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My wife and I are going to be in Costa Rica the 1st thru the 6th of Feb. We will be staying in San Jose at the Costa Rica Marriott the 1st thru 3rd and Staying at Villa Caletas in Playa De Jaco the 3rd thru the 6th. Any sugestions for restaurants with a good wine list. Thanks for any help you all can give.
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sean: I am posting here rather than on the Wine Conversations board about the "best" restaurant we have found, so far, in San Jose. I checked with several of the people who were with me when we ate there but no one can remember the name of the restaurant/casino. There are casinos everywhere so that is no clue but I think we have come up with some directions that you should be able to follow to it. Start at the Del Ray Hotel; hotel has the Blue marlin Bar in it that I previously told you of. Walk from there. The restaurant is in the same block as the hotel. About half a block or so away and on the same side of the street as the hotel. Keep the hotel on your left, do not cross an intersection. Walk down the block from there and it is on your left (naturally). The hotel is on a corner so the starting point is obvious when you are there. Just remember, do not cross a street and keep the hotel on your left. You'll find it. Food was very as good as I've found in Costa Rica but not outstanding.

The Grand Hotel remains another good option and great for its patio for a drink and people watching.
We lived in San Jose Costa Rica from 1988-90 and believe me, you would look long and hard for a restaurant that warranted the description "good" at all, much less with a "good wine list".

We did like a place that was about an hour's drive up into the mountains, past Alajuela I think, that was owned by a Swiss couple. The food was well worth the drive, as was the drive itself and the view once you arrived (it was in a little hotel). Maybe you can track it down if you feel so inclined.

We also visited Jaco Beach, which was a very nasty place with zero decent hotels, a beach that was too dangerous to swim from due to undertow (which claimed several lives a year), and some street crime, just for good measure. I hope (and expect) that it will be better now.

Sorry to be such a downer but I've heard that things are much better tourism-wise now in Costa Rica. when we lived there it was only good for peering into volcanoes, hugging sloths, watching rare birds and that sort of eco-tourism.
I have a customer in San Jose that I have gone to see 4 or 5 times over the past 7-8 years. No idea if it's the same place as Bman went to, but have also been to a good restaurant up in the mountains surrounding the city. I never found a restaurant with a great wine list. Chilean wines have made up the majority of what I've seen with the best one being a Don Melchor. My advice on booze there. One word...Imperial (beer).

I did spend a weekend in Jaco back in '97. Awesome fishing, not as bad as Bman paints it, but I do know what he's talking about. The place was full of surfer bums. Cheap hotels and bars all around. Drugs and hookers. I would not choose Jaco as a holiday destination, but then some people like that kind of stuff.

Funny experience there. There was a heavy tropical rainstorm one afternoon when we were there. Flooding everywhere, including knee deep water in the hotel lobby. Luckily our rooms were on the 3rd floor.
All I recall of wine from our Costa Rica days was that it was either Sangre de Toro or Gato Negro. But if it's like Venezuela, whatever you find that is decent will be from Chile. And perhaps not stored properly unless you get it from a proper wine store or find a restaurant that takes such things seriously.
Sean: I talked with my sister today. They just returned from CR. She had a few recommendations for you.

2. See #1.
3. Try to pronounce the name correctly otherwise you are labelled as a rookie traveler...Haa-Co.
4. You go swimming and the under tow will take you to Panama.
5. Watch the surfers. Don't try it unless you are world class.
6. She recommends an open bar on the beach just for drinks. Very small, by the Best Western called the Bar-Bituate.
7. Several good restaurants in Dominical (close by town) by the green rocks. She says the locals will know what you mean - green rocks.
8. Manual Antonio's restaurant in Jaco is very good but you are on the American plan there...high priced.
9. See #1.
10. And just to round it off with the top 10, SEE #1. And no jewelry!

OK, one last thing...Have fun and let us know how it went.
Seanr7 - Let me give you a little personal insight into the area. I spent a little over a week in Costa Rica about 1 1/2 year ago. Two of the nights were in San Jose and four nights were at Villa Caletas (Volcano Arenal in the middle). My experience in both places was very good (no problems or worries about thieves, etc.). As a point of reference, I was there with my wife and another couple. Costa Rica is a beautiful country. My suggestions:

San Jose:
Eat dinner one night at the Hotel Grano de Oro. I stayed there and the food in wonderful. It is an old mansion and the dinners are served by candlelight in the courtyard. I remember the wine selection being limited, but not too bad for Costa Rica (Unfortunately, I never found a good wine list, but there were some good choices at several places and many good non-wine options). No other meals in San Jose were that memorable except for the ceviche in the central market from the random food stands. They may look a little risky, but the food is great.

For nightlife, do not miss a chance to go to the Jazz cafe. It is a high energy place with a lot of very good live music.

Not much to see in the city itself. I'd recommend an excursion during the day to the waterfalls and butterfly garden. Very cool.

Villa Caletas:
In my opinion, it would be hard to find a better choice of places to stay on the coast. This place is fantastic. It sits high on a cliff with incredible views of the coast and Jaco. The staff is great and the infinity pool is unbelievable. I have stayed at several high end international resorts and this one is near the top of the list. Make sure your room or villa has an ocean view. It's worth the difference in price. The restaurant at the villa is a little pricy for the area, but the food was good. The wine list limited, however I do remember a couple of decent choices. Whatever you do, do not miss sunset from the cafe with one of their excellent mango daiquiris in hand.

It is definitely a surfer’s town, but has its charms. The night life was fun and we never felt unsafe or threatened at any time. Just use common sense. Unfortunately, the food was rather mediocre. We ate there several times and I only had one memorable meal. However, it was excellent and from a very unlikely location. The place is called Restaurant El Bohio and is a little shack on the beach with cheap prices. They served me some the best paella I ever tasted watching the sun set over the water. Give it a shot.

I hope these tips are helpful. I also found the Lonely Planet guide to be useful. Enjoy your trip and let us know how it turns out.
Originally posted by DrinkumAll:
It is definitely a surfer’s town, but has its charms. The night life was fun and we never felt unsafe or threatened at any time. Just use common sense.

I second that. I was a little surprised at Slapshot's emphasis on safety. I may have painted a seedy picture of Jaco, but I never had any problems and I staggered all around the town for two nights. It's just not the kind of place I would go back to or recommend. Hell, I think Miami Beach is more dangerous than Costa Rica. I have always found the people there to be friendly and very helpful.
I agree. Jaco is not the greatest place to spend a lot of time, but it is a fun little excursion from Villa Caletas (only about 10-15 minutes down the road). There is a chance you may never leave the villa once you get to the top of the mountain. I'll say it again, that place is fantastic.

A couple more tips: Stop and check-out the albino alligators in the creek under the bridge about 20-30 minutes before the turn off for Villa Caletas. Also, you may want to take a day trip to national park Manuel Antonio (probably 2 hours or so south). I hear the wildlife is great. We never made it (spent too much time drinking the previously mentioned daiquiris!).
I should qualify my info. I have not been to Jaco. That is my sister and her husband's recommendations and emphasis - they are pretty adventurous. They own a house in that area and have spent several years living there off and on.

In San Jose a year ago this February, one of our party was walking on the square downtown with two others. People everywhere. He was wearing a gold chain. A person walked up to him, grabbed his necklace, and as it was being pulled off, stabbed him in the upper arm/shoulder. He had no time to resist so the stabbing was not provoked. Several people saw it happen and stood and stared but no action as the thief ran off. I know, he shouldn't have had the necklace on in the first place but I think that was part of the warning. Don't show valuables in any form or set yourself up to be victimized.

Personally, I have always enjoyed Costa Rica, especially the west coast. Tons of wildlife and eco tours are always worth while. Great sail fishing. East coast is still pretty rough with the exception of Limon. Good tarpon fishing in the river mouths on the east coast.

If you have time in San Jose, take the tour up to the volcano. I think it was a four hour trip. You can have the driver stop at a coffee plantation along the way. Very scenic and interesting.

Have fun. Color me green with envy. I want to go too.
Sean: Me again. Can you tell I am envious.

A few of the guys I've traveled/fished with in Costa Rica said I should tell you to spend at least one day fishing off shore. Lots of sails, a few marlin, and the possibility of several other species. May see a few whales too. If you catch a Mahi Mahi, have them filet it, bring it back, and prepared for you that night. OMG is that good. So fresh.

Have fun.
Slapshot. That's exactly what we did one night. Caught lots of dorado (mahi mahi) and tuna. Some of the latter was sliced within minutes of catching. Now that's sushi! Smile I think the boat was called Herradura charters and it was near Jaco.

I'm envious too now. Time to make arrangements for the annual sales visit to our customer down there. Razz
Sapril: I have very limited experience in Nicaragua. We went by boat from the northeastern corner of Costa Rica up the coast and then up a river into Lake Nicaragua. Very primitive and underdeveloped. We were fishing so we didn't spend much time in the one very little village where we stopped and got a coke. Yes, no matter how far you go out in the wilds, Coca Cola has been there. Sorry, no wine but fishing was good.
My Nicaragua info is almost 15 years out of date but of course I'll still pass it along!

Last time I was there the Sandinistas were in charge. Inflation was about 10,000 per cent. I would usually only spend one day and night in the country as our work was very limited, but I'd stay at the little Intercontinental (the only decent hotel at the time), and eat at a restaurant called La marseillaise, run by an expat French chef. This place had two things on the menu: lobster and steak, and each was cooked two or three different ways. But it was great, and could be very cheap, depending how long ago was the last currency depreciation.

Shopping was better in Leon, where one could buy really good strong hamacks, and some interesting stone carvings, though there was a dollar store that had just about everything one could possibly want to buy.

That's about all I remember of Nicaragua.

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