Costa Rica is truly an amazing country, definitively worth the visit- pristine beaches (both Pacific and Atlantic side), rain forests, active volcanos, zip lining, incredible wild life, natural hot springs, and many different guided adventures for all ages. We stayed 11 days and visited San Jose, Arenal Volcanos, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio National Park. During Christmas break it means lots of tourists, long lines at the airport, and most hotels sold out. Reserve in advance if you can.
TRANSPORTATION AND ROADS
We rented a car at the airport through Alamo. Costa Rica is not cheap - 11 days car rental with full insurance was app. $900. A lot of people will recommend only renting AWD because of the roads, but our standard car did just fine. The road from San Jose to La Fortuna (Arenal Volcanos) was great, despite serious downpour. The drive from Arenal to Monteverde however was much trickier- it is a dirt road with huge holes, and while we had no issues, it is definitively not an easy drive. Had it been raining, it would have been better to have an all wheel drive. At least we had the full insurance, so didn’t care about huge huge pot holes and stones and pebbles flying all over the place. The rest of the drive (Monteverde to Manuel Antonio and then back to San Jose) was mainly ok - parts dirt road and part a highway.
San Jose Hotels
Based on popular advice we only stayed in San Jose 2 nights- upon arrival and before flying out - and that was plenty. The first night we stayed at Exe San Jose - centrally located hotel with a garage. The neighborhood at night seemed sketchy and the receptionist told us not to go out walking at night. On our way back we stayed Aloft San Jose near the airport- like most Aloft hotels, it was great. There was a nice shopping mall across the street with great restaurants. And Mcdonald’s is right next door, in case you have already spent too much.
Costa Rica is expensive, probably due to many American tourists- prices are generally similar to those in the U.S. , including prices in super markets/grocery stores. Our biggest surprise was beer- not only was there little difference in price between local and imported beer ($9 vs $10 for 6-pack), but there was also almost no difference in price between beer you buy in a store vs in a bar. Another surprising thing was how early things close- but most places/hotels/restaurants closed very early, and many tours started super early as well. It could be that we just didn’t know where to go.