Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Mexico & Central America (
-   -   Arenal or Monteverde (

tina_p Jan 2nd, 2005 10:31 AM

Arenal or Monteverde
Our family is headed to CR on Jan 14 - first visit, and we're really excited. (Our children are adults 27 & 25).

Right now our itinerary calls for us to land in San Jose at 2 p.m., rent a car and drive to Arenal (Arenal Observatory Lodge), spend the night and next morning there, then drive to Monteverde (El Sapo Dorado) where we'll spend the night and the next morning, then drive to the Marriott Los Suenos in Playa Herradura. Is this an unrealistic plan? After reading all the wonderful things experienced travelers have posted, I feel like we might have bitten off more than we can chew. We could skip one of those two stops before Los Suenos and extend the other if it makes more sense. Any help is much appreciated!

Also, any ideas of especially good things to do once we're at the Marriott? We definitely want to do a canopy tour, probably go horseback riding, hiking, etc. Again, any suggestions would be great.

I sure wish I had found this message board before we planned the trip - I think I might have done it entirely different! Hopefully we'll have another chance to go and travel around more.

Happy New Year to all!

Percy Jan 2nd, 2005 05:01 PM

By the time you get from San Jose to Arenal it will be dark..or near dark.

You will get a chance to see the Volcano both at night and in the day light the next day.
You perhaps will want to spent a little time at Tabacon Hot Springs.

The drive to Monteverde is on a terrible road and made worse if it happens to drizzle.

Be prepared for some rain in Monteverde, hopefully you will not get even a drizzle.
Gee.. I think your are zipping along too fast.
You say you want to sleep over night in Monteverde and then the next morning start heading out for Playa Herradura.

I would spend at least one full day here and see the cloud forest, sky trek , canopy tour, hummingbird gardens etc and just browse around about town.

Then the next morning you can think of going to Playa Herradura.

How many days are you staying for?
I would not exactly rush through Arenal and Monteverde,after you have come all this way.!!

Itis a tough ride to get to Monteverde,so stop and "smell as many roses" as you can while you are there.

You will have time to relax at the Marriott.

Hopefully others will give you a better outline.


tina_p Jan 2nd, 2005 05:36 PM

Thanks for your thoughts - I'm feeling a little rushed myself, and I haven't even left yet!
In the postings I've been reading, it seems like the road between Arenal and Monteverde is the time eater. Would we be better off to just stay in Arenal for two nights and then head to Playa Herradura? We're already blowing off one night that we've booked at the Marriott (it's a seven day package), I'm not sure we want to lose two. But if it's worth it, we will.
Thanks for your reply and for all the great info you've supplied on other boards.

Percy Jan 2nd, 2005 05:54 PM

I think I would spent the extra time at Arenal and see and do other activities there.
Going to Monteverde for you would be a rush rush thing . There is no use going there to spend the night and then the next morning drive away.

You will like Tabacon Hot Springs for sure..this is a relaxing place to just soak in the Hot Springs and look up at Arenal Volcano.
If you are lucky (like I was ) Arenal might just shoot off some steam for you !!.

Then from Arenal you can either go back via La Fortuna and on to San Ramon ,or

you can circle part of Lake Arenal to get to Tilaran and from Tilaran to Canas and now you are on the Inter American Highway... turn left and then all the way down to San Mateo Orotino ..and finally on to Herradura.

I am making you by pass Puntarenas.


RufusTFirefly Jan 2nd, 2005 06:11 PM

Keep in mind that if one of your goals is to see Volcan Arenal put on its show at night, the Arenal Observatory Lodge won't give you this opportunity. The AOL is on the wrong side of the volcano to see the lava flowing. Often the only chance to see the show is very late at night or very early in the morning--so if you want to maximize your chances, you need to be at a hotel that is well positioned and will awaken you when it starts up.

rbrazill Jan 2nd, 2005 06:35 PM

I hate to be the voice of caution, but if you've never driven from San Jose to Arenal before, you probably don't want to do it at night. Darkness falls around 5:30-6:00 p.m.(earlier inthe mountains.) Our flight was scheduleed to get into San Jose at 12:30. It was a little late, there was a long delay at customs, and by the time we rented the car and got on the road it was almost 4:00. The drive to Arenal was hellish at night (in part because it's hard to follow the signage at night, but more because there are pedestrians and cyclists on dark and seemingly deserted roads.) My advice is, if you can't be on the road by 2:00, I'd wait until the next morning to drive to Arenal.
As for the other part of you question, I happened to like Monteverde better. Arenal was pretty and we were lucky enough to catch an eruption on a clear night. But Monteverde was like nothing I had ever seen before. I agree with the others that spending just one day each in Arenal and Monteverde will probably shortchange you on both. I just want to suggest that you could skip Arenal and do two days in Monteverde.

shillmac Jan 3rd, 2005 03:58 AM

I think you could squeeze another hour into rbrazill's caution. Leaving the rental agency by 3:00 should get you into Arenal by dark--or at least La Fortuna, which is very close to Arenal. You can make it a few miles in the twilight! By 5:30, it has started to get noticeable dimmer. Sometime in the next 20-30 minutes, it will be entirely dark. The drive takes about 2.5-3 hours.

tanya0070 Jan 3rd, 2005 07:37 AM

We visited Costa Rica in October and had an absolutely fab vacation. I do not think that you are trying to accomplish too much at all. We went from San Jose to Torteguero to Arenal to Monteverde to Manuel Antonio to La Paz in 11 days are had a great time. The Observatory Lodge is incredible-the rumblings from the volcano woke us a few times a night-and the entire wall of our room was window so we had an amazing view. We saw the red lava only for a brief second at 3am when it erupted upwards. We spent our second night at Arenal Paraiso, and were lucky enough to watch the red lava rocks roll down the volcano from our room almost all night. In my opinion, I would spend more time in Arenal-the Arenal Waterfall was a great excursion as was the walking tour to the old lava. There were so many things to do there-Monteverde was ok, but I wouldn't necessarily go back. I would definately return to Arenal. You could probably drive from San Jose to Arenal that first day-the roads are paved the whole way up to La Fortuna. Remember that the Observatory Lodge is a good 20 minutes further than Tabacon and that road is very bumpy and not well lit. Be cautious.

dfarmer Jan 3rd, 2005 07:59 AM

Funny how opinions differ, isn't it?

I am one of those that would go back to Monteverde in a heart beat, and would skip Arenal, if I had to make a choice.

I too loved watching the volcano from our porch at the Arenal Parasio. And the waterfall is beautiful.

But Monteverde, we just did not have enough time there. Had to miss a lot due to the fact that we only allowed one night. I was so amazed at this place. Stood in the Cloud Forest just totally stunned at it's immense beauty.

BUT to your delima. Either of these two places, please allow at least 2 nights. Otherwise you will feel that you just passed through.

The year we visited Monteverde, we too were on a resort package vacation. And like you ditched our room for a night. We left out early one morning, drove to Monteverde spent the afternoon and next morning exploring. I certainly do not regret the side trip, just wished I had realized ahead of time how much I would enjoy this place. Of all the places we have visited in CR, Monteverde is on my list of must revisit!

tina_p Jan 3rd, 2005 08:54 AM

Thank you so much everyone!!!
I'm in the process of trying to re-do my reservations so that we spend two nights at either Arenal (I think my family will be too disappointed if we don't see the volcano!) or Monteverde (since it sounds so amazingly beautiful, and there's a lot to do there, too).
The info on the Observatory Lodge confirms what I was thinking - cool place but maybe too remote, and too hard to get to if it gets too late. We'll see what I come up with.
Now that I know about these message boards, I know where to go to get info for planning future vacations, too!

Happy New Year!

shillmac Jan 3rd, 2005 08:57 AM

Either location would be wonderful, of course! You'd have to visit both to know which you personally would prefer because opinions do differ, as dfarmer noted!

The main thing is : Do NOT spend one day at each location. That would be quite an injustice to both. Choose one, do it, and do it well! You will have a GREAT trip regardless of which you choose.

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:52 AM.