Book ahead if you’re visiting during high season; this is especially important during the Christmas, New Year and Easter (Semana Santa) holidays. Prices skyrocket during those weeks, too.
- Hotels These range from small, family-run affairs to boutique and larger establishments.
- B&Bs There’s a variety of B&Bs throughout the country, reflecting the diversity of the landscape as well as the proprietors.
- Hostels You’ll find a great bunch of hostels in the more popular locales. 'Resort' hostels are almost hotel level in terms of quality and amenities.
- Apartments and villas All levels of short-term rental apartments, villas and, increasingly, entire homes are available.
Accommodations come at every price and comfort level: from luxurious ecolodges and sparkling all-inclusive resorts and backpacker palaces to spartan rooms with little more than a bed and four cinderblock walls. The variety and number of rooms on offer, coupled with online booking, means that advance booking is not usually required.
Note that the term cabina (cabin) is a catchall that can define a wide range of prices and amenities, from very rustic to very expensive.
Prices & Payment Options
Many lodgings lower their prices during the low (rainy, aka 'green' season) season, from May to November. Prices change quickly and many hotels charge per person rather than per room – read rates carefully and always check ahead.
US dollars are the preferred currency for listing rates in Costa Rica. However, colones are accepted everywhere and are usually exchanged at current rates without an additional fee. Paying with a credit card sometimes incurs a surcharge and cash discounts are sometimes on offer.
- Budget accommodations in the most popular regions of the country are much sought after and need to be booked well in advance during high season.
- The cheapest places generally have shared bathrooms, but it’s still possible to get a double with a bathroom for US$25 in towns off the tourist trail.
- At the top end of the budget scale, rooms will frequently include a fan and a bathroom with hot water.
- Hot water in showers is often supplied by electric showerheads (don't touch!), which will dispense hot water if the pressure is kept low.
- Most budget hotels also have a few midrange options with more amenities, including air-con and TV.
- Wi-fi is increasingly available at budget accommodations, particularly in popular tourist destinations, but sometimes only in the main lobby area.
- Midrange rooms will be more comfortable than budget options, and will generally include a bathroom with gas-heated hot water, a choice between fans and air-con, and cable or satellite TV.
- Most midrange hotels have wi-fi, though it's sometimes limited to the area near reception or the office.
- Many midrange places offer tour services, and will have an onsite restaurant or bar and a swimming pool or Jacuzzi.
- Hotels in this price range often offer kitchenettes or even full kitchens. Some offer complimentary breakfast.
- Top-end accommodations include many ecolodges, all-inclusive resorts, and business and chain hotels, in addition to a strong network of intimate boutique hotels, remote jungle camps and upmarket B&Bs.
- Costa Rica’s top-end lodgings adhere to the same standards of quality and service as similarly priced accommodations in North America and Europe.
- Staff will likely speak English.
- Many top-end lodgings include amenities such as hot-water bathtubs, Jacuzzis, private decks, satellite TV and air-con, as well as concierge, tour and spa services.
- A typical breakfast is usually gallo pinto (a stir-fry of rice and beans). This national breakfast dish is usually served with eggs, cheese or natilla (sour cream). Tropical-style continental breakfasts are also offered.
Apartments & Villas
The network of long-term rentals has grown dramatically in recent years. These can be an excellent option for families, as they typically include a kitchen and several bedrooms. In many beach towns, vacation villas and apartments of varying quality are rented by the week, month or longer, and some come with resort access, beach toys and other amenities. Many restaurants now offer rooms in the back, and some are surprisingly nice.
Generally speaking, B&Bs in Costa Rica tend to be midrange to top-end affairs, often run by resident European and North American expats. You can find B&Bs listed in the Tico Times. Many homeowners now list their properties on airbnb.com, to the chagrin of tax-paying hoteliers.
- Camping on Costa Rica’s coasts is not legal but is widely tolerated. Many local families camp at the beach during the holidays.
- Most major tourist destinations have at least one campground and most budget hotels outside San José accommodate campers on their grounds. Although these sites usually include toilets, cold showers and basic self-catering facilities (sink and barbecue pit), they can be crowded and noisy.
- In most national parks, campsites are usually of excellent quality and rigorously cleaned and maintained by staff. As a rule, you will need to carry in all of your food and supplies, and carry out all of your trash.
- Theft is a major concern; don’t leave anything in your tent unattended. Camp in a group if possible.
- Don’t camp near riverbanks, which are prone to flooding and home to snakes.
- Mosquito nets and repellent with DEET are often essential.
Although there is still a handful of Hostelling International (HI) hostels left in Costa Rica, the backpacker scene has gone increasingly upmarket; the era of the 'resort hostel', complete with bars, pools and entertainment centers, is in full swing. Compared to other destinations in Central America, hostels in Costa Rica tend to be fairly expensive, though the quality of service and accommodations is unequaled. Expect to pay between US$10 and US$15 for a dorm bed.
- It's always advisable to ask to see a room – including the bathroom – before committing to a stay, especially in budget lodgings. Rooms within a single hotel can vary greatly.
- Some pricier hotels will require confirmation of a reservation with a credit card. Before doing so, note that some top-end hotels require a 50% to 100% deposit up front when you reserve. This rule is not always clearly communicated.
- In most cases reservations can be canceled and refunded with enough notice. Ask the hotel about its cancellation policy before booking. It is often easier to make the reservation than to unmake it.
- Many hotels charge a hefty service fee for credit-card use.
- Have the hotel fax or email you a confirmation. Hotels often get overbooked, and if you don’t have a confirmation, you could be out of a room.
- To compete with online booking services, some hotels offer a discount if you book direct, or if you pay in cash.