My wife and I stayed at the Catalina Apartotel for a week in early February. It was everything everyone says it is: simple, quiet, clean, and friendly.
Rooms: Almost Spartan. Beds, chest, a couple of stools, and a small kitchen. The beds were comfortable. A chair would have been nice. (There were two chairs on the patio but none in the room.) The bathroom was small and the shower was so-so, but I have never stayed in a cleaner room. The maid service is amazing. An overhead fan is plenty to keep cool at night. The upstairs rooms have AC but we did not need it.
Management: Naomi and her mother, Sandra, are the most wonderful of hosts. The place feels more like a B&B than a hotel. (Dino, the dog, and Kitty, the cat, also go out of their way to make you feel wanted.) After experiencing their hospitality, I have no trouble believing that half their visitors are repeat customers. We would certainly stay there again.
The Beach: Just across the narrow dirt road that fronts the hotel is a big, wide, flat beach. The sand is dark, coarse, and sticky. It is much better for long walks than for lying on. The beach is so flat that the distance from high to low tide is about 100 meters. There is some surfing on the beach but it isnt very good. The break tends to be up and over with very little forward drive. Needless to say, the water is nice and warm.
Food: There are lots of great places to eat in Jaco, a fifteen minute walk along the beach. In the immediate vicinity are a wonderful creperie (50 meters down the beach), a great little pizza shop (5 minute walk), and a typical Costa Rican soda (same distance). You can get a decent meal at any of them for $3 or $4. There is also a small grocery near the pizza shop.
Tours: We did the Canopy zip-line tour that is about 10 minutes walk from the Catalina. Great fun! Thirteen platforms with 12 cables. The price was a bit much at $55. We also went to Carara National Reserve with a guide but the animals were smarter than we were and spent a very hot afternoon snoozing out of sight. We took an all day tour to Manual Antonio National Park. It is a beautiful place but one that is being loved to death. The place is overcrowded with about 100 hotels built right on its edge. Sad but beautiful. This one cost $64. There is also a lot of horseback riding in the area and fishing trips for those so inclined.
I would recommend the Catalina to anyone who prefers quiet and simple to big and luxurious.
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