Staying at the Beach House, Mal Pais
Italian Sophistication on a Costa Rican beach
Our first impression of Hotel Tropico Latino was a little misleading. We arrived after dark, and all we could see was a small parking lot and a small guard hut. The guard directed me down a dimly lit gravel pathway. I really did not know what to expect, and have to admit that I was wondering what I was getting into. I needn’t have worried. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I realized that this was actually a very nice tropical garden. Along one side, there were small bungalows with porches and hammocks. I came to a clearing and there was the open air bar and restaurant. I could hear the pounding surf and soft Latin jazz. Reception was closed, but they were expecting us. The very personable young Argentine woman behind the bar had our room key, and checked us in with no fuss or ceremony. We dumped our bags, and returned to the bar for drinks and dinner.
Over the next couple of days, we grew to love this place. The hotel is Italian owned, and the bar/restaurant staff are almost all either Italian or from Argentina. Fun group, and amazing food. The chef is from Florence, and really knows his stuff. He had owned a restaurant in the area, and the owner persuaded him to move it to this hotel. Sure, it was a little pricey by Tico standards. But it was a very good value by US standards, and we felt as if we had been transported to Italy. Fresh seafood was the specialty, and all was prepared in a very imaginative fashion.
We ate here that first night. It had been a long travel day, and we were ready for a little spoiling. We were totally blown away. This was my bride’s birthday trip. Before we left on our trip, she told me that all she wanted was a lobster while we were at the beach. As good as the food was, I noted that there was no lobster on the menu. My plan was to find a restaurant that would be able to satisfy her request. But the next day, my wife told me that she loved the restaurant. She didn’t care about the lobster anymore. She wanted to eat there again!
So I made a point to find the chef when she wasn’t around, and ask him about surprising her with a lobster. He was a very nice younger guy and obviously passionate about food. It was Sunday, and early afternoon before I found him. He was excited about a surprise, and promised to do what he could.
When we arrived for dinner, I was informed that they were not able to find a lobster on such short notice. But I was told by the bartender that the chef had spent the better part of the afternoon calling fisherman, and trying to locate the owner of the (closed on Sunday) fish market. I was very appreciative for the effort, and his kindness left an impression. Dinner still rocked, and we were quite happy.
We stayed in a Garden Bungalow. Not right on the beach, but less than a hundred feet away. They offer beach front bungalows too, for a little more. These have nice little ocean view porches. But the Garden Bungalows were bigger, and we liked the extra space. All rooms have a fridge and a microwave. Our room had two huge king beds, and the best A/C I have ever had in Costa Rica. It was needed too, this area is hot!
The hotel also offers a two bedroom beach house, and a huge house that sleeps a large group (12?). It is big enough that it can be split into separate units.
The only knock on this hotel is the very expensive breakfast. It seems like a different crew is in the kitchen during breakfast. It was more expensive than what I paid in Manhattan! I am not kidding. I know that hotel breakfasts are sometimes expensive in Europe. Maybe that is what the owner is thinking here. But another guest clued us in, and told us about a cheap breakfast spot across the street. That seems to be the way to go. All in all, I didn’t let this one little bump in the road change my opinion of the hotel. I thought everything else was a great value, and we are counting the days to our next visit.
Finally finding my way to Santa Teresa
Although I have been to Montezuma several times, I had never made the short trip up the road to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area. Shame on me, because there has been a buzz going on about Mal Pais for a while. I was late getting here.
The beach was unbelievable. It just went on forever. We love to take long walks on the beach at sunset (sorry if this sounds like a personal ad!). This was perfect for that. The surfers love this beach, though you have to be aware where the big rocks are. Swimmers have to mind the current as well. But it is also a great place to just hang out with an adult beverage.
During my recent visit to the Mal Pais / Santa Teresa area I made several hotel inspections. We stayed at Hotel Tropico Latino, and I profile this hotel in my post “Italian Sophistication on a Costa Rica Beach”. The following is a quick review of some of the other hotels we toured.
The first place I wanted to see, was The Moana Lodge in Mal Pais. It has always gotten pretty favorable reviews, and this was before they built the new Suites and Jr. Suites. I have a feeling that the reviews are going to get even better.
These accommodations are the newest part of the hotel. They had only been open for a week when I did the inspection. The only negative I can give is that there are so many steps. I mean lots and lots of steps. But they do carry your luggage. I promise that once you are up in the rooms, you forget about the climb. The views are magnificent, and the whole front of the Suites and Jr. Suites is plate glass. There is a balcony if you feel the need to sit outside, but you can see the ocean just fine from the living room or bedroom. There are teak floors throughout. The bathroom in the Suite features two sinks, bidet, and a two person jacuzzi tub. It’s perfect for honeymooners.
The almost 1000 square foot Suite goes for under $300 per night in high season, including tax. This is really a great value for a suite at this level. I know I am going to be sending some honeymooners, for sure. The new Jr. Suites are $225.00 per night at high season, also including tax. They are smaller than the big Suite, and the bathroom is not as over the top. But again, they are extremely well appointed and not a lot of money for an accommodation at this level.
All of the rooms at the Moana Lodge are done in an African theme. The older existing rooms have also been redone to reflect the theme. While they are not as spectacular as the suites, they are attractive and a good value. The only other small negative to mention here is that the hotel is located across the street from the beach and up a bit of a hill. So you have to walk a little back and forth from the beach. Between the steps and this walk, I don’t think I am sending anyone elderly or with mobility problems. But for the young and fit looking for a romantic spot, this is a great choice. I can’t wait to return to Mal Pais, and actually stay here.
Even more over the top was Flor Blanca. But with high season rates that start at $475 per night, and climb to over $850 I guess you expect to be amazed. I know I was. Each of the deluxe secluded individual villas feature tastefully decorated huge open air living rooms, complete with hammocks. The garden bath is also open air. But the bedrooms are air conditioned for comfort. Very private. If you have the budget, this is the perfect romantic spot. I glanced at the restaurant menu and the spa. Both appeared to be first rate.
There are a couple places that I missed, and would have liked to inspect. Most notable was Hotel Casa Marbella. I have heard very good reviews about this hotel, but I just ran out of time.
The former owner of the Flor Blanca is also constructing a new hotel up the road on the beach. I knew these folks before Flor Blanca, when they operated a hotel in the Tamarindo area. We sent them guests on a regular basis, and once used them for a lovely destination wedding. This new project will be their third hotel, and the last two were very interesting. So I am eager to see what they have come up with. There was no one at the construction site but some local workers. So I didn’t get the tour. It was hard to see what was going on, but I know there will be some open air showers. I guess I will have to go back!