Downtown San José’s Casa Alfi Hotel may not be plush, but this affordable boutique lodging offers strong service, a comfortable bed and a quality Costa Rican breakfast prepared by the owner or receptionist, as well as a connection to the arts.
“They call a boutique hotel either luxurious or quirky,” said Alfred Richardson, owner of the one-year-old hotel.
“I’m definitely on the quirky side. I guess the theme is art. Having original art, and being willing to display the art of other people that would be available for sale if they wanted.”
Richardson was a painter in the United States and Africa before he entered the hotel business in Costa Rica. Born of British ancestry in Nairobi, Kenya, he spent much of his childhood living in tents in the bush. He longed to be the warden at a game park.
“I was really close to nature,” Richardson said. “I used to go to the game park or the natural history museum when I wasn’t in boarding school. (Here) I saw the kind of trees and fruits we had back home for the first time.”
The animal motif is noticeable throughout the building, from the paintings on the walls in the guestrooms to Richardson’s depictions of African animals hanging in the lobby to the mural of Costa Rican wildlife painted on the front of the building.
The hotel attracts middle-class travelers from Europe, Latin America, the United States and Canada. Richardson has started to develop several regular clients. Return visitors are the bread and butter of his 10-room hotel, and he isn’t trying to change that.
“I always sort of wanted to have a guesthouse hotel,” Richardson said. “Where I come from, when you get old and retired, you move into a hotel. I like meeting new people every day. We don’t want to be a (bar or) restaurant. That would ruin the whole element here.”
That element is the aforementioned service and staff relationship with clients. “Our biggest thing is personal service,”Richardson said. “We help with tours and renting cars. One of the things I insist on is that my staff gets part of the commissions.
If we’re full, they can make good money. What I want is to have a nice place that friends of mine who are well-to-do would feel comfortable in.”
The idea resonates with the guests, many of whom rave about their experience at Casa Alfi.
“It’s a very personal experience,” said Shelly Threlkeld from the U.S. state of Indiana. “It’s like you’re being taken care of. We haven’t seen anything like it in Costa Rica. Alfi is just a really great guy, and the prices are great. I would highly recommend it to come here and stay.”
The hotel is still going through some growing pains. It doesn’t have a liquor license, but if you bring your own bottle, they will chill it for you and keep it at the bar.
A Jacuzzi is in the works upstairs but is still several months away from being functional. Richardson hopes it will be ready by high season, around Christmas. He also hopes to add some top-of-the-line gym equipment soon.
The rooms come with cable television, wireless Internet and a telephone with international calling at a paltry $0.10 per minute to the United States and most of Europe.
While it isn’t the Ritz, Casa Alfi is an excellent option for its price range and offers tourists a comfortable alternative to the capital’s seedier low-end hotels and hostels. But don’t forget that you are staying in San José. Richardson urges his guests to use caution outside of his gated doors at night.
“I tell everyone that this is San José, and you’ve got to be careful,” Richardson said. “I recommend that they take a taxi afterabout 9 p.m.”
Single rooms go for $30 a night, doubles run $40 and the large junior suites cost $50 plus tax. A 20 percent discount is offered for Ticos and residents. This discount applies to all guests during the low season, and Richardson is willing to talk about price when there is space.
The hotel is at Calle 3, between Avenidas 4 and 6, in front of the main entrance to the Colegio Señoritas. For more information, isit www.casaalfihotel.com or call 2221-2102 in Costa Rica or (404) 592-5190 in the United States.