Several national parks have basic camping facilities, as do several commercial spots at popular beach sites. Camping is illegal on beaches, although that doesn’t stop many Costa Ricans, for whom camping on the beach during national holidays is a tradition.
You’ll need a warm sleeping bag and a waterproof tent for camping in the mountains, where you may need permission from local landowners or park rangers before pitching your tent. You’ll also need a mosquito net and plenty of bug repellent. Avoid grassy pastures: They harbor chiggers and ticks. And don’t camp near riverbanks, where snakes congregate and flash floods may occur.
Theft is a problem. If possible, camp with a group of people so one person can guard the gear.
A hybrid of hotels and apartment buildings, apartotels resemble motels on the European and Australian model and offer rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes (pots and pans and cutlery are provided) and sometimes small suites furnished with sofas and tables and chairs. Weekly and monthly rates are offered. Apartotels are popular with families and Ticos.
Scores of private homes and villas are available for rent nationwide. A good resource is Escape Villas (tel. 888/771-2976, www.villascostarica.com ).
Many Costa Rican families welcome foreign travelers into their homes as paying guests—an ideal way to experience Tico hospitality and to bone up on your Spanish. “Guesthouse” refers to a bed-and-breakfast hotel in a family-run home where you are made to feel like part of the family, as opposed to hotels that include breakfasts in their room rates. Many local hosts advertise in the Tico Times.
Bell’s Home Hospitality (tel. 506/2225-4752, www.homestay-thebells.org ) lists more than 70 host homes in the residential suburbs of San José, plus a few in outlying towns. Rates are from $30 s, $50 d, including breakfast (dinners $7 per person). The company will match you with an English-speaking family if you wish.
Costa Rica’s hotels run the gamut from beach resorts, mountain lodges, and haciendas-turned-hotels to San José’s plusher options. Many upper-end hotels can hold their own on the international hotel scene. Others can’t justify their price: Where this is the case, I’ve said so.
Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica (tel. 506/2258-0150, www.distinctivehotels.com ) is an association of eight of the finest hotels in the country. The Charming Nature Hotels Group (www.charminghotels.net ) is a consortium of small German- and Swiss-owned properties. The Costa Rican Hotel Association (tel. 506/2220-0575, www.costaricanhotels.com ) represents more than 250 hotels.
As throughout Latin America, “motels” are explicitly for lovers. Rooms are rented out by the hour. If mirrors over the bed and adult videos are your thing, fine!
Costa Rica is richly endowed with mountain and jungle lodges, many in private reserves. Most have naturalist guides and arrange nature hikes, horseback riding, and other activities. Some are relatively luxurious; others are basic.
Cooprena (tel. 506/2290-8646, www.turismoruralcr.com ) is a cooperative of rural community organizations that promotes rustic ecolodges.
Many backpackers’ hostels have opened in recent years; San José has at least a dozen great options, including several super options in converted mansions and 1960s modernist homes.
Hostelling International (the U.S. affiliate of the International Youth Hostel Federation, or IYHF) is represented in Costa Rica by the Hostel Casa Yoses (Avenida 8, Calle 41, San José, tel. 506/2234-5486, www.hihostels.com/dba/country-CR.en.htm ).