trip report -sugar beach

Old Jun 14th, 2005, 05:20 PM
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trip report -sugar beach

After receiving such wonderful advice from this forum, I decided it was only fair to return the favor. I have traveled to many places in the world, but Costa Rica was definitely different than any place I had been.

This was my husband and I’s first trip to Central America and neither of us speak much Spanish, but we found that a little planning and learning a few key Spanish phrases goes a long way in Costa Rica.
My husband and I left from Atlanta on May 24th and flew directly to Liberia. Liberia was different from what I had expected. The airport is small, but no smaller than airports I have been to in the south pacific. There are no terminals and you exit via a set of stairs. Guards line a pathway into the airport where there are several lines for customs. There is a conveyor belt for the luggage just past the customs desks. We had no problems getting our luggage and quickly gave our customs paperwork to another customs official at the airport exit before spotting our name on a Hertz rent-a-car sign being held by the Hertz manager. We were promptly taken to the Hertz location where all our paperwork was explained and we went over the SUV with a fine-tooth comb. The car turned out to be a new Hyundai, with fairly new tires. We were then given great directions to our hotel and off we went.

We took the Pan American Highway straight from Liberia down to the turn-off for the beaches. We found the road to be well paved, not like our interstates in America, but not bad – no huge car-eating potholes to avoid – although as you go further out towards the beaches the roads do get worse. There are not signs telling you what town you have entered, but there are signs every few kilometers giving you distances to other towns and arrows when you need to turn off to get there. We found it easy to follow even without a map. We took the turn-off for Belen and went through Haucas. Then we followed signs for Playa Brasilito and Playa Flamingo. Once you get to Playa Flamingo you make a sudden right and follow the less well-paved roads into Playa Potrero. As we approached our final destination of Playa Pan de Azucar (Sugar Beach), the roads did get considerably smaller. In fact they became more like really large hiking trails that had huge dips and bumps in them. The road makes many turns around Playa Potrero, but Hotel Sugar Beach does a good job of making sure there are signs with arrows at each turn. We finally made it to Hotel Sugar Beach, which really is the last place on this dirt path (the last hill you go down before reaching the hotel is truly difficult to get up- we had to get a running start in our car and make sure it was in 2nd gear when leaving the hotel – if you can’t drive stick, this may not be the place to stay).

We found Hotel Sugar Beach to be a lovely place. It is more like a really nice bed and breakfast rather than a resort. But if you are looking for isolation and natural beauty, this is a great place. We had reserved a garden room, but ended up getting upgraded to an ocean front room after discovering fire ants in a nightstand drawer. Although, I have to say that the garden villas were very nice, even though they weren’t newly renovated as were the ocean front villas. The pool is small, but in good shape and is a welcoming relief from the humidity. The restaurant has reasonable prices and the service was excellent. Sugar beach itself is not very big, but it is very beautiful. We found that is was hard to swim in the cove there because the rocky terrain was difficult to spot in the waters close to shore, but you can take outriggers to the next beach north of sugar beach and snorkel there. (Although those who snorkel in the south pacific or Caribbean may be disappointed, as the reefs are fairly deep and water is not perfectly clear unless you go out on a very sunny day). But all in all, Hotel Sugar Beach is terrific. It may not be perfect for those wanting to go out often, as it took at least thirty minutes to get to Playa Flamingo. But we did see a few couples with small children, who seemed to keep themselves amused by chasing lizards and playing in the pool. Other than that, it was mostly couples.

We went to the Monkey Park on our first adventure. The Monkey Park is easily spotted from the road between Belen and Haucas and is well worth a visit. It was $5 for a self-tour or $15 for a guided tour. They have quite an assortment of animals, aside from monkeys and we enjoyed the tour. Also, along this road there were several small pottery vendors, who had some pottery from Guatil, the pottery village. If you can’t make a trip to this village, it may be worth your while to stop at one of these roadside places.

We also took a day trip to Arenal. Now, I had read that this was both possible and impossible, but found that it could be done. Our tour was set up through the hotel with Ecotrans. We left at 8am and it took about 4 hours to get around Lake Arenal – we stopped at a restaurant for lunch- and then continued on to the base of the volcano. We were extremely lucky and saw the volcano’s peak as sulfur plumes began blowing from the top. With binoculars you could watch as huge, truck-size rocks, fell down the sides of the volcano. We watched Arenal for about 45 minutes and then took a rainforest hike for about an hour. The rainforest was nothing like I expected. First off, it was really dark and there are so many plants and noises it is hard to focus on any one thing. Second you really have to watch where you walk, which makes it even more challenging, but well-worth the trip. We finished our hike and spent the next two hours at the Tabacon Hot Springs. The hot springs were really hot, especially after hiking in the heat all day, but we were told by the staff that they were actually hotter than normal that day. So we sucked it up, and boiled ourselves in hot water for several hours before enjoying a wonderful buffet at the resort. (The hot springs were really beautiful, but my advice would be to NOT hike before going in them.) Then we were able to watch the lava flowing at night – it was absolutely breathtaking to watch the red rock tumbling down the sides of Arenal.

We made it back to our hotel by midnight and slept quite well. So a day trip is possible, as long as you are willing to spend eight hours in a car. We did see a neat looking wild cat sanctuary on the road past Liberia, but didn’t have time to stop, it’s called Los Pumas, if I remember correctly.

We spent the remainder of our week exploring various beaches between Tamarindo and Sugar Beach. Tamarindo is very touristy compared to the other small beach towns in the area, but its beach is quite large and it did not lack activities. (It also has a Burger King for those needing a taste of home.) We ate at El Diria’s restaurant – the hotel is under construction, but looked nice. The crowd here looked to be younger than at the other beaches and there were plenty of surfers (and those who were out there trying to learn). We bought some souvenirs here- Green Turtle has quite a large selection. Playa Grande was my favorite beach, it is the most clean and appeared to have the largest waves. Although Playa Brasilito (where we frequented the Happy Snapper – great restaurant with great prices) and Playa Flamingo were both great beaches as well.

After seven wonderful days we returned our rental car without any problems and paid the $26 exit tax.

Overall, we had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back.

So here are my tips:
1. Definitely bring wick clothing – we were never completely dry – and I tried out some Buzz Off apparel, which worked great.
2. You can take day trips from Guanacaste’s beaches to the Arenal or other points inland.
3. There is so much to see, be prepared with lots of film and don’t try to cram everything into one trip- we enjoyed taking a few days just to sit by the beach, relax, and listen to the howler monkeys.
4. Take plenty of immodium (and cipro)- we both ended up getting sick – but mostly it was our own fault for eating some fruit served by our outrigger guides. (But had no problems from ice cubes).
5. Bring extra bottled water in your carry-on- we went through a few bottles everyday.
6. Buy coffee at the local “supers” not at tourist shops – we bought really great coffee for $1 instead of $5-8.
7. Watch out for lizards on the road, especially in the afternoons.
8. Wear plenty of sunscreen and bring a hat.
9. Save yourself some time and bring colonnes and dollars (small bills) with you from home – most US banks will order foreign currency for you and it will arrive within a day or two.
10. Bring aquasocks for swimming in the water.
11. And most important, remember you are a visitor in a foreign country and you are representing your country – having lived in several major tourist cities – I can safely say that there is nothing worse than rude tourists. Being respectful and nice to locals always goes a long ways no matter where you travel.
swtravelbug is offline  
Old Jun 14th, 2005, 07:11 PM
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Welcome home, and thanks for the great review of Hotel Sugar Beach. We love this area and are debating about whether or not to try HSB out for a couple of nights next month. We've visited the property and can't decide whether we want to be that isolated for a couple of days or not! We also enjoy the Flamingo area and love the Happy Snapper in Brasilito! Glad you had a great time!
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Old Jun 15th, 2005, 08:42 AM
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Wow, swtravelbug, you almost made me cry. We spent 9 days in Sugar Beach in February and loved every second of it. We also had a 4 wheel drive SUV and took some side trips. If you didn't eat at Cameron Dorado in Braselito, you should get there next time. We took the monkey road and drove up to Playa Ocotal, south to Tamirindo and lots of other short day trips. Mainly we hung out at Sugar Beach, walked the beach, swam in the pool a lot (yes, it's small but very clean and hardly anyone ever there...and lots of the waiter keeps coming to see if you need another drink...great service.) We stayed in the new rooms just above the pool and that section had just opened in December. The 6 downstairs rooms are very nice, but upstairs there are 3 suites that are just lovely. I really enjoyed your trip report so much. We did not get to Arenal and you made me realize that it is possible to do from Sugar Beach. We also flew to Liberia from Atlanta and had no problems at all. We used Dollar Rental and they were right there waiting for us. Glad you had fun; really enjoyed your report. Makes me want to be there right now!
cesca is offline  
Old Jun 15th, 2005, 01:23 PM
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Cesca - we too enjoyed the service by the pool. Victor, who I believe manages the kitchen at the hotel restaurant, waited on us most afternoons and evenings. He was wonderful- he helped me practice Spanish and always remembered what our favorite drinks were. (We also befriended another waiter named Wilbert, who shares my husband's love of world football, aka soccer.) I am intrigued that you took the Monkey Road up to Octocal, how long did that take? We had thought about it, but we weren't sure how road conditions would be during the rainy season. Definitely opt for a day tour on your next visit - it was well worth it. Several tour companies offered overnight trips too, which might be fun. Tabacon looked like a great resort, at least I can say that their food is excellent. Also, I forgot to mention that we had anticipated taking a daytrip to Santa Rosa National Park, but we learned from several other tourists that the park was closed due to public health concerns (apparently they had bathroom issues at their facilities) and they were not allowing visitors into the park, nor did they have any idea when the park would re-open. So if anyone is planning on visiting that park in the next few weeks, I would call ahead or check out the national park website to see if it has re-opened.

Shillmac - Definitely give Hotel Sugar Beach a try for at least a night or two. If you love that area, I'm sure you'll enjoy this resort. Although I didn't actually go into the resorts at Playa Flamingo, so I can't compare it to those places. But it is definitely smaller. We didn't find it a hassle to go out to the villages during the day, but we were weary of traveling the roads after dark. We greatly enjoyed watching the sunset over the rocky cliffs at the end of the beach, having a nice quiet dinner (several nights we were the only ones in the restaurant), and then putting on our Buzz Off apparel and laying out on the beach furniture down by the ocean and watching stars come out. The reception area of the hotel has a small library (of fun beach books and of educational materials) and there is a nice quiet sitting area off of the restaurant. I would recommend the newer suites by pool. Although they don't have intricately carved doors that the garden villas had, but they have larger bathrooms and you get a little more light in your room.
swtravelbug is offline  
Old Jun 16th, 2005, 04:44 AM
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Sugar Beach is on my to do list, so I certainly appreciate your report and will add it to my every growing file.

Glad you had a great time.

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Old Jun 16th, 2005, 05:56 AM
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I posted a reply yesterday, but it didn't show up so excuse me if this duplicates yesterdays message, but.....we were at Sugar Beach for 9 days in February and it was GREAT! I cannot say enough good things about the place. We had one of the brand new rooms overlooking the pool and it was lovely. I just can't say enough good things about Hotel Sugar Beach, so I am really glad that you enjoyed it also. We flew into Liberia from Atlanta, rented an automatic 4 wheel SUV from Dollar, took lots of fun day trips on our own, but spent a lot of time hanging out at the pool at Sugar Beach. Yes, it is kind of hard the last mile or so on the road to the hotel and there are some washouts you have to look out for, but all in all the road was not too bad. Admittedly our driving was in daylight hours only, and we were back at Sugar Beach by dusk. We just didn't want to be driving those roads at night. I hope you didn't miss Cameron Dorado in Braselito. The lobster was good and it was a fun experience. I loved your post; it brought back happy memories for us. We plan to go back next winter.
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