Going Our Way: Costa Rica, mon amour


Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) arriving to lay eggs on Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches. (Jeff Rotman/Getty Images/GETTY IMAGES)
June 24, 2011

Who: Karen Dozier, 50, and her husband, Radhi, 53, of Glenn Dale

Where: Costa Rica

Why: A romantic getaway for their 29th wedding anniversary

When: Early November for five to seven days

Budget: Up to $2,000


Karen Dozier, 50. My husband's name is Radhi, age 53. (family photo)

“We’re looking for a relaxing spot with a beach, nice restaurants and a rain forest. We usually plan a vacation as an anniversary/Christmas gift to ourselves, and we like to really make it special by going out of the country, usually staying at a three- or four-star hotel or spa resort. We usually don’t like all-inclusive resorts (we enjoy venturing out to local restaurants), but we’re open to the idea.”

Every year, Karen and Radhi Dozier of Glenn Dale plan at least one special vacation, usually to coincide with their wedding anniversary. They’ve been to South Africa, Mexico and Anguilla, and to celebrate their upcoming 29th anniversary, they’ve put Costa Rica next on their wish list. With its lovely beaches, protected natural areas and proximity to the United States, the country has become a popular vacation spot for Americans. Last year, U.S. citizens made up about 40 percent of Costa Rica’s 2.1 million visitors.

Relatively cheap airfares to Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, have helped fuel its popularity. Flights from Reagan National or Washington Dulles usually cost about $400 round trip. There are also flights into Liberia, which is closer to some of the top tourist destinations, but they typically run about $700 round trip. It may be cheaper to fly into San Jose and then take an in-country flight on Nature Air (www.natureair.com) or Sansa Regional (www.flysansa.com). Round-trip fares from San Jose to most tourist hot spots, including Tamarindo or Quepos, are typically between $150 and $200. The country also has reliable tourist bus services, such as Interbus (www.interbusonline.com), with fares of between $30 and $40 each way from San Jose to the most popular beach destinations. Rental cars are also inexpensive; expect to pay about $100, including taxes, for a week-long rental.

Costa Rica straddles both the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts. Most of the larger resorts are on the Pacific coast. Although it’s reasonably priced by U.S. standards, decent lodging will average about $130 a night. Some of the more modest all-inclusives may wind up being cheaper, but paying for meals separately affords more flexibility. (All quoted rates are for two people and include taxes; most also include breakfast).

Consider these areas:

• Tamarindo, in Guanacaste province on the northern Pacific coast’s Nicoya Peninsula, is just a 45-minute shuttle ride from Liberia. This former fishing village now attracts surfers, golfers, sport anglers and nature lovers. The water is generally calm enough for swimming, and the beach is wide and relatively uncrowded. Nearby Marino Las Baulas National Park is home to leatherback sea turtles’ nesting grounds: In November, thousands of the giant turtles come ashore to mate and lay eggs.

Several companies offer canopy tours in natural areas just east of Tamarindo; for example, Pura Aventura (www.canopypuraaventura.com) has a two-hour canopy tour for $50 per person. Hotel Arco Iris (www.hotelarcoiris.com) is within walking distance of the beach, with rates of $121 a night. Restaurants include FT’s (www.ftstamarindo.com) and Gil’s Place (gil.tamarindohomepage.com). Barcelo Langosta Beach (www.barcelolangostabeach.com) has all-inclusive packages starting at $198 a night per couple.

• Samara, farther south on the Nicoya Peninsula, is about two hours from Liberia and 4.5 hours from San Jose. This more laid-back area has protected beaches and lush rain forests. A bungalow at the beachfront
Samara Tree House Inn (www.samaratreehouse.com) starts at $130. Lodge Las Ranas (www.lodgelasranas.com), a few minutes’ drive from the beach, has rooms starting at $85. The small town has several good restaurants, including El Lagarto Bar & Restaurant and Casa Esmeralda; for more information, go to www.samarabeach.com. Several companies offer canopy, boat and kayaking tours. For example, a two-hour visit to the uninhabited Isla Chora via either boat or kayak is $40 per person (www.samara-tours.com).

• The Manuel Antonio National Park area is farther south on the Pacific coast and about 2.5 hours from San Jose. Its combination of wide beaches and protected rain forest make it a popular tourist destination. Hotels are relatively expensive, with some luxury properties commanding upwards of $350 a night. More economical choices include Hotel San Bada (www.hotelsanbada.com), a new property at the entrance to the park within a couple minutes’ walk to the beach, with rates starting at $175 a night, and La Mansion Inn (www.lamansioninn.com), a boutique property with ocean views, also starting at $175 a night.

The nearby town of Quepos has several well-reviewed budget properties, including La Sirena Hotel (www.lasirenahotel.com), with rates starting at $74. Restaurant choices include Kapi Kapi (www.restaurantkapikapi.com) for a more upscale dinner and Cafe Milagro for authentic Tico coffee and great lemon pound cake. Take a guided tour of the park, which can be arranged by your hotel and costs about $45.

• Puerto Viejo in the Limon province on the Caribbean coast next to Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge has a relaxed Afro-Caribbean vibe, which is typical of the Caribbean coast. A paved road to Puerto Viejo was built only 30 years ago, and the area still remains off the radar for typical tourists, drawing mostly backpackers and surfers. The town has a lively restaurant scene. Best bets include Chili Rojo for Asian fusion, Bread and Chocolate for breakfast and La Pecora Negra for Italian. Most lodging choices are low-key. Hotel Shawandha Lodge (www.shawandhalodge.com) has bungalows for $130 a night. Tours, which can be arranged through most hotels, include everything from jungle hikes to white-water rafting and generally run about $50 per person.

For other ideas, contact the Costa Rica Tourism Board (www.visitcostarica.com), which also offers a list of U.S. travel agents designated as Costa Rica specialists.

Total cost: This will depend on destination and transportation. And keep in mind that some hotels raise rates on Nov. 15. The cheapest transportation option is to fly into San Jose and rent a car, which will cost about $900 plus gas, currently running about $5.80 a gallon. Staying at a nicer hotel will cost about $650 for five nights, while the cheapest lodging will run about $370 for five nights. Choose a hotel that offers free breakfast to reduce the food budget, leaving more cash for tours and fun. (U.S. dollars are widely accepted, although change is often given in colons, the national currency. Don’t rely solely on credit cards.)

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to washingtonpost.com/goingourway.

Who: Karen Dozier, 50, and her husband, Radhi, 53, of Glenn Dale

Where: Costa Rica

Why: A romantic getaway for their 29th wedding anniversary

When: Early November for five to seven days

Budget: Up to $2,000

“We’re looking for a relaxing spot with a beach, nice restaurants and a rain forest. We usually plan a vacation as an anniversary/Christmas gift to ourselves, and we like to really make it special by going out of the country, usually staying at a three- or four-star hotel or spa resort. We usually don’t like all-inclusive resorts (we enjoy venturing out to local restaurants), but we’re open to the idea.”

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