San José has plenty of quality hotel rooms, with reasonable prices in all categories. The budget-to-moderate sector has improved markedly with several guesthouses and family-run hotels. Rock-bottom hotels, however, still tend, with a few exceptions, to be depressing cells that make the city seem infinitely uglier than it is. San José has its fair share of international hotel chains, many of whose names (and generic facilities) – Radisson, Holiday Inn and Best Western – will be familiar to North Americans and Europeans. While some are comfortable and have excellent service, they don’t offer much in the way of local colour. It’s also worth noting that while these hotels employ Costa Ricans, most of their profits are repatriated to the company’s home country.
If you are coming in high season (Dec–May), and especially over busy periods like Christmas and Easter, be prepared to reserve (and, in some cases, even pay) in advance. Room rates vary dramatically between high and low seasons – the prices we quote are for a double room in peak season, and you can expect to get substantial discounts at less busy times. Unless otherwise indicated, breakfast is usually not included.
Many of San José’s rock-bottom hotels have cold-water showers only. Unless you’re particularly hardy, you’ll want some form of heated water, as San José can get chilly, especially from December to March. At the budget end of the spectrum, so-called “hot” water is actually often no more than a tepid trickle, produced by one of the eccentric electric contraptions you’ll find fitted over showers throughout the country (see Staying with a Costa Rican family) – it’s still better than cold water, however.
Though staying in one of the budget hotels in the city centre is convenient, the downside is noise and, in many places, a lack of atmosphere. Not too far from downtown, in quieter areas such as Paseo Colón, Los Yoses and Barrios Amón and Otoya, is a group of more expensive hotels, many of them in old colonial homes.
To the west of the city is Escazú, the stomping ground of American expats, and popularly known as “Gringolandia”. The vast majority of B&Bs here are owned by foreign nationals, with higher prices than elsewhere in town. Street names and addresses are particularly confusing in this area so get clear directions or arrange to be picked up. East of the city and closer to the centre is studenty San Pedro, with better connections to downtown and a more cosmopolitan atmosphere. It’s a great place to stay, but unfortunately there are only a couple of hostels in the area.