There’s absolutely no reason to visit ugly Paso Canoas unless you intend to cross into Panamá . Endless stalls and shops selling duty-free goods are strung out along Costa Rica’s potholed and patchworked road that parallels Panamá’s perfectly paved and marked highway (there’s no barrier, so be careful that you don’t cross into Panamá unexpectedly, which is easily done).
Avoid Easter week and the months before Christmas, when Paso Canoas is a zoo.
The border road runs south to the town of Laurel, a regional center for the banana industry with lots of old wooden plantation homes, and thence to Conte.
The best place to stay the night is the modern, motel-style Cabinas Alpina (tel. 506/2732-2612, $8 pp for basic rooms, $20 s/d for nicer a/c rooms upstairs), two blocks south of the bus terminal, offering rooms away from the bustle. It also has secure parking.
The most upscale option is Hotel Los Higuerones (tel. 506/2732-2157, http://on.fb.me/hmYsIp , $40 s, $50 d), a classical-themed hotel set in secure landscaped grounds on the south side of town, and a veritable oasis amid the chaos of this unsightly town. Its 28 air-conditioned rooms are comfy and simply furnished, the cable TV offers a handful of English-language stations, and you get WiFi on the porch.
The Costa Rican Tourist Board (CIT, tel. 506/2732-2035, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. Mon.–Fri.) has an information bureau at the border post. Customs and immigration (tel. 506/2732-2150) are opposite the bus terminal 100 meters west of the border post.