San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The best hotel in Playa Garza

Travel writers are sometimes hesitant to name a hotel the absolute best in any given area. But in the dusty little beach town of Playa Garza on the Nicoya Peninsula, the eponymous Playa Garza Hotel is the clear frontrunner. Sure, this is mostly because it’s the only real hotel in the area. Even if there were a competitor or two, though, this place would probably come out on top.

Hotel Playa Garza

Juri and Chiara Casalegno run the best and only hotel in Playa Garza.
Ashley Harrell

Situated just a coconut’s toss from the beach, this intimate bed and breakfast offers just four standard rooms, two apartments with full kitchens and two dorm-style accommodations with a shared bathroom.

The spacious quarters are distributed on two levels around a refreshing swimming pool, flanked by a quaint restaurant and bar area, where guests and locals gather for the hotel’s main draw – its mouthwatering Italian cuisine.

The property was taken over in December by Juri and Chiara Casalegno, an Italian couple who met in Maldives while working in the travel industry, reunited three years later in Greece, opened a bar in their native country then moved together to Costa Rica. They were attracted to Garza for the same reason that many of their guests return again and again – peacefulness.

Unlike Playa Guiones just a few kilometers north, Garza isn’t a tourist destination or surfing hotspot. Instead, the tiny fishing village features a calm surf, laidback atmosphere and relatively low people to cows ratio.

The town’s 200 residents actually include the country’s most famous bull, Malacrianza, who is known to gore his montadors while they are still on his back.

To Garza’s rural idyll, Juri and Chiara have brought their Italian sensibility. The windows of the rooms are draped in fine Italian fabric featuring tropical-looking flora and fauna, and much of the food is prepared with ingredients imported from Italy. The flour, mozzarella cheese, salami, olives, pesto and mascarpone are all Pippo, an Italian brand shipped regularly to the provincial capital of Liberia.

“We brought the food of Italy with us,” Juri says one afternoon as he prepares a fresh, thin-crust pizza with pineapple, olives and salami. “And we have almost always fresh fish.”

Playa Garza

Much of the food is prepared with ingredients imported from Italy.
Lindsay Fendt

Sometimes, that’s fish that Juri has caught himself. He often ventures out in the ocean in a kayak to fish for snapper, and other times, some of the local sport fishing captains share their dorado and wahoo. Many of the hotel guests also embark on sport fishing and kayaking trips, from which their catch may also become the night’s feast.

With a large dining area and a big-screen on which concerts and movies can be projected, Hotel Playa Garza is one of the town’s primary gathering spots for expats, tourists and locals. It’s where many people watched the Superbowl this year, Juri says, and on certain evenings, he and Chiara make popcorn for an American-style movie night.

Perhaps the best part of the best hotel in Garza, though, is the shower. In a country where drippy, suicide showerheads predominate, it’s a delightful surprise to find a hot, powerful one just about anywhere. So to find it in Garza, a tiny town with just one hotel and more cows than people, that’s pretty damn dolce.

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