San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mountainside Sueño Azul Offers Something Different from Ubiquitous Beach Resort Fare

SUEÑO Azul Resort may have taken a risk in breaking from the gaggle of well appointed resorts on Costa Rica’s coasts and plopping itself on a riverbank under a mountain, miles from beaches and oceans.

It needed to convince its guests that the mountains of Costa Rica, in the right hands, are as comfortable and entertaining – or more – as the seaside resorts; a glance at the resort’s long list of amenities and activities gives the impression it might have succeeded.


The place merges luxury and relaxation among the natural world in a full-service spa and swimming in an immense, hillside, manmade pool or soaking in a riverside Jacuzzi with a dozen activities and sports, such as fishing, sliding along ziplines, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking mountain trails, a butterfly garden, river tubing and nearby white-water rafting.


The resort is at the confluence of the Puerto Viejo and San Rafael rivers, hemmed in and nearly overgrown with a spectacular garden of heliconias and foliage denizens of the mountain forest, and conveniently located about an hour and half’s drive northwest from San José, near the Caribbean-slope town of Horquetas de Sarapiquí. The hotel is the nerve center of a 2,000-acre grounds sprawling over a mountain to a second network of open-air complexes and a remote, impossibly wide, 8,000-square-foot mountainside pool and rocky cascade.


AS concerned about the health of the natural world as he is aware of the boon it is to his business, owner Federico Gallegos has protected the virgin forest on his property and reforested areas that were cleared, now safeguarding 75% of the land against development or other use.


The hotel complex is a series of room clusters branching off thatch-roofed, paved walks. The 58 rooms are conservatively artistic, with tile floors with wood plank insets and rough-hewn trunk framing the doors, windows, mirrors and two queen size poster beds. The showers are spacious and uncurtained, and the porches overlook one of the three lakes on the property.


Nearby, the rambling, open-air dining area is hedged with wild gardens and the San Rafael River. It is a multi-tiered hodgepodge of rooms and hilltop views, each in its own bubble, compartmentalized from the rest but united in the natural wood construction and elegantly rustic feel. It features a full-service bar and buffet-style meals with vegetarian and low-fat options.


Some dishes are worthy of gourmet status – the loin cuts with mushroom sauce, for example, are exquisite and practically chew themselves in your mouth – while the banana bread drizzled in chocolate sauce served on papaya slices and other dishes are more commonplace.


The restaurant overlooks a lake where pedal boats drift for use anytime and a beach-entry pool flanks another bar and event center under construction. In a palm- thatched alcove off the covered walkway to the pool from the restaurant, a ridiculously hot Jacuzzi that can be cranked even hotter is perched on a high bank of the river, connected by a stone-paved ramp to the riverside, where bathers can cool off after their steaming.


A new, 1,600-square-foot, air-conditioned conference center was designed for business team-building vacations on which the staff can relax and meet professionally in the same spot.


In the full-service spa, guests are in the experienced hands of masseuse and hair stylist Sulay Orozco, who applies dozens of techniques and styles, such as the use of heated river rocks, therapeutic oils and scents and deep-tissue massages. She also performs manicures, pedicures, facials and other treatments you don’t usually find in the rural mountains of Costa Rica.


A 2,500-square-foot, hardwood-floor, open-air yoga and meditation room adjoins the spa. It is lined with paintings of characters from Costa Rican folk tales in anticipation of the coming art gallery for national artists, an attempt to rescue the culture, according to assistant manager Marcelo López.


“People come here to experience nature, bird-watch or for spiritual health,” Gallegos said, adding that they come from around the world. “You don’t have to go to Amsterdam to find out what’s going on there; you stay here a bit and talk, and it’s like living in 40 different countries.”


The zipline is a tame romp over the treetops sliding along a steel cable among 13 platforms at heights varying from six to 29 meters. It is touted as the safest zipline in Costa Rica because of the staffs’ obsession with safety and the relatively short length of the cables and low speed of the slide.


SUEÑOAzul hosts a day trip from San José that includes any of the activities available, such as the ziplines, horseback riding, a visit to the pool hidden in the jungle, hiking, yoga, inner-tubing on the river and an optional visit to the spa or nearby white-water rafting. Transportation to and from most hotels in San José and its environs and lunch are included for $79.


Room rates are $92 for a double plus taxes. Singles, triples and suites are available. Breakfast costs $6, dinner $12.


For information, call the hotel at 764-1000 or 764-1048, or the San José office at 253-2020; e-mail; or visit




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