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Trip Report JMJD's Costa Rica and Panama Trip Report!

First of all, thanks to all of you who helped my husband and I plan a spectacular trip to Costa Rica and Panama. We can't wait to go back!

As for our trip...

We flew Continental out of Newark direct to San Jose Costa Rica. Although we were originally planning on renting a car, my husband decided he would feel better if we hired a driver instead, so based on recommendations on this board, we hired Wilson Rojas (wilson_elsy@yahoo.com). Wilson informed us in advance that he was not available to drive us on one of the legs of our trip, so he arranged a different driver (Alexis) for that portion. We can not say enough great things about Wilson! He was fantastic! It was really nice to be able to focus on the beautiful scenery instead of worrying about the driving and Wilson was extremely knowledgeable as well. He also stopped off at a few "extra" spots that we otherwise would never have known about, which gave us a better understanding of the culture, etc. His van was very comfortable and filled with snacks and beverages, which made transfers all the more pleasant.

We spent our first two nights at The Springs Resort and Spa (sister hotel to the Peace Lodge). As many of you know, we were originally supposed to stay at the Peace Lodge, but due to the earthquake, we changed our plans to stay at El Silencio Lodge instead. That plan was scratched after the general manager of El Silencio Lodge called to tell us that there would be major construction going on during our stay to sure things up due to the earthquake. In any case, that is how we ended up in Arenal at the Springs Resort and Spa.

Wilson picked us up at the airport and made a stop at his friend's restaurant in his town (outside of San Jose) so we could have some lunch. He ordered Patacones for us, which were outstanding (I craved them the rest of the trip but they were extremely hard to find). He also stopped off at the famous topiary garden in Zarcero on the way to Arenal.

When we arrived in Arenal the weather was cloudy and rainy. Wilson commented that if the weather stayed that way, we would want to get out as soon as possible... and he was right!

The Springs Resort and Spa is a gorgeous, fantastic hotel. It is actually not even fully completed yet, but most of the main areas and restaurants are open and 20 of the guest rooms were completed. This hotel in the U.S. would easily be two or three times the price we paid. Every room looks out onto the volcano (although we couldn't see it the entire time we were there because of the weather) and has a large balcony that is extremely private (walls on the side so you can't see your neighbors) with two hammocks. Our room had extremely high ceilings, a beautiful bathroom, very comfortable bed. The property is incredible. There are about 20 hot springs on it of varying temperatures. Some are in the main area, but many are a bit father away (Perdido springs) and thus more private and surrounded by foliage. The hotel allows day trippers to by a pass to use the hot springs, but it never seemed to be too crowded. The hotel also has a "formal" restaurant with a view of the volcano and a more casual restaurant as well as a sushi restaurant. I really can't say enough great things about this hotel. In my opinion, it will be the next "hot" place to stay in Costa Rica and certainly in Arenal once it's on the radar and of course, completed. The architecture is just stunning and it's built in such a way that you have views of the volcano and lush countryside wherever you are. They have a pool bar where the seats are underwater, so you can have a snack or drink while you are literally in the pool. Unfortunately, the cold, cloudy and rainy weather really put a damper on things for us. It was too rainy and cloudy to do the hanging bridges or the ziplines and it was so chilly (and rainy) that even the hot springs didn't appeal to us. After spending a day in our room watching movies, we decided to call our hotel in Manuel Antonio to see if the weather was any better there. Needless to say, it was much better. We called Wilson and when we couldn't get in touch with him directly, we spoke to his lovely wife Elsy, who helped us arrange an additional night at our hotel in Manuel Antonio and to have our driver for that leg of the trip (Alexis) pick us up the following day to take us to Manuel Antonio. Luckily, The Springs did not have a problem with us checking out a day early. They really weren't very busy and were very understanding. We did make a point to try the hots springs on our final morning at the hotel. They were really great (except for being rained on the whole time and how chilly it was when we got out) and I could only imagine how great they would be if the weather was even just a little bit nicer.

The drive to Manuel Antonio was long, but Alexis was very good and he stopped off at the Rio Tarcoles bridge so we could see the crocodiles and have a snack.

In Manuel Antonio we stayed at the Parador. It is big and has more of a resort-y feel than some other hotels there. We stayed in the new all suite building, which was very nice. It also had its own infinity pool and eating area only for guests in that building. The views were outrageous and I am sure that many of the rooms in the older complex had fabulous views as well, as the Parador is at the very top of the hill on the road of hotels that has Arenas del Mar and Makanda by the Sea. That being said, we looked into some of the "lower level" rooms on the property and there was a very big difference from the room that we were in. Although I have nothing to compare it to, as this was my first time in MA, I believe that you could probably get more for your money at another hotel if you weren't staying in one of the premium rooms at Parador. Because we arrived pretty late, we decided to eat at the hotel for our first night. We thought the food was terrible, and decided that we would eat elsewhere for dinner for the rest of our stay.

The hotel had a activities desk that could easily arrange all sorts of activities for guests. I was not able to do a canopy tour but still wanted my husband to go, so he did the half day tour with Titi Canopy, which he really enjoyed. Canopy Safari is supposed to be more exciting, but he didn't want to leave me alone the whole day :) We also did a tour of Manuel Antonio National Park (also arranged through our hotel), which was great. We saw tons of wildlife- sloths (mothers and babies that were actually moving around!), monkeys, frogs...
The Parador also had a small beach right outside of it, which we walked to and spent some time at one afternoon.
As for our dinners- we ate at Makanda by the Sea one night and thought the food was pretty good. We ate at Kapi Kapi one night, which was our best meal in Costa Rica and we ate at Ronnies Place/ Mi Lugar on our final night which was also quite good (and very casual for anyone looking for a very casual setting). Overall, we really had a great 4 days in MA and the weather was just spectacular!

We had Wilson for the final leg of our trip from MA to San Jose Airport. He made a stop at Villa Caletas hotel so that we could see the spectacular view (and he pointed out a bunch of tiny poison dart frogs in their gardens)! He also stopped at a tree on the side of the road that had incredible wild macaws flying around it.

All in all we had a wonderful time in Costa Rica. We hope that on our next trip we will be able to experience everything we missed in Arenal this time around.

More to follow tomorrow on Panama.....

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