Costa Rica: Where we stayed

During our trip to Costa Rica we stayed at two separate hotels. The main reason for this was that I booked the main hotel long before we had plane tickets. Once we reviewed our air travel options, it made sense to fly to Liberia one day earlier. By this time, the hotel was fully booked for that extra night. It turned out fine and perhaps led to some fun discoveries. 

We arrived in Liberia on a Friday afternoon, very tired from a 3 a.m. wake up call and long travel day. Our rental car pick up was not very smooth (more on that in another post), which delayed our arrival at the hotel by an hour or more. We chose the Hilton Garden Inn based on price and proximity to the airport. We liked that the hotel had a pool, which we sadly never used. 

The Hilton Garden Inn is what you would expect from the chain. The room and hotel were not fancy, but the hotel was brand new. Everything was in working order and it was the perfect place to stay for a night. I’d recommend it for anyone with an early flight or late arrival, especially because it is so close to the airport (there may be a free shuttle as well). Avis is an offsite car rental option that is within walking distance to the Hilton Garden Inn, so I would consider using that company for future car rentals as well for a convenient pick up and drop off location.

From the Hilton Garden Inn we explored Liberia city. The front desk staff had plenty of recommendations for us–anything from Tico food to a steakhouse. We tried two of their suggestions and were very happy. The downtown area of Liberia is about a 15 minute drive from the hotel. Once we checked out, we began a leisurely drive to El Mangroove, on the Gulf of Papagayo about 40 minutes away.

We stayed five nights at El Mangroove, for which we redeemed Marriott Bonvoy points. My Marriott gold status also got us a few perks like a free room service breakfast one morning. Our room at El Mangroove was a suite, with a sliding glass door between a screened in sitting area and the air conditioned bedroom/bathroom area. It was compact but well designed and felt roomy for three of us. The sitting area quickly became one of our favorite spaces.

We nicknamed the sitting area the “lizard lounge” thanks to the iguanas who lived in the giant tree just outside. The sound of their claws in the bark as they scrambled from branch to branch alerted us of any action. Our lizard lounge was also home to one or more tiny geckos, whose company we welcomed every evening as they helped keep mosquitoes away. I spent much of the early morning hours doing some work in the lizard lounge. Thanks to a ceiling fan, the temperatures were always comfortable. 

Our second favorite area of the hotel was the pool. I have to admit that the pool area is what sold me on this resort in the first place. It did not disappoint. We usually spent a couple of hours in the late morning and then again in the late afternoon soaking in the pool. El Mangroove is a fairly small hotel, so even though it was fully booked, nothing felt crowded. The staff to guest ratio was also good; we rarely had to wait for service. Often the prime pool chairs were taken by the time we arrived at the pool. But there was always a chair nearby to drop our things. We found that we preferred to be in the water anyway. 

El Mangroove is on a black sand beach. One of the highlights was watching the pelicans dive into the ocean from the pool. The hotel is beachfront and we took a few walks on the beach, but mostly we enjoyed the view. The beach has lots of mangrove trees, which make it difficult to walk far in either direction. A car is very nice to have at El Mangroove as it allows convenient exploration of area restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, the food at El Mangroove was okay. It was not great and it was very expensive by local standards. The hotel offers an all inclusive package that you can buy 24 hours at a time (i.e. you don’t need to participate for the entire stay). In retrospect, we might have been better off doing that for a day or two considering the handful of times we ate on the property. The rooms do offer a nice sized mini bar fridge that we used to store our own grocery store beer and sometimes cut fresh fruit that we’d purchased from a local market. The room’s amenities also included a Nespresso coffee machine and generously kept us stocked on capsules from the local roaster, Britt. I fell in love with Costa Rican coffee and we even brought some home as the most delicious souvenir. 

The hotel has a very nice fitness room. I did all of my runs that week from the comfort of the air conditioned fitness center. The roads do not offer a generous shoulder and are curvy and hilly. Drivers drive pretty fast and although I did see runners and cyclists from time to time, I didn’t feel comfortable. It was also very hot by 8 a.m. and I usually used the early morning hours to work. The fitness room offered jungle views through floor to ceiling glass. The fitness room also featured cold towels, fresh apples and infused water (the flavor changed daily).

El Mangroove is convenient to some lively beach towns to the south. We didn’t try out any of the nightlife, but did go into town for a couple of meals and a grocery store run. These areas were about a 10 minute drive away. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the cat family that lived on the property. A mama and her two kittens entertained these cat loving travelers endlessly. It looked like several other guests were also entertained. The wildlife–from the birds to the cats to the howler monkeys–was certainly a highlight of our Costa Rica vacation. While driving us to a far end of the property in a golf cart, one of the valets pointed out the howler monkey family sleeping in a large tree. Even the staff clearly appreciate the animals that call the resort home. 

Overall, I found the hospitality at El Mangroove to be top notch. It felt very luxurious but also laid back. I would be happy to spend more time there in the future. I have lots more to say about Costa Rica, including the food! 


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