El Establo Mountain Hotel – Monteverde, Costa Rica
El Establo Mountain Hotel
Diagonal to Escuela Rafael Arguedas, 549-2050
Monteverde, Costa Rica
El Establo is (I believe) the largest and most well-known hotel in Monteverde, and seemed the logical choice when I booked it as part of our Costa Rican holiday. We drove from Arenal (quite the adventure!) and arrived at El Establo shortly before sunset. The woman working at Reception was probably the least polite person we encountered in Costa Rica; that said, she wasn’t impossibly rude, merely disinterested and less helpful than we experienced elsewhere. Almost everyone we met in Costa Rica was friendly and seemed genuinely nice, so her abrupt attitude was a bit of a disappointment after our day of driving. We drove up the hill to our room, #410.
The complex is sprawling and not particularly well-lit, but we had no trouble locating the building. The buildings are set on a hill and the higher up the hill, the higher the number of the building. As we were walking in, someone was turning lights on in the building; presumably we were the first guests that evening in the 400 building. There is no elevator and no assistance with baggage, which wasn’t a problem for us but others should be aware of the situation if they do not travel light and/or have difficulty carrying bags up stairs.
Our room was what they classify as a Honeymoon Suite. We weren’t honeymooning, but my boyfriend Scott is tall and I like to book a King-sized bed whenever possible; when I booked, this was the only room with a King bed available and was similar in price to the other available option which had two Double beds. Roughly half of the room is the “Bed” side and half is the “Bath” side. The Bath side is tiled and includes a nice Jacuzzi tub large enough for two, sink, mirror and glassed-in shower. There is no separation between Bed and Bath. At all. This was not a surprise, as the pictures on their website clearly show the tub and shower in the same room as the bed, and that was fine with us. HOWEVER, what is not clear from the photos, and what led us to refer to this as the “Honeymoon is Over” Suite, is the fact that there is no door and only a partial wall separating the toilet from the rest of the room, and the placement of the large mirrors ensures complete visibility of anyone on the toilet from essentially everywhere in the room. Scott and I have been together for many years, but we still have a closed-door bathroom policy; we took to relegating one another to the balcony when nature called. Scott did point out that you could watch TV whilst doing your business, but this did not make me feel any better about the situation. To be fair, we could have asked for a different type of room, potentially with a bathroom door, since the resort seemed far from fully booked; but by the time we had hefted our baggage in from the rain and up the stairs, I just wanted to relax and had no desire to deal with the unpleasant woman at Reception again.
We had asked at Reception for the key to the room safe and were supplied with a small key on a rather large wooden placard marked “410”. We were amused by the ratio of key placard size to the size of the safe, which was so small that neither my 10.1” netbook nor his camera had any chance of fitting inside.
Beside the shelf with the safe was a mini-fridge, turned off with the door open when we arrived. The bed was lovely and comfortable, and the TV was as expected, although we got a chuckle from the TV remote, which was encased in a big weird plastic wrapper. (Maybe they think people steal the batteries? Seriously, there is no telling.) There was a coffeemaker in the room, but no coffee. We asked for it the next morning at Reception and watched as they carefully marked our room number in a book. No coffee was supplied the second day either, and we later learned upon reading the Almighty El Establo List of Rules that each room gets one bag daily, and additional bags are $4. (More on the Rules later.) It’s a little silly to charge for extra coffee (I mean, how much coffee can guests possibly drink that it makes financial sense to irritate us with this, when this is not a budget hotel?) but OK, fine, lots of hotels have ridiculous extra charges; however, they don’t even leave the one complimentary bag in your room; you have to go get it from Reception presumably so that they can track it. Come on, El Establo, leave a bag of coffee in the room! It’s just dumb that guests have to trek down to Reception and request it daily so that it can be properly marked in what I presume to be the Official El Establo Coffee Rationing Tables.
The room had a high, beamed ceiling, which made it feel very large, even cavernous. There were two rocking chairs and two cushioned chairs along with a small table. Easily the highlight of the room was the balcony, which faced West and offered a spectacular view, particularly at sunset. The view looks out over the mountains and all the way to the Gulf and is truly exceptional. The grounds were beautifully landscaped as well. There were no chairs on the balcony, so we dragged the rocking chairs out. I don’t know if the hotel management technically would approve, but the best thing about this place is the view, and we didn’t intend to miss it.
At first we thought that the lights by the bed weren’t working, but upon closer inspection we determined that the bulbs had been loosened. There was no light near the sitting area, so we tried to move the lamp so that we could sit and read, but it was bolted to the desk. Like many hotels, you put your key card in the slot at the door to use the lights; it’s worth noting that ALL of the outlets (at least all that we tested, which included all that we located) required the card to be in place in order to provide electricity. This included the outlet for the mini-fridge (so you can’t leave anything in it when you’re out) and the clock, which would reset and blink “12:00” every time we returned to the room. (I promptly unplugged it out of annoyance.) This also means that if you want to charge cameras, phones, computers, etc., you need to do it when you’re in the room. Probably the thing I disliked most about the room was the fact that there was no heating or air conditioning. This was of course not mentioned on their website, but was mentioned in the “Rules” that they provided at Check-In, which also stated that there would be absolutely no refund for early departure. A complete copy of the El Establo Rules is an entertaining read, and is just one more thing that made us laugh at the absurdity of this lovely hotel, which doesn’t seem to understand that the small pleasantries are what take an experience from decent to outstanding.
As I mentioned, the property is quite large. The buildings go from 100 – 900 up the mountain. We were able to walk downhill fairly easily from Building 400, but walking up was much more difficult; they offer shuttle service, but there can be quite a wait – which is no fun late at night when you just want to go to bed. There are two restaurants, one bar, and a spa on property, along with a convention area, tennis court, basketball court, pool and fitness equipment. We tried to go to the bar one night but when we called for the shuttle we were told the bar was closed. (We don’t know why; maybe the time of year, maybe they just closed it that day.) We were required to wear plastic wristbands for the entirety of our stay, which kind of makes you feel like you’re at an amusement park, but I suppose they have their reasons. Everything was immaculately clean and well-kept. Breakfast was included; there was ample variety and service was fine. There was no Internet accessibility in the rooms, but computers in the lobby could be used for a charge. (I believe it was $3 for a half hour or $5 for an hour when we were there.) There are hiking trails and tours offered, but we didn’t take their tours as a friend who had taken the Night Walk tour advised against it.
Overall, El Establo is a nice hotel with amazing views that got the big picture right but in my opinion missed on all of the details – and the details are what would bring me back or lead me to recommend a place. Many of the things we didn’t like about El Establo made us laugh more than they made us angry or frustrated, because it really seemed like they just didn’t quite understand how to provide an experience in line with the high-end look of the resort and the higher price in relation to other accommodations in the area. People will continue to go to El Establo because they have read, like I did, that the views are fantastic and that this is THE place to stay in Monteverde, and maybe it IS the best or most luxurious; but for me, all of the silly “Rules” and small annoyances (not to mention the lack of bathroom privacy) put what should have been a lovely stay in a negative light. If I return to the area, I will likely look elsewhere in Monteverde (though I’m not likely to find a better view, as it is quite stunning) for a place that may not have all the bells and whistles but can provide more of the small niceties that make traveling pleasurable.
Stayed: Dec 13 15, 2010
Current Price for Honeymoon Suite: $295/night
(price quoted is per company website at the time of writing)