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Back Safely from Costa Rica: Visited San Jose, Corcovado & Arenal

Back Safely from Costa Rica: Visited San Jose, Corcovado & Arenal

Old Jul 8th, 2005, 06:45 AM
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Back Safely from Costa Rica: Visited San Jose, Corcovado & Arenal

My family of 7 planned a very adventurous trip to Costa Rica. The rest of our family thought we were crazy when we told them we wanted to swim with sharks, sleep in a rainforest, walk 120ft over the tree canopy, watch a lava flow and go white water rafting. I am happy to report we did everything and it was amazing.
Here are a few reviews and tips I learned on our trip:
HOTELS
San Jose - Hotel Grano de Oro
Lovely classy hotel with an amazing staff
Osa Corcovada-Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge
Remote bungelows with canopy beds
Arenal - Arenal Lodge
Great View of the Volcano from my bed

ACTIVITIES:
Scuba Diving in the Osa
Jungle Walk to a waterfall in Corcovado
Arenal Volcano viewing
Hot Springs
Hanging Bridges
White Water rafting on the Pacure River

Our trip started out rocky with American Airlines. The plane broke down and we had to wait 4 hours for a new one. I find this pretty typical for this airline but it seemed to workout in the end. Our guide from costa rica expeditions was there waiting anyway. (FYI If a flight is 4hrs or more late, they have to give you free food vouchers). We had a nice lunch courtesy of AA since we were starving by then (we had left our house at 3:30am and it was now 3:00pm).

SAN JOSE
We arrived in San Jose and stayed at Hotel Grano de Oro. I can't say enough good things about this hotel. We have traveled around the world and the people at this hotel were the nicest and most accomodating we have ever met. Our family settled in to have dinner but my picky eater son wasn't interested. The hotel called up a local Pizza Hut and had it delivered to his room! The food was amazing, very european. The rooms in the hotel are decorated differently. Everything was beautifully designed with bromeliads and flowers throughout the hotel. My room had soft music playing and a romantic canopy bed. I felt like a newlywed again. We just loved this hotel. My banana macadamia pancakes and delicious costa rican coffee for breakfast were first rate. We had done some shopping in the area straw market and the hotel offered to wrap everything up for us and hold it while we were traveling for the week. This was so helpful.

CORCORVADO - CASA CORCOVADO JUNLE LODGE
The next morning we headed for the Osa. Our tour guide picked us up and took us to a small airport. We stopped at a small grocery store to pick up an international phone card for my son (had to call the girlfriend). We traveled on Nature Air. The 25lb weight limit was a concern for us but by combining everyones luggage weight, we had room to spare. They did confiscate our bug repellant in my son's carryone so I suggest you pack it in the suitcase.
The ride was beautiful. Great view from above.

We arrived in a town called Sierpe. We boarded a bus, took a 15minute ride to the water and boarded a boat for our trek to Corcovado. The air was noticably more humid in this area. On our boat ride down, we spotted a Sloth up in the trees and a lot of black vultures. Make sure you always have your binoculars handy. They were like an extension of my eyes. I became very dependent on them trying to spot every animal and bird around!

CASA CORVADO JUNGLE LODGE
Since this hotel is only accessible by boat, we traveled an hour and half to get here. The access is through some high rocks in the water so it took a couple of tries to get in. Finally, we stepped out into the water and stepped to shore. This is where we spotted our first howler monkeys. They were quite noisy and a thrill to see. We boarded a tractor to haul us up a hill. The resort was like an oasis in the jungle with pretty bungelows and an elevated dining deck overlooking the green rainforest. Our room had a canopy bed with mosquito netting with 2 additional beds. They had a lovely stained glass door and 2 well needed ceiling fans. My husband brought his own (he loves ac) which worked out great. They have very minimal electricty which is provided by solar panels. The shower has hot water provided by propane. There is no phone, tvs or computers. This was a bit of a culture shock to my 5 teens but it seemed pretty luxurious for being in the heart of the rainforest. The food was delicious every meal and they served fresh strawberry juice and other mixed juices for our drinks. The chefs even accomodated my son by making him fresh french fries and delicious chicken tenders. At the lodge, we spotted many Tucans up in the trees and watched a snake eat a live bat. A lot to write so I'll continue my dive and jungle trip in another message...eve
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Old Jul 8th, 2005, 07:58 AM
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Is your family always this adventurous, or did you just screw up your courage this once? I just don't know if we are adventurous enough for CR.
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Old Jul 8th, 2005, 08:52 AM
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I just found Hotel Grande de Oro's web site. It looks terrific and I love it that there's a family suite that sleeps 5.
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Old Jul 8th, 2005, 09:50 AM
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Actually, at Hotel Gran de Oro,we had 3 separate rooms, sorry. One room had 2 beds with a cot and the other 2 were king size beds. Our room had it's own private patio. As far as the adventurous side, we are not always this wild but Costa Rica lends itself to adventure. It is such a wonderful country that you could have just as much fun birdwatching, animal watching or soaking in the flowers and butterflies. Costa Rica is great for anyone who enjoys natural beauty.
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Old Jul 8th, 2005, 12:00 PM
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Great report so far.......can't wait to hear about your time spent in Arenal and on the Pacuare River. We will be going to CR in December with 3 teens!
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Old Jul 9th, 2005, 10:25 AM
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Great to hear about your trip; we were there last summer but didn't get to Osa and Pacuare so am anxious to hear how it went! How many days were you there? Joyce
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Old Jul 9th, 2005, 02:38 PM
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On our second day at Corcorvado, we went scuba diving. Everyone wakes up at 5:15am around here because it is so noisy from all the birds and light. I can't remember the last time I got up that early except for our flight! We took a tractor down to the shore and were picked up by a boat which transferred us to the scuba boat. The operators were Cano Divers and the trip was to Cano Island. The ride was very rough. I was very thankful I took dramamine. It took about an hour to get over there. Our family are certified divers but one of my son's is not so he took a snorkel trip with another group. It was really exciting because this was the first dive I took with my 16yr old deaf son who just got certified during X-mas in Aruba. He has a cochlear implant and we always thought he would never be able to handle the pressure but he was approved to go to 80ft depths.

For those of you that dive, it wasn't a very pretty dive but it was quite exciting going to the bottom and swimming with white tip reef sharks. I thought I was part of the Discovery Channel. We had one dive and rested on the island where we met up with our son. The island is a natural park and the beach is covered with hermit crabs. After lunch we had another dive with more sharks and rays and had a nice ride back. We spotted a bunch of Dolphins along the way which was cool.

At night, it gets dark at 5:45pm so everyone needs to get around with flashlights. After dinner, there really isn't too much to do so everyone went to sleep around 8:30pm (very strange for us). There was a whole different set of noises at night. We saw some agoutis walking around. They look like oversize guinea pigs.

The 3rd day, we woke up early again and I was greeted by a Coati walking next to me to breakfast. They look something like a racoon with a long nose and a long tail about the size of a medium dog. We were taking a hiking tour into the rainforest. Our hotel provided rubber boots and backpacks for us. This was really helpful. I bought special shoes for our trip for hiking and rafting but these worked out the best. We also used a lot of bug repellant and we brought along little mist spray bottles with fans. They were great. We picked them up at Walmart back home. We hiked 4 hours (2hrs there and back) into the jungle. It was really very muddy and there were a lot of tree roots. Our guide was from the hotel and he knew so much about the wildlife. We were able to spot howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, white-faced monkeys and spider monkeys. We also saw some beautiful birds including a Laughing Falcon. Half way there, we came upon a waterfall. This was such an oasis to cool off in. We swam right up to the falls and even went into a little cave behind them.

We continued on to the Ranger station for lunch and headed back by way of the beach. On the way back we spotted two gorgeous Scarlet Macaws eating almonds in an Almond tree. The nature in this country is so magnificent. Exhausted, we enjoyed our gourmet dinner and passsed out.

TRAPPED!!
The next morning we were ready to leave and at breakfast we were informed that we couldn't leave. The waves were reaching 20ft and had already destroyed 2 of their boats. We were shocked and the kids were just dying being trapped with no electricity. We were told that this had never happened in their 10yrs there and was really a freak of nature. The site was pretty amazing as we were able to take the tractor down to watch. That day we spent birdwatching in the hammock, walking around the trails while the kids played a lot of cards and swam. Fortunately, the next morning, the waves were calmer and we were able to leave.

Because of the change in plans, we were very fortunate we had a travel agent because the hotel was able to contact them by radio to inform them we were stuck. Costa Rica Expeditions was able to call ahead to Arenal to let them know and even ordered us a charter plane so we could get to San Jose. The plane was great, it was an 8 seater. It had bench seats like a van. What an exciting ride out of the jungle back to society and the real world. We just loved it there but there is something to be said for lights, telephones and computers. My son was thrilled to use the pay phone at the airport!
Our ride to Arenal coming up....
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Old Jul 10th, 2005, 07:25 AM
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TRIP TO ARENAL:
I love thinking and writing about this trip. This morning back at home, I was drinking my delicious Costa Rican coffee in my blue morpho butterfly coffee cup while I was sitting on my hammock I purchased on the way to Arenal.

Our guide met us at the airport and we began a 3 and half hour drive to Arenal. The weather this trip (end of June, beginning July) was perfect. We were told that this was the rainy season but we were very fortunate with only getting rain at night while we slept and a few short sprinkles in the afternoon. It was a very picturesque ride. Since I wasn't driving, I'm not sure of the direction but I noticed he drove through a lot of small towns for a while.

We stopped in La Fortuna for lunch. We were taken to a very fancy restaurant. Please excuse me for not remembering but it was called Arenal something. The lunch we were told was included so we ordered anything we wanted from the menu. Well, this was a very fancy restaurant. We proceeded to order a 5 course meal. My son even had a Caesar salad made right at the table by the owner Jon who renamed it the "Jon Salad". The meal must of cost up to $200 but we were told it was included with our package. Pretty amazing deal and the food was really delicious.

We arrived Arenal late so we went straight to the Hanging Bridges. This was such an amazing place. The bridges are steel structures built to connect between the tree canopies. I have a great fear of heights and had great difficulty with this. I was hanging on to my husband for dear life just praying on getting to the other side. Not all the bridges were swinging bridges so it wasn't always so scary for me.

The view was magnificent as well as the smell of being in a cloud forest. We had a guide along with us which was very helpful. He spotted two eyelash vipers which were poisonous. I was happy to have a guide! There were also some howler monkeys above us. If you are not planning on having a guide, just enjoy the beauty but don't touch anything. There is a lot of wildlife that might be poisonous.

Since we arrived late, we brought flashlights with us in case we got stuck in the rainforest in the dark. The owners allowed us to go in because they knew our guide. It was a pretty incredible view from the bridge 120ft in the air. I was dying being up there but I have to say, I did stop in the middle of the bridge (breathing heavily) to watch the Volcano erupt with the sun setting around it. Pretty spectacular. You can also hear the volcano gasping from the steam escaping from it. We made it through as it was partly dark and we were thankful to have the flashlights. A lot of new sounds were coming from the forest and we were happy to reach the end.

It was now around 7:00pm and we headed to the hot springs at Ecotermales.
Hot spring report and rafting to come...
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Old Jul 11th, 2005, 05:41 AM
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HOT SPRINGS AND ARENAL LODGE:
Our family arrived at the hot springs and we were pretty much the only ones there with the exception of maybe 4 other couples. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought this was just a mom and pop establishment. The grounds were very nice and they had locker rooms to change in and towels. There was one large pool with a bridge and the real hot one had a waterfall with a bench inside behind the falls. This was incredibly hot and much like a steam room. Some more people showed up so it wasn't as private but there was room enough for all of us.

We changed and enjoyed a delicious homemade dinner. It was served buffet style which was nice since all of us liked different things. The people there were very friendly and happy to have us.

ARENAL LODGE:
By this time it was after 9:00pm and we first headed to our hotel. The hotel wasn't too far away but the drive up the driveway was really long all the way up the mountain. We were very pleased as we had 3 rooms directly facing the volcano with decks with chairs and a swing. The volcano is usually covered by clouds 40% of the time so we were very happy to be able to get a good view of it. Our agent told us that this hotel was located on the safe side of the volcano. They do not book or even take you to the places on the dangerous side. The observatory and Tabacon Hot Springs is located in the danger zone and we couldn't even stop there. We found the hotel to be very spacious and clean with a really warm staff.

I especially enjoyed the birdfeeders located outside our room. Two beautiful macaws played right in front of me all morning while I watched the sun rise around the volcano. It was a very surreal site and one I will always remember.

The hotel also has a fantastic enclosed butterfly farm. This was such a great way to enjoy many different butterflies. A blue Morpho landed on all my kids and we got some amazing pictures. The hotel also has a little area for animals that have been protected or injured. They had some cool tapirs you could get very close to.

We left the hotel, did some more hiking and headed back to San Jose. It rained the whole way back which was not a problem since we were in a bus.

That evening we had an amazing dinner back at the Hotel Gran de Oro and prepared ourselves for our early pickup for our rafting trip.

PACUARE RIVER RAFTING:
We woke up very early to meet our bus at 6:10am. We were deciding on what shoes to wear. I purchased a pair of Salamon mesh shoes and bought some Lands End for the boys. We had used them for hiking and they were terrible. Pebbles got in the holes and my son got blisters in 10 minutes of wearing them. I did notice one woman with a pair of Teva style waterproof sneakers that looked perfect. The shoes also stayed very wet the whole trip and were always stuck in a smelly plastic bag. I had a pair of Teva style rubber sandals with backs (you need that so they don't fall off) that I just love so I wore those for the rafting trip. The ride to the river takes about 2 and half hours. We stopped halfway for breakfast. This was such a pretty place overlooking the valley and deep in the heart of coffee country. They had a little gift shop where I purchased fresh coffee made right in that region. I must say, I have been drinking it everyday since I'm home and it is so delicious.

We continued on our ride and started down a long curvy pebble road down towards the river. We arrived at the river and boarded our rafts. They had 5 people to a raft plus the guide. They first give instructions and suit you up with tight life vests and helmets. The instructions started off very easy but they just kept giving them and I was having a little trouble remembering which command was which. I was hopeful that I would get the hang of it once we started. I have been rafting a few times so I wasn't too worried.

This trip was far different than my last rafting trips. First, this is not an easy river. We had a chance to practice in the beginning where the river wasn't so rough but once it kicked in it really got rough. It is important that everyone works together to get the raft straight. The paddling is quite strenuous because you have to maintain the paddling for 4 hours and you use your whole body. We were told that an 81yr old woman went once but I find that very hard to believe.

The first half of the river had 4 class 4 rapids. They have men in kayaks in front and in the back to help us if anyone should fall out. The guy also was ahead taking pictures when we entered the tough spots. He got the most amazing pictures of us. The first big rapid, my husband was on his way out of the raft when I grabbed on to his life vest. The camera clicked just at that moment.

The view inside the canyon is so beautiful and untouched by anything. We passed some waterfalls canvassing down the rocks and saw some toucans perched up high in the trees.

This was where the ride got rough. We came onto another class 4 rapid and the guide told us that it was going to be similar to a bucking bronco. Well sure enough, as we entered the rapid, our boat went down and kicked up in the air. Out flew my daughter and husband. They disappeared under the waves as we paddled down the river. I looked back and the kayak went after my husband as my daughter grabbed onto another raft. As my husband flew down the rapids, he slammed into some rocks with his leg. He lifted them up and then got his back hit. They safely pulled him up and back into our raft but he was quite banged up. Just ahead we were stopping for lunch and it couldn't have come too soon!

The guides fixed a nice cold cut lunch on top of an overturned raft. This was really a needed break since we were all exhausted. I really didn't think I could continue but we had no choice and the rest gave us all a second wind.

On the second leg of the river, we changed positions on the raft to give our other arm a rest. We had really improved and were doing well passing all the other rafts.

The trip was really an amazing exhausting experience. My husband really injured his leg and even now over a week and a half later is in a lot of pain. He had to use a wheelchair at the airport and crutches when we got home. I am so thankful I planned the rafting part at the end of our trip.

The only advice I would give is, expect to be doing a lot of physical work. Also the chances are pretty likely you will fall out. People on all the other rafts fell out. Listen very carefully to the instructions. My deaf son in my boat did really well just following the person in front of him very closely. He is so proud of himself that he didn't fall out! Let me know if you have any other questions, I would be happy to answer.

Our bodies were so sore a few days after this raft trip. Just to give you an idea of our ages, I am a fit 50 and my husband is 55 and the kids are 16, 18, 20, 22 and my daughters boyfriend is 20. I wouldn't bring any young kids on this raft trip.

THINGS TO BRING ON THE TRIP:
I learned a lot of things from this board and some things were great and some we never used. Here is a list that was helpful to us:

Very good binoculars
Plastic bags (for wet clothes and shoes)
Repel insect repellant
Suntan lotion with insect repellant
Spray bottles with a fan
Bandana (keeps you cool on the hikes)
Woolite
Febreeze
Batteries for camera and whatever
Scented candle
A lot of singles for tips
Journal book
Dramamine, Aloe Burn lotion, Advil
Daypro (an anti-inflammatory), our family ended up taking this a lot because we were so sore from the beds and hiking and rafting. I guess having a bad back and being 50 has its drawbacks but I still was able to have an amazing time.
Penicillin- This was so great we brought this because my husband had a tooth infection while we were in the Osa. His mouth swelled up terribly and would have been a real problem without it. It cleared right up in a few days without destroying our trip.

I can't wait to return to Costa Rica to visit all the other wonderful places I have read on this board. Thanks to everyone's advice and suggestions. I hope my report has helped a few...eve
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Old Jul 11th, 2005, 07:28 AM
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Eve,
Fascinating report!!!! I am very nervous about the white water rafting though. Would you do it again?????
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Old Jul 11th, 2005, 09:24 AM
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Jayneann,
I would definately go rafting again now that I'm a real "pro". My son fell out into a hole and popped right back up because of the life vest. It's really no problem. It was just bad luck that my husband was hanging straight down when the kayak was lifting him because when you float, if you lie flat, you usually don't hit anything. Just start doing your "push-ups"!...eve
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Old Jul 11th, 2005, 07:46 PM
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Thanks Eve! Hopefully your husband is OK now, and glad to hear you would go again. I enjoy adventure and have rafted before, but am afraid of falling out and getting hurt! Maybe if I hold on really tight..............!!

I do have a problem with my neck and shoulder so 4 hours of straight paddling sounds exhausting. Was there any calm water in between so you could rest a little?
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Old Jul 12th, 2005, 11:42 AM
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Jayneann,
I have had 2 back surgeries and I felt fine, just a bit sore. There is plenty of time to take breaks. It was our favorite word when the guide said "stop" and we put the paddles on our lap for a break! It's just a lot of paddling. I can't imagine how the people do it on the 2 and 3 day trips..
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Old Jul 12th, 2005, 12:24 PM
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Thanks Eve, I feel better about the rafting now and if I fall out - well, I'll have something to write about !!!
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