Arenal Volcano / La Fortuna
Hotel La Fortuna is a cheap, clean place to stay with hot water and a cheap, good restaurant. They also have a tour company in house with a very helpful woman that has relatively cheap prices. The Monteverde Horseback ride was long but awesome. As long as you’re not claustrophobic, and you’re looking for an adventure, go see the caverns.
Cabina’s Herui was very cheap and had a kitchenette. Tabacon Hot Springs are good but there are less expensive once across the street for $5 and more natural. Tabacon are $15.
Cabina’s Carmela was definitely reasonable at $8 per person, and the rooms are big with private hot showers. The people who run the place are really friendly, as they drive us to the hot springs and came back and picked us up for 1000 colones each way. We had a great time at the lesser expensive ($5) hot springs.
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I stayed at Cabina’s Jenny which is directly toward the water after you get off the bus. It was a simple cabina located right on the water. The normal rate is $15/ night, but Julian gave us a room for 10/ night for 3 nights. Cauhita is a nice little rasta community with a nice National Park. We saw Capuchin monkeys and heard the howlers. There was a sloth in the tree right outside our room, which was cool. Eat at Mama Edith’s and party at Coco’s Bar.
There is a nice, cheap hotel called Hotel Puerto Viejo. It has cabinas with double/ single beds without fan 1000c, with fan 1500c/ night for 2 people (probably less for one person). There are shared toilets/ showers and a kitchen. The staff is quite friendly and often there are young people hanging out at the tables and benches in front of the kitchen/ office. There are great sodas in this town that are much cheaper the other tourist restaurants. Soda Marley is good, cheap, but opens at different times daily, and the menu isn’t consistent. Soda Isma is on the main road coming into Puerto Viejo, and is super cheap and very friendly. Soda Miss Zam has amazing Yucca pudding. Bamboo is near the Stanfords Disco along the beach, and is bery mellow and friendly, but sometimes the cook isn’t in.
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Central Valley / San Jose
If you like cigars and want to try a Cuban, then I found a place in the Central Marcado on the northwest corner that sells good cigars for about half the price of anywhere else in San Jose. The marcado is quite an adventure, so even if you don’t like to smoke, you should at least visit it once.
—Bill, NV; 5/28/2007
Cuban Restaurant – We just got back, and by accident found a restaurant in the “El Pueblo” center. It’s rather hidden. If you can’t find it, it’s near the “Tango Bar.” Ask the cab driver to take you to “El Pueblo.” The restaurant is called “Restaurante Mi Mojito.” It’s run by 2 Cuban women. It is a tiny two room restaurant. You eat in one room, and watch the women cook your food in the other. It is authentic Cuban cooking. For dessert, try the coconut flan. It costs $1 and is “to die for.” The restaurant was empty when we were there. It has been open only about 3 months. I hope they make it. The food is great, cheap, and the atmosphere is as homey as you can get. Their phone number is (506) 223-5650 Buen Provecho!
—Anonymous, USA; 4/10/2007
Outside San Jose
Avalon Lodge – Located in a cloud forest off the Interamericana near k70 south of San Jose. Avalon is a private cloud forest reserve owned by “Glen.” The reserve is being built by volunteers who tend to be young gringos/ gringas. Rooms are nice but expensive for the quality. Meals are a hit & miss, depending on who is cooking. Cost was $35 per room, $8 dinner, $4 breakfast, $3.50 lunch, plus 10% service charge. This is a good place to bird watch and rest up in a peaceful, quiet spot.
Poas Volcano – Volcan Poas is a great day trip from San Jose. It’s interesting because you can look down into the crater and see it steaming. It’s also a good place for hyperactive hikers who need to get a little exercise – there are a few trails to run around on!! We had an adventure on the way. The bus broke down and we had to cram ourselves into an already full bus. I stood up for 1 hour and had a great time getting to know travelers from Germany, Isreal, and the USA. Go early in the morning, the clouds roll in around 10:30 and you can’t see a thing.
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Chirripo National Park
To make reservations for rooms at the top of Chirripó, call the ranger station in San Isidro de General at 771-3155. For dry-season week-ends they’ll say they’re booked for 3 months but you can usually talk them into letting you in because there are so many no-shows. Also note that they rent sleeping bags, blankets, and camp stoves at the top for only a few dollars each per day.
—Scott, Seattle; 4/7/2006
It is one of the tallest mountains in Central America. At the top you can see both oceans on a clear day. The hike is long and steep; it will take you 8-10 hours to reach the base camp (14 km). From the base camp you will have an additional 6 km hike, about 2 hours, to the top. You must leave early to see the oceans because the clouds set in at around 8 am. At the base camp you can rent sleeping bags for 500 colones, a camping stove for 200c, blankets for 250c. Trust me on this, and only pack your food and clothes in; the hike in is one you will never forget. Oh, coming down will take around 5 hours. Getting to Chirripo, you take a bus from San Jose (Musoc bus) that will take 3.5 hours to get to San Isidro. Once in San Isidro, you can take a cab for 5000c (45 minutes) or a bus for 200c (2.5 hours) to San Gerardo where the ranger station is. A hotel is about 1500c per person per noche. In San Gerardo, you can go to the waterfalls or the hot springs (600c). Just ask around and the locals will tell you how to get there. Remember, you need a reservation to climb Chirripo, and they say the wait is 6 months, but everyone I have talked to have just shown up at the ranger station with no problem getting in without a reservation. Have fun, and the best of luck!
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Nicoya / Guanacaste
Absolutely beautiful! Great waves for surfing. Not much else to do.
The best place in Costa Rica. Not at all commercialized. Frankie’s is the place to eat. They also cash travelers checks for you. Surf Camp is the place to chill late at night and play ping-pong or pool. But keep in mind “late night” in a surfer town means 12 midnight at the latest.
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Pacific Coast (Central) / Jaco / Manuel Antonio
Carara National Park (used to be just “Carara Biological Reserve”) – We happened upon this little-known park a few hours out of San Jose on the main road to Jaco. According to the ranger it is the second best spot in the country for bird watching. The highlight is the large number of Scarlet Macaws that nest there in the dry season. We also saw parrots, toucans, jungle chickens (Currasow or Guan maybe?), tons of colorful little songbirds, pizotes, white-face monkeys, and heard howler monkeys. Also, there are monster crocs in the Tarcóles River on the highway near the reserve entrance. You’ll probably see cars stopped and people looking over the sides of the bridge at them. These are fun things to do if you’re hanging around in Jaco or want to do a day trip out of San Jose.
—Steve, Oklahoma; 3/25/2005
The road between Quepos and Dominical is still in poor condition. It took us about 1 ½ hours to go about 30 miles on a washer board road. There is talk that they will soon pave it, but don’t believe it. I guess they have been saying that for 20 years. Once you get to Dominical though, it is a different story. The coastal road from there down to Panama is in great condition and well maintained. It only took us 3 hours to get to the border. Don’t miss Corcovado National Park, one of the best parts of our visit.
—John T. NH; 8/10/2007
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Bocas Del Toro
Bocas water sports are great for PaDI Certification. Scott is a great instructor and Dennis’ Place is the best restaurant in town.
A must see!! Although it seems a little difficult to get there, if you know what you’re doing it’s very easy. You have to buy a red cross stamp (timbre) for your passport before leaving Costa Rica. Take the direct bus to Changuinola and a taxi to Almirante, but catch it quickly, as the last water taxi is at 6pm and the clocks jump ahead once you’re in Panama. Once in Bocas, buy your exit stamp at the bank, and across the street to immigration right away as you’re illegal until this is done. All this is trouble is definitely worth it! Hotel Las Brisas is awesome, with the best porch overlooking the water. We hired a local boatman from Las Brisas to take us to Coral Key for $15 for snorkeling (gorgeous), and a 4 lobster lunch for $10!
Bocas was great! Diving with Starfleet was good - $40 for 2 dives. Snorkel at Hospital Point. You can rent equipment there, and a boatsman will bring you there and pick you up for $5.
Bastimentos – Isle near Bocas - $2 boat ride. Go to Red Frog Beach, Pelicans has good pizza. Good restaurants: Heikies, Ultimo Refugio (great bar, and there’s swimming off the dock).
A Good cheap hotel & hangout is Mondo Taitu. $5 for a shared room. Palmtop Charters is also located there for scuba diving. I took the Open Water Certification for $180. Other than Haiki’s & Ultimo, Alberto’s has really good and fairly cheap Italian food. Don Chichos has cheap, big servings. There’s a tour to San Cristobal Island where there are the Indian villages and some good snorkeling. Ask for the guy around the Pull House Alaska. Wreck Deck is a nice “chilled” bar next to the prison. (If you’re a girl, it’s worth the experience to walk past the prison. It’s filled with Don Juan wannabe’s).
For those that want a great place in Panama to learn Spanish and have a fantastic mountain experience, I highly recommend Boquete. The town is about 25 minutes by cab from David, which is on the main Pan-American Highway about an hour south of the Costa Rican border. Because it is over 2500 feet in altitude the weather is much milder than the rest of Panama. There is less humidity and it does not nearly get as hot. Also, you have the fresh mountain air that keeps everything cool. I study there this summer for four weeks and learned a great deal of Spanish. It was cheap and there were a lot of things to do. I like to hike and this place was perfect for me. If you are interested in Panama, definitely give this place a shot.
—Gina, NY; 6/29/2007
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