Backpackers have several options downtown, not least the Hostel Trotamundos (Avenida 5, Calles 2/4, tel. 506/2430-5832, www.hosteltrotamundos.com , $10 dorm, $25–35 s/d private room), with clean and comfy dorms, plus private rooms, and hot-water showers. There’s a community kitchen and TV lounge.
Several similarly priced hostels within shouting distance compete for budget traffic, including the comfortable Hostel 5ta Avenida (Avenida 5, Calles Central/1, tel. 506/2441-1563), and the Hotel Green Day Inn (Avenida 3, Calle 5, tel. 506/2242-6326, www.greendayinn.com ).
Another great backpackers’ option is Maleku Hostel (tel. 506/2430-4304, www.malekuhostel.com , $12 dorms, $25 s, $35 d private room), opposite the hospital. Mango Verde Hostel (Avenida 3, Calles 2/4, tel. 506/2441-6330, fax 506/2443-5074, miraflores [at] hotmail [dot] com, $15 s or $25 d shared bath, $20 s or $30 d private bath) is also popular. It has 10 rooms with fans, some private baths with hot water, and a shared kitchen and TV lounge. The old house has terra-cotta tile and wood floors, and a large rear courtyard with hammocks and a basic kitchenette. Internet service is offered.
It hardly looks like a hostel—too upscale—but sure enough, the four-story Alajuela Backpackers Boutique Hostel (Avenida 4, Calle 4, tel. 506/2441-7149, www.alajuelabackpackers.com , $15 pp dorm, $38 s or $48 d private room) is one of the fanciest backpackers’ digs around. It has 21 rooms, most of them serene four-bed dorms. For privacy opt for a king bed in a private room with flat-screen TV. The 4th-floor beanbag lounge is a cool place to sup some suds. It’s one block west of Parque Juan Santamaría.
With colorful touches, the Pensión Alajuela (Calle Central, Avenida 9, tel. 506/2443-1717, www.pensionalajuela.com , $25 s or $30 d shared bath, $35 s or $45 d private bath, $45 s or $55 d deluxe) is simple yet appealing, with 12 clean rooms with small, private bathrooms with hot water (eight rooms have cable TV). There’s a snack bar, laundry service, and Internet.
Offering excellent conditions and value, Hotel Paradise Alajuela (Avenida 5, Calles 1/3, tel. 506/2431-2541, www.hotelparadisealajuela.com , $15 pp shared room, $25 s, $25/35 d) is an impeccably clean hotel with simply but nicely furnished dorms and rooms.
Hotel Alajuela (Calle 2, Avenidas Central/2, tel. 506/2441-1241, fax 506/2441-7912, $22 s or $33 d shared bath, $38 s or $45 d private bath), catercorner to Parque Central, has 50 clean and nicely furnished rooms, most with private baths with hot water. Apartment rooms with kitchens in the old section are dark. It has laundry service but no restaurant.
Competing is the Hotel Santamaría (Avenida 4, Calle Central, tel. 506/2442-8388, www.santamariacr.com , $35 s, $40 d), a lovely yet simple hotel kept impeccably clean. Guest rooms have colorful spreads, cable TV, and private bathrooms. It offers an excellent bargain and is highly recommended by past guests.
I like the family-run Hotel Pacandé B&B (Avenida 5, Calles 2/4, tel. 506/2443-8481, www.hotelpacande.com , $30–55 s/d), 200 meters north and 50 meters west of the central park. This handsome 1950s home has eight modestly furnished rooms: Five share three bathrooms; others have private bathrooms, all with hot water. Upstairs rooms get lots of light; cheaper rooms downstairs are ill-lit. There’s laundry and secure parking, plus airport shuttle, Internet, and kitchen privileges. Rates include breakfast.
My favorite in this category is Hotel Los Volcanes (Avenida 3, Calles Central/2, tel. 506/2441-0525, www.hotellosvolcanes.com , $35 s or $46 d shared bath, $46–64 s or $60–70 d private bath), facing the museum. Housed in a charming, fully restored 1920s home with lofty paneled ceilings and polished hardwoods, it offers six large, well-lit bedrooms with ceiling fans and pleasing furnishings (wrought-iron and hardwood beds), wooden floors, lofty wooden ceilings, cable TV, and handsome bathrooms. Two more elegant rooms are to the rear, where there’s a patio with hammocks. It has a small TV lounge, plus laundry and secure parking. Rates include full breakfast and airport transfers.
Close to the airport, the Hostal II Millenium B&B (tel. 506/2430-5050, www.bbmilleniumcr.com , $50 s or $55 d low season, $61 s or $67 d high season) is a charming and popular bed-and-breakfast in a middle-class home at Río Segundo de Alajuela. The former dorms have been turned into private rooms, all with small cable TVs, fans, and private bath with hot water. It has a TV lounge with leather sofas and rattan furniture, plus a shaded dining area. Guests get kitchen access. There’s parking and 24-hour airport pickup service. Rates include breakfast and tax.
In town, I like the family-run Hotel 1915 (Calle 2, Avenidas 5/7, tel./fax 506/2440-7163, www.1915hotel.com , $45–75 s/d), three blocks north of the central plaza. It has 18 clean and homey rooms (some air-conditioned) whose modern bathrooms have large walk-in hot-water showers with little gardens attached. It has a huge lounge with fabulous antique hardwood furnishings and earth tones, plus stone and stucco walls, creating a delightful ambience. Breakfast is served on a shaded patio with a grill and wood-fired oven.
New in 2010, Hotel Catedral Casa Cornejo (Avenida 1, Calle 1, tel. 506/2443-9180, www.hotelesycabinascr.com , $45 s, $60 d) is a great bargain with a great location. The clean and pleasantly decorated family-run property is just one block from the cathedral. All rooms have WiFi, and some have king beds.
Equal to it, the 11-room Hotel Eskalima (Avenida 3, Calles 10/12, tel. 506/2440-2342, www.hoteleskalima.com , from $55 s/d) is another intimate property but with a more contemporary vogue. All rooms are air-conditioned and have cable TV.
A mere 400 meters from the airport, the Hampton Inn and Suites (tel. 506/2436-0000 or 800/426-7866, www.hamptoninn.com , $137–161 s/d) is perfect if you have tight flight transfers and don’t mind charmless motel-style Americana. It’s clean and has all the amenities you’ll need for a one-night stay, and the Fiesta Casino is a stone’s throw away. Rates include continental breakfast and airport transfers but are vastly overpriced.
Up the price chart and in the northern suburbs, Pura Vida Hotel (off the road to Tuetal, tel. 506/2430-2929, www.puravidahotel.com , $90–155 s/d) is an intimate place set in a beautiful one-acre garden and run by Californians Nhi and Bernie. The handsome old timber-beamed home was restored with an exciting contemporary aesthetic, with hints of Santa Fe in the lounge. Its seven rooms and self-contained bungalows are all themed. The Orchid Room, for example, is done up in whites and reds with a black four-poster metal bed. All have splendid bathrooms. It offers baggage storage, Internet access, a small library with TV and stereo system, plus a garden restaurant serving gourmet dishes (by reservation). There are lots of guest-friendly dogs, plus secure parking. Excursions are offered. Rates include breakfast.