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This small town, 20 kilometers north of Nicoya, is the “National Folklore City” and a gateway to Playas Tamarindo and Junquillal, 30 kilometers to the west. Santa Cruz is renowned for its traditional music, food, and dance, which can be sampled during the Fiestas Patronales de Santo Cristo de Esquipulas each January 15 and July 25.
The leafy Parque Bernedela Ramos boasts a Mayan-style cupola, lampshades with Mayan motifs, and monuments on each corner, including: a “bucking bronco” (cowboy, northeast); campesina (peasant woman) Bernedela dressed in an apron and bearing the deed of the city founding (northwest); the Chorotega cacique (chieftain) Diría (southwest); and a tortilla-maker (southeast). On the east side, the ruin of an old church (toppled by an earthquake in 1950) stands next to its modern replacement with a star-shaped roof and beautiful stained glass.
Diría National Park (Parque Nacional Diría, tel. 506/2686-4968, $10), covering 2,840 hectares of montane forests, including cloud forest, along the spine of the Nicoya mountains, lies 14 kilometers south of town. It has camping and trails.
A good deal is the motel-style Hotel La Estancia (tel./fax 506/2680-0476, $20 s or $25 d with fans, $25 s or $35 d with a/c), which has 15 pleasing modern units with fans, TVs, and private baths with hot water. Spacious family rooms have four beds. Some rooms are dark. There is secure parking. Hotel La Pampa (tel. 506/2680-0586) competes and is similar.
Outshining all contenders is the Hotel La Calle de Alcalá (tel. 506/2680-0000, hotelalcala [at] hotmail [dot] com, from $52 s, $65 d), one block south of Plaza de los Mangos. This Spanish-run hotel boasts a lively contemporary decor and pleasing aesthetic. It has 29 air-conditioned rooms with cable TVs, bamboo furnishings, and pastels; the suite has a whirlpool tub. The rooms are set around an attractive swimming pool with swim-up bar. There is secure parking.
For rustic ambience, try Restaurante La Yunta (tel. 506/2680-3031, 11 A.M.–11 P.M. Mon.–Sat., $2–10), facing Parque Ramos, in an old farmhouse-style building decorated in farm implements. It serves shrimp, lobster, octopus, and other seafood. The copy-cat La Venus de Diría is one block southeast.
The most elegant restaurant in town is at Hotel La Calle de Alcalá (tel. 506/2680-0000, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily) serving típico dishes and seafood such as octopus in garlic ($8), plus filet mignon ($12).
The modern Restaurante El Milenio (tel. 506/2680-3237, 8 A.M.–10 P.M. Mon.–Sat.), one block west of Parque de los Mangoes, offers seafood in a clean air-conditioned setting.
For baked goods, try Musmanni, 50 meters north of the main plaza.
Getting to Santa Cruz
Alfaro (tel. 506/2222-2666) buses depart San José for Santa Cruz from Calle 14, Avenida 5 at 6 A.M., 8 A.M., 9:45 A.M., 11 A.M., 2 P.M., 4:30 P.M., and 7 P.M. daily (75 minutes, $5). Tralapa buses (tel. 506/2221-7202) also depart San José for Santa Cruz from Calle 20, Avenidas 3/5, seven times daily. Transportes La Pampa (tel. 506/2686-7245) buses for Santa Cruz depart Liberia every 45 minutes 4:20 A.M.–9:15 P.M. daily.
Alfaro buses depart Santa Cruz for San José at 3 A.M., 4 A.M., 6 A.M., 7 A.M., 8 A.M., 10 A.M., noon, 2 P.M., 3 A.M., and 4:30 P.M. daily.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition