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HomeCosta RicaCosta Rica Expat Living: A Peek Inside San Jose's Cheap Hotels

Costa Rica Expat Living: A Peek Inside San Jose’s Cheap Hotels

Tourists on a budget in San Jose have two choices for overnight accommodations. Many hostels have sprung up over the years, offering both shared dorms and private rooms. These are usually cheery, welcoming albergues, and are favored by young adventurers and backpackers.

For those wanting something different, to see the grittier side of the city, there are a number of cheap hotels, usually in the $15-25 per night range. These hotels are usually located near major bus stations or routes.

After dark, while not generally dangerous, the neighborhoods around these hotels remind me of what a San Jose taxi driver once said to me. He drove the night shift, and when I asked him what it was like, his response in Spanish was poetic: “La noche revela el verdadero rostro de la ciudad”– The true face of the city is revealed at night.

Shady looking characters in the shadows. Alkies, addicts, hookers. The denizens of the streets, many of whom will be congregated near the doorways of nearby bars and carry outs. Inside, these cheap hotels are generally clean and secure. There will be a barred gate that you ring to be let in. The lobby and hallways will smell of disinfectant.

Once you have paid for the night–or in some hotels for two hours (and this is not so you can catch a quick nap), you are given one tiny bar of pre-wrapped soap, one rough towel not large enough to fit around your waist unless you are anorexic, and the remote control for the tv.

The remote will come covered in a clear plastic holder, for reasons unclear. Your room will be small, with a hard mattressed single bed. There may be a common bathroom on the floor, or you may have your own bathroom. It will sometimes have a vaguely septic odor, especially in rainy season.

The shower will either have a ‘shock shower’ with the plastic encasement that you switch on for warm water– or in the cheapest places, a pipe protruding from the wall that pours a stream of ice-cold water. The television will typically be mounted very high on the wall, ensuring a stiff neck if you watch for longer than an hour.

The higher numbered channels, often the movie channels and the handful of stations in English often have poor quality pictures, full of lines, as if the signal is received via antennae. Once you are ready to sleep and turn out the light your room will likely still be filled with light. The indoor hallway lights will be left on all night.

And if you are unlucky enough to get a room that faces onto the avenue, the cheesecloth curtains will be no match for the streetlights. If you are a light sleeper, bring earplugs. You will easily hear what is going on in adjacent rooms, especially if there are the 2 hour visitors.

Throughout the night there will be a symphony of doors slamming, sneezing, coughing, and if you are facing the street, music, shouting and loud vehicles. In the morning, there will be open cafes nearby.

Some will offer desayunos tipicos, others will be limited to coffee and various types of sugary pastries. The main reasons for choosing this type of hotel are budget and convenience. Whatever your destination the next day, there will be a cheap hotel within easy walking distance of your bus station.

I want to add that I have never had an issue with security at any of these types of hotels in the San Jose area. I never complain about the quality, because, hey, you get what you pay for!

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