Everyone, it seems, wants to go traveling these days. That is no bad thing. Travel is fun. Memories of amazing places, new people and different cultures help to make the daily grind of work or study more palatable. It helps us to better understand the world around us.
For some, a modern education is simply not complete until you have “gotten off the beaten track” and acquired a decent collection of indigenous handicrafts. The ideal of travel has become a bourgeois rite of passage.
But with the growth of the market, that ideal has in many cases become commercialized. There is serious money to be made catering to such disciples of the gospels according to Lonely Planet and Rough Guides; budget accommodation is now big business.
Consequently however, it has become easy to avoid contact with local people and miss out on the cultural interaction that is meant to be the aim of the undertaking. The original concept contained a certain sense of exile that is lost among the free tea and coffee, wireless Internet access and complimentary luggage storage that every shoestring lodging now offers. It is understandable that people want some home comforts, but how do you strike that balance?
One option for visitors to San José is to stay at the Casa del Parque Hostel. All the amenities the discerning traveler wants are here: hot water, communal kitchen, cable TV, multilingual staff and more. However, just as the name “casa” suggests, it is a house – Ticos live here, probably in the room next door.
This makes Casa del Parque something of a cross between a home stay and a hostel, and it seems to offer the best of both worlds.
Located on a corner of the National Park, the 1930s art deco-style building occupies one of the nicest spots in the city. It opened as a hostel just over two years ago and offers a pleasantly relaxing and tranquil atmosphere.
The accommodations consist of two dormitories that each sleep five people, and two private rooms. The dormitory beds are generous singles – none of the bunk beds and cramped spaces that are so typical of many similar establishments – and the shared bathroom is light and clean, if basic. The two private rooms, which share a bathroom between them, are also spacious; both have one double and one single bed. Basic maid service is included.
The hostel also has some great common areas: a spectacular roof terrace with views to the mountains across the city, a wonderfully cozy kitchen and a beautiful inner atrium discreetly filled with Central American artwork. The eclectic vibe is further enhanced by the amazing chairs made out of cow horns on the landing and the fact that the TV room also offers several instruments for those of a musical bent, including, of all things, a didgeridoo.
But the true attraction of the place is the homey atmosphere. The brothers-and-sister team of Federico, Mariana and Alejandro Echeverría are incredibly warm, welcoming, helpful and not a little off the wall. In fact, they made this review into quite a tough assignment as it was hard to maintain any sense of professionalism in the face of their constant good humor and freely offered homemade cookies.
“We have always been people persons,” Federico said. “We really like to entertain; we really like to receive people. It’s fun for us.”
“We can give personalized attention because we have a maximum of 14 guests here,” he added. “We can give them time to help them plan, help them find the right hotel, help them find the right tour.”
They seem to genuinely love helping others. Mariana echoed her brother, saying, “I enjoy meeting people from all over the world, helping them out and making them feel at home.”
The setup works, and many who stay here end up returning. Guest Kimberly Wegman said, “I come here every time I come through San José. It’s like staying with family.”
A lot of people say that San José is a necessary evil on a trip to Costa Rica.And with the best will in the world, one could truthfully say it would not feature prominently in a list of the world’s most beautiful cities. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot be a highlight of your trip. It may lack dramatic scenery and enchanting wildlife, but it does have great people full of the pura vida spirit.
You will find that spirit at the Casa del Parque.
Location, Rates, Info
Casa del Parque is on the northeast corner of the National Park in San José (Av. 3, Ca. 19). Dormitory accommodations cost $12 per night, per person, while the two private rooms go for $30 per night.
For information, call 233-3437, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.hostelcasadelparque.com.