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Trip Report Our recent trip to Costa Rica

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We just got back from Costa Rica and I thought I'd post some observations. We spent 8 days, flying in on a Saturday and flying out 8 days later on a Sunday.

We wanted to not stay in San Jose and we wanted to see Monteverde, Arenal and the Poas Volcano area. We landed at SJO at 11:30 am and we had reserved a car with TriColor car rental agency.

Their site said they had a location in the terminal. This is not true but everything else about TriColor was excellent. They said in their confirmation email that they would pick us up outside the doors of the terminal near baggage claim.

We had read horror stories about car rental agencies in CR that would switch cars or would quote a rate then not honor it or add "hidden" fees after you arrived.

Even though we were delayed by a lengthy line going through customs we were picked up shortly after we exited the terminal. Our rates were as quoted and the car was ready and performed as needed. We rented a manual 4x4 (which was absolutely needed) and a GPS. Their staff is friendly and helpful.

The GPS was very helpful most places we went but it absolutely failed and turned a 1 hour trip into a 4 hour trek going from La Tirimbina to Poas. We found that we used a combination of GPS and Google maps on my wife's phone and our tablet. All three devices were necessary/helpful!

I would recommend having a good understanding of the routes you intend to take so that if your GPS takes a wrong turn, you recognize it as wrong.

By the time we de-planed, went through customs and picked up our car we left TriColor (5 minutes from the airport in Alajuela province, just NE of San Jose) at 2:30. We hoped to be in Monteverde before 5:30 as we had heard/read that it starts to get dark by then.

Google maps says the trip to Monteverde is two to two and a half hours from SJO. I had also read that between accidents and road conditions most drive times are longer than you expect. We made a wrong turn which put us on route 27 towards Monteverde instead of route 1 which cost us about an hour.

We were slowed by 2 accidents on route 27. I had read that the final 20 miles or so into Monteverde was rough and would take more time. WOW!

It's actually the last 8 miles from Guacimal to Monteverde that is rough. It's rocky, un-paved and very curvy with some serious hills we could only take in first gear. In the US I would think an 8 mile trip might take 10-15 minutes. It took us every bit of an hour or maybe a little more to travel those last 8 miles! A 4x4 was essential on that road and if you are good on a manual transmission, get one.

We finally pulled into Monteverde just after 6pm. Luckily Monteverde is paved and has some street lights along with the light from shops and other traffic. So even though it was dark by the time we arrived (probably full dark by about 6) we were able to navigate pretty well.

Our next stop was Arenal/La Fortuna. The first part of the drive towards Arenal is the same as the last hour into Monteverde! It's 48km to Tilaran where you finally reach paved road again. The drive to Tilaran took about an hour and a half.

It's a beautiful drive and shortly after Tilaran you start seeing Arenal Lake. The drive to Arenal from Monteverde took just under 4 hours including about a 45 minute stop at Macadamia Cafe (highly recommended) on the north side of the lake.

Our last stop was at a lodge on the slope of Poas Volcano. We planned to stop along the way at La Tirimbina Biological Reserve to see if we wanted to make a day trip there. We then planned to check into our lodge and spend the afternoon taking a coffee tour near our lodge.

Poas Volcano is closed to visitors as it has become active and is spewing gases and the occasional boulder! It's too bad as we hoped to see it and it is really affecting the local economy.

If you go to the Poas area you will see local vendors selling the largest strawberries you'll ever see. Delicious too.

Unfortunately the one hour drive from La Tirimbina was a GPS fiasco so we missed the coffee tour. Because of where the GPS sent us we were on a series of narrow, un-paved, rocky, very steep and windy roads. A 4x4 with manual transmission was probably, literally a saving factor.

If you plan any mountain roads in CR remember what goes up must come down. That means your descent is steep, windy and hopefully, slow. If you stay on the brakes they will burn out and fail before you reach the bottom.

Because we rented a manual transmission I used 2nd and 3rd gear while pumping the brakes to control my descent. I still had to pull to the side and park halfway down to cool the brakes and transmission. I could smell my brakes by the time I pulled over to rest them. We parked for 15 minutes.

All in all, Costa Rica was phenomenal. The people we encountered could not have been more friendly. Everyone was helpful even though we didn't speak Spanish.

We had heard horror stories about bugs and be sure to have powerful bug spray. We really didn't encounter any biting bugs/mosquitoes until the Poas area.

We were worried about having local currency and the availability of ATM's. We found an ATM on our card's network (Plus) in Monteverde and withdrew 100,000 colones on our second day. We used my Visa card for most purchases and had no trouble using it anywhere. Be sure your card does not charge international fees before you go. Mine does not but it varies by issuer.

Because we used my card so much we actually were forcing ourselves to use the colones the last 2 days of our trip so we didn't have any remaining.

We'd also heard from a local “if you see a gas station, fill up.” We did but if you are not traveling very long distances and are going to even moderately sized towns you should see plenty of stations. We did. All stations are full service and the gas prices are government controlled, so all stations charge the same.

The pineapple is to die for....seriously. If you don't want to be ruined forever for pineapple, don't eat it here! It is sweet as sugar candy and our first bite back in the states was a sad shock. We want to go back just for the pineapple....and bananas.....and strawberries.

We were also concerned about sun burn and brought plenty of sun block. Only my wife needed a little in certain areas. We were in such rain forest areas we didn't really need it. I'm glad we brought it just in case but I literally never applied any.

The one thing that was universal in the 3 areas we visited is the “damp.” Because we were in rain/cloud forest areas, all our clothes and paper items were constantly damp and were pretty musty/nasty by the time we got home.

We sweated profusely on our several 3 hour nature hikes and though we washed some clothing items when we could they never dried.

My wife noticed a bug in her purse the night before we left which made us consider the possibility we might have some unwanted passengers in our luggage and backpacks. We stowed all our unopened bags in the garage the night we arrived home.

The next day I went through each bag. I found two small spiders and several small gnat-like bugs. I'm glad I did as I wouldn't want to introduce non-native species here.

I will post some comments on the places we stayed and things we did, separately. I hope this is helpful for other travelers to Costa Rica. We enjoyed our trip so much we will probably go back.

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