San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Some Room Left at the Inn for the Holidays

And in those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world … should come to Costa Rica.

With the holidays kicking off the dry season and offering the first great weather in months, especially following the wettest rainy season in 64 years, the week between Christmas and New Year’s makes the perfect time for a getaway.

Hotel and tour space is filling up ploddingly steadily for the end-of-year holidays, one of the two monster tourism weeks of the year. (Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week, is the other.) But with some strategic planning and much flexibility, it’s not too late to plan a quick Costa Rica holiday getaway.

“Ploddingly” has been the operative term, according to Mariana Luzuriaga of San José-based Horizontes Nature Tours.

“We’re noticing many more last-minute bookings this year,” Luzuriaga says. “I think people are waiting longer to plan because of the economic crisis.”

While in the past, everything for the holidays would have been booked months ago, that’s not necessarily the case this year. “The high-end places are generally booked by now,” explains Michael Kaye, president of tour operator Costa Rica Expeditions.

Kaye recommends targeting middle-of the- road properties to find space for the holidays, a strategy he says is working this year as his company books rooms for clients.

If you have your heart set on a luxury resort, all is not hopeless, however, and you won’t need to sleep out back in the hotel’s stable.

“There are always last-minute cancellations all over the place,” Kaye suggests, and if you are willing to chance things and have a lot of flexibility, you can sometimes swoop in on a cancelled room two or three days ahead of time, even in this busy season of the year.

A random phone sampling of lodgings around the country – our list is by no means exhaustive – revealed several places that still have holiday space at this writing. (Our calls also turned up an equal number of places that are booked solid the entire holiday week.) In the northwestern Guanacaste province, the Flamingo Marina Resort in Flamingo, Brisas del Pacífico in Sámara, Hotel Bula Bula in Playa Grande, and Rincón de la Vieja Lodge in the national park of the same name, have space for select days during the week.

Hotel Punta Leona and Docelunas Hotel near Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, also indicated some availability. Calls to several places in Quepos and Manuel Antonio got “We’re all booked” responses.

On the southern Pacific coast, we found rooms available at Villas Río Mar in Dominical, Hotel Cristal Ballena in Uvita and Hotel Las Gaviotas in Golfito.

In the northern part of the country, Hotel Montaña de Fuego, near Arenal, has some availability. The Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort has very limited space remaining.

Our calls to several Monteverde lodgings were unsuccessful at finding space.

On the Caribbean coast, both Pachira and Mawamba lodges, in Tortuguero, have some space for select dates, as do Casa Camarona and Almonds and Corals Tent Lodge Camp between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo.

Ask about minimum-length stays this time of year. Some of the larger places we talked to impose a minimum number of nights you must book during Christmas week.

Also take note of any special events going on at the hotel. Large hotels frequently hold gala Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve dinners.

Your participation, at least in terms of being charged for them, might be obligatory.

Don’t despair, however, if you suffer the same fate Mary and Joseph did some 2,000 years ago. The holidays are a terrific time to stay home and play tourist on day trips. The Butterfly Farm, the Rainforest Aerial Tram, and the coffee tours at Café Britt and the Doka Coffee Estate are a few of the several Central Valley attractions that stay open all week, Christmas and New Year’s Day included. National parks also maintain normal opening hours.

Once Monday, Jan. 5, arrives, expect things to open up markedly, according to places we contacted. Perhaps after the holiday hubbub is over, you can treat yourself to a Costa Rica getaway.


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