Hotels in San Jose
Many people visiting Costa Rica, especially first time visitors, venture no further than San Jose and its surrounding area. The city offers all the modern conveniences, a good sampling of the unique features of Costa Rican culture, and has several natural attractions (including some superb, mysteriously beautiful, misty cloud forest with treetop tours) within half an hour by car or bus. There is much more to see in Costa Rica, but the capital is certainly a good starting point.
Surprisingly, it is often easier to find cheap lodging in San Jose than is the case on either coast. Of course, this is due to supply and demand – there are relatively few hotels on the coasts and many tourists, while in the capital there are many hotels and a lesser number of tourists distributed among them. Still, it is a good idea to book early and thoroughly to avoid problems with finding a room.
The cheapest hotels you are likely to find online cost somewhere in the vicinity of $18 to $25 per night. As you might expect, these are not five star establishments, but they offer fairly clean rooms, laundry services, a complimentary breakfast, and typically high speed Wi-Fi Internet connections for the guests as well. They are generally older buildings and many fixtures may be rather worn, however.
Comfortable foreign hotel chains offer lodging throughout the city, with many of the buildings standing in the downtown area very close to the city’s heart. A brief walk from one of these hotels will bring you to many of the main attractions of San Jose, yet their prices range from $60 to $150, which is largely the price that you might expect to pay for a room at a branch in the United States or western Europe. Some of the deluxe chains price their rooms at $180 to $200 per night.
Such familiar names as Best Western, Country Inns & Suites, Doubletree, Crowne Plaza, and Marriott offer the traveler a comfortably well known place to stay, though perhaps lacking in local flavor. The feel and quality of these hotels is similar to those of each chain found in Frankfurt, San Francisco, Philadelphia, or Minneapolis.
There are also many four and five star local hotels that are worth a look for the more adventurous, who want a slightly different lodging experience than they get in their home countries. These hotels offer ordinary single and double rooms for $50 to $90 per night, depending on the business, and suites for anywhere from $150 to $250 per night (or more for truly luxurious accommodations).
These hotels are completely modern, with such features as a 24 hour front desk, cable TV, air conditioning, microwaves, refrigerators, and other appliances, and high-speed Internet. They have an intriguing touch of Costa Rican culture and decoration, too, which lets you know that you are in a new, exciting place while retaining all the comfort that contemporary times have to offer.
Hotels on the Pacific Coast
The Pacific coast is a very popular destination for ecotourists in Costa Rica. Pacific hotels tend to be set in more dramatic scenery than their Caribbean counterparts, with many of them perched atop seaside cliffs with views across the vastness of the largest ocean on Earth. These hotels offer spectacular scenery, but this is gained at the price of considerable crowding at certain times of the year, so these Pacific hostelries are probably best for more social tourists.
There are also smaller beach resorts and spas, often centered on ecology or yoga, which offer much quieter alternatives to those who want to savor the music of wind and water for spiritual refreshment rather than partying and excitement.
The north Pacific coast is a hot, dry region with dry tropical forest inland, while the southern end of the coast is much more humid and sustains mangrove forests beside its shimmering tropical beaches and sea cliffs. Securing a hotel at the north end of the Pacific coast may be somewhat difficult in the dry season (November through April or May) because of the intense demand for lodging, and the entire supply of rooms is often sold out up to 4 or 5 months in advance.
North Pacific hotels are often of superb quality, with locations near numerous attractions, room service, plasma TVs, airport transfer, high speed Internet, minibars in the rooms, and the like. However, you can also expect to pay through the proverbial nose for a room there, with $400 to $600 per night not being unknown.
The Gold Coast, as the northern section of the Pacific oceanic margin as called, is a good spot for Yoga retreats. These typically come as an eight day, twenty-one day, or other length of time package, and can cost around $1,500 per week per person. This works out to $200 per day for the shorter stays, but is still cheaper – and more distinctive – than staying at a hotel. Some retreats offer the option of staying in a tent to be closer to nature, with a slight discount for the relative lack of amenities.
The southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is another popular destination, though here, hotel rooms can be sold out up to a year in advance or more. Prices are somewhat lower due to the larger area included in this zone, with anywhere from $250 per night and up for good quality lodgings at a modern hotel. There are many three and three and a half star hotels for lesser prices, however, all along the coast, including many of the familiar international hotels. These cost anywhere from $55 a night to $150 per night, and offer a better solution to the budget minded traveler even if their appointments are less luxurious.
Hotels on the Caribbean Coast
Costa Rica has coasts which front on both the Caribbean and the Pacific, each with their own unique habitats, flora, and fauna. The Caribbean coast and Pacific coasts have different characters, but both have something to offer the ecotourist – in fact, it is rather refreshing that each seaside of the nation has a distinctive feel, since it gives you more possibilities for exploration, discovery, and fun.
The Caribbean coastal resort hotels tend to be less crowded than their Pacific counterparts, mostly because many people have heard that the Caribbean coast is rainy and less interesting than the western seafront regions. While it is true that rainstorms sweep in from the sea frequently on the Caribbean side, this is a warm tropical rain, not the bitter deluge of a Maine nor’easter. The frequent rains also support extremely lush jungle filled with all kinds of animal and plant life, making this an ideal spot for the ecotourist who wants to see some of the most abundant living diversity on the planet.
Caribbean hotels in Costa Rica include both busy, surfing hotels such as those found in the vicinity of Puerto Viejo and towards the Panama border, to quieter establishments (which may be more costly) towards the northern end of the Caribbean coast. There are places to party and places to relax all along the coast, and most offer easy access to swimming, bicycling, hiking, beach activities, and surfing to those who stay at them.
Puerto Vieja offers excellent lodging for as little as $60 a night, including a full breakfast and wireless Internet access in the rooms, as well as the usual fixtures of a hotel. Luxury establishments in the town can cost $200 to $300 per night, or more in some cases, though this is for single occupancy. Double or more occupancy naturally costs slightly more.
There are also lodges near the town, though these tend to sell out well in advance. However, it is rare to find Puerto Vieja hotels booked solid a year in advance as is the case with the Gold Coast (north Pacific area), and you should still find plenty of rooms available a few months before your trip. As with the rest of Costa Rica, an advance booking is strongly advisable.
Eco-lodges are frequently encountered around the Tortuguero area, the northern region of beaches and jungles where people go to escape the crowds, explore nature, and find a guide to show them nesting sea turtles on the night-cloaked beaches. (Note that barracudas and sharks make this a somewhat more uncomfortable surfing area, though it is well known for boating.) Dry season rates tend to be higher than wet season rates, though both are higher than the Puerto Vieja and southern Caribbean coast prices.
A high quality hotel in this area during the dry season may cost $400 for a single visitor, or $525 for a couple, for a two day package, with additional days costing $150 to $200 (assuming that you book in advance). Wet season prices may be around 10% to 15% lower, though this varies from hotel to hotel. Less luxurious but still pleasant lodges – which may be arranged with individual cabanas or in a single large building – cost anywhere from $100, $150, and $190 or more per night in the dry season. Some budget accommodations cost no more than $50 per night, though in this case you will need to make do with ceiling fans instead of air conditioning and may find the amenities a bit rougher around the edges than you are accustomed to.
Hotels in the Interior
The interior of Costa Rica includes many popular destinations as well, from the quiet, contemplative environs of the Spanish ruins at Cartago to the thunder-shaken flanks of the Arenal Volcano. These areas also feature the usual range of regular hotels, ecologically sensitive lodges (or eco-lodges), and yoga retreats, just as are found on the coasts and in the vicinity of San Jose itself.
The hotels near the Arenal Volcano are highly developed and have many modern conveniences, since this is a popular spot for visitors to the country – an understandable choice, since a full sampling of all Costa Rica’s wonders except the seaside is to be found fairly close by. These hotels often have a bar and restaurant on the premises, allowing you to eat in if you don’t want to wander the town in search of dinner.
Dry season prices for a typical hotel or lodge in the Arenal Volcano’s vicinity are around $75 or more for a single guest and $85 or more for a couple. Wet season prices are slightly lower, though the difference is apt to be only a few dollars. Many of these hotels also offer local tours, hikes, horseback rides, boating or windsurfing expeditions on the nearby lake, or other tourist services that you may find intriguing.
If you stay at hotels in Cartago, you are likely to find much the same prices. However, smaller hotels and lodges in the outlying towns or countryside may offer lower rates – as low as $25 per person per night in some cases. These lodges are not as fancy as the main city establishments, but you can rely on having electricity at most of them, as well as fairly usable bathroom facilities and, of course, the ubiquitous satellite TV. The fact that many of these smaller hotels and lodges are located close to striking natural features makes them even more attractive to the budget minded traveler to Costa Rica.
Hotels in Costa Rica
As can be seen, there are many different kinds of hotels and varied price ranges for lodging throughout the nation of Costa Rica. Dry season prices, as well as those in the “lesser dry season” of July, tend to be slightly higher than those in the wetter months. The savings obtained by booking in the wet season amount to little more than 10% in most cases, though, so you should choose your time of travel more on the basis of what weather you want to experience than the cost of your lodgings.
The cheapest hotels and lodges can cost as little as $18 to $25 per night, but the quality of such places is naturally quite variable and there is always the risk of an unpleasant surprise. Typical hotel rooms cost $50 to $150 per night, much as in the U.S., while luxury hotels or those in particularly desirable locales may cost $350 or more per night. Yoga retreats are usually booked for longer periods – a week or three weeks at a time – and thus cost well over $1,000 if they are reputable, well organized, and certified as ecologically sensitive. Costa Rican vacations are not cheap, but they are not as expensive as the Riviera, either – and you can save both money and frustration by booking far in advance.