If you haven’t been to Mono Azul Hotel and Restaurant in a while, Chip Braman understands if you don’t recognize it at first.
“Within the past nine years, we’ve gone from 10 rooms to 32 rooms,” says Braman, 62. “We’ve basically combined three hotels into one.”
Braman bought Mono Azul, on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast, nearly a decade ago. Over the years, he purchased two neighboring hotels – one adjacent, the other across the street – blending Mono Azul into the eclectic amalgamation it is today.
“Each of the hotels has its own system,” Braman explains. “You can see that all three are different.”
Each section of the hotel has a unique flavor that may appeal to a different type of traveler. The original Mono Azul features the standard rooms, while next door are deluxe rooms with at least two beds, air-conditioning and cable TV. Rooms don’t come with phones, however, and Internet access carries a small fee.
Across the street are the villas, a honeymoon suite and massage parlor (sessions cost $49). Each sector has its own pool, and with a restaurant, 2,500-book library and poolside “tiki room,” Mono Azul has something for everybody.
“We have this variety,” Braman says. “So we can separate. Groups can come over and take over one area of our hotel and be on their own.”
Catering to groups is one of the hotel’s specialties. Braman, former global marketing director at Avon beauty products company, was born in Argentina and has lived in several Latin American countries. He greets guests by name – “It’s all about the people,” he says – and can often be found in the restaurant or by the front desk, giving advice on what tours to take or what fishing boat is best.
Like the hotel, Mono Azul’s restaurant offers variety, ranging from pizzas (¢4,000-8,100/$7.20-14.50) to surf-and-turf – filet mignon and mahimahi – for two (¢12,700/$23).
Over the course of our stay, we try the quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger with avocado (¢4,100/$7.30), chicken marsala with mushroom cream sauce (¢4,700/$8.40), grilled mahimahi (¢5,100/$9.10), “The American” breakfast plate (orange juice, home fries, bacon, eggs and toast for ¢4,500/$8.10) and a ham and cheese omelet (¢3,900/$7).
The fare is solid, but not cheap. If you’re from the United States and homesick, the cheeseburger and “American” breakfast combo are particularly good bets.
For our first night, my companion and I stay in “The Tower” across the street, which Braman admits is “kind of unique.” Perfect for families and groups up to six, it boasts two downstairs bedrooms, an upstairs living room with kitchen and a loft with a third bed. From the balcony, Braman says, “the bird-watching is extraordinary,” looking out over the guarana trees that draw motmots and tanagers. While I don’t spot any birds with my untrained eye, I do snap some photos of a lizard before heading to the beach.
Mono Azul is five kilometers away from the beach, set back a bit from the road, and the pools, especially the one by the deluxe rooms, offer quiet solitude. The distance, Braman says, is a good thing.
“We happen to like being away,” he says. “People come in and they feel real comfortable. We’re just really fortunate to have this environment around our hotel. This is kind of a real safe haven.”
Another feature of Mono Azul is the gift shop, which benefits Kids Saving the Rain Forest, a nonprofit environmental organization run by Braman’s partner, Jennifer Rice (see separate story on Page W1). The two, who found out after they met that their fathers had been old friends, keep their operations separate, but proceeds from the gift shop pay for the foundation’s operating expenses. Along with crafts and jewelry made by children involved with the organization, the shop sells work by local artists and indigenous artisans.
“They help us,” Rice says of Mono Azul. “The store is here, but 100 percent of the proceeds go to saving the rain forest.”
Mono Azul’s specialty, however, is the personal service you will receive from Chip, Jennifer and the rest of the hotel’s 26-member staff. Particularly accommodating for large groups, the hotel also offers packages and is willing to negotiate prices (“We’ll always offer a deal,” Braman says). Neither cheap nor luxurious, the hotel is best for travelers looking for friendly comfort and all the assistance you could ask for in booking tours and figuring out what to do or where to go. In that respect, despite its eccentric combination of styles, Mono Azul has managed to forge a clear identity.
“We don’t pretend to be any more than that,” Braman says. “We think that’s our niche.”
Getting There, Rates, Info
From Quepos, go south about 1.5 kilometers up the hill toward Manuel Antonio. The hotel is just under 5 km away from the beaches and the national park.
Standard and semi-deluxe rooms range from $40 to $80, deluxe rooms from $60 to $105, and villas from $60 to $145, depending on season and room type. Rates are for single occupancy and do not include taxes. Additional guests cost $5 or $10, depending on room type, while kids under 8 stay free. Honeymoon packages and group rates are available. Booking online brings a $10 per night discount, and, if you stay a week, you get one night free.
For information and reservations, call 2777-2572 within Costa Rica or 1-800-381-3578 toll-free from United States, or visit www.hotelmonoazul.com.