Searching for Chocolate Near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – 8 Tips for Your San Jose Layover

Fruit stand on highway to PV

The road to Puerto Viejo is lined with fruit stands, banana plantations, and the occasional restaurant, but get some rest before the drive.

The first night in San Jose

It’s been a while since our last trip to Costa Rica, but since many of you are about to head down again, I’d like to share a little of our experience in San Jose. Our ultimate destination was Puerto Viejo where we searched for local chocolate, but the five-hour drive to this idyllic beach-town required a night in San Jose on both ends.  Why?  Well, this is not a drive I would want to start in the dark – the city is confusing at night and unless you know Spanish, finding someone to get clear directions would be hit-or-miss at best.  So, get some rest and head out in the morning.   Here are some tips to make for a more comfortable transition.

A flight delay put us on the ground at midnight only to find no one at the airport rental car desk even though we called them from Miami to confirm they would wait.  The next day we learned that Economy Rental Car didn’t hold our car as promised and were not willing to give us the original rate.  After over an hour of negotiation, we left the city rental office with a small SUV and started our adventure.  Tip #1:  before you head over to any rental car office, get a firm price on the phone, get the name of the person you’re talking to and ask them how long they will hold the car.  When you meet them face-to-face, be prepared to argue persistently with the person you talked to on the phone when their story changes, if you can find them.  Tip #2: don’t do business with Economy in Costa Rica.  I don’t know about the other car rental agencies, but these guys simply don’t play straight.

Tip #3:  Accept the fact that small problems are a normal part of travelling.  My rule is that something always goes wrong on a trip.  The best thing to do is don’t sweat it and be happy to get any minor disaster out of the way early.  Keep in mind that you are in a kind of paradise, so it’s all good.

Where to Stay in San Jose, Costa Rica

TIP #4: A far more pleasant experience was our overnight stay at Out of Bounds B&B. Recommendation by our American expatriate friend, this place was comfortable, reasonable and well situated – only 20 minutes from the international airport.  The rooms were clean and smartly decorated.  Most of all, the owners, a couple from Canada and Costa Rica, were extra helpful – jumping in to assist with our rental car mix up and providing advice on alternative transportation to Puerto Viejo.  Breakfast was served outdoors on the second-floor balcony with a view of the tropical hillsides.  At the time, rates ranged from $80 to $125 per night for standard and deluxe rooms, but may vary by season.

Arenal Brochure

A brochure for an Arenal Volcano tour combined with local hot springs. Costa Rica's most active volcano started its most recent eruption in 1968.

This place is hard to find in the dark, so I would recommend getting a taxi from the airport to the inn (can be arranged through Out of Bounds in advance) and then getting your rental car the next day.  You can also hire a taxi or van to take you all the way from San Jose to Puerto Viejo (cost varies depending upon the size of car required, but will be north of $100 ).  If you are travelling light, the Grey Line bus is only $35.  At your destination, you may also be able to hire a car for a few days, rather than the whole trip.

What to see around San Jose, Costa Rica

A top priority on my bucket list is to see Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal which is northwest of San Jose.  TIP #5: It can be done as a day trip, but I would recommend staying overnight near Arenal so you can get a chance to observe the eruption at night, from afar.  Expediciones Tropicales offers tours including hot springs near the volcano and overnight packages.  Or, you can drive up on your own schedule.

TIP #6: If you don’t have much time, you can visit the Britt Coffee Plantation and Factory.  Our friends took this tour at the end of their trip and walked on the plane all loaded up with genuine Costa Rican gifts: bags of coffee beans.

Red Velvet at Cupcake Cafe

The Red Velvet was our favorite at Cupcake Cafe, San Jose

Mary Little helps us decide at Cupcake Cafe

Mary Little helps us decide

TIP #7: If you are in the city, give your feet a rest and stop to check out Cupcake Cafe.  Owner Mary Little goes far beyond the run of the mill cupcake and makes some wonderful and creative indulgences with flavors such as Chocolate Brownie with Leche Dolce, Zucchini, and our favorite, Red Velvet.  Of course they also  have a serious espresso machine to make the perfect complement to your frosting-topped treat using the best coffee from the Tarrazu region of Costa Rica.  The clean and lively decor will stimulate your conversation and plans for the next great adventure.  Cupcake Cafe: Mon. – Fri. 11AM-7PM, Sat. 11PM-5PM.  Tel: 2224-5563

There’s so much more to do around San Jose.  For more ideas, ask your innkeepers, Meranda and Matteo.

Destination: Puerto Viejo

For us, the ultimate destination was the secluded sea-side town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.  TIP #8: If you’re looking for some chocolate tours in or around Puerto Viejo, take a look at this earlier post.

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