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Considering changing itinerary - comments?

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Sep 8th, 2012, 04:12 PM
  #1
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Considering changing itinerary - comments?

I posted a question a few days ago about whether to drop Arenal or Monteverde from our 9 day itinerary, and had some great responses. But - now we are thinking about dropping both (gasp!) and wondered if we are crazy?!

Background: We (husband, 9 year old son, and I) are travelling late Feb. - early May, and will be in Costa Rica for 9 nights. We are pretty set on the Dominical area, and plan to do a day trip to Corcovado from there (Bahia Adventures boat/hike tour). Other than that, we want to see La Paz Waterfall Gardens (mostly for my son), and one other area - preferably cloud forest. We plan to do a canopy tour at Hacienda Baru, and my husband would like to do a slightly more "exciting" zipline if possible, but not absolutely necessary. We're mostly into wildlife, seeing lush, beautiful forests, and relaxing by the beach, and husband plans to take surf lessons.

Here's what we are thinking to maximize vacation time and minimize travel time:
- First night near Poas (Poas Volcano Lodge?)
- Spend one day at La Paz & Poas
- Two nights San Gerardo de Dota, stay at Trogon Lodge for cloud forest, quetzel sighting (hopefully, but this isn't a must!)
- Rest of time (6 nights) Dominical. We already have reservations at Hacienda Baru, so could just extend that time.
- Travel from Dominical to SJO for late afternoon flight home on final day.

Comments? Suggestions? Thanks!
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Sep 8th, 2012, 05:00 PM
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Absolutely drop Arenal and Monteverde; neither is a must.
1. Don't drive up to Poas unless you are in full light.
2. Poas viewing must be early, or it will be clouded over. I assume you are staying near La Paz for the second night? You will have an interesting drive down Highway 2 to the next stop. (Do not try to do this drive down to San Jose, past Cartago, and to San Gerardo unless you have 3 hours of daylight left; mileage LOOKS short in Costa Rica, but driving time is not.)
Dominical area is wonderful for beaches, and there are tons of them. Be sure to visit Playa Ventanas; your son will love going into the sea caves (http://www.ojochal.com/beaches.html), and the beach is gorgeous. Note that it's very surfy at Dominical; for calm beach enjoyment, you'll want to drive a bit south (you might be totally alone on a beautiful long stretch).
BTW, there's a new zipline/canopy tour at Osa Mountain Lodge (they'll pick you up from an office on the main highway; http://www.osamountainvillage.net/).
Day trips, such as a boat ride through the mangroves (depart from Sierpe) are a good possibility; we loved our boat ride through the mangroves (http://www.entercostarica.com/travel/67/Sierpe.php). There are also day trips into Corcovado National Park, or to Cano Island for snorkeling, that depart from Sierpe.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 05:02 PM
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p.s. It's a pretty easy drive to Sierpe from the Dominical area; just get an early start for whatever trips you're making.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 06:13 PM
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Hi Sylvia - great reply! We are thinking of using a private driver and just renting a car for a few days while in Dominical. Not sure this is the most economical way to do it, but neither of us wants to drive anywhere near San Jose, and I've read San Gerardo is a little sketchy to get to, as well.

My husband wants to get away from the city as soon as possible, and suggested we spend one night near La Paz, see it and the volcano as early as possible, then get down to San Gerardo that same night. Does that sound doable to you? If not, we would certainly spend a second night near Poas/La Paz.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 06:42 PM
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I love Arenal, so I personally wouldn't drop it. We've gone there several times and still haven't done everything we've wanted to. I just love the volcano, the natural hot springs, the waterfall, the hiking, and all the amazing adventure activities. But if that's not your thing, it's totally okay to go to the areas that appeal to you. If you did go, your husband should check out Sky Trek; they have some of the longest, highest lines in the country. We were 600 feet up in the air with great views of the lake and the volcano - so pretty. There are so many amazing areas it's hard to choose. We liked Monteverde but having done it, we have never felt a strong pull to go back.
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Sep 8th, 2012, 07:10 PM
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Hi VolcanoGirl - Let's just say that Arenal/Dominical is definitely still in the running. I'm totally torn between just making a smaller loop that includes La Paz/San Gerardo/Dominical, and a bigger loop of La Paz/Arenal/Dominical. Every time I make up my mind one direction, my husband goes the other

We'll figure it out (soon, I hope), but your comments are duly noted. Thanks!
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Sep 8th, 2012, 07:32 PM
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Frankly, I think it's all personal choice; we just wouldn't bother with Arenal again; it seems to us a bit Disney-like, touristy and overcrowded; the area is scenic, but all of Costa Rica is!
Where you're headed, the southern Pacific coast, is our favorite. Adding Poas and La Paz seems to be creating some logistical problems for you. Why not just go directly to the Dominical area? All the fuss for a 1/2 hour to view the Poas crater and then driving to the waterfall garden, seems like extra trouble. Especially considering the rebuilding of the road that was destroyed by an earthquake is going to add time and a rough road, and in this case for you,necessitate a driver, seems to be not worth it.
The incredible scenery, wildlife, beaches, and opportunities for adventure can keep you all very busy if you just go right to the area (and there are TONS of waterfalls in that area, too, and you don't have to pay to see them). That way, you could also bypass Alajuela-San Jose and take the new highway from the aiport right to the coast and thence south.
Save the other stuff for another trip; your time is valuable, and there's so much to see and do from Dominical south, you won't regret it!
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Sep 8th, 2012, 08:11 PM
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Honestly, the trip to La Paz is really for our son. Since he saw the website, he's convinced he wants to go there, and it does seem very family-friendly, but I couldn't agree with you more as to the logistical problems it creates.

Forgive me if you've told me this already, Sylvia, but where near Dominical have you stayed? We are already booked at Hacienda Baru for 4 nights, but since we're considering staying in that area longer, I'm wondering if there's somewhere else we should consider?
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Sep 8th, 2012, 09:01 PM
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I'm in the camp that likes Arenal - a lot. I do agree with sylvia about it being touristy (for a reason); you need to reserve carefully to avoid crowds.

Your plan makes sense to me, BB. So does the plan sylvia suggested... and vc.... ! I'm in the same boat as you, trying to decide between a few places on our fourth CR trip! Just know that you can't go wrong with any of your choices unless they stress you out too much to enjoy them.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 03:29 AM
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B, kids love La Paz. I really think you're smart to focus on things that will appeal to your son. I would have loved the waterfall gardens as a kid, and I still think they're beautiful and very family friendly with the waterfalls, hummingbirds, and all the other activities. I've never gotten a crowded touristy feeling from Arenal. We've done several tours where we've been the only people on them and at the hotel where we stay we've gone hours without seeing another soul. We don't stay in town though. Have you taken a look at tripadvisor at all? You can do a search for each area and see pics and reviews of all the activities you can do. That's one of the things that led us to the Arenal area. You can take a look there and see which areas appeal most to you and your family. Unless you're going for Easter or Spring Break, you're not going to be traveling at a heavily traveled time. As a kid, spending days birding and things like that wouldn't have had much appeal for me, but river floats, animal rescue centers, volcanoes, waterfalls, natural hot springs, etc. would have wowed me. They still do!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 06:00 AM
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Exactly! With a little research, crowds can be easily avoided. I'm curious where sylvia stayed that was Disneyesque. I've been to Arenal in-season and off-season, and didn't encounter anything that bad. I think that your whole family would love the area.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 06:58 AM
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I take it back; our first trip, to Arenal Observatory Lodge (amazing spot), poor front-desk management had us first piling into vans so overcrowded it was comical, booked us into a very crowded hot-springs experience with drunk individuals, etc. I think my trip report is still on the site - it was all very amusing - in retrospect! Still, I'd go back there again - in a heartbeat. We ran into a mother with her young son, and the boy was mesmorized by the volcano and the wildlife. Just would do my research.

Incidentally, though it seems counter-intuitive, I read somewhere that Arenal is more likely to show itself during the wet-season, and this has been the case for us.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 07:32 AM
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The only place we've encountered that was crowded was Tabacon, but I still think a kid would love it - it's beautiful and has a water slide! We prefer Eco Termales because they limit the number of people who can enter, so it never gets crowded and has a more intimate natural feel to it.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 07:58 AM
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As far as "showing itself" Arenal is currently not doing anything; is a scenic volcano, but there are many in CR.
I'm not here to defend one area over another, but I think that people here tend to promote their favorites, and visit their favorites, over other places.
We visited ARenal 3 times, the northwest (Guanacaste) 2 times, and the southeastern coast and Osa penninsula 3 times.
The Arenal area is, to be blunt, very expensive. There are myriad tours to take, but look at spending $100/per person, per jaunt, per day; and lots of the touted tours are 2 hours away, for example up at the Nicaraqua border (that's each way).
The beaches, however, are free and gorgeous and relaxing. The rain forest on the south coast offers unparalled beauty, and there are many reserves, MANY waterfalls, etc. to visit (free). (Or a young boy might love Don Lulo's horseback ride to gorgeous waterfalls that he can swim in.) The opportunity to visit Corcovado National Park, or Cano Island, and mangrove tours is a great option.
Because the OP only has limited time, and the family seems a bit split, the Dominical and south coast seems like a great option. Surfing, gentle beaches, waterfalls, birding, wildlife (and water wildlife: crocodiles!), hiking, and ziplines/canopy availability are big draws.
To include La Paz means (which is pretty, but not spectacular, IMO) a rough ride right now, and a time-consuming one.
I've been all of these places, too, and am honestly trying to give helpful information; yes, I like Arenal, too, but for kids? I just think the options on the southeast are better, in this particular set of circumstances.

As far as Dominical: I can recommend a villa at "Shelter from the Storm" (http://www.shelter-from-the-storm.net; also check out tripadvisor); the house lodgings at Osa Mountain REsort (tho they are perhaps more of a drive up and down the mountain than you'd like; http://www.osacanopytour.com/rates.html); and several 2 person places that would probably not be comfortable for you with your son. But there are many many rentals, including kitchens, all over the place!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 08:22 AM
  #15
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My original posting has enlisted some wonderfully informative and insightful responses - thanks to each of you!!!

Volcanogirl and Cattail - I honestly appreciate your views and suggestions, and do not disagree at all that we would enjoy Arenal. In fact, our original plan included Monteverde, Arenal and Manuel Antonio for the very reason that these locations seemed to house the best tourist infrastructure, combined with natural beauty, that would be likely to keep a young boy (and did I mention restless husband ) busy.

However, I think Sylvia has touched upon our particular interests very well, and that we have gravitated to Dominical and the south coast for the very things she describes. I do think that even thought La Paz creates a logistical hiccup, we will plan to include it as an introductory activity for all of us. We then have a whole week to spend in or near Dominical.

Sylvia - I don't think I mentioned it in this thread, but we actually had a small studio apartment above Dominicalito lined up for a week, then started shaking our plans up, and ended up booking 4 nights at Hacienda Baru - both for the adventure of sleeping "in the jungle" and because it's very inexpensive and receives excellent reviews. Do you have first-hand knowledge of Hacienda Baru, or thoughts on its suitability for a longer stay?

Honestly, if it were up to me, I would hide away in an ecolodge in the Osa Peninsula, and we may do that some day! But for now, expenses and accessibility are major factors, and you have all helped clarify my thoughts on how best to spend our time. Thank you so much!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 10:09 AM
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The south coast is amazing - probably my favorite area as well, though I've not been to Dominical. Truly, you'll want to return. You simply can't go wrong with any of the suggested options. Have fun!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 10:11 AM
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The lodge (in the WL refuge) looks like a great location for seeing the sights (our primary needs are kitchen, pool, and clean). You'll just head south for calm beaches(for example, just past surfy Dominical is Playa Hermosa, before Uvita; a terrific stretch) etc. Right up 243 is Don Lulo's waterfall horseback ride: http://www.southerncostaricamap.com/...hp&get=tours=5 (the link has other activities and maps; note that there are other tours to the waterfalls, as waterfalls are public domain in CR). BTW, Darryl and Donna have helpful links and activities on their (Shelter from the Storm) website, too.
A tip: there's a wonderful place to have lunch/dinner past Uvita (http://www.enuvita.com/catarata.html; look for the restaurante cataraca sign on the east) and you can walk their short trail to a beautiful waterfall/cataracts and enjoy the pools.
Ballena National Park (tail of the whale) is gorgeous (actually, it's all gorgeous); don't forget Playa Ventanas (pay a nominal fee, about $2, to the owners for parking on their property, and walk 1/8 mile to a truly spectacular setting) and Pinuela (http://www.uvitadream.com/playa-pinuela.php; between Ballena and Ventanas; drive down to the hotel/restaurant to park, or pay at the northern entrance of the national park). Of course, southern Osa and Corcovado NP tours are not too far away.
You will have a splendid time, and your appetite will be whetted for the other areas of Costa Rica!
p.s. If you wanted to stay elsewhere after Baru (like a bit further south), there are many many places down the coast; you could probably check them out in person and negotiate a rate if you liked them).
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Sep 9th, 2012, 11:21 AM
  #18
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Oh my gosh - great tips, Sylvia! I've just printed this page to take along.

Thank you, Cattail, for your well-wishes. I am certain we will have a fantastic trip!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 03:42 PM
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B, you're right about the Osa; that's another favorite area of ours. The wildlife there is absolutely incredible and fabulous hiking too. If you're like the rest of us, you'll be back. We go to CR every year now and have done Manuel Antonio, the Osa, Tortuguero, Montverde, etc. We try to explore a new area each time. It's amazing how diverse the country is, and Ticos really seem to love children. If you do end up going to the Poas area, you might want to pack a jacket just in case. It was very chilly when we were there. We wore fleece jackets and sweatshirts - you don't always expect to find that in CR. Monteverde was the same for us. One thing you might find helpful is to read ShellD's trip reports. She's an awesome poster with young kids, and I think she's explored a lot of the areas that interest you.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 07:06 PM
  #20
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Vocanogirl - I will definitely look up ShellD's trip reports. Thanks for the tip! I'm sure you're right about wanting to return and cover more ground. Trying to decide where to go this trip has been agonizing (in a fun sort of way). I've done so much research, I almost feel as though I've already been there - but I'm sure the reality is much better. I will do a trip report when we get back. I'd love to be in the position to help other travellers, rather than just asking questions!
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