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Trip Report Trip Report for Costa Rica with Caravan Tours - March 2008

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Just got back from Costa Rica with Caravan Tours and had a good time. My mom and I were there from March 28th – April 6th. (Friday – Sunday) We had 42 in our group, ranging in age from 8 years old to people in their 70’s. We also had 7 teenagers and several people in their 20’s and 30’s. (such as myself) My overall impression of Costa Rica was that Mexico had been transplanted into the Caribbean on steroids. ☺ Everything was so lush and green and it seemed like the leaves, trees, and plants we saw were ENORMOUS compared to what we have in the states. But the people seemed very poor, bars on windows, and dilapidated housing. The weather was extremely hot and humid and needless to say, I got sunburned even though I did use sunscreen 24-7. Some more initial thoughts and tips:

1. We had great weather. Only rained twice and that was when we were sleeping. Didn’t need my umbrella, poncho or jacket. So glad I brought my bathing suit. It was sooooo humid, especially in Tortuguero. I wore shorts and rotated back and forth between my sandals and Salomon Amphibian shoes.
2. If you go on a tour, please be respectful of your fellow passengers and BE ON TIME. We had several passengers on our tour who didn’t seem to get that simple concept and we were always waiting on them. Not cool.
3. Our tour guide was fine but not exceptional. He was nice and informative, but I didn’t feel he had much of a personality. Seemed to be just going through the motions. We have had better tours guides on other tours.
4. We were disappointed that we didn’t see much wildlife. I don’t know if it was too hot, the birds were nesting or what, but seeing anything unusual was few and far between.
5. Overall, I enjoyed the food. Desserts were a bit bland, but overall I was pleased. We had the best milkshakes in Tortuguero ….yum, yum.
6. Except in Tortuguero, we were able to drink the water at everywhere we stayed and dined. Yea!
7. I found the restrooms everywhere we went to be quite clean. A huge bonus in my book.
8. Our dollars were accepted everywhere we went. Had no problems whatsoever.
9. The people were polite and friendly, but not overtly so. Not like in Ireland or Kenya.
10. I think they have improved the roads over the last couple of years. I had heard some horror stories about the potholes, but I thought the roads were pretty good.



Day 1 – Fly into San Jose. We had a non-stop flight into San Jose and got in at about 7:30 PM. I think San Jose has a nice little airport. We missed our initial Caravan meeting, but no big deal. We met our Tour Director, received the info we needed, had a quick bite to eat and went to bed.

HOTEL: Barcelo Palacio
Impressions: Nice hotel, but bathroom was small and needed a remodel. Food was acceptable but not “out of this world.”

Day 2 – Poas Volcano, San Jose City Tour: Because this was a Saturday, we didn’t have to get up too early to beat the rush hour traffic. We had breakfast and set out to see the Poas Volcano. The weather was great and we had a clear view. NICE! We then had lunch and our city tour. We visited the National Museum, which also had a butterfly garden. I thought this was a nice introduction to the history of San Jose. After the city tour, you had the option of exploring San Jose, or going back to the hotel and relaxing. I had no desire to explore San Jose—it’s a slum. (with all due respect) So we got back to the hotel around 3:00 PM and just relaxed before dinner. We asked the people who stayed in San Jose if they saw much, and they said no.

HOTEL: Barcelo Palcacio

Day 3: Rainforest Aerial Tram, Tortuguero
Today we headed out for the Rainforest Aerial Tram, rated one of Costa Rica’s top tourist attractions. Today was a semi-early start so we could beat the other big tour groups. (7:30 am I think) OF COURSE, we had people who were late which put us behind by almost ½ hour. However we were still able to beat the crowds and first had a short rainforest hike with a naturalist guide. This was paved and the teens were wearing flip-flops so it really wasn’t that difficult. We saw a lot of ants on this tour..lol…a lot of vegetation and not much else. After our short hike, we went on the Rainforest Aerial Tram, which was really relaxing and we had a good guide with us. (the same guy we had for our hike) Again we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but the weather was once again fantastic, and the scenery was beautiful. At the end of the tour, someone takes your picture and you can purchase it in the gift shop for $10. (which we did) After lunch (rice pudding was waaaayyy too sweet—I think they overcompensated) we headed to Tortuguero National Park. We passed a banana plantation, but the workers weren’t out there on this day, so visited the plantation on our way back. Everyone was thrilled about spotting some monkeys way up in the trees. When we arrived we had about a 20-minute break to go to the restroom and buy a drink and then we were on our way. Tortuguero is only accessible by boat or plane so we went the more scenic way which is by boat. The boat was covered, and once again the weather is still beautiful but hot! The trip took about 1 ½ - 2 hours because we stopped along the way. When we finally arrive, everyone is sweating like pigs. We go to our rooms—my mom opts to take a cold shower. I, and most of our tour group opt for the pool. Yee haw! I could have stayed in there forever. After about 2 hours in the pool, we go to dinner—once again, buffet-style and it was pretty good.

HOTEL: Laguna Lodge
Impressions: The grounds are beautiful, but the rooms have SUPER THIN walls. You can hear what everyone is saying. Thank God we weren’t next to a honeymoon couple. No air conditioning in these rooms and the bathroom really lacked enough light. Planes fly low overhead in the morning as well. All you really need at this resort is a bathing suit, sunscreen and bug spray! ☺

NOTE: You can only take a carry on bag up to 25 pounds with you on the boat and must leave the rest of your luggage behind on the bus. Some people forgot to take a change of clothes!

Day 4 – Tortuguero Park, Canal Cruises

No howler monkeys woke us up in the morning. Rats! Today we went on a canal cruise on the search for wildlife. Another hot and humid day. Boats are not covered, so its wise to wear a hat and plenty of sunscreen. We saw a little bit of wildlife: some cayman, iguanas, a couple of monkeys high up in the trees (needed binoculars to see them) and some birds. That was about it. The cruise was about 2 hours. Next, we visited the Green Turtle Research Station and learned about efforts to protect the turtle’s nesting habitat, eggs and young hatchlings. We then walked along beach to reach the village of Tortuguero. (or you could go by boat which takes about 1 minute) We visited the school and met the children and then we were free to explore the village. Not much in the village except a couple of souvenir shops and some eating places. But we had the best milkshakes in a yellow building that were only about $3 a piece. I highly recommend the strawberry! After our 1-hour visit, we returned to the lodge for a nice lunch. An afternoon canal cruise is scheduled, but several of us opt out, simply because it is too hot and there is no wildlife to be seen. Some stay by the pool, but 8 of us (including my mom) decided to go zip lining. We are chauffeured by boat, to the original canopy tour, and have the time of our lives. The cost is $35, and they have a professional photographer who takes photos of you on the canopy tour. For only $25, we got a CD of both my mom and me on various stages of the tour. Great price and SUPER pictures. This tour company was VERY safety conscious and the people were really nice. I would say the runs on the cables were a moderate speed. Some of the hanging bridges we had to climb from platform to platform were a little scary, but overall I would say this is the perfect canopy tour for a first-timer or someone who is a little anxious. (not really suited for thrill seekers who want super fast speeds) We certainly got a good workout and had a lot of fun! Once our zip-line tour was completed (we had a big group so it took about 2 hours), we went back to the lodge to cool off. Once again, I was in the pool, and while we were swimming a HUGE green iguana came running on the pool deck, ran across a little bridge, climbed up on top of a cabana and started sunning himself. WILDLIFE! We all ooed and awed in delight. After another stimulating swim, we went to another great dinner and then went to bed early. We were tired!

HOTEL: Laguna Lodge

Day 5 – Hanging Bridge; Fortuna

Today we head back to civilization and take a morning cruise on the Tortuguero River. Yep-you guessed it. Not a raindrop in the sky! This trip was a little shorter, as we did not stop. After arriving, we boarded our bus and went to visit the workers on the banana plantation. Lunch was next, and then a brief stop at Selva Verde Rainforest Reserve. Here we could walk the nearly 300 foot long suspension bridge over a jungle river. This was the first day that I think all of us were sick and tired of being on the bus. I don’t know why—the longest drive we had was about 2-2 ½ hours, but I think we were all ready to get to Fortuna. When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were practically running off the bus. My mom felt exhausted and my legs were sore. We took a solemn vow—we will not be on a bus tomorrow for longer than 30 minutes! ☺ Our lodging in Fortuna had a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano and because the weather was so nice, we had an absolutely clear view And this resort has free internet! After unpacking our belongings, many of us headed to the lobby to check our email. After dinner, several people hired a taxi to take them up the volcano to see the lava spewing out. We opted instead to lounge and search out what activities were available for the following day.

HOTEL: Lomas del Volcan
Impressions: Man, we loved this place! Lomas del Volcan Lodge is located in the countryside on the outskirts of Fortuna. The lodge sits in the foothills at the base of majestic Arenal Volcano, with excellent nature trails on its 300-acre reserve. The hotel offers comfortable and spacious air-conditioned “chalets” each with a terrace and a refrigerator. The hotel has a restaurant, beautiful jacuzzi, and swimming pool, all with volcano views. This was a fantastic place to stay!

Day 6 - Caño Negro, Baldi Hot Springs, Arenal

Would you believe me if I said it rained? NOT! Another beautiful day. This morning’s call is at 8:00 am if you want to do the Cano Negro Boat Cruise which is on the Rio Frio and takes you close to the Nicaragua border. Nope, we aren’t going to do this. It’s a 2-hour drive on the bus there and back and my mom and I want to do something different! A family on our tour decided to go whitewater rafting for about $60 and I decide to go horseback riding near the volcano on a private reserve while my mom decided to get a reflexology treatment and take it easy. My horseback ride was $55 and could be booked at the front desk. The private reserve is only about 5 minutes away and I am whisked away at 8:10 in the morning. Now I have only been on a horse one other time, but I am in an adventurous mood. There is only one other woman with us, so there is 3 of us all together including the guide. What a fantastic choice I had made. I had a great horse, the weather was beautiful, the guide was great, and the views of the volcano were magnificent. We also saw more wildlife than I had seen up to this point. The ride was about 3 hours and we rode on open plains, rocky trails, and even through a rainforest. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, javelinas, wild turkeys, vultures, and sloths. At one point we stopped at an overlook for a rest and had a magnificent view of the volcano as well as a beautiful lake down below. Our guide even took pictures of us with our cameras. Boy I was sore the next day, but this ride was worth it! It was fun, quiet, and breathtaking. Highly recommend! I returned to the lodge at about 12 noon, we had lunch, rested, and then took a taxi (along with another lady in our group) to the town of Fortuna to do some shopping and catch up with our tour group who was going to the Baldi Hot Springs at 4:00 PM. Fortuna had alot of souvenir shops, but they all sold basically the same “kitsch.” At 4:00 PM, we boarded the bus and headed to the Baldi Hot Springs for some relaxation—and I was ready after my ride. I really liked this place. Our guide informed us that this place is safer than Tabacon Hot Springs, which is closer to the volcano and has had to shut down many times. They had a lot of different pools and different temps and I always think pools are the best way to get to know people in your tour group! LOL..I know the teens thought this was pretty boring, but I liked it. We were there for about 2 hours, and then went for a short drive to see the volcano. No view this evening. Rats! Too many clouds..Oh well, back to the lodge for another scrumptous dinner. I will miss this place!

HOTEL: Lomas del Volcan

Day 7: Cloud Forest Hike, Dona Ana Beach in Puntarenas

Today we are rested and ready to move onward! We board the bus and head for a cloud forest reserve. Alas, there is construction on the road (painting lines) and that puts us 45 minutes behind! Once we get to the reserve, we discover our hike will be cut short by ½ hour. The trails are up and down on this hike, so we get walking sticks, but the teens are still wearing those flip flops! I really thought we would see a lot of wildlife on this hike, but we only saw a hummingbird and some ants and that was about it. Grrrr…..what has happened to all the wildlife???? Don’t get me wrong. The forest was beautiful, but I would have loved to see a Tuscan or a snake! It must be too hot..Once our hike is done, we have lunch and then head out to Puntarenas for a 2 night stay at the Doubletree Hilton. Our guide makes a surprise announcement. This will be an all-inclusive resort—drinks, alcohol and all meals are included and unlimited! A rousing cheer erupts from the bus! I can’t wait to get to this 5 star resort. We arrive at about 4 pm. We have a brief tour of the resort, get our picture taken as a group (which you can purchase at the front desk for $5) and then the rest of the evening is free to explore, eat, drink and be merry! The buffet is fabulous and the resort is right on the beach. After dinner we take a leisurely stroll and then check out the evening show at 9:15 PM. The show was pretty hokey, so we left and watched some TV in our SUPER COLD room—YES!!!! We had the air turned down so low, that there is no way a bug could survive. We drift off to sleep in peaceful silence.

HOTEL: Doubletree Hilton Resort

Impressions: LOVED IT!!! Not only did we have a great view of the pool and beach from our hotel room, but the rooms have great air-conditioning and comfortable beds, and they are spacious and quiet. Plus, the grounds are fantastic. 4 pools, tons of amenities and all kinds of food. I could have stayed here for a week.

Day 8: Leisure

Now this was to be the day that we visited Manuel Antonio Park. But our guide informs us that it will take 3 hours to drive there, we have 2 hours at the beach and then it could take up to 5 hours to get back because of the traffic. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? PLUS, we talked to people from another Caravan tour who were there the day before, and they didn’t see any wildlife, so it was pretty unanimous. No one from our tour goes on this outing. We all decide to do our own thing. Some people went zip-lining. (for about $50) Some people took a water aerobics class. (which they said was pretty bad—haha) Some people lounged by the pool and the beach. (like my mom) And I decided to go on a jet ski out to Tortuga Island and go snorkeling! Go2Sport has a facility there, so for $150 I rode with a guide (who spoke no English) on a jet ski for about 35 minutes each way, and snorkeled out in the Pacific Ocean. It was a lot of fun. Tortuga Island has white sandy beaches and we even saw some dolphins! The water wasn’t real clear and it was bit choppier than I would have liked. I would say the snorkeling is probably better in Hawaii, but I still had a great time. The whole tour was about 2 ½ hours and it was just me and the guide. We practically flew off our jet ski a couple of times because of the waves, but that’s what made it exciting. I got back at about 1:00 pm, dried off, and had lunch with my mom. Then we just lounged by the beach the rest of the afternoon and ate a lot…LOL… By the time dinner was over, I was worn out and sunburned!

HOTEL: Doubletree Hilton Resort – Seriously, you could stay here a week and do a ton of different tours that can be arranged at the resort. The all-inclusive package is the GREATEST!

Day 9: Sarchi, Coffee Plantation

Do we really have to leave? This morning we depart to visit the town of Sarchi. Here we see the painted ox carts and colorful handicrafts. We are given about 1 ½ to do some shopping and this was probably the best place to pick up a variety of gifts. After lunch we have a 20 minute stop at the metallic church of Grecia and then we visit the Brit coffee plantation. Uh oh. Looks like rain…We aren’t able to pick any beans, because the season is over, but we are given a tour of the plantation, and they put on a show about the processing of coffee and the history of the coffee bean. I thought it was pretty funny and the kids loved it. We are given time to shop in the gift shop—some great stuff here and then we returned to San José at around 5:00 pm. At 7:30 pm we have our farewell dinner which was delicious—I had filet mignon and then to bed. We have to get up early in the morning.

HOTEL: Aurola Hotel

Impressions: Another great hotel with free internet access. This hotel is in the heart of San Jose. Rooms were spacious and beds were comfortable. Oh and BTW, it never did rain. ☺

Day 10: Departure

We have a 4:00 am departure to get to the airport which was a MADHOUSE. You first need to pay your departure tax and then get in line to check in. Check in actually took longer than security. (and I didn’t think security was very tough) This airport also has a nice gift shop for last minute gifts. We depart at around 7:30 am, bound for home!

Overall, we had a nice time and I would recommend Caravan Tours if you are looking for a tour company for Costa Rica. It’s a great price and everything was really well organized. We were blessed with great weather—just wish it hadn’t been so humid!! Let me know if anyone has any questions!

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