Costa Rica is a place where competition for travelers' dollars is sometimes pretty intense. And nothing attracts tourist spending like a little good-old-fashioned fun. So what's fun and interesting these days? We managed to find a few classics and a few newcomers. From a "Hobbit Hotel" to a secluded resort of geodesic-dome "jungalows", here are some of our favorites all over Costa Rica.
A Gaudí-esque Ranch Retreat
Heredia, Central Valley
Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn. There's nothing common about this exclusive B&B overlooking coffee farms; new additions update the Gaudí-esque hideaway's reputation as one of the country's top sumptuous splurges. The main building retains its soaring ceiling and white stucco arches, set among tropical flowers and shaded by massive fig trees. The spacious two-story suite is out of a fairy tale, with a spiral staircase leading up to a window-lined tower bedroom. The owners work hard to make the hotel as eco-friendly as possible, using composting, solar panels, and other methods. The hotel is one of only four in the country to receive a top rating for sustainable tourism. www.fincarosablanca.com.
Recommended in the Forums: "It was a beautiful hotel with stunning architecture and the grounds are gorgeous. We hiked around the property a bit and had a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant the first night. The next morning we did a horseback riding tour into the coffee plantation on the grounds and up hill where we had a great view of San Jose." -- laurab8737 (more)
Explore Nearby: Heredia's Old Market, a better place to get souvenirs than San José's mercado.
A Working Field Station
La Selva, Biological Station, Northern Plains
La Selva. Other lodges provide more comfort for the money, but none can match La Selva's tropical nature experience. The dorm-style rooms have large bunk beds, tile floors, and lots of screened windows. Newer family-style cabins can sleep up to four people and offer a greater level of comfort and privacy. The restaurant, something like a school cafeteria, serves decent food but has a very limited schedule (reserve ahead). It's a good idea to pay the full-board fee, which includes a guided nature walk and three meals a day with your room rate, since there's nowhere else to eat. Priority is given to researchers—this is a working field station—so advance reservations are essential. www.ots.ac.cr.
Recommended in the Forums: "For its ample program of educational activities, La Selva has always been one of my favorites. (Since it's operated by a consortium of universities, no surprise that it focuses so much on education.) Plus, you can be there in about 90 minutes from San Jose via a fairly decent highway. You don't have to navigate the awful roads that Costa Rica is so famous for to get there." -- Jeff_Costa_Rica (more)
Explore Nearby: La Selva Biological Station, where 420 bird species, 460 tree species, and 500 butterfly species are packed into just 6 square miles.
A Surfer's Paradise
Tamarindo, North Pacific
Best Western Tamarindo Vista Villas. If you're into surfing, this is where you want to be. Even though it's across the street from the beach, it's quite close to Tamarindo's beach break, and a quick paddle to the rivermouth break and Playa Grande. Around the pool and bar the talk is all about waves. There's a surf school and a surf shop, and surfing legends Robert August and Wing Nuts, of Endless Summer movie fame, are frequent guests. www.tamarindovistavillas.com.
Explore Nearby: Other surf spots
A Hobbit Hotel
Volcán Poás National Park, Northern Plains
Peace Lodge. These rooms overlooking the misty forest of La Paz Waterfall Gardens seem like something out of the Lord of the Rings, with their curved, clay-stucco walls, hardwood floors, stone fireplaces, and four-poster beds made of varnished logs. They are proper abodes for elfin kings, especially the spacious, grotto-like bathrooms with two showers, a whirlpool tub, tropical gardens, and private waterfall. Most hotels settle for a room with a bath. Peace Lodge gives you a bath with a room. And as if that weren't enough, you can soak in your second whirlpool tub on a porch with a cloud-forest view. Please note that the hotel, the waterfalls, some trails, and the road connecting the hotel to Arenal Volcano were damaged in a January 2009 earthquake. While great strides have been made to restore the inn and area, you may wish to call ahead of your visit to inquire about the hotel's progress. www.waterfallgardens.com.
Recommended in the Forums: "The Peace Lodge is pretty close to Poas and would make it easy for you to visit. Xandari is closer to the airport. Either property is great. I always stay at the Peace Lodge and only gave Xandari a try because the Peace Lodge hadn't reopened after the January earthquake. They are both higher end properties." -- volcanogirl (more)
Explore Nearby: La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where five magnificent waterfalls are the main attraction.
A Cowboy Hotel
La Fortuna, Northern Plains
Hotel Bosques de Chachagua. At this working ranch, intersected by a brook, you can see caballeros (cowboys) at work, take a horseback ride into the rain forest, and look for toucans from the open-air restaurant, which serves local meat and dairy products. Each cabina (cottage) has a pair of double beds and a deck with a picnic table. Large, reflective windows enclosing each cabina's shower serve a marvelous purpose: birds gather outside your window to watch their own reflections while you bathe and watch them. The lodge is 3 km (2 mi) up a rough track—4WD is a must in rainy season—on the road headed south from La Fortuna to La Tigra. www.chachaguarainforesthotel.com.
Explore Nearby: Fortuna Waterfall, where you can swim under the falls after a strenuous 45-minute walk.
A Lodge in the Shadow of a Volcano
La Fortuna, Northern Plains
Arenal Observatory Lodge. You're as close as anyone should be to an active volcano, as Arenal is a mere 1¾ km (1 mi) away. The isolated lodge was founded by Smithsonian researchers in 1987. It's fairly rustic, emphasizing that outdoor activities are what it's all about. Rooms are comfortable and simply furnished (comforters on beds are a cozy touch), and most have stellar views. After a hike, take a dip in the infinity pool or 12-person hot tub, which face tall pines on one side and the volcano on the other. The dining room, which serves tasty and hearty food, has great views of the volcano and lake. www.arenalobservatorylodge.com.
Recommended in the Forums:"For the record, we've stayed at the Observatory Lodge twice and if we ever go back, that's where we'd stay the third time. There are hundreds of luxury hotels in this world. You can count on one hand the number that let you see wildlife, explore the rainforest, and observe volcanic eruptions without leaving your room." -- RAC (more)
Explore Nearby: Arenal Volcano National Park, since you're in the middle of it!
A Luxury Lodge That Blends In
Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific
Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort. What you don't see is what you get at this new eco-luxury hotel: no cars, no crowds, no clutter. You can hardly see the hotel's seven sage-and-beige modern buildings camouflaged on reforested hillsides sloping down to two pristine, almost deserted beaches. Rooms here are chic and elegant but still "green," decorated with gorgeous natural fabrics, king-size beds, and flamboyant local art. Even the eco element here is an added luxury, with 12 acres of beach and forest alive with birds, butterflies, and wildlife. The main restaurant is practically in the trees, and the menu is innovative and ambitious. www.arenasdelmar.com.
Explore Nearby: Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, a park that proves the old adage "good things come in small packages".
A Geodesic Dome Bungalow
Montezuma, Central Pacific
Ylang-Ylang Beach Resort. Secluded and quiet, this tropical resort with a holistic slant is a 10-minute beach walk from town. Nestled between the sea and a lush forest, the geodesic-dome bungalows are snug but charming, with outdoor showers and terraces. Some have sea views and cozy loft sleeping areas. Rustic "jungalows"—large tents with beds and decks—offer a back-to-nature experience, but they share bathrooms. The grounds are covered with trees that hold iguanas, howler monkeys, tricolor squirrels, and an array of birds. Adding to the romance is a jungle-fringed pool with a waterfall. www.elbanano.com.
Recommended in the Forums: "I cannot say enough good things about Ylang Ylang. As you know, I tied the knot on the beach in front of Ylang Ylang last February, and my husband and I are returning next February for 5 nights. We stayed in the little domes on the beach, and it was a fantastic feeling having the waves lull you to sleep every night (you are soooooooo close!)" -- costaricalover (more)
Explore Nearby: Playa de los Artistas, a restaurant in Montezuma that serves Mediterranean-style cuisine on driftwood tables scattered along the beach.
Hotel In A Botanical Garden
San Vito, South Pacific
Wilson Botanical Garden. A highlight of any Costa Rican visit, this magical botanical garden has comfortable rooms in two modern buildings built of glass, steel, and wood that blend into a forested hillside. Private balconies cantilevered over a ravine make bird-watching a snap even from your room. Staying overnight is the only way to see the garden at dusk and dawn or to walk the Sendero Río Java, a trail that follows a stream through a forest teeming with birds and monkeys. www.esintro.co.cr.
Explore Nearby: There's no reason to leave. Just be sure to get up early for the sunrise.
A Tent in the Trees
Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Caribbean
Almonds & Corals Tent Lodge Camp. At first blush, the concept does sound a bit cheesy: you camp in a tent, but that tent sits on a platform and you have a thatch roof above your tent—guaranteed to stay snug and dry. Almonds & Corals scatters its "campsites" unobtrusively throughout its forest property along the coast and connects them with each other and to its restaurant, reception, and the beach by softly lighted paths. That and the myriad of environmentally themed activities conducted by local guides really does give that "get away from it all" experience with a bit of rustic luxury. www.almondsandcorals.com.
Explore Nearby: Much like Wilson Botanical Garden, above, you'll be happy as a clam just wandering the grounds.