Ciudad Cariari is centered on an important junction on the Autopista General Cañas, 12 kilometers west of San José  and about five minutes’ drive from Juan Santamaría Airport. Here are San José’s leading conference center, a major shopping mall, a golf course, and two of the nation’s longest-standing premium hotels.
From Ciudad Cariari, the road west leads five kilometers to San Antonio de Belén, a small, unassuming town that has taken on new importance since the recent opening of Intel’s microprocessor assembly plant. The road system hereabouts is convoluted.
One of Costa Rica’s hottest discos, La Rumba (tel. 506/2239-8686, 7 p.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat., $10), is tucked off the Santa Ana–San Antonio de Belén road. This salsa and meringue hot spot has a small dance floor and gets hot and smoky, but it packs in the crowds.
The 18-hole championship Cariari Country Club (tel. 506/2293-3212 or 2293-5585, www.clubcariari.com , 6 a.m.–5 p.m. daily) golf course was designed by George Fazio; it charges guests $60 weekdays, $100 weekends. Autódromo La Guácima (tel. 506/2293-6359, www.laguacima.com ) is the nation’s main auto race track and has an active annual calendar.
The gringo-owned Belén Trailer Park (tel. 506/2239-0421, www.belentrailerpark.com , $16 RV nightly, $14 s/d camping), about one kilometer east of Belén Plaza, is Costa Rica’s only fully equipped RV and camper site. It has hookups with electricity and water, plus laundry, hot showers, and secure parking.
Hotel B&B Puerta del Sol (tel. 506/2293-8109, www.bbpuertadelsol.com , $60 s, $65 d, including breakfast and tax), outside Cariari, is run by a friendly Tico family and offers 22 modestly furnished rooms in a two-story modern home. All have fans, TVs, telephones, and refrigerators. The rooms on the 2nd floor get hot but have air-conditioning. Two are wheelchair-accessible, and an apartment has a large lounge and king-size bed. Breakfast is served on a patio facing the pool. It offers free Internet. No smoking is permitted.
Cariari B&B (Avenida La Marina #12, tel. 506/2239-2585, www.cariaribb.com , $80–100 s/d), tucked behind the Cariari resort, is a lovely Spanish-style house offering family hospitality. A wrought-iron staircase curls up to three bedrooms in an eclectic yesteryear style. It has a shuttle, plus golf and tennis packages at the nearby Cariari Country Club.
The Ramada Plaza Herradura (tel. 506/2209-9800, www.ramadaherradura.com , from $119 s/d standard, from $195 s/d junior suite), at Ciudad Cariari, is renowned as a convention hotel. It offers 229 spacious, elegantly furnished, air-conditioned rooms (including 28 suites) accented with dark hardwoods. Some have a patio or a balcony. The Herradura has several restaurants, a spa, a large outdoor swimming pool with swim-up bar and mammoth whirlpool, 10 night-lit tennis courts, and impressive entertainment facilities, including a casino and a 51,000-square-foot conference center. A shuttle runs to downtown.
The upscale Hotel El Rodeo Country Inn (tel. 506/2293-3909, www.elrodeohotel.com , $105 s or $115 d standard, $120 s or $130 d junior suite, $140 s or $150 d suite), two kilometers south of San Antonio de Belén on the road to Santa Ana, is a contemporary-style hacienda with 29 rooms, all with air-conditioning, cable TV, telephone, WiFi, safety box, and elegant contemporary furnishings. The spacious junior suites are fabulous, with beautiful hardwood floors, two queen beds, and huge bathrooms with marble tile floors and sinks. Facilities include a swimming pool, whirlpool tub, tennis courts, and a splendid Western-themed restaurant (noon–10:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.). Rates include breakfast and dinner.
The colonial-style Costa Rica Marriott Hotel & Resort (tel. 506/2298-0000 or U.S. tel. 888/236-2427, www.marriotthotels.com , $236–450 s/d), at Ribera de Belén, one kilometer northeast of San Antonio, occupies a 30-acre coffee plantation with panoramic views over lush landscaped grounds to distant mountains. This jewel has 290 rooms and nine suites, all exquisitely decorated and with french doors opening to a patio or balcony. Rooms have Internet modems, but not WiFi. The decor fits the bill: Public areas feature evocative antiques, distressed timbers, and stone floors, while the large bedrooms boast regal furnishings and fabrics and a full complement of modern amenities. It features a ballroom, golf practice range, horizon swimming pool, three restaurants, three tennis courts, a gym, shops, and a business center.
Immediately south of the Herradura is the Doubletree Cariari by Hilton (tel. 506/2239-0022, http://doubletree1.hilton.com , $149–399 s/d), offering deluxe resort facilities, including access to the Cariari Country Club and its championship golf course, 10 tennis courts, and Olympic-size pool. The 220 spacious, handsomely appointed, carpeted, air-conditioned rooms and 24 suites (all with WiFi) are arrayed around an outdoor swimming pool with swim-up bar. The hotel also has a kiddie pool, health club, whirlpool, massage service, beauty salon, and playground. Plus, there are two restaurants and a casino.
For traditional Costa Rican fare, head to El Rodeo (tel. 506/2293-3909, www.elrodeohotel.com , noon–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–4:45 p.m. Sun.), decorated in traditional hacienda style and adorned with saddles and other rodeo-themed miscellany. It serves a wide-ranging menu that includes sliced tongue on corn tortilla ($1), ceviche, and hot jalapeño cream tenderloin ($9).
Antonio Ristorante Italiano & Cigar Room (tel. 506/2293-0622, 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 4–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun.), 100 meters east of the Ramada Herradura, serves exquisite cuisine. Try the melazane (baked eggplant topped with marinara sauce; $10), gnocchi ($10), or calamari with spaghetti ($13). There’s an “executive lunch” special ($5).
Sakura (tel. 506/2209-9800, ext. 706, noon–3 p.m. and 6–11 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–10 p.m. Sun.), in the Ramada Plaza Herradura, is expensive but offers superb Teppan-style Japanese cooking and an excellent sushi bar.