By Paul Brohaugh | Special to The Tico Times
From its detailed blue sign with three gold stars on the highway off Playa Cocles, Hotel Cariblue seemed like it might come prepackaged for comfort, catering to the tourist with less interest in local culture than ordering cocktails at the swim-up bar.
What I found, however, was genuine warmth in the staff, under the direction of co-owner Sandra Zerneri, and a light-hearted charm to match the relaxed feeling off the Caribbean beaches. All that, and you can still swim up to the bar for a customized local cocktail.
When I asked what makes Cariblue special, Zerneri started in about the creatures roaming in and out and around the five-acre grounds: perezosos, of course, monos, colibris, mariposas, ranas… and about the five-acres themselves, which are basically developed into a residential jungle-garden.
The ownership – Zerneri and her husband Leonardo Preseglio – takes pride in the “three leaf” ecological rating from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), as well as the three stars for comfort and semi-luxury. I’ve heard of places so luxurious they trap you on the premises and jack up the prices on every touristic need. This is what I wondered about when I saw the professional sign and polished website, but Cariblue’s lodgings are a just few hundred yards from a public road and a public beach, and just a moderate walk from Puerto Viejo, so you need not feel insulated from real life. If you rent a bicycle for $6, the world is yours.
I wouldn’t call the cabins here luxurious, but the “Superior Bungalow” was more than comfortable, which it should be for $125-$140 a night. They’re built simply in dark hardwood boards, and some of them have bunk beds. They also have real windows and air conditioning and 32-inch-LCD televisions. If you want to go back to the jungle feel, you just open the windows and lie on the porch in the hammock.
Our bathroom, I must say, was wild – a daring display of yellow and black angled tiles. It would be a definite plus for fans of the rock band Stryper. Other boarding options include hotel-type rooms ranging from $95-$185 (where the cabin feel is less distinct), and an entire house that rents for $270-$285, which could be a good option if Uncle Larry is footing the bill for a weekend beach party. The prices include a lovely breakfast and a “coctel de bienvenido” when you check in.
Cariblue’s ecological rating is partly due to its intense recycling program. Each week the hotel separates and recycles hundreds of pounds of potential garbage. The grounds- keepers are also starting to grow vegetables to be used in the restaurant, and composting organic matter to feed the garden. This program came from one of the many training sessions the management is proud to offer hotel and restaurant employees.
The restaurant has recently developed a new menu, and the indoor-outdoor plaza has expanded over the years to shelter the front lobby, the white-tablecloth dining room, the billiard and ping-pong hall, a kids’ play area and two or three bars.
We were leaving town early in the morning, and we didn’t try the restaurant, but Zerneri knew we were traveling as a vegan family and she had several tips and suggestions about where to go around town. If we’d had time, she would have introduced us to a Greek naturalist-raw-food doctor who would have tested our bodies with some wild machine and prescribed any number of radical and nutritious smoothies to get us back on the right track.
As it was, the Cariblue family ordered us a taxi early the next day and sent us on our way with vegetarian boxed lunches. It left me with a feeling that this was a professional but natural place, run by stewards who see the business of hospitality as more than just a business.
More information can be found at www.cariblue.com