Costa Rica excels in its selection of boutique hotels, tasteful bungalows, and bed-and-breakfasts, which offer a high degree of personalized service. Because they're generally small, you may have to book one or two months ahead, and up to six months in the high season, especially around Christmas or Easter. Reserving through an association or agency can significantly reduce the time you spend scanning the Internet, but you can often get a better deal and negotiate longer-stay or low-season discounts directly with the hotel.
High-end accommodations range from luxury tents to exquisite hotels to villa rentals. You'll find all the amenities you expect at such areas, with one notable exception: the roads and routes to even five-star villas can be atrocious. Resorts are generally one of two kinds: luxurious privileged gateways to the best of the country (such as Punta Islita) or generic medium-budget all-inclusives (such as the Spanish hotel chain Barceló). Several chain hotels have franchises in Costa Rica, and they are rarely booked solid.
Nature lodges in the South Pacific may be less expensive than they initially appear, as the nightly rate usually includes three hearty meals and sometimes even guided hikes. Internet access isn't a given, even if a place has a website. Many have an eco-friendly approach (even to luxury), so air-conditioning might not be included. Consider how isolated you want to be; some lodges are miles from neighbors and have few rainy-day diversions. The ICT's voluntary "green leaf" rating system evaluates eco-friendly lodgings. A listing can be found at www.turismo-sostenible.co.cr.
Be sure to reserve well in advance for the dry season (mid-December to April everywhere except the Caribbean coast, which has a short September to October "dry" season). If you're having trouble finding accommodations, consider contacting a tour operator. Because they reserve blocks of rooms, you might have better luck. During the rainy season (May to mid-November except on the Caribbean coast, where it's almost always rainy) most hotels drop their rates considerably, which sometimes sends them into a lower price category than the one we indicate.
Most hotels and other lodgings require you to give your credit-card details before confirming your reservation. Get confirmation in writing and have a copy of it handy when you check in.
Be sure you understand the hotel's cancellation policy. Some places allow you to cancel without any kind of penalty—even if you prepaid to secure a discounted rate—if you cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Others require you to cancel a week in advance or penalize you the cost of one night. Small inns and bed-and-breakfasts are most likely to require you to cancel far in advance. Most hotels allow children under a certain age to stay in their parents' room at no extra charge, but others charge for them as extra adults; find out the cutoff age for discounts.
The lodgings we list are Costa Rica's cream of the crop in each price category. When pricing accommodations, always ask what's included and what costs extra. Keep in mind that prices don't include 16.4% service and tax. Smoking is prohibited in all hotels, both in rooms and public areas.
Apartment and House Rentals
Rental houses are common all over Costa Rica, particularly in the Pacific coast destinations of Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Ocotal, and Jacó. Homes can accommodate whole families, often for less money and at a higher comfort level than a hotel. Properties are often owned by foreigners, most of them based in the United States, with property managers in Costa Rica.
Resort communities with villa-style lodgings are also growing. Nosara Beach Rentals lists apartments and villas on the Nicoya Peninsula. Escape Villas Costa Rica lists rentals in Manuel Antonio, Dominical, Jacó, Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, Nosara, Sámara, Arenal, and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Villas & Apartments Abroad has a good selection of rentals on the North and Central Pacific coasts. Villas International has an extensive list of properties in the Central Valley, Tamarindo, Quepos, Jacó, and Dominical. Villas Caribe offers a variety of rentals up and down the Pacific coast. For the southern Nicoya Peninsula and Playa Hermosa on the North Pacific coast, check Costa Rica Beach Rentals.
The rental clearinghouse airbnb lists lodgings countrywide with prices ranging from $30 to $350.
Costa Rica Beach Rentals. 8340–3842; 973/917–8046; www.costarica-beachrentals.com.
Escape Villas Costa Rica. 2203–2158; 888/771–2976; www.villascostarica.com.
Nosara Beach Rentals. 2682–0153; www.nosarabeachrentals.com.
Villas & Apartments Abroad. 183 Madison Ave., Suite 1111, New York, New York, 10016. 212/213–6435; www.vaanyc.com.
Villas Caribe. 800/645–7498; www.villascaribe.com.
Villas International. 17 Fox La., San Anselmo, California, 94960. 415/499–9490; 800/221–2260; www.villasintl.com.
A number of quintessential bed-and-breakfasts—small and homey—are clustered in the Central Valley, generally offering hearty breakfasts and friendly inside information for $50 to $100 per night. You'll also find them scattered through the rest of the country, mixed in with other self-titled bed-and-breakfasts that range from small cabins in the mountains to luxurious boutique-hotel-style digs in the North Pacific region.
With a direct home exchange you stay in someone else's home while they stay in yours. Some outfits also deal with vacation homes, so you're not actually staying in someone's full-time residence, just their vacant weekend place.
Home exchanges are an excellent way to immerse yourself in the true Costa Rica, particularly if you've been here before. Drawbacks include restricted options and dates. Many companies list home exchanges, but we've found Home Exchange, which lists a handful of jazzy houses around Costa Rica, to be the most reliable.
Home Exchange. $119 for a one-year online listing. 800/877–8723; www.homeexchange.com.