From beaches to playful San Jose, Costa Rica mixes nature with nightlife
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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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Hacienda (2777-3473) is
known for its Cuban chef's fresh fish
and game, plus tasty tropical
boasts homemade local dishes and tapas
at a good price with Pacific sunset
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
Speaking of dish, Playita is
Manuel Antonio's infrequently published
but informative gay zine with more
is the website of the local general population English
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
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,
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.
(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.
(Calle 2, Avenidas
14-16) has an upscale dance crowd,
mostly boys and men, plus drag and
Marla Cartier's campy drag show at
(Calle 11, Avenida 8) offers deranged lip-sync
and hot male dancers on stage above the
main dance floor.
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
(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.
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).
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
Note: updated September 2009.