The capital of Costa Rica is not an especially appealing city. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit San José, but often one’s flight schedule requires an overnight in or near the capital. Central San José can be aggressively ugly, even in wealthier neighborhoods, making it wise to overnight in a suburb. For that reason, I decided to check up on our longtime recommendation of Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation Resort, located about 20 to 40 minutes from the airport, depending on traffic, on a hillside overlooking tropical gardens and the distant lights of the city.
The 14 accommodations occupy a whitewashed mansion with unusual tropical art nouveau-style architecture, as well as two separate villas that are ideal for families. (Several suites can also accommodate children.) There is no air-conditioning, but San José is situated at an elevation of 3,845 feet.
Our hardwood-floored Master Suite, El Guarumo, offered plenty of space, with a large living room separated by a mushroom-shaped arch from a hallway. A mural of a motmot (a colorful Central American bird) decorated the bedroom beyond. In the bath was a free-form built-in tub overlooking a terrace, which had fine views over treetops to a sliver of San José. The living room’s brown-and-green botanical-print sofa was hideous. Nevertheless, I was glad to be in a suite with some sense of place, rather than in an anonymous chain hotel downtown.
We had two lunches and a dinner at the open-air restaurant, which has views of San José and the mountains beyond. The service was casually friendly and efficient, and the food — fresh tostadas topped with pejibaye (a local palm fruit), hummus, farmer cheese, chayote and pickled watermelon rind; and corbina (a firm white fish similar to sea bass) topped with chorizo and Creole sauce accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and chard — was leaps ahead of where it had been on our previous visit five years earlier.
The resort offers tours both on and off the property, and we very much enjoyed some early-morning bird-watching with a private guide, as well as a semiprivate visit to the hotel’s organic coffee plantation, which melds almost seamlessly into the jungle.
The unusual, curvaceous architecture; the friendly staff; the much-improved restaurant; the interesting tour of the property’s 42-acre coffee plantation; the setting amid gardens and jungle.
The lack of complimentary bottled water in the room; the sometimes dated décor; no room service; the occasionally lackadaisical staff (the dead batteries in our room’s safe were never replaced despite repeated requests).
Rooms have screened windows but no air-conditioning (nights are cool). Accommodations in both the main mansion and the villas are about five minutes on foot from reception and the restaurant.
On the southern side of the airport, opposite to Finca Rosa Blanca, is a property that glossy travel magazines seem to love, the 23-room Hotel Alta Las Palomas. This hotel feels more like a suburban mansion than a resort; its décor is contemporary and chic. A soaring central hallway leads past a brushed-steel reception desk to a small library lounge. Our suite had eggplant walls, cream-upholstered seating and terra-cotta tile floors. It was a pleasure to enjoy a cocktail on the balcony as the sun set and the lights of the city strengthened.
Unfortunately, the room smelled of inexpensive air freshener, and the upholstery showed signs of wear. More problematic was the lack of soundproofing, which allowed for noise from both the hallway and the road just above the hotel. The garden pool looked filmy, and stains marred the loungers surrounding it. These issues added up. Finca Rosa Blanca has its flaws, but it remains the best option near San José.
The hillside setting overlooking San José; the compact arrangement of the property; the cheerful and helpful staff; the price.
The sometimes sloppy housekeeping (cobwebs in the restaurant chandeliers); maintenance issues, such as stained loungers by the filmy pool and slightly worn furnishings.
Accommodations that are higher up have better views, but they are also more exposed to street noise in the morning.