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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
February 2009 Email this to a friend

Costa Rica
From beaches to playful San Jose, Costa Rica mixes nature with nightlife

By Michael LaBelle

Hotel Villa Roca, Costa Rica
New Yorkers at Hotel Villa Roca

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For updated and expanded articles click San Jose, and Manuel Antonio articles at DailyXtraTravel

Click on the link for a handy PDF version of our February 2009 Costa Rica travel feature! Note: text below updated September 2009.

One quarter of Costa Rica is protected as wilderness reserves. If you like sand and surf, choose from the pristine beaches of Guanacaste, or the gay beach at Manuel Antonio, or to the east the very different feel of the Caribbean beaches along that coast. A trip to Isla Tortuga by sailboat can make for another pleasant day.

There's plenty to do, from the wild cloud forests, central plains plantations, northern savannas and mountains to the hot nightlife and international cuisine of the cities and resorts. Relax in hot springs or luxurious hotel pools or beneath wild waterfall cascades. Hike the paths to see peaceful Morpho butterflies or raucous monkeys or to the edges of placid pools or lava-spewing volcanoes. Whitewater rafting, surfing and horseback riding or sweeping through tree canopies on strung lines are a few of the many ways to experience Costa Rica.

Driving can be fun, too. Little beaches near Dominical invite a stop before starting south on the coastal road from Puntarenas to Manuel Antonio. Largely unpaved, Route 34 can slow cars to a crawl, but difficulties encountered on this gravel and winding road are tempered by spectacular views at every turn.

Resorts & Accommodation

Many agencies provide or will book tours of the natural wonders of Costa Rica, but almost all the gay and lesbian resorts include these services along with accommodations and onsite amenities. See the folks at the following establishments for more information.

Colours Oasis Resort (NW corner, Boulevard Rohrmoser) in the capital of San Jose was one of the first exclusively gay resorts and remains among the best. Staff will help you get around Costa Rica with tours, information and even Spanish language classes.

Also in San Jose, Casa 69 (69 Calle 25) gives access both to local urban sights of areas of interest beyond. This budget hotel has all the facilities plus sociable breakfasts, and good beer and entertainment too.

Both The Fountains, just 15 minutes from downtown in the Escazu area, and Hotel Kekoldi (Calles 5-6, Avenida 9) in downtown Barrio Amon, are mixed but gay-friendly San Jose options.

Orquideas Inn in Alajuela, just 10 minutes from the airport, is yet another comfortable and friendly option.

A day trip from San Jose could include Cartago, the old capital 23 kilometers away, where two cathedrals draw tourists. One is a 500-year-old ruin, the victim of several earthquakes; the other, famous for an "appearance" of the Virgin, attracts pilgrims by the millions. Monte Azul mountain retreat in an old Cartago coffee plantation, has made each it's suites into a mini art gallery. Nearby the highest point in Costa Rica, Mt. Chirripo rises to over 12,500 feet. A number of artists are in residence here, and near perfect year-round temperatures encourage lush vegetation in a multi- tude of microclimates.

Arrive if you can, at Calathea Lodge in Golfito in time for the meals at sunset when the Coto Valley jungle vista turns fluorescent green beneath the Baru Volcano. From fully equipped cabins take their hiking trail to see scores of species of birds and amphibians, and Amorfo butterflies.

Located nine kilometers south of Dominical in Puerto Cito, Cuna Del Angel has gay-friendly suites – each named for an angel, and great ocean views. Their more affordable jungle lodge rooms hark back to an older era.

Las Aguas Jungle Lodge , the first gay friendly resort in the Southern Pacific Zone of Costa Rica, has rooms and suites amid old growth forests. Activities include hiking, riding, skinny-dipping in pristine waterfalls nearby and even surfing in nearby Dominical.

In the Pacific beach town of Manuel Antonio, Hotel Villa Roca has local attractions and tours that include sailings to the nearby national park.

Also in the Quepos/ Manuel Antonio area, Falls at Manuel Antonio, the former Ruby's Plantation, is now a mixed but still gay- friendly boutique hotel resort amid jungle scenery that includes a waterfall. Tutu is a small gay club next to Falls Resort.

Two other hotels here offer good views and easy beach access: Hotel Casablanca with two pools, has a gayer clientele, the more affordable, is located on a main street to the gay beach. Hotel Makanda by the Sea, is more secluded with an infinity pool and jacuzzi surrounded by their outdoor restaurant, Sunspot, that's open to the general public.

La Hacienda (2777-3473) is known for its Cuban chef's fresh fish and game, plus tasty tropical cocktails.

Salsipeudes (2777-5019) boasts homemade local dishes and tapas at a good price with Pacific sunset views.

Barba Roja famed for nachos and coconut margaritas, and at El Avion you'll dine under the wings of an old CIA plane from an extensive menu.

Food and attitude at Latin Lounge include fresh fish burritos served with "dish" by friendly waiter Jim.

Speaking of dish, Playita is Manuel Antonio's infrequently published but informative gay zine with more listings.

Ticotimes.net is the website of the local general population English language newspaper.

La Playita, the gay beach in Manuel Antonio, was still fun at last report in spite of a new hotel nearby. Ticos (the name for locals) and tourists enjoy themselves there without harassment.

Canopy Safari in Quepos is an agency specializing in outdoor thrills.

On the other side of the country, on unspoiled Caribbean coastal beaches, in Puerto Viejo near Limon, Banana Azul is a place to rest and relax. Staff can advise on area adventures to those who like to roam.

There are two gay resorts beside the Arenal Volcano at La Fortuna. Palo Verde Resort has a monthly action- packed party at their Bambu Room, famed throughout Costa Rica. At Abercam La Fortuna you hardly need leave the grounds to experience all you came to Costa Rica for, but they too offer excursions into surrounding areas.

Other gay-friendly resort scenes include the Pacific Northwest coast with it's good surfing and Turtle spawning beaches. Laz Divas in Guanacaste, and Hotel Bulabula in Playa Grande.

Urban San Jose

For wild nights on the town, San Jose has the best of Costa Rica's gay clubs for dancing, cabaret shows, strippers and drag.

Bochinche (Calle 11, Avenida 10) is a fashionable and lively video and show bar.

Costa Rica's largest gay disco, La Avispa (Calle Primera, Avenida 8 y 10) is still packed after nearly three decades and everyone dresses to party.

Club Oh! (Calle 2, Avenidas 14-16) has an upscale dance crowd, mostly boys and men, plus drag and dance acts.

Marla Cartier's campy drag show at Puchos (Calle 11, Avenida 8) offers deranged lip-sync and hot male dancers on stage above the main dance floor.

Al Dspist. (50 meters west of Universal Zapote) is open Wednesday through Sunday with Saturday go-go boys and dancing.

Two new clubs, Club 360 (Plaza de la Cultura), and Energy Club (Paseo Colon, next to Pizza Hut) have dancing, strippers, and drag shows too.

Before the late night clubs get going follow the crowd to Olio (200m north of Bagelmens), and Casa Vieja (behind Mall International), two popular local gay spots for food, drinks and meeting up. Cafe Mundo, (Calle 15, Avenida 9) in Amon-Otoya district, has a lively mixed crowd but loyal gay following.


For wet relaxation in San Jose there are Sauna Club Hispalis with a pool, and Las Termas de Paris (Calle 7 at Avenida 7). Both are open daily with dry and steam saunas, and Jacuzzis.

El Avion, a bit of history.

The Fairchild C-123 airplane, now used as a restaurant, bar, coffee store called El Avion in Manuel Antonio, played a part in the Iran-Contra Affair during the Reagan administration.

This was the sister plane of the one shot down by the Sandinista army over Nicaragua in October 1986 leading to the capture of a CIA operative, the breaking of the Oliver North scandal and subsequent shut-down of the US operation to fund the Contra terrorists without Congressional oversight.

The plane sat abandoned in San Jose until August 2000 when it was bought, disassembled and taken to Manuel Antonio for far more peaceful uses. Now there's a bar in the fuselage and restaurant tables set beneath its wings. See Elavion.net.

Gay websites





Gay rights

Costa Rica is the most progressive country in Latin America. It has no armed forces, one of the highest per- capita numbers of university graduates in the world, and is the model for habitat conservation. But it is a Catholic country and is socially conservative in many ways. So, even though gay sex was partially decriminalized in 1971 and gay groups were legalized in the 1990s, visitors should remember that public support often lags behind changes in law. Prejudice keeps most local gays in the closet but gay tourism thrives.

In 2000, the city of San Jose attempted to shut down a gay sauna but the Supreme Court ordered it to back off. That court ruled against same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2006. Just last year, the court ruled that gay prisoners may not have conjugal visits. Discrimination against people with HIV is illegal. The age of consent is 15. Public sex is illegal. Prostitution is legal but communication for prostitution is not.

San Jose notes

The airport at Costa Rica’s cosmopolitan capital city is named for national hero, Juan Santamaría, nicknamed “El Erizo” (the hedgehog) for his spiked hair. Santamaría. The young martyr of 1856 is memorialized with a holiday each April 11. According to lore, he died setting fire to a hostel containing forces of U.S. adventurer William Walker, who tried to turn Central America into a personal slave-holding empire. The struggle for self-determination was a long and hard-fought battle in Costa Rica, but this idyllic land is today one of the most progressive and eco- friendly countries in the Western hemisphere.

San Jose’s high altitude keeps evenings cool, and in the rainy, or “green,” season it’s never too hot, even during the day. A little afternoon rain might fall but there are fewer crowds, and it’s less expensive in low-season from May through mid-November, before the snowbirds arrive, from Thanksgiving through Easter. During the many holiday fiestas in this land of Catholic faithful, the streets and parks become crowded with celebrating Ticos (local slang for Costa Ricans).

Safety tips

When heading for town after dark, have your hotel call a taxi. Fares are cheap but be sure there's a meter, or set the price in advance, or risk overpaying. Take caution when walking or night cruising for hustlers in Parque Nacional (Avenidas 1and 3 at Calles 15 through19), or in Sabana Park. But prostitution is legal here and at Hotel Nury, near Parque Musical, the guys offer "massage" for $20. The law in Costa Rica requires you to carry at least a photocopy of your passport, including entry stamp, at all times. Most hotels provide a copy service at check-in.

Note: updated September 2009.

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