Got Drugs Will Travel

Drugs are plentiful in Costa Rica, and a good number of tourists would never give a second thought to lighting up a joint on the beach (or, more recently, blowing a line of coke in a discotheque). However, drugs are 100% illegal in Costa Rica, and if you are charged with possession you can be fined and imprisoned depending on the severity of the offense. There are currently foreigners serving out terms, and occasionally a big drug bust will make the headlines. The bad news is that there is little that your embassy can do on your behalf. The good news is that as far as Latin American penal systems are concerned, there are places a hell of a lot worse than a Costa Rican prison.

The reality is that most police officers would rather collect a bribe or confiscate a joint and smoke it themselves than send a bunch of backpackers to jail. Unlike other destinations on the hippie trail, like Morocco, Thailand and India, Costa Rica has a squeaky-clean, ecofriendly image that it needs to uphold, and the last thing the tourist board wants is the mugs of a bunch of American teenagers plastered on the front page of USA Today. However, things are changing rapidly, and as more gringos start packing their bags and heading to Costa Rica, you can expect that the supply will meet the demand.

The main problem with the market in Costa Rica right now is that a greater number of hard drugs are becoming readily available for purchase. On beaches with a growing international scene like Jaco and Tamarindo, it's possible to buy just about any drug on any street corner in any language. The drug of choice in the bars is quickly becoming cocaine, and although there's no guarantee you're actually getting ecstasy, backpackers are popping pills in the clubs like they were Tic-Tacs.

Ticos will tell you that the Colombians, Jamaicans, Panamanians and just about every other nationality are to blame for importing drugs into their country, but the truth is that they share an equal amount of blame. An eight-ball of cocaine yields a much larger profit than a wood-carving of a tree frog, and most backpackers are happy to pay in US dollars for a dime-bag of dubious quality.

The moral of the story is that at some point during your travels in Costa Rica, there is a good chance that you will be offered drugs. And there's a good chance that if you're reading this right now, you might say yes. So, remember to use your judgment, consider the consequences and don't say that we didn't warn you.

and air-con. The attached sports bar and grill is a fun and friendly open-air joint that serves up your typical beer and nachos fare.

Hotel Kangaroo (Map p330; @ 2643 3351;www.hotel -kangaroo.com; dm US$12, d with/without air-con USS45/35; ® (E) (D @) This much-loved hostel, which is located just 100m from one of the quietest and most beautiful strips of sand, is seriously chilled out thanks to the pair of French surfers who run the place. Vibrant rooms here are draped in Nepali prayer flags and adorned with huge dream catchers, and come with either fan or air-con depending on your budget. Extra amenities include free breakfast, 24-hour free internet, a shared kitchen and a refreshing pool (check out the awesome mural!). If you're arriving by bus, the owners will pay for a taxi from the center of town.

Hotel deHaan (Map p332; §2643 1795; www.hotel dehaan.com; Calle Bohio; dm/d/tr USS12/35/45; Ig O) gl) This Dutch/Tico outpost is one of the top budget bets in town, and is perennially popular with backpackers from around the world. Freshly tiled rooms with steamy hot-water showers are clean and secure, and there's a shared kitchen with fridge, a pool and free internet around the clock. The highlight of the property, however, is the upstairs balcony where you can congregate with fellow backpackers, and swap travel stories over a few cans of Imperial until the wee hours of the morning.

AparHotel Vista Pacifico (Map p330; s 2643 3261; www.vistapacifico.com; top of the hill off Boulevard; d ind breakfastfrom US$55, additional person US$10; (g ® @) Located on the crest of a hill just outside Jaco, this Canadian-run hotel is an absolute gem that is worth seeking out. The views of the coastline from here are phenomenal, particularly at sunset when you'll have panoramic vistas of a fiery sky, and the mountain-top location also means that it's a few degrees cooler (and a whole lot quieter) than neighboring Jacó. Homey rooms of varying sizes and shapes cater to all budgets, and are made all the better by the warm and caring hosts -there is even a BBQ pit where you can grill up some killer eats while chatting up other guests.

Hotel Poseidon (Mapp332; @ 2643 1 642;www.hotel -poseidon.com; Calle Bohío; d from US$65; Ig g))It's hard to miss the huge Grecian wood carvings that adorn the exterior of this small European-run hotel. On the inside, sparkling rooms are perfectly accented with elegant furniture and mosaic tiles, though the highlight of the property is the elegant open-air restaurant that specializes in fresh fish - it's one of the best spots in town. There's a pool, with a convenient swim-up bar, as well as a small Jacuzzi for getting to know your neighbors.

Hotel Copacabana (Map p332; §§ 2643 1005; www .copacabanahotel.com; Calle Anita; rfrom US$70; Ig (g) g)) This three-story resort hotel gets good marks for offering a variety of rooms and suites to meet the size and needs of your party. If you're traveling either by yourself or with your significant other, fairly modern standard rooms are well priced considering the hotel's convenient beachfront location and rich offerings of amenities, including an attractive pool and hot tub. Of course, the hotel really packs in the value with its larger suites that come equipped with well-stocked kitchenettes and spacious private balconies from where you can get a personal view of the Pacific sunset.

Villas Estrellamar (Map p332; @ 2643 3102; www .estrellamar.com; eastern end of Calle Las Olas; r US$65,1-/2-bedroom villa USS71/111; (g g)) While the spacious rooms at the Estrellmar are certainly good value considering they boast massive bathrooms and private balconies, it really is worth paying the small bit of extra cash for your own personal villa. Depending on the size of your party, you can choose from one-and two-bedroom villas that have full kitchens and plenty of space for stretching out after a day out at the beach or a night out on the town. Regardless of which accommodation option you choose, be sure to take a relaxing swing in the hammock pavilion, and keep an eye out for the huge iguanas that live on the grounds and feed off the mango tree.

Hotel Mar de Luz (Map p332; @ 2643 3259; www .mardeluz.com; Av Pastor Díaz btwn Calles Las Palmeras & Los Olas; d/tr/q incl breakfast US$75/80/95; (g ® g) This adorable little hotel with Dutch-inspired murals of windmills and tulips has tidy and attractive air-con rooms that are perfect for a little family fun in the sun. Since it can be difficult sometimes to appease the little ones, the friendly Dutch owners (who also speak Spanish, English, German and Italian) offer two swimming pools, several BBQ grills and plenty of useful information on how to best enjoy the area. The owners are also extremely committed to fighting drugs and prostitution in Jaco, and are at the forefront of an admirable campaign to clean up the city.

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