San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Exploring Costa Rica: What’s New by Zone

LIKE a living vacationer sponge,Costa Rica is constantly spawning new andgrander, or just more numerous, attractionsto soak up business and digest the always increasingfun-hunting clientele. From awhale-watching tour operator to a medicinal-herb farm, to a yoga center or a sportfishingoutfit, activities and access to thecountry’s most sought-after adventure andlounge spots are evolving feverishly.New hotels and restaurants haveopened by the dozens in the last year, andscores of existing ones have renovatedrooms, built new ones, installed pools,developed sightseeing opportunities andother activities, and generally improved inresponse to the high demand. Following isa list of some of the novelties generated inthe last year, divided by region, discoveredby reporters from The Tico Times whileexploring the country for the annual updateof our guide book. Not everything new ismentioned, as some businesses might haveescaped notice. For lack of space, renovationsand improvements on existing businesseshave been left out of this article.Room rates are based double occupancy,high season (November to April), andinclude the 13% sales tax and 3% roomtax. Rooms may be cheaper during rainyseason (May to November). All hotels listedhave private bath and hot water unlessotherwise noted.SOUTHERN ZONEWith mountains, rain forests, the country’shighest peak, Chirripó, and most treasurednational park, Corcovado, crammedwith an unheard-of diversity of species ofplants and animals, this zone is for wildbeach sprawlers, big wave surfers, billfishers and deep jungle trekkers. Oftenpoor, sometimes impassable roads makeaccess difficult, but flights from the capitalland in most major towns, and touroperators often handle the driving andboating.In San Isidro de El General, Café deLas Artes (772-1663) just opened itsdoors, selling sandwiches, burgers, vegetarianfoods and affordable art.Near the beach town of Dominical, onthe Pacific coast, Reptilandia ReptilePark (787-8007) opened its doors. Thepark is home to 180 animals, representativesof 50 different species, includingAmazonian turtles, anacondas and pitvipers featured on the Discovery Channel.Guided tours, night tours and photographytours are offered. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30p.m. Admission is $10 for foreigners, $3for residents and $1 for kids under 12.The new Sólo Bueno Café (813-5614)serves ice cream, sandwiches and salads;Jungle Bistro (787-0091) serves creativefusions of regional foods and seafood creations;Restaurante Guachacha (787-0313) serves international and Caribbeandishes while entertaining diners with livemusic; and Fifi’s Sushi (839-6679) is,well, a sushi joint.Near the remote and sparsely developedstring of southern Pacific beachesaround Uvita, a new tour operator opened ahumpback whale-watching outfit, BallenaTour (831-1617). Also, the Green LeafArt Gallery opened this past year, sellinggifts and Costa Rican and Asian art.The luxury hotel Cristal Ballena(365-6258, isa stunning mansion-style hotel with anenormous pool and great views from themountaintop for $125-160 includingbreakfast. It also has four adventurelodges in the forest for $67, at km 169,seven km south of Uvita.The Citrus Floating Restaurant (304-1717), near Uvita, is a gourmet restauranton a boat with an international menuemphasizing seafood that changes daily.Made important by a gold rush in the1960s and ‘70s, Puerto Jiménez, on theOsa Peninsula in the southwestern cornerof the country, still has the feel of a frontiertown in the Old West, complete with dustydirt roads and acting as a gateway to thewild Corcovado National Park. But thetown’s identity as a tourist destination isalso blossoming, taming some of the wildside and offering good restaurants and niceaccommodations.The new attractions are customized tripoperator Osa Sport Fishing (735-5675,; the cheap rooms atOsa Palmas Lodge (380-5291), $5-10,one km west of La Palma; La Choza deManglar hotel (735-5002,, with tropical gardens thatattract monkeys and live music onSaturdays, for $64-79 including breakfast;the Yellow Coco Lodge (827-2741), fun,colorfully decorated bungalows and a luxuriousrental house at Playa Platanares –prices are not yet available; Soda/MarisqueríaAlliyah (735-5709), servingceviche and seafood; Restaurante IlGiardino (735-5129), serving wood-firedpizzas, homemade pastas and Italianwines; and Restaurante Jade Luna (735-5739), with a stylish, open-air terrace,international cuisine, seafood specialtiesand homemade ice cream.Stretched to dry on a narrow striphemmed on one side by a steep, forest-coveredhillside and on the other by the GolfoDulce, Golfito, across the gulf from PuertoJiménez, is a naturalist and sportfisher’sdream. The new members of the tourismindustry here are Restaurante BuenosDías (775-1124), serving Costa Ricandishes, burgers and fried chicken; theIguana Verde’s (776-0910) three cabins,just steps from the ocean, for $60; OcéanoCabinas and Restaurant (776-0908, with two nicecabins for $55 and a restaurant and barserving pancakes, waffles, Thai food, andseafood; and Shooting Star yoga centerand surf rental (393-6982).CENTRAL PACIFICThe Pacific beach town of Jacó, one ofthe closest beaches to San José and heavilytrod by city slickers’ flip-flops, has keptabreast of its popularity with the opening ofa hotel, The Blue Palms (643-0099), offeringwell-done, clean rooms with a pool for$35-$45; and a Spanish-language school,the beautiful School of the World (643-2462), offering courses in Spanish, surfing,photography or art.A short drive south of Jacó, PlayaHermosa caters to mellower relaxers andworld-class surfers. Opening its doors thisyear was Marea Brava (643-1743), abeautiful hotel on the water with a pool for$143 for a room for four.Farther south in Quepos, Wide MouthFrog (777-2798, is a new and popular backpackers’hostel with a swimming pool, hammocks,hot showers and clean beds, at $7 forshared dorms and $25 for private rooms.Mango Moon Hotel (777-5323) offersnice suites and apartments on the quiet sideof the main street.GUANACASTESun, surf, diving, volcanic mountainranges, rambling brown savanna grasslands,scattered national forests and thebulk of the country’s tourism machineryand luxury resorts, with plenty of low-budgetoptions as well, make up the tourist-cateringlegacy of Guanacaste.New businesses proliferate in thenorthern city ofCañas, a regionknown for its livestockthat is rapidlybecoming a jumping-off point forGuanacaste’s tourists.Some of thenovelties this yearinclude Sistecs@Internet café (669-9007), CiberenlacesInternet café(665-3831), RincónCorobicí Rafting(669-6262),offering whitewateror calmerbird- and monkey-watchingraft tours,and Hotel Laguna(671-8233), featuringa small artificial lagoon, fishing andhorses.Two new flights on Aero Bell and TaxiAereo connect San José to Liberia’s DanielOduber International Airport (668-1010),and U.S. Airways has a new flight fromNorth America.New attractions include Rancho LodgeCurubandé (665-0374), less than a kilometerfrom the Inter-American Highway,with rooms for $23-35 and villas for $55,horse tours to the Río Colorado and swimmingin the river or pond on the hotel’sgrounds; Cañón de la Vieja Lodge (375-1543), with rooms at $65, zip-line tours,rafting and horseback riding; Casa RuralAroma de Campo (665-0008), with roomsfor $50 including breakfast, horses, hotsprings, volcanic mud baths, rock climbing,rappelling, zip-lines and a nearby river forswimming; Casa Conde del Mar (672-1001,, withrooms for $139, a pool, wet bar, tenniscourt, snorkeling, jet-ski rentals, yachttours, souvenir shop, free Internet and tworestaurants; and Hotel ManGaby (672-0048,, withrooms from $94, a pool, barbecue area,snorkeling, boat trips, diving and fishingtours.The northern beaches are known fortheir bass-dropping nightlife, the cardiac-arrestingbeauty of their sunsets and sunnydays on broadbeaches, golf coursesand multipleresorts.Newcomers inPlayas del Cocoinclude LagunasCatfish Farm andRestaurant (667-0142) at Tablazo deSardinal, for freshwaterfishing andseafood; MarisqueríaMilanés, behindCabinas Milanés,which is a gardenrestaurant that servesexcellent cevicheand fruit smoothies;Chile Dulce (670-0465), a healthytropical sandwichand salads joint plus art gallery; and LaDolce Vita (670-1384), an authentic Italianrestaurant.Playa Flamingo is a protected white-sandbeach with a faltering marina enteringits second year of closure under governmentorder in response to alleged pollution.In spite of its hard luck, it squeezedout at least one new business: FlamingoSubs and Pizzeria (816-5749), in the centralplaza, serving deep-dish pizza andsandwiches.Playa Brasilito, about four km south ofFlamingo, also saw a new addition to itsbeach and fishing community: the MexicanRestaurante La Valentina (654-5156).Tamarindo, the beach-resort town andtourist, surfing, nightlife, sunning andleisure-activities central, is the proud locationof four new hotels and two new restaurants.Hostal Playa Tamarindo (653-0944) offers comfortable dorm rooms for$12 per person, a communal kitchen, big-screenTV and surf racks in the rooms; La

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