RIU Guanacaste

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There are very few locations that can give Central America’s Pacific Coast a run for its money in both natural beauty and majesty. This is a place where even the air often seems to carry with it the freshness of a mostly unspoiled spot where an endless sea laps improbably against the sands of primeval jungles.

From Mexico’s brilliant beaches to the rugged Panamanian Isthmus, Central America’s Pacific is an awesome stretch that exerts a pull on visitors from every part of the world. And Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province—a marvelous expanse abutting the Nicaraguan border and one of Central America’s most exquisite destinations—ranks among the most stunning.

Recently this area of white beaches, blue waters and green landscapes was enhanced by the addition of what may be the best resort in the country: the RIU Guanacaste, a brand-new, neo-classical tourist paradise that manages to blend European elegance with Latin America zest within 939 beachfront acres. And it does so with style.

This is the perfect destination to send those travelers who like to be the first to experience a new complex where regal care is routine, or who like to boast that they are among the first to have stayed in a luxury room or suite before it became popular, as RIU Guanacaste seems destined to become.

The palatial development is the first venture in Costa Rica by RIU International, the acclaimed Spanish family-owned hospitality chain that first appeared on the hotel-resort stage in 1953 when it opened a rather modest hotel in Majorca.

The impeccable service and attention to detail doled out on a regular basis there spread through Europe mostly through word-of-mouth. Additional properties inevitably followed, and the brand hasn’t looked back since.

Originally, RIU hotels typically were found mostly along the coasts of Spain, North Africa, Portugal and the European Mediterranean. The Caribbean was added later. Now, with the opening of this sparkling resort in one of Central America’s most beautiful corners, RIU Guanacaste shows promise of becoming a formidable presence in the area.

Sure, Guanacaste isn’t lacking in great resorts, but none has the distinctive RIU stamp that makes it stand head-and-shoulders above the rest.

Setting foot in the sparkling Guanacaste complex drives home the point of why the chain—famed for its majestic, all-inclusive resorts now numbering more than 100 in 16 countries—constantly receives accolades from the 2.7 million travelers who registered in RIU hotels last year and who just as constantly give it high marks for one of the best hotel brands in the world.

RIU Guanacaste exudes style. It’s a massive pleasure dome sitting on more than 800 acres on Matapalo Beach, one of Guanacaste’s most picturesque regions. The majority of its 701 rooms have spectacular sea views, four restaurants ladle out dishes that rival the output of the best restaurants in the country, five conference halls make the place ideal for business gatherings, and the 24-hour, all-inclusive service has the distinctive stamp of RIU properties everywhere.

At times it seems that the resort has been designed with fine food in mind. Liberia, its main restaurant, is a sumptuous buffet of international dishes serving themed dinners three times a week; Asian, Italian and local delicacies are featured in the three other elegant restaurants on the premises.

Evenings here belong to active night owls, with nightclubs blaring music long into the wee hours. A small casino on the grounds features Vegas-style gambling. A full-service, modern spa is only a few feet away from the main entrance, giving guests the chance to bask in luxury treatments after hours on the beach where the natural, relaxing beauty of Guanacaste is best appreciated.

According to Till Koehler, a German national who serves as RIU Guanacaste’s general manager, the Guanacaste area is one of the hottest developing zones in Central America, a fact that he says has led to projections that RIU’s new property will “reach about 75 percent occupancy by the end of 2010.”

The resort’s proximity to Liberia, the nearest international airport served by such airlines as American Airlines, Continental Airlines and TACA, puts the new resort within reach of North Americans who want a taste of the Central American Pacific Coast.

“New York, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Los Angeles are our target cities,” Koehler says. “A lot of tour operators in European and American markets have been clamoring for this destination, and RIU was happy to oblige. That’s why we make great efforts to cater to the special needs of North American visitors, both Canadian and American, who are projected to make up more than 70 percent of our guests.”