It is all too easy to bypass the hotels just south of the Caribbean port city of Limón on the way south to Cahuita National Park and the beach towns of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. But a little place called Hotel Playa Westfalia makes a great stop along the way, or a getaway of its own.
The hotel is named after the beach it sits on, 1.5 kilometers south of the Limón airport. Since opening in January 2008, the Westfalia has been striving to provide excellent customer service in a relaxed, family atmosphere.
Although the hotel draws visitors year-round, September and October are the perfect months to trade Costa Rica’s rainy season for a taste of summer on the Caribbean coast. These months see sunny skies and minimal precipitation in this region, while the rest of the country is awash in rain.
On weekends, the sound of children’s laughter gives the hotel a lively family atmosphere. The shaded beachfront fills with a mix of international tourists and several generations of local families, and the large pool becomes a frothy cauldron of happy, splashing kids buoyed by plastic arm floats. The hotel is not a hermetically sealed resort, but rather a melting pot for visitors from around the world and around the corner who want to get out of the city and enjoy cold drinks on the beach.
The Westfalia offers a honeymoon package for newlyweds, but it has more potential as a welcoming family hotel than a romantic retreat. It also hosts events such as birthday parties, weddings, graduation parties and corporate meetings. Its on-site conference room with air conditioning and audiovisual technology can accommodate up to 120 people. The hotel offers free wireless Internet, parking and security guard service.
The Mexican hacienda-inspired hotel has three standard rooms, two deluxe rooms, two suites and one master suite overlooking the ocean. The rooms are cozy and equipped with ceiling fans and air conditioning, and the bathrooms are decorated with bright Mexican-style yellow-and-blue tiles and colorful ocean-themed mosaic mirrors. The earth-toned standard rooms are equipped with TV, mini-fridge, kitchen sink, coffeemaker and microwave. All of the suites have a telephone and safe. A good night’s rest awaits in the comfortable queen, full or king-size beds. Each room opens onto a small patio with chairs from which to catch the sea breeze. The hotel is pet-friendly and offers nonsmoking and wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Although Playa Westfalia isn’t ideal for swimming, the white-sand beach is a lovely spot to sit and watch the sky darken and the lights of Limón gleam in the dusk. The restaurant’s waiters deliver cocktails to you on the sand, including the signature blue Westfalia margarita (₡2,500/$5), popular with tourists. Thatch-roof palapas on the beach provide much needed shade, and sports-inclined guests can play beach volleyball with nets set up by the surf.
At the hotel’s open-air restaurant, mouthwatering smells from the sizzling grill waft over the wooden tables facing the pool. For those who like to eat with their toes in the sand, the restaurant sets up several beachfront tables with umbrellas. The denim place mats and colorful tableware give the restaurant a casual, down-home feel.
On the menu is a mix of Costa Rican and international dishes, including fresh ceviche (₡2,000/$4), breaded popcorn shrimp (₡4,500/$9), fried corvina or snapper (₡4,500), the Westfalia hamburger (₡3,000/$6) and, my personal favorite, a delicious seafood pasta in cream sauce (₡5,000/$10). For a couple with a large appetite, the tabla mixta (₡7,000/$14) includes sausage, chicken wings, salsa, fish fajitas, home fries, fried green plantains and refried beans. The highlight of the menu – served only on Sundays or by request – is definitely the classic Caribbean dish of coconut milk-infused rice and beans with perfectly seasoned chicken, fried green plantains and salad. And the sweet, homemade coconut flan (₡1,000/$2) makes a perfect finale.
Hotel Playa Westfalia is owned by Michael and Marylyn Grimes, who live in the U.S. state of Florida. General manager Diana Maya Velásquez and operations manager Jorge Fernández work toward both social and environmental responsibility at the hotel. The hotel has 12 locally hired employees, almost all of whom are from the Westfalia neighborhood.
The bilingual managers are working hard to reverse the region’s reputation for poor customer service.
“We offer a different concept of service than in Limón,” Fernández says. “We hire people who love to serve, and we train our staff to offer high-quality service.”
The hotel also is making a positive difference in the Westfalia community, organizing school-supply drives and sharing the hotel’s landscaping expertise and labor to help with maintenance at the community’s cemetery. It also supports the low-income elementary school in Westfalia by bringing students food, helping with maintenance and hosting a day for the students to enjoy the hotel pool.
As it works toward its Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) from the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), the hotel is upping its environmental commitment by recycling paper, glass, aluminum and plastic and burying biodegradable organic waste. It made the switch to fluorescent light bulbs and encourages guests to reuse towels, conserve water and turn off lights and air conditioning when not needed. The staff dedicates part of their day to beach cleanup in an effort to secure the Blue Flag, a program that honors ecologically sound businesses.
“Small businesses like us that care about the environment and families can help develop this zone,” Velásquez says. “We want to generate progress for this region so that it can grow as a tourist destination.”
Hotel Playa Westfalia is an ideal jumping-off point for the region’s attractions, including Cahuita National Park, a 40-minute drive south, and Uvita Island, 20 minutes away by boat. Transfers can be arranged to the port of Moín and on to Tortuguero, three hours away by boat. The hotel staff can make arrangements for local canopy, snorkeling and surfing tours, sportfishing, hikes and horseback rides.
From San José, take the highway through Guápiles to Limón. From Limón, turn south toward Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. After the airport landing strip, the sign for Hotel Playa Westfalia appears on the left side of the road. Travel time from San José is approximately three hours.
Room rates are $85 for a standard room, $95 for a deluxe room, $105 for a suite and $135 for the master suite, including taxes and breakfast.
For reservations, call 2756-1300 or 2756-1661, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.hotelplayawestfalia.com.