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Costa Rica 12/26/05- 1/3-06 Part One in Manuel Antonio

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Costa Rica 12/26/05- 1/3-06 Part One in Manuel Antonio

Old Jan 6th, 2006, 02:06 PM
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Costa Rica 12/26/05- 1/3-06 Part One in Manuel Antonio

After years of talking about visiting Costa Rica, my husband and I (40's)and sons (20 and 16) finally went for 8 nights, Dec 26 through Jan 3, 2006. Our 23 yr old son was supposed to go also, but is in the Coast Guard and shipped out earlier than expected. (Boohoo) We planned this incredible trip with the help of this forum (special thanks to Shillmac, Faithie and Melissa5)plus frommers and tripadvisor. I also read numerous tour books, with Moon Handbook being my favorite. We absolutely loved Costa Rica and hope to go back again to visit the places we didn't get to see.

Places visited:
Manuel Antonio 3 nights (Villas El Parque)
Arenal 3 nights (Arenal Paraiso)
Alajuela 2 nights (Orquideas Inn)
Playa Hermosa for a full day (On the beach by Fuego del Sol)

Transportation:
Two drivers (Manuel through Gaialink Tours and Jonathan from Wady Tours)
Rented a Prado SUV (Gaialink Tours booked this Alamo rental)

Activites:
Tour of Manuel Antonio Park (Gaialinktours.com booked the tour)
ATV's using Adrenaline Tours out of Quepos (www.adrenalinetours.com)
Tour of Volcano Park, Tabacon Springs and dinner (Gaialinktours.com booked this also)
Skytrek ziplines in Arenal (skytrek.com)
Surfing at Playa Hermosa (south of Jaco)

Best:
The scenery AND the Ticos!

Worst:
Heading home, back to reality!!

Biggest surprise:
The condition of the roads we traveled on in CR were no worse than the small town roads we drive on everyday here in southern New England!! (My opinion!)

Day one
We left Boston 7 AM on Delta to Atlanta then on to San Jose arriving at the airport about 3 PM. We were supposed to arrive 1:40 PM, but hey, it was the day after Christmas and we're not the only people who travel on holidays! The airports were PACKED!! No worries, even though I kept muttering that our line going through immigration was the slowest. "Mom, you need to chill!"

Finally, through customs to meet Rosia who was waiting for us outside to bring us to our driver, Manuel, all set up by Gaialink Tours. I planned most of the trip myself, but used Ralph at Gaialink to set up drivers, the rental car and two tours, just to insure smoothness due to it being Christmas week.
What a relief to actually see people waiting for us!!! Definitely would recommend having a driver initially!!! First stop, grocery store for beers, wine and water. It is now 4 PM, and we're heading to Manuel Antonio. "Oh no, it's going to get dark and we're not supposed to drive at night!!" "Mom, chill!!!" Anyway, after a LONG, winding, hairpin turn drive up and down the sides of cliffs with the most incredible views, we arrived in Manuel Antonio at 7 PM. We did stop at Tarcoles for a moment to view the crocs, but the bugs at dusk were ready to carry us away so we only stayed long enough to shoot a picture!

Villas El Parque:
I was concerned about this hotel and had tried to book one with good reviews from this forum, but they either had 5 night minimum stays or we would have had to mortgage our house to pay for 2 rooms during Christmas week. Initially I thought the place looked old and worn, but over the next few days, we all grew to love it!! The views were incredible and out of the 3 places we stayed, the employees were the greatest!! Accommodating, warm and gracious! Gosh, that was so comforting!!!! Our sons stayed below us and we all had huge balconies with hammocks and very spacious rooms! I loved the location up on the hill, but I live for VIEWS! Plus we saw lots of monkeys here. If you choose this hotel, don't go with high expectations and you may just grow to love it too!! We all agreed it was our favorite hotel of the trip. SiComoNo looked great if you're looking for more of a resort and don't mind spending $$$. It would have cost us more than $700.00 per night during this week as opposed to under $300.00, just to put it all into perspective!!

Ok, back on track. We were pretty tired that first night so we headed up to the top of the hotel to a restaurant/bar called Agua Azul. Awesome place, great food and interesting people hanging about! Over the next few days we went there a couple of times to check out the panoramic views and chat with the locals (ex-pats I guess they're called)who lived in the condos at El Parque and down the little side road. Very interesting to listen to their stories. One ex-pat even gave us a tour of his house built into the cliff overlooking the ocean in MA. Spectacular!!!


Day two:
Up early, small tour bus picked us up at our hotel at 6:45 AM, made a couple of stops along the way picking up more people and on to Manuel Antonio Park for the day. I probably wouldn't choose to do that again, instead hire a guide right at the park, but it was a good way to force the boys up and out plus I didn't have to worry about planning the day. All figured out ahead of time. Our tour, which I thought was supposed to be private, hahaha, was pretty large and was just okay. The guide was so into explaining every little detail of everything we saw, I even thought "enough"! All good though, and we saw sloths, bats, Jesus Christ Lizards, deer and a Blue Morpho butterfly flying peacefully by us! Yes, the park was crowded, yes, trampled on by man, yes, noisy, BUT, beautiful with incredible scenery and beaches! I loved it for its beauty!! The kids and husband could have done without the tour but I'm glad we did it.

We stayed down by the beach after the tour, had lunch at the Marlin (good food, good service,just took awhile), then back to the park for the afternoon to body surf and relax. I do need to tell you though, we chose to stay at the first beach inside the park where the waves were good so we could bodysurf plus it wasn't crowded, but one wave picked me up and dropped me so hard on my butt that I still have a gigantic black bruise on my behind. Ouch, ouch, ouch!!! My sons said it happened because I didn't "go" with the wave, tried to stay put instead. So, remember to "go" with the waves!!!

We bought a few trinkets at the beach and found them to be the cheapest in CR and the same quality as the ones in the gift shops we visited. Wished I had purchased more there.

That night we went to El Avion, and the boys loved it. I admit, I did too. I had a delicious shrimp and pasta dish! It was pouring out and as we finished up dinner, all the lights went out!! No worries though, I had my trusty flashlight!!!

Day 3
Yesterday, while at the Marlin Restaurant, we booked an ATV tour. It was the boy's idea but we all ended up loving it. The owner is an American who has only been in Quepos for a year and a half but is very motivated to turn his newly purchased land into a full fledged adventure park! He believes Quepos is going to "explode" in the next couple of years since a huge marina large enough dock cruise ships is in the works. So quick, hurry to see Quepos before all this happens!

I rode tandem because I didn't want to pay for another ATV plus it was fun to sit back and let my husband do the driving. We were with a small group of young adults (20's) on the tour. It was awesome, zipping through the African Palm trees, the teak forests, splashing through huge mud puddles to a small village then over to a river with
a waterfall on ATV's being led by a Costa Rican named Marcus. What was so amazing to all of us was how the Ticos would come out of their houses or stop what they were doing to wave and smile as we were riding through their land!! They genuinely seemed thrilled to watch us on these large noisy machines!!! After riding, we drove to a restaurant called Leon (dinner included in the tour), on the main road outside of Quepos, and had a wonderful Costa Rican dinner. Fish, beans and rice, plus salad. Marcus sat next to me, and talked about his family, Costa Rica and his desire to visit the US. What an education for me!!! For the 4 of us, with me riding tandem this tour (ATV's and dinner) cost a little over $300.00 plus tip. It was great though, and we definitely recommend Adrenaline ATV tours!

Later that night, since it was our last night in Manuel Antonio, we decided to go to the casino across the road. I don't play much, but my husband and sons had a great time playing the slots! It's a very small casino, many people probably wouldn't like it, but my husband and sons won a total of $500.00! Plus, free drinks for all!!! And, my 16 yr old son had a great time since he's never even been able to stop in front of a slot machine in Vegas!!! Oh no, what have we created?????? Oh yes, one more thing. During the morning while waking up the boys at 10 AM we experienced an earthquake. I'm not sure, but the people around us said it was a 4 to 5! But, no worries, there aren't any skyscrapers in Manuel Antonio!!
"I feel the Earth move, under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down!"

Next post (hopefully soon) Day 4 in Arenal
Jayneann is offline  
Old Jan 6th, 2006, 02:26 PM
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Sounds like a great start to your trip... can't wait to read more!
msteacher is offline  
Old Jan 7th, 2006, 05:02 AM
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Hi !!! Great report so far . Glad Villas Del Parque worked out , I remember you were uncertain , so that was a bonus !! ( And Yes , the views are simply the best and we stayed there on our honeymoon ) We never found the road conditions bad either , but I'm from eastern Canada .... lol . Keep it coming , we're loving it !
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Old Jan 7th, 2006, 06:00 AM
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Can't wait to hear the rest of your report. WE are leaving in two weeks with our 12 and 17 year old. We will end up our trip in MA, possibly Rafiki with our last night stay at Orquideas Inn.

First how long was the drive back from MA to San Jose?
How was Orquideas? Did you do some activities from this hotel.

Thanks
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Old Jan 7th, 2006, 11:43 AM
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Hola,
Glad you're all enjoying the report! I promise to write the rest of it tomorrow.

twbuss,
Yes, we ended up hiring Jonathan from Wady Tours which is located in the office of Orquideas Inn, to take our sons surfing. Wady and the gang are great, so helpful!! MA to SJ approx 3hours!
Jayne
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Old Jan 7th, 2006, 11:56 AM
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Thanks for the response. Will be looking forward to the next segment.
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Old Jan 9th, 2006, 07:51 PM
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ttt
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Old Jan 12th, 2006, 08:07 PM
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Great trip report, Jayneann. Thanks! Had planned to visit in person in 2005; unfortunately couldnt do it yet. Meanwhile, detailed trip reports like yours provide pleasant vicarious armchair traveling.
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Old Jan 13th, 2006, 03:17 AM
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Thanks CaliNurse!! I love reading other people's reports too! Hopefully you'll get to Costa Rica soon, such a beautiful country!!!
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Old Jan 20th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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Hi Jayneann, thank you for posting a very informative trip report. We will be traveling to Manuel Antonio and have reservations at the Villas El Parque so it was nice to see a positive recent review of the property. Would you please tell me what type of rooms you and your family stayed in there? We have reserved the Large Suite and the Deluxe Jr. Suite. Were the suites spacious? Thank you!
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Old Jan 20th, 2006, 10:20 AM
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Hi Vblcrazed,
Did you reserve the upper dupplex villa? Sounds like you did! We chose the lower dupplex villa because it was closer to the pool, but in retrospect, the upper is better since it's street level and has better views.

Did you read the latest tripadvisor report on Villa El Parque? I haven't posted there yet, but thought the person who just wrote one in Dec. did an accurate job describing El Parque.

In my opinion, the rooms are spacious and the balcony with the incredible view was wonderful! But, the pillows and sheets were old, and the place needs updating. Remember to bring an alarm clock since there weren't any. Don't go expecting a 3 or 4 star hotel, you would have to pay much more for that, but instead think VIEWS, TV, A/C and a great location for a reasonable price! We ended up enjoying it alot!!

FYI, we didn't have a car and used taxi's but the drivers didn't seem to know the place by its name, only by Agua Azul, the restaurant there, which also has incredible views and a nice, friendly bar with good food! Let me know if you have other questions!
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Old Jan 20th, 2006, 03:44 PM
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Jayneann, thank you so much for all of the valuable info. We were really quite hesitant about booking Villas El Parque but all the other "reasonably priced" properties were booked or they could not accomodate our party (we have 6 adults and 4 children). We booked both the Upper and the Lower Duplexx Villas. Hopefully that will be enough room...

Did you get a chance to vist Villa Nicholas or Hotel Espadilla by any chance?

Thanks...
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Old Jan 20th, 2006, 04:14 PM
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Sorry, but I didn't visit the other hotels. So you have 4 rooms in all? How many beds? Just be aware that Villa El Parque isn't a resort and the pool is small, but the balcony and rooms should be able to accommodate all of you when relaxing together. The inside doors open up to the balcony, which is a nice feature! It must have been really great when first built. I understand your hesitation, can't tell you how many times I thought staying somewhere else, but in the end it was good for 3 nights. How many nights are you staying there?
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Old Jan 20th, 2006, 05:24 PM
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Actually that's a good point- I should call Villas El Parque and ask re: the # of beds in each suite. We will be there for 3 nights and have not really decided what to do while we are there yet. I figure we'll go to the National Park and play everything else by ear...
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Old Jan 30th, 2007, 03:23 PM
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ttt for Sue
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