Be a traveler not a tourist! It takes a person with some combination of travel smarts, patience, adaptability and a sense of adventure to really enjoy Las Brisas and Costa Rica in general. A lot in one category can make up for a little in another. Frankly, my wife had not traveled abroad or domestically very often, so it took her several “canned” trips to warm up to the self guided trips we now do. I was ready out of the gate because of the experience I had gained from business travel. Once you escape from the tourist hotels and tour buses you will never look back.
The ultimate goal: “The car in the parking lot and your body in the pool of Las Brisas del Mar”. Here is how you can accomplish this; Costa Rica has two international airport choices. For trips less than 10 days to Las Brisas del Mar, the Liberia option is probably the best. If your stay is longer, or you have business in San Jose, the San Jose option might be the best choice. We usually fly mid-week. Affordable weekend flights are available, but fill faster. Services like car rentals in Costa Rica seem better mid-week also. Mid-week flights also give you the option to throw in the extra weekend and stretch those vacation days. We find 10 day vacations much better than 7. We just did 35 days and were not close to being ready to come home. Booking days for the Condo are entirely flexible. So find your best airfare and we will see if we can work around that.
Las Brisas del Mar is 1 hour and 20 minutes away from the Liberian International airport (LIR) by car, including the 10 minutes on dirt/gravel roads. The paved portion has little traffic. Many rental car companies will pick up and deliver to this airport with no added cost. Taxi to Las Brisas should be under $90 if you bargain a little.
The Liberian International airport is recently re-built. Service to LIR at this point is Delta, United, American, Southwest or Charter Airlines. (Check “airfare only” options from vacation companies like Apple Vacations.) Smart shopping has yielded direct round trip tickets costing $500 USD from EWR, USA.
Las Brisas del Mar is about 4 hours and 30 minutes away from the San Jose International airport (SJO) by car, including the last 10 minutes on dirt/gravel roads. The first paved portion north of San Jose is a bit hectic on the over-used main highway. The paved portion after the turn to the new Tempisque Bridge is pleasant enough.
The San Jose International airport is small, with just about as much travel hassle as a similarly sized US airport, but with better service. On a recent trip, a Tico skycap noticed my arm in a sling, got a wheelchair, and personally wheeled me and my luggage through the whole process right to my gate (expediting along the way). I tipped him $5, and we both parted with a smile. Need I say this did not happen on the US end of this flight? If you have lots of luggage and are new to the San Jose airport, these skycaps are a good thing even if you have two good arms. Service to SJO is via Delta, United and a handful of other Airlines. Prices have been historically about $20 to 150 USD less than tickets to Liberia.
I would recommend staying a day or longer in a San Jose area hotel at the start and end of the trip. I have listed some proven hotels below. The airport is actually nearby Alajuela, as smaller town just north of San Jose. Cabs or free hotel shuttles from / to the airport and around the city are the best option while there. Rental car companies will pick up and deliver to these hotels usually for free and this will also save you the 12% airport car rental tax. A nights-stay along the way at a Costa Rican attraction(s) while in-route to or from Las Brisas del Mar could justify the longer drive. Las Brisas del Mar could also be a part of a larger Itinerary.
Holy Cow, remember when the flight was a pleasant part of the trip? Now with TSA, airlines, hidden taxes in the tickets and US immigrations it’s now all about minimizing the discomfort and costs. Our USA paid “public servants” are setting the tone and the airlines (to their advantage) are both are treating their benefactors like herds of sheep to be fleeced and abused. Shop wisely and watch for the hidden costs.
For a quick list of discount airfares search on Travelocity, selecting the flexible dates option.
(Unfortunately, Travelocity has recently been forced by the US DOT to disable the international flexible searches. Gee, thanks for the help again US Government. As a work around, you can search for international fares using flexible dates by visiting Travelocity's Singapore-based affiliate: www.Zuji.com . Yikes now that is gone, try Canada: http://travelocity.ca/ca/)
Fare costs vary with time, departure and arrival airports. Check back often as buying airfare these days is like playing the stock market. Research and timing can pay off in savings. Tip: Possibly due to current terminal construction, security check delays and checked luggage problems are too common at Miami International Airport (MIA) and the major carrier AA emerged from Bankruptcy and merged with USAir. I still will fly through this airport but I will pay a little more in terms of airfare or travel time to avoid it. Continental had the best service for me but the merger with United fixed that. Recently added were Southwest flights to LIR. In short all bets are off and it’s every man for himself.
(check the “find best rates box”)
I suggest renting a vehicle from one of the many rental companies in Costa Rica to get around when not in the San Jose area. Personally I have been having results with Avis for a number of years now. But it’s a good idea to adjust your plans to avoid driving at night in Costa Rica.
Vehicle Rental- If your plans are to only travel paved roads and the direct road to Las Brisas del Mar during dry season, being careful to dodge the potholes, you can save some money on a standard car or van over a 4 wheel drive vehicle. I like manual transmissions and diesel engines for the extra control and added mileage they afford, but if all the drivers in your crew aren’t manual experts you might opt for an automatic. There will be times you will need to stop on upgrades and start off again without stalling. My favorite 4x4s are the KIA Sportage Diesel or Toyota RAV4. Check the WEB sites for an idea of vehicle selection and pricing. Before comparing prices always get the total cost, including mandatory basic insurance and ask the additional cost of elective insurances (see also below). Book in advance right after the airfare booking and confirm a few days before travel via email.
In any case, be with the agent to be sure he marks all the existing damage to the car at pick up. Every dent, scratch, ding and crack in the body or the glass should be recorded. In the case of a substandard tire I guess one should hold out for another tire, another rental car or at least record its poor condition along with all the dings. Also, call your credit card company and inform them that you WILL be in Costa Rica to avoid rejected charges. At car pickup, rental car companies will often require a substantial amount of money, say $1000.00 for a two week rental, to be placed on hold on your credit card as a deposit. While driving, be sure to have your driver’s license, Passport photo copy or passport and copies of the rental paperwork with you. As a result of high new car import duties and maintenance cost, rental cars are somewhat expensive in Costa Rica. Saving costs by buying supplies and preparing your own meals, or searching out the locals’ bargain restaurants and taking self guided side trips will offset this somewhat.
Gas and Tire repairs – When driving I suggest that you get gas and repairs when the opportunity presents itself as service stations can often be some distance apart. I like to fill up before reaching the ¼ tank mark. But should you run low, locals often sell gas in jugs like this “station” a couple of kilometers outside of Paraíso on the road to Santa Cruz. Keep in mind major service stations sell by the liter and often local “stations” sell by the gallon which is 3.78 liters. Expect to pay about 20% more at these local stations, a bargain if you really need gas off the beaten path. Juan pictured here recently repaired a tire for a friend. This case would normally be a plug job in the states. Here he dismounted the tire and patched the inside, then remounted the tire which took the better part of an hour. He threw in two tire patch plugs that I had run out of on top of the repair. Total cost $4. Tires are expensive here, don’t drive on a flat and trash the tire if it can be avoided.
Taxis - There is only one legal & official “orange” taxi servicing the International Airport Juan Santamaría (San Jose). http://www.taxiaeropuerto.com/ But it might be possible to grab a “red” government licensed cab outside of the normal arrival ground transportation area.
These official San Jose Airport taxis are orange in color to differentiate from the normal red government licensed (and unlicensed pirate) taxis available elsewhere in Costa Rica. For safety reasons I recommend not using pirate taxis. After the baggage claim area there is a stand provided to purchase rate controlled tickets for these orange taxis. Even if you grab one of these orange taxis without a ticket you will most likely end up paying the normal rates. One driver stopped at a ticket booth in route and purchased a ticket for me. I remember a reasonable $14 for two passengers to Santo Domingo de Heredia which is about a 20 minute ride. Watch out for the very aggressive, self proclaimed and self employed “sky caps” that will grab your luggage to help you the one meter (three feet) to your cab after which they almost demand a tip. Don’t confuse these annoying hustlers with the helpful skycaps you will meet at your departure.
When hiring any taxi you should be sure they either start the fare meter or establish a reasonable price up front. Normally if you ask for a fair price, one will be quoted, as haggling (negotiating) for price is not the norm in Costa Rica. The majority of taxi drivers consider their job a profession and provide good service at the fair government regulated rate. Taxi drivers are not tipped unless they provide some extra service for you. A little extra is appreciated but not normally expected; see the tips page for details.
Even though it runs contra to normal Costa Rican culture a hand full or locals seem to be learning the tourist hustle. Just refuse to overpay for provided services for everyone’s benefit.
Bus Transportation- In response to inquiries I am researching this option. The connection to Playa Junquillal is through Santa Cruz. Ride with the locals for only 500 colons on a recycled yellow school bus (or slightly better at times). This schedule was handwritten for me by the driver and I get the feeling it’s subject to change.
Playa Junquillal (Bernardo’s) to Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz to Playa Junquillal
Nice grounds & rooms north of the city in Santo Domingo de Heredia, good restaurant, free shuttle van to Hotel Villa Tournon.
Apartado 11-3100 Santo Domingo, Costa Rica
Telephone (506) 2244-1414 / Fax (506) 2244-1313
Double rate is US$ 128.00 plus 13% tax, Visa
Rooms vary – Room 12 is very nice, French Restaurant, Located near the University at the west end of town
First entrance to Los Yoses, 50 meters south
Mailing Address: 1107-1002, San José, Costa Rica
Tel: (011-506) 2234-7850
Fax: (011-506) 2225-9103
Double US$ 87 plus 13%, Visa, includes breakfast
Walking distance to San Jose downtown & El Pueblo which is one of the most famous entertainment centers. The hotel restaurant and bar are acceptable.
P.O.Box 6606-1000 San José, Costa Rica.
Telephone:(506) 233-6622 Fax number:(506) 2222-5211
Double US$ 125 plus 13% tax, Visa
Soda Yire is located two blocks north of Parque Central on Avenia one. Muster up your courage and jump into mainstream Tico life. I could have not felt more welcome in this small, friendly, locals restaurant despite the language barrier. I sat down and ordered the advertised Plato del Dia 950 colones (Plate of the day $1.90). Wow, rice, beans, chicken and a small salad, what a deal. OK, the drink was extra but the owner threw in a free coconut candy dessert. I must have behaved myself as a customer. I find as long as you remain respectful, patient and polite you will be welcome almost anywhere in Costa Rica as a foreigner. A walk in the park makes a great follow up to the meal.
Hamburguesas Los Talleres & Guitarras Bar are two independent establishments but on the same block near Hotel Villa Bonita. Gee, I wonder where they get the paint for their bright exteriors (see pictures)? Experience Tico fast food, order a Hamburguesas from Los Talleres with everything for 700 colones (Hamburger Workshop). Keep your eyes open for the Tico secret sauce that helps makes this place so popular with the locals. Then wash it down with a few cold Imperials 600 colones at the Guitarras Bar.
Como en Casa originally a restaurant located in a house (and hence the name) has now moved to the shopping plaza, Plaza Real, in the southeast corner of the town and is walking distance from Hotel Villa Bonita. It specializes in beef but there are lots of options on the menu. Viewed as upscale in Alajuela we find the prices higher but still reasonable. The food good and the service is great.
La Fabbrica is also in the shopping plaza, Plaza Real, in the southeast corner of the town right next to Como en Casa. Basically a pizza and Italian restaurant but the service is upscale. The food good and the prices moderate.
Ceviche del Rey as the name indicates has lots of ceviches to offer sea bass to octopus. Their second specialty is Peruvian food but the menu contains many other choices. One trip down my wife was feeling a little travel weary and down. Cararones al Olive (Marinated Shrimp), Paella for two, a couple of white wines and three Imperials cervezas for me and the problem was solved. Happy again and very full for only $48. It’s located just north of town. Take the first right fork on Calle 2 as you leave town.
Restaurante la Cocina de Leña in the El Pueblo complex offers classic Costa Rican fare, like Abuela (Grandma) made on special days, in an upscale family-bistro atmosphere. The portions are generous, so be careful not to over order. The menu prices are reasonable, with many entree selections, so you can always come back again for another meal. This was a favorite of ours years before we met the friendly owner Carlos and his family while they vacationed at Las Brisas del Mar. The El Pueblo complex also offers shopping, bars and discos.
Centro Turistico "El Pueblo", San José
Tel: +506 (2256) 5353
Fax: +506 (2222) 3154
L'Île de France gourmet restaurant at Hôtel Le Bergerac is operated by it's renowned chef and owner Jean Claude, who provides full-service French classic dinners Monday through Saturday. It is classic French at non-classic prices. Reservations are recommended. VISA
Hotel Bougainvillea’s Gourmet Restaurant features international and local cuisines. The restaurant is a favorite with both the locals and hotel guests.
Lukas Restaurante also in the El Pueblo complex. It is a pleasant open air Bar/Restaurant popular with the Costa Rican business crowd. “All the flavor of the Costa Rican kitchen” offered on an international and local cuisine menu.
Centro Comercial El Pueblo, San Francisco, Calle Blancos
Tel: 2233-8145, 2233-2309 Fax: 2233-6410
Restaurante Tres Hermanas is a great rest or lunch stop when traveling via the Tempisque bridge. When turning off route #1 onto route #16 it’s located immediately on the right. It specializes in smoked meats. The parking lot had a guard and your car will be visible from some tables so there is a good chance your luggage is secure.
Special Note: The food inside the new LIR terminal is terminally expensive. Particularly avoid Players Bar & Restaurant unless your wallet a lot lighter for the trip home.
Restaurante la Choza de Laurel just a little past the airport access road towards Liberia on the right. Some entrees on the pricey side but if you scan the menu there are some affordable choices. Try the grilled chicken salad but not the Black Bean soup.
North American and European tourists traveling with passports have a 90 day legal stay, while most other foreign nationals have only 30 days. You must leave the country for at least three days before returning for another stay. A $28 + $1 fight human trafficking tax + $2 by 2016 Presidential Decree = $32 (USD) exit tax is charged upon your departure from Costa Rica via air unless you have been in Costa Rica for less than 12 hours, in this case you can apply for an exemption at the airport. And by Presidential Decree it is also assessed as an entry tax. At my last exit from Liberia they seemed to be accepting Colónes, US dollars or credit cards. But be careful as I have a report that a VISA payment resulted in a $10 finance charge for a cash advance and 60 cents of interest added to the billing statement in addition to the at that time the $32 exit fee. Note that taking a page from the USA playbook this tax is now often hidden in the price of the airline ticket. Ask first before paying at either the airline check in desk or at the Bank windows.
Las Brisas del Mar beachfront vacation condo Playa Junquillal, Guanacaste, Costa Rica !
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