Advice on upcomming trip

Jun 9th, 2008, 07:54 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 8
Advice on upcomming trip

Hello Fodorites! First time poster here excited to join the community. I have a question on our trip to Costa Rica later this month and would like to get some help on some specific questions. We are a family of 5 (2 adults and three girls ages 11-15) and will be traveling as follows:

1) June 21: Arrive in SJ, drive to Manuel Antonio
2) June 21 - June 24: Stay three nights, probably at La Mansion or Buena Vista Villas
3) June 24 - 26: Drive to central valley, staying just outside the international airport at either Vista Del Valle (near Grecia) or at Xandari Resort and Spa (near Alajuela)
4) June 26 - June 29: Drive to Arenal, stay at the Lost Iguana for 3 nights
5) June 29 to July 2: Drive to Guanacaste, stay at the Hacienda Pinilla for three nights
6 July 2: Drive to Liberia and fly home

Our transportation is set as we have hired a driver to stay with us the entire trip. Since this will be our first trip to Costa Rica, our objective was to see some different parts of the country without being too rushed. Also, the last part of out trip is set (Arenal and Guanacaste) as we are meeting up with family members, but the first part (Manuel Antonio and central valley) can be changed. Here are the questions:

1) We avoided the Caribbean side as we felt that it might rain there more than the other spots we picked (we know it will rain everywhere this time of the year, but we heard the rain on the Caribbean side will likely be worse). Also, we are frequent travelers to the Caribbean (the family visited Antigua in March) so our thinking is that perhaps this side of the country would be somewhat duplicative of what we have already experienced. So, in lieu of the Carribean side, we opted for Manuel Antonio. Well, I was just getting really pleased with my logic when I happened to run into someone last night who is from Costa Rica and was in the tourism business, no less. She said we would be far better off visiting the Caribbean side over Manuel Antonio because is was equally if not more beautiful and far less crowded. She likes Puerto Viejo. So my question is, for the first time traveler, which destination would you pick (Manual Antonio or Puerto Viejo)? I know we probably cannot go wrong anywhere we go, but i would be curious if anyone had specific thoughts.

2) Assuming we stay with Manuel Antonio, is three days enough? Too long? The kids like doing similar things that we do. They would be happy lounging around the hotel or beach, and of course we will spend one day in the park.

3) Our stop in the central valley was specifically designed to break up the long ride from Manuel Antonio to Arenal as well as to see more of the country. We are very curious to see the little mountain villages like Grecia as well as perhaps a coffee plantation. From what we have read, we are less excited about San Jose and will likely skip it. Two questions about this stop. First, is this the best place to stop between MA and Arenal? By "best" I mean a place with enough to do that will be different from out other experiences in the country. Second, is two days enough, or perhaps too long? Maybe we would be better off spending an extra day at MA or Arenal (currently 3 days each)?

Sorry for the long worded post. My experience in ready this forum is that the more info you give the better people can repspond. Thanks a ton in advance - looking forward to the responses.
Makjes is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 08:16 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 10,204
You have an excellent itinerary for first time visitors to CR--you'll see some wonderful highlights. Stay with it!

You can visit PV another time. We love it over there and it is less crowded and very different, but as I said, your itin excellent! Have a great time!

BTW, MA is more crowded, but not crowded like we experience crowds here in the U.S. Nothing like that. Crowded for CR. . .not a big deal. Especially in June. . .
shillmac is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:08 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2008
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Thanks Shillmac - I set the trip up a while ago and I know i ran into many of your helpful posts. I think I'll stick with MA for now as you advise. There's probably enough to do on the Caribbean side to justify a completely separate trip on its own.
Makjes is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:13 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,740
I think MA is a great spot for a first-time visitor; it's so easy to get around and has a gorgeous beach inside the park and lots of wildlife. Buena Vista Villas gets rave reviews. While you're in the central valley area; you might want to visit the La Paz Waterfall Gardens - so gorgeous, we loved the 5 waterfalls on the property, and you can hand feed hummingbirds.
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:21 AM
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Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 8
Thanks volcanogirl - The Villas were our first choice, but I'm now thinking about the penthouse at La Mansion. Either way, this will be the "splurge" part of our trip. La Paz sounds great. We were trying to book at the Peace Lodge, but they have been full on our dates for the past couple of months, so we will settle with either Xandari or Vista Del Valle. I say "settle", but they both seem very nice.
Makjes is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:23 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 1,265
Shillmac knows CR well and won't lead you astray! I also think your itinerary looks very nice.

Regarding crowds at MA; we visited at the beginning of December, which is right before the main tourist season starts to get underway. We didn't feel it was crowded at all. You should be fine in June. MA is definitely a more 'touristy' sort of place, but it has a lot to offer the first-time visitor. We enjoyed our time there.

Regarding your 2 day stop between MA and Arenal; there is plenty to keep you busy in the Central Valley.

We had a couple of days there last year (before heading down to the Osa Peninsula). On our first day, we meandered through Grecia, Sarchi and Zarcero. We also took a slightly-off-the-beaten-track side trip to Los Chorros Waterfall outside of Tacares.

One day 2, we visited Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

We visited the Doka Coffee Plantation on our final morning in the country and thought it was great.

You itinerary will give you a good sampling of Costa Rica. Enjoy!
cmerrell is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:26 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
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I must have been typing away while VG was posting her response. "Great minds thinking alike" on the La Paz recommendation!

I've heard good things about both Xandari and VdV, Makjes. I think you'll be pleased either way...
cmerrell is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 09:40 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 26
We stayed at Buena Vista 2 weeks ago. Amazing!!!! I highly recommend.
lisa_ea is offline  
Jun 9th, 2008, 10:03 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,740
cm, we always seem to be on the same wavelength!

Makjes, we didn't love our room at Vista del Valle; it's the only place we've ever gone where my husband asked me not to book it again. I thought that our room was much more rustic than what I would expect given the price we were paying. The grounds were really beautiful though, just felt like they paid more attention to that than to the rooms themselves. I think the rooms vary somewhat in amenities; I've seen pictures of others that looked much nicer than ours. Have a wonderful time!
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 10:27 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 8
We really like both Vista del Valle and Xandari. They have different vibes. Vista del Valle is a nature lodge run by an ex-Peace Corp volunteer. The grounds are like a botanical garden and the view from the outdoor restaurant is beautiful. The rooms are plainer than Xandari, but the atmosphere is more friendly and in tune with the local people. The best part of Xandari is the spa. The grounds are really artsy, reflecting the wife of the owner, who did the artwork in the villas. You can't go wrong with either one.
BocaGirl is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 04:50 PM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 23,740
There was a lot of construction going on at VdV when we were there; it looked like they were building a big new subdivision. Also looked like a lot of condos going in in the area - nice condos, kind of posh looking.
volcanogirl is offline  

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