Mel S: I was also in CR for 10 day vacation in late November. Absolutely loved it, even though it was off season.
Outside of San Jose, Spanish widely spoken and I thought prices for EVERYTHING were very inexpensive. The food was good, loved the local beer. The wildlife was incredible! Troups of howler monkeys, coatis, giant blue butterflies, toucans. Good public bus transportation system throughout entire country.
Yep, roads are not great outside of the capitol. I did not make it to Pacific side because I met a friend who was my tour guide and who lived on the Caribbean side.
Stayed in Fortuna, which I thought was a cool, charming town near Arenal with good restaurants and friendly locals. Not to miss: at least a half day at Tabacon Hot Springs. The grounds are beautiful, the hot springs are great and the pool slide is lots of fun. Not to mention, killer rum punch at the pool bar! Arenal Lake was gorgeous, Sarapaqui River and down to Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, near the Panamanian border on the Caribbean side with the Bribri Indians. The Caribbean side was pristine, with jungle going right to the beach and no hotels. Lots of Jamaican influence, rasta, etc. Loved watching the big waves at Salsa Brava!
One thing my friend says to watch out for is theft. I just was cautious and everything was fine. Was also told if you use taxi in or around San Jose, make sure they have SJ on license plate and a maria (meter). Guess there are lots of guys "trying" to be taxi drivers!
Have a great trip!