A Costa Rica with youthful appeal

Special to The Times

Getting there
From LAX, LACSA flies nonstop, United flies direct (stop, no change of planes) and Mexicana, Continental, American, TACA and Delta offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares begin at $490.

To call numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 506 (country code for Costa Rica) and the local number.

Where to stay
These rates do not include taxes of 16.39% that apply to all hotel rooms in Costa Rica.

La Fortuna: Arenal Lodge, P.O. Box 2495-2050, San Pedro, San José; 253-5080, fax 253-5016, . Dry-season room rates begin at $69 with breakfast. For children 12 and older, there’s an extra charge of $20 each per night.

Tamarindo: Capitán Suizo, Playa Tamarindo, Carretera a Playa Langosta (mailing address: Aptdo. Postal 22-5159, Villareal, Santa Cruz, Guanacaste); 653-0075 or 653-0353, fax 653-0292, . Dry-season room rates begin at $105 with breakfast. Children younger than 4 stay free; 4-12, $5 per night extra per child; older than 12, $20 per night extra each.

Manuel Antonio: Si Como No, SJO 297, P.O. Box 25216, Miami, FL 33102-5216; 777-0777, fax 777-1093, . Dry-season room rates begin at $160 with breakfast. For children older than 6, there’s an extra charge of $25 each per night.

Where to eat
A hearty buffet breakfast was included in the room rate at our hotels. With few exceptions, lunches and dinners we ate at restaurants catering to tourists were overpriced and disappointing.

Here are some restaurants in various locations where we would eat again:

La Fortuna: El Novillo Steak House, 460-6433. On the road to Tabacón six miles outside the town of La Fortuna. Delicious steak (this is beef country) served any way you like it. Reservations advised. Dinner for two with drinks, $23.

Tamarindo: The Lazy Wave, 653-0737. At the crossroads just beyond Tamarindo Adventures and Max Real Estate (hard to find but worth the effort; just keep asking for directions). The chef is German, the food is fusion, the setting is charming and the menu is inventive. Example: grilled tuna with creamy wasabi sauce, accompanied by salad with soy vinaigrette and spicy corn relish. Lunch for three with drinks, about $20.

Manuel Antonio: Karola’s, 777-1557. Nestled in the jungle on the road to the park (shortly before the driveway for Si Como No and across the road from Café Milagro), it’s a great place to watch the sun set. We made a meal of appetizers, including coconut-crusted fish, ceviche and taco chips with three salsas, washed it down with fruit daiquiris, and shared a slice of homemade macadamia nut pie for dessert. The tab came to $51 for three people.

To keep expenses down, we also frequented small establishments called sodas, where the locals go, and ordered a casado, which means “married.” (The name is apparently derived from the lunch that women brought their husbands working in the fields.) It consists of a small amount of meat, fish or chicken; coleslaw; rice; beans; and some other starch, such as potatoes or fried plantains. None of this food was particularly memorable, but it was always fresh and filling and didn’t break our budget: The going rate for a casado is about $2.50.

To learn more
Consulate General of Costa Rica, 1605 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90015; (213) 380-7915 or (800) 343-6332, fax (213) 380-5639, , or , the Web site of the Costa Rica Tourism Board.