Which hotel/rental should we stay in Costa Rica?
December 2, 2012 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Where is the ideal place for us to stay in Costa Rica in January?

Hello! The two of us desperately need a relaxing getaway, and we're thinking Costa Rica for a week. Where should we go?

We are both laid back travelers. We are happy to do some kind of "roughing it" -- we don't like fancy resorts at all, but we need it to be above camping. We are happy not to have TV or internet. We don't want to do a lot of internal travel or rent a car. We want something romantic with access to good food. Doesn't necessarily have to be a beach, but that would be nice, too. To give you an idea of what we like, we once stayed at this yurt resort in Big Sur with excellent food that was our favorite holiday together.

Right now we're thinking La Carolina Lodge. Any other suggestions?

posted by EtTuHealy to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I just spent a few weeks in Costa Rica.

On the road from Quepos to Manuel Antonio on the pacific coast, there are a ton of great hostels and restaurants-- everything from cheap hostels (I stayed at a place for like $15 a night) up to five star hotels. And the beaches are amazing. There are tons of places to do zip lining, see the jungle, etc nearby. The beach is literally breath-taking.

Near Arenal there are a bunch of resorts, etc as well, but no beaches. I went up to the hot springs for a day, but didn't hang around there, so I can't tell you very many details.

On the east coast near Panama, there is a town called Puerto Viejo, it's more of a party town, though a friend and I found this amazing hostel (I can't remember the name of it) a bit down the street toward Cocles and up a dirt road. It's literally in the middle of the jungle, and you'd wake up in the morning with monkeys and sloths literally in the trees around you. There are a apparently a few similar places near there, just don't stay in the town itself, which is full of rowdy tourists, music and drugs (unless that's what you're looking for)

Just a couple of notes on Costa Rica -- it's very expensive, and very americanized. Don't expect to be immersed at all in the local culture, especially if you stay near the more popular vacation spots. If you want a place just as beautiful but much less expensive and with more of the local culture -- think about Nicaragua, in the area around Granada and San Juan Del Sur -- volcanic islands, pacific beaches, big colonial towns, etc. It's a bit rougher and less American friendly, but I absolutely adored Nicaragua and found Costa Rica a little boring.

Panama in Bocas del Toro was also lovely -- there's an island resort called Red Frog that I enjoyed a lot when I visited.

(feel free to memail with any travel questions about central america, I just spent three months travelling all around down there and I haven't gotten tired of talking about it yet)
posted by empath at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I just looked at the place you linked in your question -- think hard about going to Ometepe or Laguna de Apoyo in Nicaragua. It's probably a third of the price for a very similar experience.
posted by empath at 2:16 PM on December 2, 2012

When I did a tour of Costa Rica last summer, we stayed in areas all around the country, but the one that matches your wishlist the most was Hotel Capitan Suizo in Tamarindo. Tamarindo is somewhat known as a beach bum town, and that's definitely the vibe. Lots of ex-pats live there but it's got a slow, relaxing mien. The beach adjacent to the hotel is not private, but we loved that because we could actually walk into town via walking along the beach. The resort had very good food, but there were several restaurants in town that had great food as well. The best was a little hole-in-the-wall beachside fish restaurant, where the day we dined, the special was "4-o'clock mahi," as in, they caught it at 4:00 and now we're eating it.

The resort itself was sort of eco-themed and contained lots of native flora and fauna, including a troop of monkeys who lived on the grounds. If you're traveling in January, you probably won't have to worry about getting a room with AC, only half the rooms there do. We stayed in a ground-floor room with AC and enjoyed it very much, it was very private despite being ground floor. One of the domestic cats that lived at the resort took a liking to us and met us at our door every evening upon our return for a little attention.

I don't recall there being a TV in the room, or anywhere in the resort for that matter, but then again, we didn't go looking. We spent a lot of lazy days reading on the beach.

You can get to Tamarindo via Nature Air, which is Costa Rica's local airline. You can pick up a connecting flight from the capital.
posted by juniperesque at 3:27 PM on December 2, 2012

TVs in general are a lot less common than internet. Everywhere has free wifi, even like really rustic hostels in the middle of nowhere.
posted by empath at 3:32 PM on December 2, 2012

Non-Coastal Locations:
- These seem to be the most popular -

Monteverde: "Cloud Forest" and crunchy vibe. Really popular with US/EU tourists.

Arenal: I had a great time in Arenal. The main draw is a slightly active volcano, but there are hot springs, and cave spelunking, and pretty much everything else you can imagine nearby. The town itself is small-ish, but has a normal sized grocery store and a few restaurants. On one side of town (east?) there are resorts and expensive accommodations. There are hostels in the town, and on the other side of town (West?) there are cabins and camping grounds.

As a bonus, you can go between these two with the awesome jeep-boat-jeep plan (although "jeep" is more "minibus"): http://www.monteverdecostarica.info/monteverde-services/JeepBoatJeep.htm

Don't drive in Costa Rica. I read somewhere that it's one of the most dangerous places to drive and a lot of roads are in questionable shape. Pay someone to drive you or fly a small plane. I paid someone to drive, but the small plane is probably the best bet (and likely close in price).

Extra Credit:
If you end up going the Pac Coast route, you might want to head into Nicaragua, as it's increasingly popular with tourists.
posted by NYC-BB at 11:28 PM on December 2, 2012

The Mochilla Inn in Montezuma on the Nicoya Peninsula was beautiful, warm, surrounded by monkeys, a short walk to the beach, and totally private if you stay in one of the villas, which as I recall cost us about $20/night for a 4 night stay.

As for driving, YMMV, but we were only there for 1 week so renting a car made sense and did not seem dangerous. We rented from a local company that had a booth at the airport. It was waaaay cheaper than any of the big names, and they even called my credit card company to make sure I had insurance through them.

We did not find driving to be dangerous. We drove through a foot-deep river, up mountain passes, down dirt roads, on the Pan-American highway, in the rain, at night, and it never felt dangerous. Just don't drive fast and if cars in front of you are all slowed down or stopped, don't try to pass them! If you are the last car in a chain of slow cars, turn on your blinkers!

Friends who went and didn't rent a car spent a lot of time on buses.

I would not really trust someone else driving me to be honest. The two cabs we took in CR both were operating on kickback schemes with local hotels, and both strongly encouraged us not to brave the $1.00 bus that goes directly to the airport, which was direct and easy.

So maybe there are statistics somewhere about driving being dangerous there, but we had a great, safe time.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:29 PM on December 5, 2012

The buses are actually pretty great in Costa Rica -- inexpensive, clean and comfortable-- just be careful about putting your stuff underneath. They don't always give you a ticket and they don't really secure it, so it's kind of on the honor system. Take your bags on the bus with you if they'll let you.
posted by empath at 12:50 PM on December 5, 2012

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