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82 Days and Counting: 10 Random Questions and Itinerary Help

82 Days and Counting: 10 Random Questions and Itinerary Help

Old Jan 6th, 2010, 08:22 AM
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Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 20
82 Days and Counting: 10 Random Questions and Itinerary Help

First a huge thanks to all the fodorites for your invaluable input in planning this trip thus far. We are a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 girls ages 16,13,12,11) traveling to CR for the first time in April.. Here's what we have:

March 31 (Wednesday) - flight into SJO arrives at 4pm. Renting car from Tricolor. We will be driving to Los Suenos that night and staying for 5 nights. Planning on beach time, day trips to MA and Carara. We are debating a fishing/snorkeling trip.

April 5 (Monday) - drive to Arenal for 3 nights (Los Lagos). Planned activities: Zipline with SkyTrek, hike to La Fortuna Waterfall, night hike to hopefully see the lava.

Here are my questions....

1. We will be traveling over the Easter Holiday - arriving the Wed prior and departing the Thursday after. With this in mind would you advise booking tours now? What can we expect as far as holiday closures, crowds etc? Would you recommend any day over another for MA? (I assume they'll all be busy).
2. We would also like to do a whitewater rafting trip. What would your recommendations be given the 2 areas we will be in? We're up for adventure but since our youngest is only 11, I think we'll be limited to class II-III.
3. While making the drive from Los Suenos to Arenal, besides the crocs is there anything we should do/see along the way or restaurant we should stop at for lunch?
4. We are considering a fishing/snorkeling trip (mainly since Dad loves to fish). Are there any good charters that offer both that you would recommend?
6. Are there any other "must do" activities that we’ve overlooked?
7. We would like to try surfing also - okay probably more boogie boarding. I know that the surf can be unpredictable and riptides are common. Where would be the safest place to try this?
8. What would you expect in Jaco during this time? I've read mixed reports on Jaco - should we avoid it (and the holiday travelers) for dining? If so, what would you recommend?
9. What restaurants in the Los Suenos area outside of the marina should we try? How about Arenal (I've penciled in Don Rufino already)? With 6 of us - inexpensive is always appealing though we don't mind paying for good food.
10. Finally, what about safety? I made the mistake of looking at the travel warnings on the government websites.....Other than normal travel precautions (ie don't leave cars unattended with all of your valuables in plain sight), is there anything we should be aware of?

A ton of questions, I know. Thanks in advance for your advice and suggestions!
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 09:17 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,199
MA park is closed on Mondays so that would be the only word of warning I would have regarding days. We did rafting out of Arenal with Rios Tropicales on the Sarapiqui; they're a good company, recommended by our hotel, and we had a lot of fun with them. They also seemed very safety conscious. It looks like your schedule is pretty set for Arenal, but we also love the Cano Negro tour with Sunset Tours to see widlife and Eco Termales for the hot springs and nice chicken dinner. Don Rufino is great, and we also like Soda la Parada (cheap!), El Novillo for steaks, and La Choza de Laurel. Don Rufino is a little pricier than the others, but worth it in my book.
volcanogirl is online now  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 10:34 AM
Join Date: May 2003
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The long Easter weekend (Thurs.-Sun.) is very crowded, but if you have your place to stay and are staying relatively put until Monday, you'll be fine. Easter itself can be a nightmarish traffic day as everyone heads home after a week off, so if you do a day trip that day, make it a short one.

You didn't ask about this, but you canot buy alcohol Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. They are dry days. If you like a glass of wine with dinner or something from the hotel bar, it won't happen those two days. It's an interesting twist of Costa Rican law.

It gets dark about 5:30, and your flight gets in kind of late in the afternoon. Just FYI.
Jeff_Costa_Rica is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 10:35 AM
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volcanogirl - thanks for the info! I know you've mentioned that you really enjoyed your rafting trip on many posts. Rios Tropicales is our top contender at this point. They are classified as a Class II-III. They also list their minimum age as 12 so that may be a problem. I was hoping to find a suitable option for the first part of our stay (in the Los Suenos area). However we'd either have to drive to MA or San Jose and than another drive to the actual river. We considered Eco Termales but the girls ranked that lower on their priority list (maybe next trip.....)
Thanks again!
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 10:41 AM
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You're welcome - sounds like a fun trip!
volcanogirl is online now  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 10:55 AM
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Thanks for the info. That's what I was hoping to hear! We won't be traveling much if at all, on Easter. Sounds like a good pool day to me. I had heard about the dry days but also heard that there are exceptions in the more touristy areas. We'll be sure to pick up our happy hour ingredients on the way in!
Do you think we'll have a problem driving directly to Los Suenos with a 4:00 arrival?
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2010, 04:15 PM
Join Date: Jan 2009
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The drive to Los Suenos takes about 2 hours from San Jose.If you arrive at 4pm, go through customs and then to tricolor, you won't be leaving until after dark. While the drive is not all that difficult you will go through some mountainous areas on a heavily travelled road with lots of trucks,buses, and NASCAR wannabee's.Most people don't recommend driving at night so you might want to consider a night west of SJ and start fresh in the morning. The marina at Los Suenos has a good charter fleet with boats of all sizes for charter. I fished on the "Golden Rod" twice with great success for marlin,sailfish, and mahi-mahi.Contact Costa Rica Dreams sportfishing at [email protected] to check on prices and availability. I would scrap the snorkeling idea- it's not that great in the area you will be in. I did take my mask into the park at MA and dive off one of their protected beaches- the vis was still very poor. While at Los Suenos do drive several miles north and watch the sunset from the hotel Villa Caletas. You can visit for dinner($$) or drinks and watch the sunset from their grecian amphitheater overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya- highly recommend it! I have been to Jaco twice in '06 and '07 and had no problems at all-also had some friends stop there and their car was broken into in the first hour they were there,basically ruining their trip. Reports say it has cleaned up but it's record remains. My family and I will also be arriving on the 31st and renting from tricolor so have a wonderful trip!
artiejay is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2010, 10:31 AM
Join Date: Apr 2009
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1. I prefer to book excursions ahead but learned in CR that if you book while there and pay cash they will usually cut down the price!
2. We did white water rafting with Desafio while in Arenal. I cannot RAVE enough about them. I was hesitant to go with Rios Tropicales bc from what I read it seemed like their rivers were a little bit too adventurous for me! Desafio definitely took children - there were two boys in my raft about 9 & 10 years old. While in Arenal I highly recommend eating at El Novillo - it is cheap, and soooo good. A lot of people rave about it on these boards.

Read my trip report here to get more details -
ParkerSunshine is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2010, 04:08 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Just my 2 cents - I'd leave for the coast the following day. Landing at 4pm probably won't see you on the road til about 6 and it's quite dark by then.

If you have your heart set on certain activities I would check with your hotel and see if they can pre-book them. I barely got on the SkyTrek tour at the time/date I wanted cause I waited til the day before.
tully is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2010, 08:24 PM
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Thanks everyone for your thoughts. We'll definitely have to consider staying in San Jose the first night. My husband and I both travel a lot for work and are comfortable driving in many different circumstances. That being said, from what I've read CR is a whole different world and I'm not sure I'd classify us as NASCAR wannabees! Just to be prepared, any suggestions for accommodations for 6 in San Jose?

Artiejay - thanks for the charter link and thoughts on snorkeling. I knew it wasn't the greatest so maybe we'll just send Dad out fishing and us girls can spend the morning by the pool Still torn on the Jaco dinning - especially with the increase in holiday travelers.... I'll be sure to check out Villa Caletas for drinks (although I'll have to avoid the "dry" days...) I hope you and your family enjoy your trip as well!

Parkersunshine - I have to say I loved the video you posted. Great pictures and information. Was that professionally done or did you use a software program available to us novices? What a great way to preserve and share your memories! I am torn b/t Desafio and Rio Tropicales. I'm not sure my 11 year old will be able to do the Rio Tropicales since their age limit is 12. I'm waiting to hear from them. As long as we have some adventure and not just a float, we'll be happy. I see a dinner at El Novillo in our future!

Tully - Thanks so much for your passion and posts. I've incorporate so much of your advice into our plans so far. It's so helpful to first time travelers to a location to get the real scoop from those that have visited many times.
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2010, 08:47 PM
Join Date: May 2007
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I like Xandari for a first night in San Jose/Alajuela - great views, nice spa, pools/hot tubs, open air restaurant - it's a neat spot. Lots of pretty grounds/trails/waterfalls, etc.
volcanogirl is online now  
Old Jan 11th, 2010, 07:16 AM
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Thanks for the input. Has anyone made the trek from SJO to the Los Suenos area (for the first time) in the dark? In doing a little checking into availability, it looks like we may be hard pressed to find something reasonable near the airport - since we'd have to get 2 rooms d/t the size of our family.
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Jan 11th, 2010, 10:26 AM
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RE: Your #10: 10. Finally, what about safety?

Since we are like you and travel for work as well as leisure, you know what typical travel precautions to take. We visited CR with our three children, then ages 10, 12 and 14 without any real safety concerns.

What we did find confounding in CR that we have never experienced before was that as soon as you park your car, there is a certain local interest in it. This happened in both business and rural centers. At the grocery store and at the gas station, an adult stayed with the car and a few kids and the other adult went and shopped or made the potty run. We then switched off.

Be aware and be vigilant, as you would in any major city in the US. Do not be afraid, as that will simply work against you.

As an example, we parked at the beach just south of Playa Caletas at the tidal pools. (Very cool - you should go!) We spread out a few blankets and got out our lunch. With us sitting within 50 yards of the car in plain sight, two bold men drove up on ATVs and tried to open the back door of the SUV. Again, right in front of us! There were five of us there, and had the car not been locked, they would have taken the "opportunity" to relieve us of a few wet beach towels from the back of the car.

So, it's that simple. Be smart and do not leave ANYTHING in your car that could be of interest. Lock the car. If there is a parking guard at a public lot, tip him a few colones to "watch" your car for you.

Otherwise, we had no concerns in our two weeks driving through the countryside. See my other posts where I explain my mantra - Take the full coverage with the rental company with the zero deductible. It is SO worth it!
Continental_Drifter is offline  
Old Jan 12th, 2010, 07:05 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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The Marriott Los Suenos has several restaurants directly on site; however, there are a few that comes to mind in the "shopping center" just to the north of the hotel (but still within the complex). The Hook Up Restaurant is at the marina. Daily specials are offered in addition to a quite sizable regular menu. It's a lovely setting watching the boats in the harbour. Another restaurant within the center is La Terraza (I believe this is the name?) They specialize in Italian food and the menu looks fabulous. A definite on my list of to do's but no, I've not been yet. Outside the facility entirely, head toward the beach at Herradura. (Go right outside of the main entrance to Suenos and travel all the way to the beach, turn left. Two restaurants, El Pelicano and Juanita's. Both specialize in seafood ... Juanita's being a bit more "typical" Costa Rican. Due to the holiday, the beach will be very busy but it IS a fun spot to people watch. In Jaco, Jaco Taco has good MX food, large portions. (Located at the northern end of Jaco.) Papa's and Burgers in Jaco is a BYO, great! burgers and a good menu of sandwich types. Rioasis is good for pizza (thin crust with a variety of toppings.) Just a few ideas! Lisa PS: Thumbs up to Villas Caletas. Although the food does not get positive reviews, maybe a sunset cocktail or lunch snack. The view is absolutely stunning!
Latitude9Lisa is offline  
Old Jan 13th, 2010, 02:06 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 182
So sorry to be doom & gloomish but this is the reality: Hwy 3 from SJO to Los Suenos will be bumper to bumper Wed-Sat of Samana Santa (Holy Week) Any Tico who can, will be going to the beach that weekend. A 2hr. drive will take you at least 3hrs--maybe more. You do not want to drive it at night.
We live near Atenas and can barely get across the Hwy during that time to go into town! Do you know that if you are involved in even a "fender bender" you must leave the cars where they are until Police (and sometimes the Insurance Rep.) can arrive? That said, the new hwy is open from Orotino down and should be smooth sailing. I assume you have all your reservations? We just booked MA for Christmas of 2010.
jbella is offline  
Old Jan 18th, 2010, 10:10 AM
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Again, thanks all for the input.
mom23rugrats- It seems like being aware of the safety issues is the biggest precaution.
Latitude9 - Thanks for the restaurant suggestions they are much appreciated!
jbella- we do have our reservations made for lodging and I'm working on SkyTrek and whitewater rafting as we speak (I'm leaning towards the Savegre full day with Iguana tours - any thoughts?)
Grays6inMI is offline  
Old Mar 15th, 2010, 07:25 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
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Hola from Quepos....we are a family of 3 (mum and two kids age 7 and 10) and have been in Quepos for 4 days....much nicer and safer beaches than Jaco at Manuel Antonio(both public and national park) and definitely more family oriented. No worries about personal safety here (I would be quite a target elsewhere travelling with two little kids but haven't felt any stress here at all). Driving is hairy at times but just keep your nerve and you'll be fine. Our hotel is lovely - The Blue Monkey 1 km up the hill from Quepos is a sweet little American run hotel but with all the charm of a traditional Costa Rican establishment....rates were offered to us much less than listed price - $65 US a night for deluxe room. Kids love the pools and we've had a great great time. Quepos is reputed to be rough at night but we've just stayed away - lots to do up the hill. Hope you have a wonderful trip.
Barbara (from Calgary)
Barbarini is offline  
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