Choosing A Costa Rica Hotel: Are You A Knowledgeable Traveller Or An Informed One?

UPDATED: 2017

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LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

You hear it all the time. When buying a house, choosing a school district for your kids, or narrowing down a community for your business. The element of where (often more so than the element of what) is a key factor in making a smart investment, and one that will pay dividends down the road. Figuratively speaking, of course, as the spot literally down the road may not be as advantageous to you as the site you’ve got your eye on. 😉

The same can be said about choosing a hotel for your Costa Rica vacation. Location is key in determining which hotel (or hotels) would be the best for you, not only to help minimize stress and confusion throughout the trip planning stages (as there are thousands of accommodations to choose from), but to ensure your final pick places you smack dab in the middle of where you want to be (or, as far away as possible from everything you aim to avoid, depending on your priorities). This being said, there are many, many other qualities worth evaluating in the search to find the best Costa Rica hotel for your trip, but for the purpose of this post, we focus specifically on accommodation location, and more importantly, how getting it right can best prepare you for the trip experience you are looking to have.

Hotels exist along an incredibly long line of differences, noting price, amenities, size, style, practice, service, reputation, and availability as factors identifying one from the next. But, no other factor is as static and unquestionable as an accommodation’s location. You cannot physically move a hotel to another area, so you’ll have to accept it where it is or else move on to hotel option B, C, D, and so forth. In choosing a Costa Rica hotel for your vacation, we recommend 1) determining where a particular hotel is located, and 2) asking yourself whether that location is where you want to be during your trip. This is to ensure you zero-in on what you really want and need.

Let’s consider what could happen when travellers complete only the first of the two tasks presented above. For most travellers, it is a priority to determine a hotel’s location prior to deciding for or against it for their trip. After all, most want to know where they will be staying at (I’m sure you would too, unless you’re into extremely spontaneous travel), so determining where a hotel is located within the country is an obvious step in the trip planning journey. It is assumed by many travellers that this task can be achieved by obtaining an exact address from a hotel’s website (possibly going as far as entering that address into google maps) or by trusting online travel forums and/or printed guide books that group points of interest (including tour sites, attractions, and yes, even hotels) together in clusters defined by their region. Of the travellers who take this approach to trip planning, only a handful think to push the envelope a little further, questioning whether the address they have written down, the map they are looking at, or the forum/guide recommendation they trust provides enough information to make an informed decision regarding whether the hotel would (or would not) be best for them.

Here lies one of the greatest gaps we have come across separating knowledgeable travellers from informed ones; knowledgeable travellers know where their hotel is (they can even cite the address if need be), whereas informed travellers have gathered the necessary information to understand how their hotel’s location will impact their vacation experience (either positively or negatively).

Passport in hand...

Love to travel? Do it right! 🙂

PREFER TO BE AN INFORMED TRAVELLER AND NOT JUST A KNOWLEDGEABLE ONE? HERE’S HOW…

#1. Consider duration over distance.

Many hotels in Costa Rica are only 5 kms from “x”. On a straight, paved highway, this drive could be made in 5 minutes. On a curvy, mountainous, half-constructed, bumpy road, this drive could take 20-25 minutes and require a 4X4 vehicle. If “x” equals a popular tourist hub that you plan to frequent throughout your trip, all of a sudden the hotel property that is only 5 minutes from town is nearly a half-hour drive or taxi ride away.

#2. Consider which radius local tour operators and/or transportation service providers use when determining how far they will drive to offer complimentary hotel pick-up and drop-off services.

Many tour operators and transportation service operators offer free hotel pick-up and drop-off services, however each company determines for themselves which hotels in the region they will and will not drive to (and similarly, which hotels they will and will not charge an extra fee to offer a pick-up or drop-off service at). If you plan to rely on tour operator or transportation service provider transfer services throughout your trip (ie. if you do not plan on renting a vehicle to drive yourself around), unless your budget includes extra funds to pay for hotel pick-up and/or drop-off fees, determine in advance whether your chosen hotel falls inside a free pick-up/drop-off zone according to the policies of each tour operator or transportation service provider you plan on using throughout your trip.

#3. Consider the hotel’s proximity to (or distance from) its nearest downtown core equal to its proximity to (or distance from) restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

Most travellers make the mistake (in our opinion) of assuming that a hotel located in the heart of a city’s downtown core is a better option than one situated on the city’s outskirts. Nine travellers out of ten want to be situated in town in order to be close to dining options, and upon first consideration, this makes sense. However, most travellers are surprised to learn that nearly every popular tourist area in Costa Rica offers restaurants and grocery stores scattered throughout its region, beyond the downtown core, aptly catering to guests staying at a multitude of hotels. There are pros and cons to staying in a city’s downtown core, just as there are pros and cons to avoiding it entirely in favor of accommodations situated along a town’s outskirts (as a reminder, the purpose of this post is to help travellers understand how a hotel’s location can impact the trip experience they are looking to have, not to suggest that any particular location would be better or worse than another), and these advantages and disadvantages should be carefully examined by travellers prior to deciding on a hotel option. Automatically assuming that one area is more beneficial than another is hasty and limiting, not to mention an amateur trip planning faux pas that usually results in travellers settling on a hotel instead of happily choosing one.

target

THINK TARGET

To elaborate further, envision the logo of the American retailer giant Target. You know the one… a red outer circle, a white inner circle, and a red dot in the center. Now imagine the red dot representing the downtown core of a popular Costa Rican tourist town. The white inner circle then identifies the outskirts of town with the red outer circle symbolizing the remainder of the general region. If we marked the target with black dots to show where hotels would exist within the entire space (hypothetically speaking, and not referring to a specific region in Costa Rica just yet), then the logo would look a lot like this:

targetsplatter

In nearly every popular region for tourism in Costa Rica, hotels can be found in each of the three areas: the downtown core, along the outskirts of town, and throughout the remainder of the region. Why is this important for travellers to understand? Because unless they think to question specifically where their preferred hotel would be marked on the target (ie. within the red dot in the center, the white inner circle, or the red outer circle), how could they ever begin to understand the implications of their choice?

As noted above, many tour operators and transportation service operators offer free hotel pick-up and drop-off services. In our Target logo diagram, both the red dot in the center and the white inner circle represent the radius that local tour operators and/or transportation service providers use when determining how far they will drive to offer complimentary hotel pick-up and drop-off services. Note that this radius includes both downtown accommodations and accommodations on the outskirts of town (ie. those located within the black circle shown on the target below). Despite popular belief, many hotel options located on the outskirts of town are considered to exist within the free pick-up/drop-off zone. Hotels that would be marked on the target in the red outer circle however, fall outside of this zone (ie. those located outside of the black circle shown on the target below). In these cases, additional pick-up/drop-off fees would apply.

zone

From a dining perspective, the red dot in the center and the white inner circle also represent areas in which dining opportunities are more prevalent (with the red dot in the middle offering a higher concentration of restaurants than the white inner circle). In contrast, the red outer circle represents an area where restaurants are few and far between; still existent, but typically requiring a further drive to and from each.

So how exactly can our Target logo diagram be applied in a practical manner to the fine art of Costa Rica trip planning? Easily, by following our four lead examples provided below. To help travellers best wrap their head around hotel location (not merely in a geographical sense, but in terms of the implications that hotel locations can have on a trip experience overall), we aim to help identify where a variety of popular hotel choices in four well-known Costa Rica areas (La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and San Jose/Alauela) would be marked on the target.

Note: the below hotel options are listed in alphabetical order.

Note: the below hotel options in green & italics are those recommended by Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated and Costa Rica Travel blog (the names of other hotels are listed for informational purposes only and are not necessarily recommended by Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated and/or Costa Rica Travel Blog.

A Clear Arenal Volcano - La Fortuna

Arenal Volcano

LA FORTUNA/ARENAL

La Fortuna (a town more generally referred to as “Arenal” given its most prominent feature: the Arenal Volcano) is arguably Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destination. Nicknamed the epicenter of adventure, it offers more things to do and see than any other hub in the country. From a logistics standpoint, downtown La Fortuna offers most of what travellers need during a vacation: restaurants, souvenir stores, banks, grocery stores, bars, churches, and a health clinic. The downtown core also offers a number of accommodations to choose from, albeit of either economy or hostel quality, primarily targeting backpackers and travellers with a limited budget. One main road runs between downtown La Fortuna and Lake Arenal (fortunately for drivers and window-gazers, this road curves around the stunning volcano), and approximately 90% of the area’s hotels (including standard, superior, and resort-quality accommodations) are located along the route. For this reason, most accommodations offer incredible volcano views and/or volcano hot springs on-site. For the purpose of our Target example as applied to the La Fortuna/Arenal region, the “downtown core” refers to downtown La Fortuna, the “outskirts” refers to the area that exists between downtown La Fortuna and Lake Arenal, and the “general region” refers to additional surrounding spaces including the El Castillo, Monterrey, and Nuevo Arenal areas to the west of downtown La Fortuna, as well as spaces north, east, and south of town.

inside

Red Dot in the Center (Downtown Core):

Arenal Montechiari, Hotel El Volcan, Hotel Fortuna, Hotel Las Colinas, Hotel Monte Real, Hotel San Bosco, Hotel Villa Fortuna

middle

White Inner Circle (Outskirts):

Arenal Country Inn, Arenal Green, Arenal Kioro, Arenal Kokoro, Arenal Manoa, Arenal Nayara, Arenal Paraiso, Arenal Springs Resort (Hotel Arenal Springs), Arenal Volcano Inn, Casa Luna Lodge, Cerro Azul, Cerro Chato Ecolodge, Hotel Campo Verde, La Pradera Del Arenal, Lomas Del Volcan, Los Lagos, Magic Mountain, Montana De Fuego, Mountain Paradise, Royal Corin, Silencio Del Campo, Tabacon Resort, Villas Vilma, Volcano Lodge

outside

Red Outer Circle (General Region):

Arenal Lodge, Arenal Observatory Lodge, Arenal Vista Lodge, Finca Luna Nueva, Hotel Linda Vista, Leaves & Lizards, Lost Iguana, The Springs Resort & Spa, Tilajari, Tree Houses Hotel, Villa Decary

For additional information about planning a trip to the La Fortuna/Arenal region, please see our related blog post: Why You Should Visit La Fortuna (Arenal) During Your Trip To Costa Rica, Should You Visit La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde, Or Both Destinations During Your Costa Rica Vacation?, and How To Make A Day Trip To Monteverde From La Fortuna (Arenal) Or Vice Versa.
Monteverde

Monteverde

MONTEVERDE/SANTA ELENA

Monteverde is a region most notably known for the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The name of the downtown hub closest to the reserve is Santa Elena. When planning a visit to Monteverde, most travellers essentially visit Santa Elena (where many hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and other “good-to-haves” such as banks and grocery stores are located; for more information about Santa Elena please see our related blog post: I’m Going To Monteverde, Not Santa Elena, So Why Do Both Towns Keep Popping Up During My Research?). Although the downtown core is incredibly small, its surrounding region is much larger. For this reason, Costa Rica travel discourse often divides the general Monteverde region into three geographical areas: Santa Elena, Cerro Plano, and Monteverde. For the purpose of our Target example as applied to the Monteverde region, the “downtown core” refers to downtown Santa Elena, the “outskirts” refers to the areas of Cerro Plano and Monteverde, and the “general region” refers to surrounding space exceeding the Santa Elena, Cerro Plano, and Monteverde areas.

inside

Red Dot in the Center (Downtown Core):

Camino Verde, El Viandante, Hotel Cipreses, Hotel Ficus, Hotel Finca Valverde, Hotel Poco a Poco, Monteverde Rustic Lodge, Monteverde Villa Lodge

middle

White Inner Circle (Outskirts):

El Establo, Hotel Bellbird, Hotel Jardines De Monteverde, Hotel Fonda Vela, Hotel Heliconia, Hotel Montana Monteverde, La Colina Lodge, Los Pinos, Manakin Lodge, Monteverde Country Lodge, Trapp Family Lodge

outside

Red Outer Circle (General Region):

Vista Verde Lodge

For additional information about planning a trip to the Monteverde region, please see our related blog posts: Should You Visit La Fortuna (Arenal), Monteverde, Or Both Destinations During Your Costa Rica Vacation? and How To Make A Day Trip To Monteverde From La Fortuna (Arenal) Or Vice Versa.
Playa Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Beach

MANUEL ANTONIO

The Manuel Antonio area offers a very different design than the other three destinations used as examples in this post. Although La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, and San Jose/Alajuela offer definitive downtown cores (each within a concentrated space), Manuel Antonio’s town boundaries are much more vague. The name “Manuel Antonio” technically refers to the name of the site’s National Park and beach, although it is frequently used throughout Costa Rica travel discourse to refer to the region surrounding the park and beach where many hotels, tour operator offices, restaurants, grocery stores, souvenir stores, and other sites of interest can be found. To help first-time visitors envision the area, we identify the closest town as Quepos, which is an approximate 10 minute drive northwest of the Manuel Antonio National Park and beach. Both the town of Quepos and the National Park/beach are situated on beach level, however the main road that connects the two is curvy and mountainous (this stretch of road comprises the area commonly referred to as “Manuel Antonio”). When departing from Quepos along the road, travellers ascend the mountain and pass the majority of the area’s hotels along the way (for this reason, many Manuel Antonio accommodations offer great views from the mountaintop overlooking the pacific ocean below). As noted above, dining opportunities and other amenities are scattered along this route. Nearing the end of the road, the path begins to descend the mountain and leads travellers down to beach level once again (the road ends at the Manuel Antonio National Park entrance). At this base there are a handful of hotels, a few restaurants, and a small grocery store. Travellers who opt to stay at accommodations on beach-level have the advantage of being within walking distance to the beach, whereas those who choose to stay at accommodations located along the mountainside are most often (depending on the accommodation) treated to a breathtaking view of the coast and higher quality accommodations (note: travellers who chose accommodations located along the mountainside can take taxis, public buses, and in some cases, hotel shuttle services, to and from the beach). For the purpose of our Target example as applied to the Manuel Antonio region, the “downtown core” refers to the National Park/beach area on beach level, the “outskirts” refers to the mountainous area that exists between the National Park/beach and the town of Quepos, and the “general region” refers to surrounding space exceeding the town of Quepos.

inside

Red Dot in the Center (Downtown Core):

Cabinas Playa Espadilla, Hotel Playa Espadilla, Hotel San Bada, Hotel Verde Mar, Jungle Beach Hotel, La Posada Jungle

middle

White Inner Circle (Outskirts):

Arenas Del Mar, Best Western Kamuk, Buena Vista Luxury Villas, Byblos Resort, Espadilla Ocean Club, Falls Resort, Gaia Hotel & Reserve, Hotel California, Hotel Costa Verde, Hotel Mimos, Hotel Parador, Hotel Plaza Yara, Hotel Tres Banderas, Hotel Mandarina, Issimo Suites, La Colina, La Mansion Inn, La Mariposa, Los Altos, Makanda By The Sea, Mango Moon, Mono Azul, Si Como No Resort, Tulemar Bungalows, Villas El Parque, Villas Nicolas

outside

Red Outer Circle (General Region):

Clandestino Beach Resort, Cocomar, Hacienda Pacifica, Kayak Lodge, La Foresta Nature Resort, La Palapa, Layla Resort

For additional information about planning a trip to the Manuel Antonio region, please see our related blog post: Which Costa Rica Beach Is Best For You? What To Know About The Central Pacific Beaches.
Stunning architecture of the National Theater of Costa Rica

Downtown San Jose

SAN JOSE/ALAJUELA

San Jose and Alajuela are two areas that are commonly grouped together despite being distinct cities located in separate areas of the Central Valley region. San Jose is a bustling metropolis offering great culture, history, and architecture. Alajuela’s greatest appeal, to international travellers, is its close proximity to the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO). Many travellers do not realize that the SJO Airport (commonly referred to as “the San Jose airport”) is actually located in Alajuela, an approximate 20-25 minute drive from downtown San Jose. For this reason, travellers who would prefer to stay at a hotel nearby the airport would be best to select an Alajuela accommodation (as opposed to a San Jose accommodation), and fortunately, most Alajuela accommodations automatically include transportation to/from the SJO airport in their hotel rates. Travellers who would prefer to explore Costa Rica’s capital city would be best suited for a stay in downtown San Jose (given its distance from Alajuela, most San Jose accommodations do not automatically include transportation to/from the SJO airport in their hotel rates). For the purpose of our Target example as applied to the San Jose/Alajuela region, the “downtown core” refers to downtown San Jose, the “outskirts” refers to the area that exists between downtown San Jose and the town of Alajuela, and the “general region” refers to surrounding space exceeding San Jose (both downtown and the space that exists between it and Alajuela), including the towns of Alajuela, Escazu, Heredia, and Cartago.

inside

Red Dot in the Center (Downtown Core):

Casa Oshun, Gran Hotel, Hotel Grano De Oro, Hotel Le Bergerac, Hotel Presidente

middle

White Inner Circle (Outskirts):

Apartotel La Sabana, Aranjuez, Hampton Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn Aurola, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Balmoral, Hotel Don Carlos, Hotel Santo Tomas, Radisson Hotel, Tryp Hotel, Wyndham Herradura

outside

Red Outer Circle (General Region):

Beacon Escazu, Casa Bella Rita, Casa De Flores, Hotel Buena Vista, Hotel Luisiana, Hotel Robledal, La Terraza, Terrazas De Golf, Xandari Resort

For additional information about planning a trip to the San Jose/Alajuela region, please see our related blog post: What To Do And See In San Jose.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: How important is location to you when choosing a hotel?

Pura vida!

Hot Springs

*Discounts for Costa Rica hotels are available through the Costa Rica Promotions department of Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated.

*Discounts for Costa Rica day tours are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated at: http://www.puravidaeh.ca/

*Discounts and cash back savings for Costa Rica day tours are available through Pura Vida! eh? Incorporated

3 responses to “Choosing A Costa Rica Hotel: Are You A Knowledgeable Traveller Or An Informed One?

  1. This blog about is in my opinion is one of the most complete that I have read about how to choose a Hotel in Costa Rica, the red dot system is a very easy way to understand the market and availability of the different options and locations of the hotels in Costa Rica.
    Most of the Hotels in here are very affordable and that is very good news for the traveler…
    I want also suggest that it might be a good idea to publish information about what not to do when you are in Costa Rica like for example not to venture into the Jungle or a Volcano summit without a guide and in case you do to have plan in case of an emergency …I have see some expats trying to do this without measuring the consequences or their safety…Just because you are the Indiana Jones of the Midwest it does not mean you can be one in Costa Rica…many tourist died every year here because of their imprudence or lack of information.
    Once again great blog keep the good work I will recommend it to my friends.

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