who notice.

To think back, if I go to CR again, I will not stay at an all inclusive at all. The best way to explore the country is by driving from place to place. We spent 2 full days at the Riu (out of the 7 we had paid for) and were bored out of our minds! We did stay at Baldi hot springs by the Arenal volcano for one night, it was great and well worth the $! We felt very safe while driving in the country and did not have any problems at all! Try not to drive on the unpaved roads at night, there is no lighting and can be dangerous.

The hotel has car rental in the lobby which is very convenient! But do not book any tours in the hotel! They are very over priced. There are guys on the beach from Tico adventures that have great tours. We arranged one with Allan. We paid $150 for the 2 of us, half day, private guided tour which included ATV, zip linining and we went to a near by beach Zapatol. We saw some wildlife on the way and had tons of fun! It was a great trip and well worth the $! Our guides were very attentive and we felt perfectly safe! All though they did speak very little English.

To sum up our whole experience, Costa Rica is an amazing country with beautiful nature and wilderness and has much to offer! Do go to Costa Rica but do not stay at the Riu!

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Location
    • 2 of 5 stars Sleep Quality
    • 1 of 5 stars Rooms
    • 4 of 5 stars Cleanliness
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Additional Information about Hotel Riu Guanacaste

Address: | Playa Matapalo, Sardinal, Costa Rica
Location: Costa Rica > Province of Guanacaste > Gulf of Papagayo > Sardinal
Bar / Lounge Beach Business Center with Internet Access Casino and Gambling Fitness Center with Gym / Workout Room Free Breakfast Free Parking Children Activities ( Kid / Family Friendly ) Restaurant Room Service Spa Suites Swimming Pool Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #2 of 3 Hotels in Sardinal
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $$$
Hotel Class:4 star — Hotel Riu Guanacaste 4*
Number of rooms: 701
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
Opening winter 2009/10. Situated in northern Costa Rica, in Guanacaste. Located on Playa de Matapalo beach. Complimentary sun loungers on the beach. 6-storey main building. Surrounded by 35,000 m2 / 41,86 sq. yards of lush gardens. Closest village: Nuevo Colon. 13 km / 8.1 miles from various shops. 33 km / 20.5 miles from Liberia airport. Credit cards accepted: MasterCard, Amex, Visa ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Hotel Riu Guanacaste Costa Rica

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