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For many travelers to Costa Rica, either a late-night arrival or early morning departure (or in our case, both) necessitates a stay of at least one night near the San Jose International Airport. Happily, this doesn’t mean you have to spend your precious Costa Rica time in a generic multinational chain bordering the tarmac, nor does it mean you have to take a taxi into bustling downtown San Jose if your travel itinerary doesn’t otherwise take you in that direction.
Alajuela, the smaller city where Costa Rica's principal airport is actually located, has a number of locally owned and managed hotels that can offer you Costa Rican flavor right out of the gate, not to mention amenities that will make you glad to stay more than one night.
One of the best examples you’ll find is the Hotel Buena Vista, located just 15 minutes (I timed it myself) from SJO, up a hill en route to Poas Volcano National Park. The Hotel Buena Vista is CST certified for sustainable tourism and was built the owners themselves.
With a free shuttle to and from SJO from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., a short drive to or from the airport, complimentary breakfast, swimming pool, interesting grounds, and many room options that could accommodate our large family, I knew the Hotel Buena Vista presented an excellent value on paper. Here's what we found in person.
Standard Rooms - The Hotel Buena Vista has a variety of rooms to suit, and all, including the standard room you see here, have pretty wooden windows. Most standard rooms are located on the ground level. They sleep up to 4 people in 2 queen beds, and include satellite TV, wireless Internet access. Two of these rooms are also handicap accessible.
Deluxe Balcony Rooms are located on the upper floor of the main building and feature arched wooden windows and doors that open onto balconies, and offer some of the best views of the surrounding countryside (see photo below).
Junior Suites are similar to the Deluxe Balcony Rooms, but can sleep up to 5 people depending on your choice of 2 queen beds or 1 king with an additional single bed. The junior suites are a good bet when staying with older children and/or a grandparent, as they offer more space and seating than the standard and balcony rooms.
Luxury Villas - For our group of six, we opted to stay in one of Hotel Buena Vista's new Luxury Villas, which are free-standing buildings set off from the main hotel building along pathways down the sloping hillside (near the start of the Coffee Trail - more below). Each villa sleeps up to 6 people with 2 queen beds and a queen-size sofa bed, though it should be noted there is no separation other than distance between these sleeping areas in case that is important to you.
Our one-room villa was quite spacious and offered plenty of seating for all of us, with room enough for our toddler's travel bed as well. In addition to the living area with loveseat and queen-size sleeper sofa, the villa had a desk, armoire with TV, and a minibar stocked with beers and cola--and just enough room for a few of our leftovers.
Here on the elevated slopes en route to Poas, average daytime temperatures are 78 - 79 Fahrenheit year round, and fall into the 60s at night. While we had no need of them, I did note that the villa has two ceiling fans. The screened windows and patio doors kept us plenty comfortable.
The bathroom included a double sink vanity, hairdryer, and large stone-tiled shower (no tub), and who couldn't help but admire the lovely carved door to it? The large, covered balcony offered us views of Alajuela’s city lights upon our nighttime arrival, and of the mountains and neighboring coffee plantation in the morning—when it was all the more inviting with its glider bench, two chairs and a table.
The Quetzal Room restaurant is located in the main hotel building, and offers three meals a day, including the complimentary “Tropical Continental Breakfast” that is included in your stay. We found the generous servings of fruit, muffin, and baskets of fresh-baked toasted bread with butter, jam, and queso to be plenty for us, along with coffee and juices, but you may also supplement from the menu of available hot breakfast items as well. To see the Hotel Buena Vista's complete menu click here.
You can enjoy your meal in the dining room or out by the pool, though with our group of six including enthusiastic swimmers, we opted to stay in the dining room where a high chair was promptly provided along with some friendly travel tips for our stay—always appreciated!
The restaurant is open daily until 9 p.m. (orders by 8:30 p.m.), but you are arriving late in the evening after a long day of travel, ask the hotel if you can pre-order items from the restaurant menu to meet you in your room. For us, this not only gave us peace of mind as we traveled with the children and their grandmother through three flights to get there, but—with cold Imperial beers and some local specialties awaiting us in our villa, along with proven kid pleasers—it also made for a very festive arrival in Costa Rica.
Swimming pool - The swimming pool is located behind the restaurant, and towels are provided for guests at the pool.
Playground - There is an outdoor children’s play area with swings and a teeter-totter (or see-saw) with a stone table set off to the side.
Free WiFi - Wireless Internet access is available to guests in their rooms and around the hotel.
Laundry - Laundry service is available to guests 7 days a week and is billed per item.
Rollaway beds - Rollaway beds are available on request. An extra fee (per person) may apply.
An unexpected highlight of our stay was our walk through the Buena Vista's own “Coffee Trail,” which zig-zags down the terraced back side of the hotel property through coffee bushes, banana trees, and rubber trees, past a chewing gum tree and several interesting plants labeled with names and notes of interest. Throughout the trail, there are signs telling the story of coffee in Costa Rica and helping give visitors a better understanding of its importance to the nation. It made for a lovely walk with the children, who could ramble freely down the dirt path, and a great beginning to our time exploring Costa Rica.
Hotel Buena Vista is only 10 minutes from the Doka Coffee Estate, 30 minutes to Poas Volcano National Park, and 45 minutes from La Paz Waterfall Gardens (the last 2 of which you will want to try and visit on the same day). The hotel can either arrange tours in one of their minivans for you (see their list of recommendations here), or give you some helpful tips as you plan your own independent visits. They can also arrange a variety of tours to other major points of interest in the Central Region, including horseback rides and water adventures. Check their website for more information on what is currently available, or you can email directly with your questions.
Given the hotel's proximity to the Doka Coffee Estate, Zoo Avenue, Poas Volcano National Park, and La Paz Waterfall Gardens, consider staying more than 1 night at either the beginning or end of your trip with flights from SJO. After a free breakfast and a full day of sightseeing without suitcases in your car, you'll be able to come back to the same home base and enjoy a swim in the pool. With kids, the fewer times you unpack on a trip, the better!
Did we enjoy our stay at the Hotel Buena Vista? Yes. Would we recommend it to a friend? Yes. Would we stay there again? Yes.
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