The Lovely Hotel Banana Azul in Puerto Viejo | Our Perfect Home Base for a Panama Border Run

 

 

I love the beach.

A good part of my childhood was spent on the beautiful subtropical island of Okinawa, Japan.  It is a coral reef island, and one of my favorite family pastimes was going to the pristine, crystal clear blue water and white sand beaches to snorkel, collect shells, explore the colorful sea life in the tide pools and play in the soft sand while my father scuba dived further out and caught fish for our salt water tank at home.  I also have fond memories of eating BBQ chicken and PB&J sandwiches on the beach and washing my food down with iced sweet tea.  Life there was like an endless summer.

Then my father retired from the USAF and we moved to Houston, Texas, with the closest beach being Galveston.  Galveston beach is no Okinawa.  I remember asking, “Why is the water brown?”

Beggars can’t be choosers.

I developed a fear of the ocean since I couldn’t see though the murky brown water . . . I didn’t really want to know what was swimming past me and skimming my legs anyways.  I couldn’t get over it.  I mainly just laid out on the beach and would dip myself in the ocean to cool down, and that was pretty much it for me.  Although I did enjoy the ocean breeze and the smell of the salty air, the experience paled in comparison to the beaches of my past.

Fast forward to my adult life.  My husband and I move to from Texas to Costa Rica, which is conveniently situated in between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  The beaches here are as plentiful as they are different.  I slowly realized that I might be able to find beaches as gorgeous as the ones I loved from my childhood in Okinawa.  I had found my lost endless summer!

I had found endless beaches too, each with its own unique features and activities to offer.

Jaco Beach, which is on the Pacific Coast and is closest to Central Valley and San Jose, is ideal for a quick getaway and for surfing.  Further south near the town of Quepos is Manuel Antonio Beach, which is a white-sand beach bordering the National Park of the same name.  There seems to be a  ceaseless amount of activities to do there, parasailing being a favorite.  Last September we finally drove to the northern Pacific Coast to visit several of the exquisite beaches in the province of Guanacaste, including Playa Prieta , Playa Conchal, and Playa Tamarindo.

 

 Which coast would you like to visit today, the Pacific or the Caribbean?

 

Believe it or not, after living in Costa Rica for almost a year and a half we still have plenty on our bucket list of places to visit and things to do, including visiting more beaches.  Lucky me!

I decided it was high time we visited Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast.  I needed to renew my visa, so I thought a border run through Sixaola would be an ideal way to check it out.

After determining that we were going to do a border run, I began to think about how fun it would be to go to Bocas Del Toro (Panama).  I started researching what a visit or stay there would entail.  I considered driving our vehicle across the border to avoid paying for parking, but found out that even if we did drive into Panama we would have to park our car at the port and take a water taxi to the island.

The thought of paying for parking, land and water taxis was becoming more and more unappealing to me.  The more I ran the scenario in my head, the more it was becoming complicated and more expensive.

Then I remembered that I had always wanted to visit Puerto Viejo.  It seemed close enough to the border and it had a lot to offer in regards to tours, beaches and activities.  It seemed like it could be a really good home base for a border run.  With that in mind, I redirected my research.

The 6 Main Reasons Why I Chose Hotel Banana Azul

 

Hotel Banana Azul Entrance from the Beach

 

I sat down on my computer and did a google search for Puerto Viejo and ran across a pretty comprehensive website called Puerto Viejo Satellite.  They do a great job covering all things Puerto Viejo, to include hotels, restaurants, bars and tours.

This was where I saw Hotel Banana Azul on their list of recommended places to stay.  The reviews for this boutique hotel on PV Satellite were extremely positive, as well as the ones on TripAdvisor.  I always take reviews with a grain of salt, but I knew without a doubt from these reviews that we would be in good hands if we booked a stay there.

Here are the main reasons why I booked our stay with Hotel Banana Azul:

1.  The rave reviews.

You almost can’t go wrong when a hotel has over nine hundred ‘Excellent’ ratings (and counting) and is #1 for its area on TripAdvisor, and practically everything you hear about it from other multiple sources is exceptional and praiseworthy.

2.  It is located directly on the beach.

I always look for direct beach access.  Usually there is a fresh ocean breeze, so you are not as subject to the heat and humidity versus staying in accommodations not on the beach.  They have a big sitting area with chairs to lounge in and thatched beach umbrellas.  A polite waiter will even take your order and bring you food and drinks from the hotel restaurant to enjoy on the beach.

 

Enjoy a drink on Playa Negra at Hotel Banana Azul

 

3.  There is a great hotel restaurant.

I love it when a hotel has a good restaurant and consider it a bonus when it has a great restaurant.  It is so convenient, especially when you are tired from all the activities of the day, to just walk from your room to the restaurant, have a good meal, and then walk right back to your room, read, relax, and go to sleep.

Upon arrival we were given two drink tokens which we immediately redeemed with our lunch of a generous helping of fresh ceviche and patacones, which were some of the best I have ever had in Costa Rica.

Their restaurant and bar Azul Beach Club is one of the highest rated in the area, and we can personally attest to why.  The dinner menu changes daily and while somewhat limited, the delicious dishes vary to include a few different entrees including vegetarian, and are presented beautifully.  We enjoyed a stuffed chicken dish on our first night and had one of the best steaks we’ve ever had in Costa Rica (which is saying a lot) on the second night.

Breakfast is included with the price of your room.  There is a buffet with cereal, bread, fresh fruit, coffee and juices for those on the run, but I highly encourage slowing down and ordering something from the hot breakfast menu (which changes daily).

Besides the good food, the indoor-outdoor ambiance of the restaurant is surrounded by a fishpond full of koi and turtles and is further complimented by the view of beautifully landscaped grounds.

 

 

4.  It is close to downtown Puerto Viejo, other beaches, good restaurants and tourist activities in the area.

I was happy to know that we were so close to so many attractions such as the Jaguar Rescue Center, Punta Uva beach, multiple chocolate tours, Cahuita National Park, etc.  When we did not dine at the hotel, we ate at Restaurant Chile Rojo (Thai and Sushi)  and Restaurant Koki Beach (Latin American Fusion), and had very satisfying meals and drinks at both establishments.

 

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5.  It is quaint, comfortable, quiet and private.

We stayed in the Cabina Colibri, located on the property next door to Hotel Banana Azul, called Casa Las Brisas.  Casa Las Brisas is property that is rented by and is a part of Hotel Banana Azul which consists of a 2 story building with 2 upstairs rooms, our cute little cabina, and another small building that will be converted into an caretaker/attendant station.  If you stay in any of these rooms, you get to enjoy all the amenities that Hotel Banana Azul has to offer, including breakfast.  It is a short walk (1-2 minutes) on a tree-canopied path along Playa Negra to the main building of the original Hotel Banana Azul.

The cabina was very basic but worked for us because it had all we needed – a bed, a corner storage area/closet and a small bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet.  There was so much to do in Puerto Viejo that we were only in the cabin to shower and turn in for the night.  Instead of people, we heard frogs, geckoes and the surf, which was located less than a couple hundred feet from our window.  There are fans in the room to keep the cabin cool, but we rarely used them because the ocean breeze did a fine job of naturally keeping our space comfortable and well ventilated.

One of the policies of Hotel Banana Azul is that it is adults only, and guests are told upon arrival that they are welcome to use the pool at anytime, but are asked to do so quietly in consideration for those who are staying upstairs in the main building, which is located above the pool.

 

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6.  It is reasonably secure and well staffed.

The online reviews did not reveal any issues with security.  There are safes in the rooms, but only big enough for small valuables like jewelry, wallets and passports.  Like other hotels, we were able to store larger valuables such as electronic devices and photography equipment with the front desk when necessary.  During our stay we saw good security practices such as a police patrol, plenty of on-property staff, and closing of the gates at night.

Other Perks

~ There is a tour company on site to help arrange activities for you in the area.

Caribe Fun Tours is located right across from the front desk reception and offers a great variety of activities and tours to fill your days.  If you are not familiar with the area and if you are not too fluent in Spanish, you may find their services indispensable.  It’s great that they are located in the hotel!

~ Bicycle rentals are on site.

There are bikes everywhere in Puerto Viejo!  It’s famous for its bikes.  The roads are mostly paved and the terrain in town is very flat, so riding is easy for most people.  While there is plenty to do in the area, everything is close and easily accessible by riding a bicycle.

~ The very friendly and highly responsive staff is a reflection of Banana Azul’s gracious and attentive owners.

Personnel who directly interact with guests speak English (and probably more languages).  They were all very helpful in answering questions and making suggestions as to what to do, and were all very hospitable.  We had the chance to meet the owner Colin, who is Canadian, and had a nice chat with him about how we enjoyed our stay and how he planned to continue to develop aspects of the hotel to make it even better than it already is!  He was on the property everyday during our stay and seemed to be an integral part of daily operations and a big reason why the hotel does so well.

Other Notable Important Details

~ Bring your own toiletries.

Some hotels in Central America do not provide toiletries.  Once you get used to it, it really isn’t an inconvenience and is actually very green and environmentally friendly.  I find that I prefer my own shampoo and conditioner anyway.  There was a small bar of soap in our cabina bathroom, which we used, bath towels are provided and there was no problem with getting hot water for our showers.

~ The Wifi speed can be slow.

The wifi in the main building of Hotel Banana Azul was faster than the Casa Las Brisas wifi, which was very slow.  Something to consider and ask about if you need higher speed wifi during your stay.

~ Be careful at night.  Store your larger valuables with the front desk.

It seemed pretty safe to me walking from the main Hotel Banana Azul to my cabina next door at Casa Las Brisas, but it is recommended not to take long walks at night, especially on the beach.  Use your common sense and keep your guard up to avoid being a victim.  Although the cabin had a lock on the door we stored our larger valuables with the front desk when we left the property.  It is better to take advantage of a sure thing than to leave it to chance.

~ There are resident pets to include cats and dogs.

As in most of the rest of Costa Rica, you will see dogs and cats on the property here and there.  I saw two dogs and one cat, but they tend to mind their own business and were no trouble at all.  My husband and I love animals, so we talked to them and enjoyed their presence at the hotel.  It wouldn’t be Costa Rica without a resident pet.


We thoroughly enjoyed our three night stay this past January at Hotel Banana Azul.

Not only did it live up to its reputation as a quiet boutique hotel with a nice restaurant, bar and a helpful, polite staff, but it served as a perfect home base for our border run/day tour to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, which we did on our second day there.  Our tour company Gecko Trails arranged all of our transportation (so we could leave our car safely parked at the hotel) and assisted us across the border.  It worked out exactly as planned.

I loved the slower vibe of Puerto Viejo and hope to return there in the near future to do some of the things that I did not have a chance to do, and to do some of our favorite things again!

They have thought of everything at this hotel (we didn’t have time, but they even have massages on the beach!) – it’s a one-stop shop so to speak with everything available at your fingertips to have a superb visit.

For those of you who are hesitant to visit the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, I say go for it, especially if you intend to visit Puerto Viejo.  Our positive experience there was greatly influenced by our stay at Hotel Banana Azul.  It exceeded our expectations and we can’t wait until our next visit.


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