When Robyn and I first started looking through her Lonely Planet guide for Costa Rica, we were reading up on the various accommodations that the Caribbean coast had to offer. Our friends went in the beginning of the year and stayed at a place called Cashew Hill Jungle Lodge which was a bit outside of town but further away from the beach. We found it in the Lonely Planet guide book, but Robyn kept looking. We decided on the Banana Azul, which happens to be the Lonely Guide’s “Our Pick” for mid-range accommodations. Here is their little blurb:
Lost in the jungle at the far end of Playa Negra this wonderfully wild hotel is right on the cusp of a dramatic black-sand beach and sloth-filled rain forest. Each wood-paneled room has a hammock-swinging balcony looking onto the Caribbean only meters away. At night the isolated location means guests are serenaded by howler monkeys, macaws and the crashing surf – Lonely Planet
After reading that and noticing that breakfast is included we popped over to their website to look up information such as rates, amenities as well as to see their location in relationship to Puertu Viejo itself. It was perfect and we were excited to book our stay with them, even if we booked it back in March of 2009. Did I mention that one of the co-owners of the Banana Azul is from Vancouver?
When we first arrived at the Banana Azul it looked just like the photos we saw on their website as well as Trip Advisor and Flickr. After all, in this day and age of photo post processing you have to be careful as photos can be easily manipulated to look better than they really are.
Check in was fast and easy. We were greeted by the front desk person and shown to our room (#6) aka Ocean View room.
The immediate above photo is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo I took to help show the view of the ocean we had from our balcony as well as the surrounding grounds. Granted we can see the garden area to the left of the photo, but being able to see the glimpse of the ocean was pretty cool and excited us both. You can also hear the waves crashing from the room as well as from the bed. A great way of falling asleep.
The rooms are designed to maximize the ocean breeze as well (or we would like to think they are). With the open-air bathroom, the breeze sweeps in through the bathroom, into the bedroom and out through the balcony. We found that when we kept the bathroom door closed, the room got hot fairly quick, but once we opened the bathroom door, the breeze came through and the air temperature dropped.
Next to the front door of our room is where the bathroom is located. The bathroom consists of a large sink, mirror, flushing toilet and nice walk in shower. Don’t worry you can flush your toilet paper down the toilet, unlike a lot of places in Costa Rica were you cannot. The shower itself is nice, you do get hot water, but at times the pressure isn’t the greatest. I found that majority of my showers were cold to warm as I tend to shower when everyone else would shower. But with the humidity a hot shower was rarely ever needed.
You can check out their other Rooms as well as their Rates too.
Banana Azul offers quite a bit on their little piece of property. They served Breakfast (which is included), Lunch and Dinner as well as a fully stocked bar.
The staff was wonderful and always friendly. The food was awesome too. Robyn and I actually didnt ever feel the need to go into Puerto Viejo to eat at the various restaurants, and we believe we also saved some money doing so too.
Breakfast (being included) were different each morning; fresh fruit, then whatever was the days breakfast. We had breakfast burritos, quiche, scrambled eggs, and one of the most delicious crepes I have ever had. $5 per person if you’re not staying at the hotel.
We only ate lunch there a couple times but when we did they were most excellent. They offered a choice between burgers, nachos, quesadilla and more. We actually went into town a couple times and picked up some food from the local market for lunches, but that’s because we thought it would be and save us a little extra money.
Dinners were $10/person for a 3-course meal that consisted of salad bar, main entree (changed each day) as well as desert (this too was different each day).
Drinks were hand made by the staff as well, everyone that wrote about the drinks on Trip Advisor said Franklin made the best Mojito’s ever. I would have to agree, though it’s the only time I’ve ever had them and being made fresh I’m sure is a good thing right? The Pina Colada’s were also really good. Drinks started at $3.50 or so and went up, this also includes pop/soda/energy drinks.
There is a small pool that was recently finished this year as well. Great for those days where you just want a quick dip without getting all salty or when the waves are too big. There is a jacuzzi that flows into the pool, but take note, it isn’t like a hot tub, but it is jetted. Why would you want really hot water in the pool when the humidity is pretty hot already? Surrounding the pool are some tables and lounge chairs. The little cabana also has a hammock you can lie on and swing.
I didn’t use the pool and Robyn did dip her legs into it one day as we preferred the Caribbean Ocean that was like 50 meters away.
Amenities : Gecko Trail Adventures
The great thing about Banana Azul is that they have an on-site tour company. The staff of the Gecko Trail Adventures were always friendly, helpful and offered great advice on the area around and answered any questions we had. With them we booked all of our little adventures: Whitewater Rafting, Manzanillo Refuge Jungle Hike as well as our River and Sea Kayaking with Rain forest hike.
They offer free Wireless Internet access. This was dodgy at times and from our room we would only get 1 or 2 bars of signal level. It would also drop out but not on a consistence basis. Granted the Access Point I saw was a Linksys at the front desk, though one day I did go sit in the foyer area and still my connection would drop out. Yes, I can’t fully disconnect even on vacation but it didn’t bother me too much. I could recommend a setup they could use that would turn their entire property into a WiFi hotspot for their customers. In fact it would also light up the area next to the beach where their hammocks are. I could also come down and install the whole set up for them too!
They also have an Internet room, this room is also the ONLY air conditioned room on the property too. Though, we didn’t really ever complain about the heat/humidity, but for those who need an escape can sneak off into this area, cool down and check their email or Facebook.
There is DVD rentals as well as a portable DVD player. They have a small assortment of DVDs and I thought it was funny that I owned about 80% of them back home. We did rent a couple movies and relaxed up in our room a couple nights.
You can rent bikes from $5 per day. We did one day and headed towards Punta Uva (takes about 1 to 1.5 hours by bike). The road’s are riddled with pot holes so if you do use a bike be prepared for a sore bum.
If you do stay at the Banana Azul it is roughly 1 mile (1.6 km) away from the town of Puerto Viejo. It takes roughly 20 minutes to walk along the beach, shorter if you take a bike, or you can pay roughly $4-5 US each way for a Taxi. You can even flag the bus down, but it would probably be quicker to walk to town than wait for the next bus.
The Banana Azul is kept exceptionally clean too. The staff clean the rooms every day even if you’re in the room! There are no “Do Not Disturb” hangers but chances are you will be outside enjoying the Caribbean when they come to make up your room. The grounds are maintained throughout the day, the hanging plants get watered, the area is raked and even the pool is cleaned daily.
Overall we really really enjoyed out 7 nights at the Banana Azul. We believe that no trip to Puerto Viejo is complete unless you stay a few nights at this beach side location. In fact since we definitely want to come back to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, we will definitely be making reservations again for this secluded gem of the Caribbean coast.
Many thanks to Colin, Roberto and the staff at Banana Azul for making this the best destination vacation we have ever had!