By Robert Isenberg | Special to The Tico Times
“Muy tranquilo,” said our cabbie, Leo, as his pickup truck bombed down Avenida Central. “It’s not like San José. The people are nice. The city is peaceful. I like it here very much.”
We arrived at a Liberia terminal, in the dark, after a three-hour bus ride that zigzagged from Tamarindo, and we ached to lay down our bags. We had a reservation at Hotel Liberia, a straight shot from the station, but Leo saved us a long walk down unfamiliar streets. I have never spent ₡200 so gladly.
Whether it’s called Hotel Paris or Hotel Caracas, taking a city’s namesake is a gutsy move. Any city name is weighty with significance, and the hotel should live up to expectation. Given Liberia’s reputation for relaxed people and swollen pride, we figured Hotel Liberia should wow us with its hospitality and vaquero charm. My girlfriend Kylan and I didn’t expect much of a $40 casona in the very heart of the White City, nor did we need much.
But for two backpackers schlepping their way through Guanacaste, the room surpassed all expectations – a lofty ceiling, earth-toned walls and an immaculately made bed. The ceiling fan and flat-screen TV looked brand-new. The building is an old colonial structure, yet the room had a fresh, modernist feel, as if taking cues from a contemporary art museum. The bathroom was big and basic, and although the shower ran only cold water, its splash was refreshing in the dry Guanacastean heat.
In the morning, we discovered that Hotel Liberia has no pool or hammocks as the coastal hotels nearby usually do, but it hardly mattered. The hotel’s central court is broad and sunny, and the shaded commons is beset with tables and rocking chairs. Each time we passed each other, the hotel staff smiled warmly; they let us make phone calls and were flexible with housekeeping. Near a nook full of drinks and snacks, a menu listed various trips and excursions, though the staff never pushed them on us. At one point, we absentmindedly left our door open as we ran to the tienda, and the attendant kept an eye on our exposed room until we returned.
As lore would have it, the building has a long history of hosting weary travelers. Back in the 1940s, when Liberia was an even sleepier pueblo, one Doña Sofía Acuña de Guillén would offer respite to passersby; back then, there were hammocks, available to the wide range of cowboys and teamsters who floated through town. Since the 1960s, the Meza Valverde family has owned and operated Hotel Liberia, making it one of the oldest guesthouses in the city. The place looks hip and modern, but if these antique walls could speak, the stories they could tell.
Hotel Liberia is undergoing some light renovations, and during the day, the court was alive with dust and electric drills. But the hotel’s best quality is its location – right in the middle of the city, a block away from the magnificent Central Church and the ever-busy Parque Mario Cañas Ruíz. The block is packed with little shops and restaurants, and for travelers looking for the real Costa Rica, the streets are filled with life-long locals, and hardly a Norteamericano can be found. Liberians are generous and chatty, and they love to give directions and advice. For simple comfort, Hotel Liberia does, in fact, live up to its name.
Muy tranquilo indeed.
Take Inter-American Highway north to Liberia. Head for the center of town, to the corner of Avenida Central and Calle Real (ask for the Central Church). Hotel Liberia is located a block south from the church, on Calle Real. Driving time is about three hours. Liberia airport hosts a wide range of airlines, including domestic carriers Taca Regional (www.tacaregional.com) and Nature Air (www.natureair.com).
Rates range from $28-$50. Snack bar in communal area, and tours available upon request. For information and reservations, call (506) 2666-0161, or visit www.hotelliberiacr.com.