by Oyster.com Staff
The country with the world’s happiest people makes for an amazing vacation escape.
Costa Rica can be anything from a peaceful oasis to crowded and touristy depending on the time of the year and the region visited. But it’s still far less developed than most popular beach destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, and there are so many options for where to go that it’s always possible to find a remote retreat.
The small Central American country is home to hundreds of diverse habitats, making it easy to enjoy beach days, eco-tourism and outdoor adventures in the same trip and without having to travel long distances. The geography is infinitely varied, ranging from rugged coastlines and bustling towns to misty cloud forests and active volcanoes.
While most tourists head to the Pacific coast, the Caribbean side of the country is flat and laid-back, and has a completely different vibe to it.
To get from one area of the country to another, many tourists use convenient and affordable shuttle services like Interbus, Gray Line or EasyRide. Public buses are clean, but tend to be terribly slow. To get around within a destination, most travelers use taxis, which are safe, affordable, and widely available. If you’re considering renting a car, note that the crooked and rough roads can be a challenge for many drivers, especially during the rainy season (starting in May), and that Costa Rica lacks street signs or traditional addresses.
Many travelers stay in San Jose either the first or the last night of their trip to Costa Rica, simply to crash after a flight gets in or before one departs. The capital city is not very attractive, but there are some nice hotels, especially in Escazu, an affluent suburban area located 6 miles from downtown San Jose. Accommodations range from cozy boutique hotels to big international chain properties. We love the InterContintental Real Hotel & Club Tower CR for a luxurious (and business trip-friendly) experience, and the Hotel Grano de Oro is an intimate, value-minded property.
La Fortuna is a haven for eco-tourists looking for high-quality hotels with excellent service and amenities. Expect to find small properties with beautiful grounds and impressive views of the Arenal Volcano, such as the Arenal Nayara Hotel & Gardens and the Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa.
The biggest destination in the Guanacaste region is Tamarindo, home to several large chain hotels and ongoing development. But Guanacaste is large, and there are a handful of secluded luxury resorts elsewhere along its coast, including the JW Marriott and the Four Seasons.
For those who don’t have the time or budget to explore the remote and expensive Nicoya Peninsula, Puntarenas might sound like the best alternative — ferries taking tourists and locals to the south of the peninsula dock here. However, few tourists choose to stay overnight. Instead, they head south to more attractive areas, like Jaco or Manuel Antonio. Hard partiers will love it in Jaco, which has numerous small backpacking hostels and inns. But the town is also a good base for exploring the Carara Biological Reserve and Playa Hermosa, both still fairly off the beaten track. Just to the north is the less developed Herradura, where the Marriott Los Suenos megaresort is located.
Manuel Antonio is the main draw of the Central Pacific region. The wildlife-rich national park and the beautiful beaches are the top attractions here. Hotels in the area generally have sprawling grounds atop steep hills overlooking the rainforest and the ocean. La Mariposa, Gaia Hotel & Reserve, Arenas Del Mar and Buena Vista Luxury Villas have some of the most impressive views in the area.
For a completely different vibe, head out to the Caribbean Coast, where the jungle meets the sea and the long stretches of sand still attract few tourists. Laid-back Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, near the border with Panama, are the most tourist-friendly places in the area and feature mostly small, bungalow-style hotels.