Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Review

Author: Dan Brewer

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The Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel is a 5-star luxury beachfront resort Guanacaste Peninsula in beautiful Costa Rica. Situated on the beautiful black sand Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo), the landscape and scenery perfectly compliment the luxury hotel setting. There are many all-inclusive amenities for guests of the Riu hotel to enjoy such as themed restaurants and a wide variety of bars.

We loved our stay at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort and are happy to share our experiences with you.

The gardens at the Riu Guanacaste are beautiful when lit up at night

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Description of the Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Hotel

As you enter the main lobby of the 6-story Riu Guanacaste, you can instantly feel the class and sophistication you will enjoy during your stay at this 5-star Costa Rica all-inclusive resort. The towering ceilings, an outdoor fountain and elegant artwork throughout the lobby is a just small taste of what is to come.

a chandelier is the focal point of an opulent lobby at the 5-star Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica

The natural beauty of the Guanacaste Peninsula is what draws many visitors to this region of Costa Rica. Guests of this luxury Riu resort will enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding jungle covered mountains which hug the beautiful coastline.

The beachfront Riu Guanacaste resort sits beneath jungle-covered mountains along the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica

The rugged beauty of the area is enhanced throughout the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort with extensive, meticulously manicured gardens, featuring many towering palm trees swaying with the wind.

The carefully manicured plants spell Riu Guanacaste at the all-inclusive resort of the same name

At the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica you will enjoy a wide selection of buffet and à la carte restaurants, a generous number of bars, daily activities for adults, fitness enthusiasts and kids alike.

Riu Guanacaste Location

The Guanacaste Riu All-Inclusive Hotel sits on an incredible piece of beachfront property along a large bay. Facing north-west you’ll enjoy having the sun out of your eyes as you sit on the black sand beach soaking in the amazing vistas of the surrounding Guanacaste landscapes.

The all-ages Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel in Costa Rica is the easternmost hotel along Matapalo Beach. It’s a very remote location, being about 18 km / 11 miles away from Playa Coco where you’ll find shops and restaurants. The Riu Guanacaste is also 33 km / 22 miles from the Liberia International Airport and 240 km – 150 miles from the San Jose International Airport.

Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Amenities

As you’d expect from a 5-star all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica, the Riu resort offers plenty of hotel amenities to pamper guests during their stay.

  • Free Wi-Fi throughout the Hotel Riu Guanacaste
  • Free sun loungers on Matapalo Beach
  • Free sun loungers around the Riu Guanacaste pools. Many of the sun loungers come with a sun umbrella or canopy to block the powerful Costa Rican sun).
  • A free gym, sauna and whirlpool bath (for guests who are 18+)
  • Renova Spa with beauty salon, massages and treatments (additional charge)
  • Pacha discotheque (located just outside the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel)
  • A variety of gift shops along El Poblano street just outside the hotel
  • All accommodation, taxes and tips included
The exterior of the Renova Spa for guests of the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort

Hotel Riu Guanacaste Rooms

The 6-story, U-shaped Riu Guanacaste is a huge Costa Rica all-inclusive resort with 701 rooms. All guest rooms at the Hotel Riu Guanacaste have:

  • Bathroom with shower and double wash basin
  • Hair dryer
  • 110V plug ins
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Central air conditioning
  • Ceiling fan
  • Mini bar (stocked with bottled water, sparkling water, Coke, Coke Light, 7-Up and Imperial beer)
  • Liquor dispenser (stocked with 4 hard liquors such as vodka, rum, whiskey and gin)
  • A flat screen TV with satellite channels
  • Electronic in-room safe
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Balcony or terrace
We stayed in a Standard Double Room at the kid-friendly Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort

Our Room at the Hotel Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive

We stayed in a Standard Double room at the Riu Guanacaste, which is the basic room type at the all-inclusive hotel. We enjoyed the size of the room as well as our large balcony, where we enjoyed watching sunsets over our partial ocean view (just beyond the adults-only Riu Palace Costa Rica hotel).

The sun sets behind the Riu Palace Costa Rica all-inclusive resort

The one thing to mention for families looking to stay at the Riu Guanacaste with kids is that the double beds are a bit small for sharing. Thankfully, the hotel staff noticed we were traveling with two kids, so they put an additional portable small bed in our room. This proactive measure by the hotel greatly improved our childrens sleep during our stay.

The staff at the Riu Guanacaste resort proactively added an extra bed for our kids in our Standard Double Room

Other options for families wishing to stay at the Riu Guanacaste are the available interconnecting rooms, or to get a Family Room, which still has two beds, but one of them is a king sized bed.

Two kids play on their room balcony at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica

Riu Guanacaste Swimming Pools

As is typical with Riu hotels, there are plenty of swimming pools at this beachfront Costa Rica all-inclusive resort. There are three separate swimming pools at the hotel, which are all interconnected, but separate.

A beautiful fountain in the middle of one of the three outdoor swimming pools at the all-inclusive Riu Guanacaste hotel

For anyone considering staying at the Riu Guanacaste with little kids, there is also a very small splash pool in the kids club called RiuLand. You’ll likely want to spend time in the main swimming pools, so you may wish to bring floatation devices for kids still learning to swim. The swimming pool water was too deep for our 7 and 9 year-old kids.

There are hundreds of lounge chairs around the swimming pools, so you should have no trouble finding one. Mid-day, the resort staff puts up a volleyball net across one of the pools. You’ll often find an impromptu game of pool volleyball going on throughout the day, especially as people start to get some drinks into them.

a swimming pool at the Riu Guanacaste resort is beautifully illuminated at night

Riu Guanacaste Beach – Playa Matapalo

The Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive is ideally situated on the eastern end of a long & beautiful black sand beach. Deep inside a large bay, Matapalo Beach is well-protected from the fury of the open Pacific Ocean, making it a very family-friendly beach with soft sand and small waves.

Kids will love the soft sand under the water, with no rocks to hurt their little feet. As they play in the water, they’ll love watching the small fish darting around in the water nearby.

a 9 year old girl plays in the warm, calm waters of Matapalo Beach, in front of the Riu Guanacaste family-friendly resort

Beach Walking

Beach walking is one of our favorite activities in the world, and we were delighted to discover that Playa Matapalo is very walkable for over a kilometer. Walking to the west takes you past the adults-only Riu Palace Costa Rica, before leading you to a long stretch of undeveloped forest.

a girl enjoys a family walk along Playa Matapalo in Costa Rica

The walk along the undeveloped land beyond the Riu Palace Costa Rica is very enjoyable as there are less people, meaning you can find more treasures in the sand. As you reach the end of the beach, it becomes more rocky and you’ll have a ton of fun watching small crabs and hermit crabs darting across the sand.

a hermit crab crosses the black sand beach on Matapalo Beach, Costa Rica

A Secret Beach (Playa Blanca)

If you remember to bring your sports sandals, you can continue on through the rocky outcrop to Playa Blanca – a much more natural, secluded beach. Be sure to check the Playa Matapalo tide schedule to make sure you are not going crossing the rocks just before high tide.

a family crosses the rocks from Matapalo Beach to Playa Blanca in Costa Rica

The water color at the secluded beach is such a beautiful blue, you’d imagine you are in the Caribbean Sea, not the Pacific Ocean. There are an incredible amount of hermit crabs on this beach – sure to entertain kids and nature lovers for hours on end!

Freshwater Streams

Another element which makes Matapalo Beach special is the freshwater streams. There are three freshwater streams which flow across the beach into the ocean – one is on the far western shore, near the Riu Guanacaste Hotel, one is just past the Riu Palace and the third is at the far eastern end of the beach. There are some very active tide pools here, with plenty of small aquatic life teeming in the waters.

an excited boy crosses a stream across Matapalo Beach on his way to Playa Blanca

The stream in front of the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive is especially fun for kids as it flows through some wave-eroded rocks, making it an endlessly changing beach playground. Pelicans also love to dive for fish in the waters near the rocks, adding to the excitement.

two kids play in a stream through Matapalo Beach in front of the Riu Guanacaste resort

Great for Suntanning

The Riu Guanacaste is ideally situated for sun worshipers. Sitting on a beautiful black sand beach facing north-west, the beach enjoys full sunshine all day. Plus, because the sun is behind you, you can enjoy the amazing Costa Rican beach scenery without having the sun directly in your eyes.

The Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel provides lounge chairs for guests to enjoy on the sandy beach. Despite being a very popular tourist beach, there are no annoying touts walking the beach trying to sell you stuff. If you are interested in souvenirs, hair braiding etc. there are some stalls just outside the hotel on your way to the beach.

The Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort is located on a beautiful black sand beach

Five Riu Guanacaste Restaurants

One of the primary reasons we chose to stay at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort was for the food. We’ve stayed at many Riu hotels in the past, and the food is almost always excellent. There are five themed dining options for guests of the Guanacaste Riu Hotel to enjoy.

Note, that if you’d like to dine at one of the specialty themed restaurants when they open at 6:00, it’s best to line up approximately 20 minutes before opening.

a girl enjoys an american breakfast at the main buffet restaurant at the kid-friendly Riu Guanacaste resort

The hotel states that appropriate attire is required for dinner. We asked them to elaborate on this and they said, “The dress code to our restaurants is casual. Jeans, dress shorts and nice sandals can be worn, just no swimwear or sleeveless shirts.”

Here are your 5 dining options at the Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Hotel:

1. Liberia Buffet Restaurant

The Liberia Restaurant is the main restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste Hotel in Costa Rica. This large buffet restaurant is where guests will enjoy the breakfast buffet as well as their dinner buffet. Guests will enjoy dining on either a large outdoor terrace overlooking the fountains and gardens, or within an airy main indoor dining room.

Breakfast Buffet

If you dine at the Liberia for breakfast, you’ll enjoy trying authentic Costa Rican breakfast dishes as well as more traditional breakfast American fare, such as pancakes, waffles, bacon, pastries, fruit and cheese. There is also an omelet station and a large selection of fresh fruit juices.

a young boy is excited to have four strawberry waffles at the main breakfast buffet restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel

Dinner Buffet

Guests of the Riu enjoying the dinner buffet will love the wide selection of international foods on offer at the Liberia restaurant. We were very excited to see two giant paella pans (one seafood, one meat) greeting us as we entered the buffet restaurant on our first night.

The paella was excellent at the main restaurant buffet at the all-inclusive Riu Guanacaste hotel

We also loved the tasty selection of Costa Rican dishes available at the buffet each night. It was fun trying a wide variety of local foods without too much risk. In addition to the Costa Rican food, there is also a good selection of American and Italian dishes on offer. There’s a special kids buffet as well with hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, etc.

For dessert, the main restaurant has a huge selection of freshly cut fruit next to a huge table of single-serving desserts (cakes, pastries, etc.). There is also a chocolate fountain with fruit for dipping.

a selection of buffet desserts at the Riu Guanacaste resort

2. Furama Asian Restaurant

Our family goes a little crazy for sushi, especially since our daughter first tried sushi on our family trip to Kyoto. We were thrilled to discover one of the themed restaurants at the Riu Guanacaste is an Asian restaurant.

The Furama Restaurant is a large restaurant tastefully decorated with Asian design elements, such as Buddha statues and paintings. The Asian ambience makes for a wonderful setting for an excellent meal of Japanese, Chinese and Thai food favorites.

The Asian themed restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel

The Furama Asian Restaurant is a buffet restaurant, with no a-la carte menu options. The Asian buffet starts with a salad selection, but then quickly transitions over to the very popular sushi buffet. There is a generous variety of sushi on offer, including tuna and salmon sashimi and a selection of sushi rolls.

tuna sushi rolls at the Asian themed restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste hotel in Costa Rica

Once through the sushi buffet, guests of the Furama Asian Restaurant can choose from many popular dishes from Asian cuisine, such as Udon noodles, sweet & sour pork, Teriyaki beef and broccoli, chicken satay, spring rolls, and so much more.

we loved the sushi at the Furama Asian restaurant so much, we ate there twice

There’s an impressive selection of fresh fruit and desserts to finish your Asian themed meal. Be sure to try the coconut and chocolate mochi balls. We first tried these at the Asian restaurant at the Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas and were thrilled they had them here as well – they’re a delicious Japanese dessert!

3. La Toscana Italian Restaurant

With so many amazing dinner options at the Riu Guanacaste, we didn’t make it to the Italian restaurant for dinner, but judging by the lineups for a table, it’s one of the most popular restaurants at the Riu resort. The La Toscana Italian restaurant offers table service for the main course, with buffet starters and dessert.

The dinner menu at the La Toscana Italian restaurant is full of amazing options, which typically include beef lasagna, Fettucine Basil Pesto, Vegetarian Cannelloni, Seafood Risotto, Grilled Beef Filet, stuffed chicken breast, and much more.

4. Ocotal Steakhouse Restaurant

The Ocotal Steakhouse is located away from the main Riu hotel, close to the swimming pools and the beach. The tables at the far end of the Ocotal steakhouse restaurant enjoy beautiful ocean views.

We loved the ocean views from the lunch buffet at the Riu Guanacaste 5 star resort

Lunch

The Ocotal restaurant is not only the evening steakhouse restaurant, but it doubles as the lunch buffet restaurant. On offer at the lunch buffet at the Riu Guanacaste steakhouse is a Costa Rican food station (rice, beans, etc), pizza, American food (burgers, hot dogs, etc), a salad bar, tons of fresh fruit and much more.

the lunch buffet at the Riu Guanacaste offers a selection of pizza

Dinner

We didn’t make it to the Riu steakhouse for dinner this time around, but we ate at the steakhouse at the Riu Palace in Cabo San Lucas twice, and we loved it. We hail from Alberta, Canada, which is home to some of the best steaks in the world, so we have very high standards. The steaks were cooked exactly to order, the quality of the steak was very good and most important of all, they were delicious.

filet mignon and shrimp - 5-star all-inclusive luxury at the Riu Palace Cabo
(Picture from Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas Steakhouse)

Main course options at the Ocotal steakhouse often include a 12-oz ribeye steak, BBQ spare ribs, grilled chicken, grilled salmon supreme, an 8 oz angus burger or a mixed grill for 2.  

5. Tucán Caribbean Restaurant

We really wanted to try the Tucán Caribbean gourmet restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste, but we didn’t see much on their menu for our kids. Which is a shame as the menu looked amazing, with offerings like Shellfish Asopao, Beef Filet in Mexican Adobo or sauteed vegetable quinoa with goat cheese. We’re going to have to come back to the Hotel Riu Guanacaste without kids as that Beef Filet sounds amazing! 

Five Bars at the Riu Guanacaste Resort

Of course, the all-inclusive experience is more than just fine dining and theme restaurants, guests of this Riu resort can also enjoy a wide variety of drinks. We visited the Riu Guanacaste with our kids, so we didn’t spend much time in the many bars at the resort. There are 5 bars to choose from:

1. The Filadelfia lobby bar

2. The Pura Vida lounge bar

3. A sports bar

4. La Plaza Bar

5. Santa Cruz  poolside bar with swim-up bar (18+)

a swim up bar at the Riu Guanacaste at night

There’s also a nightclub located just outside the Riu Guanacaste resort. Admission to the disco is included, but drinks are extra.

Activities at the Resort

The RiuFit program offered by the resort has a wide variety of fitness activities for guests to enjoy during their stay. The RiuFit program includes cardio exercises, toning classes, stretching and relaxation both at the gym and at the pool. Check the calendar for the daily schedule of fitness activities.

In addition to the fitness classes, guests of the Riu Palace can enjoy floodlit hard surface tennis courts and a volleyball court.

For watersports, hotel guests can enjoy complimentary use of snorkeling equipment, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and windsurfing.

two kayaks on Matapalo Beach for the guests of the all-inclusive Riu Guanacaste Resort

If you’ve always wanted to learn how to scuba dive, guests of the Riu Guanacaste Hotel can enjoy one complimentary introduction to scuba diving in the resort pool.

Entertainment at the Riu Guanacaste Resort

Throughout the day, the swimming pool closest to the Ocotal steakhouse is a hive of entertainment activity, with Riu staff leading many fun activities. The most fun event was an all-ages foam party, with a foam cannon, accompanied by lots of fun dance music. Our kids loved it!

At night, there often live music being played at one of the theme restaurants. In addition, there also is live entertainment at the open-air theatre. There’s usually a kids movie playing beforehand, followed by the main show for the day.

a musician plays for guests enjoying the main restaurant buffet at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel

Excursions from the Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Resort

Resort guests may book many exciting excursions through ScubaCaribe, which has a store down by the pools. Excursions include a sunset cruise, sportfishing tours, snorkeling tours, jet ski tours, a water taxi to Playa de Coco and private boat tours.

Another fun activity for guests of the Riu Guanacaste is a visit to the Diamante Adventure Park. Located just 5 minutes from the Riu resort, the Diamante Adventure Park offers a wide variety of activities including over a mile of zip lines! You’ll also enjoy a 30 foot freefall, a hanging bridge over a pond of crocodiles, a botanical garden, an animal sanctuary, a typical Costa Rican farmhouse and even some fun beach time! There’s truly something for everyone at the Diamante Adventure Park.

a promotional photo of the one mile long ziplining course at the Diamante Eco Adventure Park

Riu Guanacaste With Kids

Despite being a luxury 5-star resort, the Riu Guanacaste is very kid-friendly all-inclusive resort and a good percentage of guests staying here are families with children.

a funny picture of a boy pretending to eat a fish on Matapalo Beach in front of the Riu Guanacaste hotel

Swimming Pools for Kids

Two of the swimming pools at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive are great for kids, but they might be a little too deep for kids under 10. The water depth is 200 cm, so it will likely be over your kids heads and you may wish to consider flotation devices for them. There is a third pool which is better for kids, measuring only 140 cm deep.

the beautiful swimming pools at the Riu Guanacaste resort are great fun for kids

Two Awesome Water Parks

The best part about staying at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive is the super awesome mini-water park for kids. Open six days a week, the Riu mini-water park has ten kid-friendly water slides for kids of all ages. Little ones will enjoy the smaller water slides, while bigger kids will like the fully enclosed tubes with several twists and turns.

older kids will love the big waterslides at the Riu Guanacaste water park

A big favorite with all the kids are the two giant water buckets which slowly fill overhead – when they get full, the bucket tips over and drenches all the screaming kids below. Evidence of how much they love the buckets are the droves of kids who stand below again and again waiting for the bucket to tip.

smaller kids will love the colorful water park at the family-friendly Riu Guanacaste resort

The water depth of the Riu Guanacaste Splash mini-water park is a much more kid-friendly 40 cm (1’3”), so virtually every child can enjoy playing in the water. The mini-water park also has a palm tree fountain and a very shallow splash pool for little ones. Parents will enjoy the shaded lounge chairs which surround the kids water park.

the Riu Guanacaste has a tiny water park for parents traveling with babies or toddlers

A Kid-Friendly Beach

Another benefit of staying at the all-inclusive Riu Guanacaste with kids is the kid-friendly beach. The hotel is situated deep inside a bay, which often shelters the beach from the rough Pacific Ocean. The waves were quite tranquil during our stay at the Riu and we were comfortable with our kids playing in the waves.

a young boy shows off his sand art on Playa Blanca near the Riu Guanacaste resort

The sand is soft, both inside and outside the water, and is a great consistency for making sand castles (you can use the plastic cups from the buffet if you forget your beach toys).

two children show off their sand mermaid tails on the beach near the family-friendly Riu Guanacaste resort

RiuLand Kids Club

In addition to the beach, the pools and the water park, kids can enjoy the Riu Guanacaste kids club, called RiuLand. Located near the Ocotal steakhouse. the RiuLand kids club has an infant splash pool, an small playground and offers daily daytime entertainment programs for children ages 4 to 12.

The RiuLand kids club offers activities for small kids

Costa Rican Wildlife

If your kids love wildlife, there is plenty to keep them happy at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive hotel. Around the resort, you’ll find iguanas, racoons, skunks (yup – skunks!), and stray kitties.

a young girl makes a new feline friend at the kid-friendly Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica

Along our many beach walks we found tons of crabs, hermit crabs and even a group of howler monkeys high up in the trees.

we saw several Howler Monkeys on our daily beach walks along Matapalo Beach

Other Costa Rica Riu Resorts

In addition to the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort, there is one additional Riu resort in Costa Rica:

Riu Palace Costa Rica

The Riu Palace Costa Rica is immediately west of the Riu Guanacaste hotel. It’s an adults-only 5-star Costa Rica resort, so we cannot give you a first-hand account of this property. For what it’s worth, it looked very opulent from our balcony.

The beachfront Riu Palace Costa Rica

Riu Guanacaste All-Inclusive Review Summary

Our family loved our stay at the Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica. The beachfront setting along the beautiful black sand Matapalo Beach is stunning and the quality of the beach is remarkable. We spent a great deal of our time at the Riu Guanacaste walking up and down the beach, making wonderful discoveries and memories along the way.

two kids have a ball playing on Playa Matapalo near the fami;y-friendly Riu Guanacaste all-inclusive resort

As usual, the food at the Riu was excellent. We loved the food at the many themed restaurants, especially our sushi feasts at the Asian restaurant.

A young girl shows off her octopus sushi at the Asian restaurant at the Riu Guanacaste resort

The Riu Guanacaste was a very kid-friendly all-inclusive resort as our kids loved the swimming pools, the soft sand beach and of course, the awesome water park.

two kids run to the next water slide at the Riu Guanacaste water park
a beautiful fountain at the Riu Guanacaste resort is lit up at night

We would recommend the Riu Guanacaste to anyone looking for a luxury all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica.

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Dan Brewer is an intrepid family travel blogger with a passion for exploring the world's most captivating destinations. With 58 countries under his belt and a sense of wanderlust that knows no bounds, he has made it his life's mission to share his travel experiences and insights with fellow families who love to travel.

When Dan isn't traveling with his wife and kids, he's either out enjoying the Canadian Rockies he calls home or working on one of his three travel sites (Family Can Travel, Travel Banff Canada and Ultimate Sports Road Trip).