Costa Rica advice

Old May 1st, 2000, 06:49 PM
  #1  
Cynthia
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Costa Rica advice

We're going on our honeymoon to Costa Rica in late October. I have been researching a ton and have decided that we'll focus our 12 day trip on 3 areas: Arenal/Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and Osa/Lapa Rios. Not sure what order to do those three areas in.

I'm trying to decide whether to use a tour company, or whether to book things on our own. I want to save money on hotels by not paying tour company commission, but also don't want to have to stress about things like lost reservations, internal travel gone wrong, etc. so I think I may phone up a company. Any advice on that part?

As for hotels, I'm thinking the following:
San Jose: Grano de Oro
Arenal: Arenal Observatory Lodge or Tabacon Hot Springs Resort
Manuel Antonio: Si Como No
Osa Peninsula: Lapa Rios

Also, by deciding on Manuel Antonio I feel a little disappointed that we won't get to stay at Punta Islita or Villa Calletas, both of which look fantastic! Any thoughts? Would you pick one of those two hotels/areas over Manuel Antonio/Si Como No?

I think we'll rent a car (4-wheel) for the Arenal/Monteverde portion, and fly to the other 2 areas. Any advice on travel?

Thanks!
Cynthia
 
Old May 2nd, 2000, 03:13 AM
  #2  
JoAnn
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We stayed at the Grano de Oro and enjoyed it very much--old Victorian house and a wonderful restaurant! Long walk to downtown, but possible. Other times we have stayed at the Bougainvillea just outside of San Jose and dearly loved it. Great Staff, excellent restaurant, gorgeous gardens and flowers. We would stay there again and probably book our tours through them, reserving a room for between trips. Your trip sounds wonderful. We enjoyed Monteverde with all the hummingbirds and hiking trails. Go in early, as they still might only let 100 people in at a time. Be sure to hike to the third beach at Manuel Antonio, as that is the prettiest. Have a wonderful time.
 
Old May 2nd, 2000, 08:30 AM
  #3  
lisa
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Hi Cynthia. We had 13 nights in CR -- almost the same amount of time as you -- and divided it up as follows:
3 nights Villa Caletas (loved it!)
3 nights Si Como No (liked it a lot)
3 nights Lapa Rios (the best!)
1 night Tabacon Resort (didn't like it)
2 nights Arenal Lodge (liked it)
1 night Vista del Valle (loved it!).

For us, we determined the order based on our flight arrival time. For example, our flight arrived at 1 pm, and we knew that it takes 4 hours to get to Arenal/Monteverde, and allowing for time to get through customs, etc. we did not want to be driving in the dark. We also did not want to "waste" our first night there by staying in or near San Jose. Villa Caletas was within reasonable driving distance from the airport (it took about 1.5-2 hours to get there), so we chose that as our first destination and stayed for three nights, which was fantastic and I highly recommend it as a romantic honeymoon location. I can't tell you how fabulous the views are -- get a villa with an ocean-view balcony. Also, the restaurant there is unbelieveably great, and so is the service. Manuel Antonio was a logical second destination as it was only about an hour down the coast from Villa Caletas. Stayed 3 nights there as well. Si Como No is less romantic than Villa Caletas, although it does have lovely views, helpful staff, and a couple of very good restaurants -- but the opportunities for wildlife viewing there are extraordinary and Manuel Antonio National Park is a don't miss. Osa was a logical third destination since there were direct flights from Quepos to Puerto Jimenez (arranged by Lapa Rios). Lapa Rios is an incredible place and it ranks #1 on my list of favorite places in Costa Rica. After Lapa Rios we flew back to San Jose, rented a car and drove the four hours to Tabacon Lodge. Bad service there, generic hotel rooms, nothing special or romantic about it. The Hot Springs are lovely -- but crowded and loud -- but you don't need to stay at Tabacon to enjoy the hot springs. Arenal Observatory Lodge gives you a great view of the volcano but is extremely remote and isolated due to its location down a long bumpy dirt road. Once you're there, you won't want to go anywhere else because it's a pain to drive in and out. Frankly, if you have to shortchange anything on your list or leave it out entirely, I would choose Arenal & Tabacon. The other locations you mention are far more spectacular and romantic for a honeymoon. There are no top-notch accommodations around Arenal as far as I could tell; certainly nothing that compares with Villa Caletas or Lapa Rios. Also, we did not have time to get to Monteverde so I can't help you with that, although we heard good things about El Sapo Dorado. Keep in mind that Arenal & Monteverde areas are much cooler and wetter than the other areas mentioned.

We reserved all of these ourselves and had no problems. Used the internet/e-mail and fax for the most part, and also used phone for Villa Caletas as they did not seem to get their e-mails as regularly.

What time does your flight arrive in San Jose? If it arrives late you may want to spend your first night at Grano de Oro (heard great things about it, but we were less interested in seeing San Jose than we were in the countryside so we stayed at Vista del Valle instead, which we loved and I would highly recommend that for a honeymoon as well -- spectacular views and service, lovely rooms, and good food). Otherwise go straight to Villa Caletas for 3 nights. We had Villa Caletas send a driver to pick us up at the airport and drive us to Villa Caletas, which worked out great -- I think it was around $85 total, but still cheaper than renting a car for the three days we were there, and we didn't particularly feel a need for a car there, although we did take a taxi into Jaco one night for dinner which was not expensive.

Then go to Manuel Antonio for 3 nights. We hired a driver to drive us there as well -- again, cheaper than renting a car. Once there, taxis are super inexpensive. Make sure you get a guided tour of the park -- it's worth the money. You will see tons of wildlife. Also, I agree with the above poster that third beach is the best there.

Then go to Lapa Rios for at least 3 nights (if you have any extra nights, spend them here). Best money you'll ever spend.

End up at Grano de Oro (or Vista del Valle) for the last night before you fly out.

Those are my recommendations. Good luck and have a fantastic time.
 
Old May 2nd, 2000, 06:28 PM
  #4  
Cynthia
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Thanks for the replies! This is such a great resource. Lisa, I read your trip report a while back, it was so helpful. We don't arrive the first day until 8pm, so we'll stay that night in San Jose, and I think it's a good idea to stay the last night there as well.

How many days do you think is good for Arenal? I talked to a tour operator today and I didn't realize it was so far from Arenal to Monteverde (he said 6 hours in the rainy season!), so that sort of changes things. We'll have to stay a couple nights in each to make it worthwhile, but maybe we will go white water rafting or something fun like that. We also want to do a canopy tour in Monteverde.

He also seemed to recommend Punta Islita over Villa Calletas, if we decide not to go to Manuel Antonio.

Grano de Oro seems great for San Jose, we won't spend a day in the city but just a couple nights, so I think it will be nice. I think it's more expensive to use the tour operator for the hotel reservations, so that's my only hesitation. But I won't have to worry about a thing -- so it is sort of comforting.

Thanks,
Cynthia

PS - keep the advice coming, this is great!
 
Old May 3rd, 2000, 10:28 AM
  #5  
lisa
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Hi again Cynthia. As you are figuring out, planning a trip to CR is a huge logistical challenge, particularly if your time is limited and you want to go to several different regions. You are correct that the distance between Monteverde and Arenal is not long but the travel time is. People talk about going to Monteverde and Arenal like it is one region but it's really not, it's two, because it essentially takes the better part of a day to get from one to the other. That is why we ultimately decided we did not have time to go to Monteverde, although I would have liked to very much. I have heard some people make it in 4 hours in the dry season but even then it is a long and difficult drive and you need to allow extra time in case something goes wrong. Frankly, if you only have 12 nights in CR and you have to spend two of those in San Jose, I am not sure you can really go to four different places in 10 days and have a relaxing honeymoon. If you have only two nights to spend in any particular place, you really only get one day to enjoy there because the day you arrive is mostly travel time spent getting there, and the day you leave will be spent travelling to the next place, so it is kind of a waste. I would choose only three places outside of San Jose if I were you, and as I said before, Arenal would not be at the top of that list for me personally, and I'm not sure Monteverde would either just because for a honeymoon the accommodations options in Arenal and Monteverde simply can't compare to what is available in other areas of Costa Rica. Punta Islita does look like a wonderful place to stay -- I remember looking at their website when planning our trip and it does seem like a great place to spend part of a honeymoon. But I haven't talked to anyone who's been there so I don't know how it compares with Villa Caletas. We ultimately decided that Guanacaste and Nicoya were not as high on our list of priorities as the central Pacific coast (we heard Guanacaste/Nicoya were drier, less lush, not as picturesque, and had less wildlife), and in addition it seemed less accessible to the other places we were going than Villa Caletas & Manuel Antonio.

Normally I would recommend saving the Osa/Lapa Rios portion of your trip until last, because I truly believe that anyplace you go after that is going to seem anticlimactic. However, that presents a logistical problem, because at least at the time of year we went to CR, the only flights into Puerto Jimenez departed in the morning and departed only out of either San Jose or Quepos. In other words, unless something has changed since we were there (which is certainly possible), I'm not sure there is any way you can leave Punta Islita or Arenal/Monteverde on any given morning and get to Lapa Rios on the same day, aside from chartering your own plane. I think because of the flight times you would have to drive or fly back to San Jose or Quepos, spend the night, and then leave for Lapa Rios the following morning. And I doubt you want to waste another night in the middle of your honeymoon travelling back to San Jose only to leave again -- it's just not very efficient. So if you really have your heart set on going to Arenal, Monteverde, and Punta Islita, then I think you may have to do Osa/Lapa Rios first (fly from San Jose to Puerto Juarez the first morning after you arrive in San Jose), which is kind of too bad because I'm not sure the rest of CR can measure up to that. Then after spending your time at Lapa Rios, you could fly back to San Jose and rent a car and drive off to wherever you want to go next. By the way, if you are renting a car at that point you will need to arrange with the car rental company to have the car delivered to Pavas airport, because the rental car places are only at the international airport, not Pavas (having the car delivered to Pavas worked out fine for us).

Hope this helps. Obviously feel free to throw all this advice out the window if you want -- everybody is different, and it's your trip and you deserve to have it exactly the way you want it. Happy planning!
 
Old May 3rd, 2000, 02:39 PM
  #6  
Beth
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Cynthia,

My husband and I are going to Costa Rica in June and 2 of the places we are going to are Arenal and Monteverde. From Arenal we are crossing the lake and then taking 4x4 to Monteverde and this is suppose to cut the travel time down to 2-3 hours. You may want to look into this.

Since you have chosen to travel to Costa Rica, I am sure you are going because you want to experence the natural beauty. So I would not discount Arenal/Monteverde because there is not 5-star accomodations there. Everyone I have talked to can not say enough about both locations and there are plenty of great places to stay. We are using a travel agency called Costa Rica Connection, which some friends used for their March trip to Costa Rica. We told them where we wanted to go, stay etc. and they took care of the logistics. If you want more information, please email me.
 
Old May 3rd, 2000, 06:19 PM
  #7  
Cynthia
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Beth,

That's the agent I contacted, recommended by someone who used them for their honeymoon. Thanks for mentioning that. He had so much info and advice, and is sending a proposed itinerary. That should help a lot, to see it broken down by someone other than myself! It's great to get opinions of people who have been to CR, I think we need to decide what is important to us and what we want to skip.

Thanks! Maybe I will email you to find out how your experience with Costa Rica Connection is!

Lisa, thanks for the advice. I'll print this all out for my fiance and see what he thinks.
 
Old May 15th, 2000, 06:57 PM
  #8  
Jeff
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Cynthia--Stay at the Tabacon Hot Springs resport while at Arenal. You will not be disappointed. You have beautiful views of the volcano and there are all these swimming areas at the resort that are really neat. They also had a nice resturant and swim up bad. And get a massage while there. You will not be disappointed with this resort!!
 
Old May 18th, 2000, 09:24 AM
  #9  
Cynthia
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Jeff, I've heard mixed reviews about the Tabacon resort. We plan to stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge now.

Is it true that you have to make a reservation to go to the hot springs, even if you are staying at the resort?
 
Old Jul 13th, 2000, 09:42 AM
  #10  
Beth
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Hi Cynthia,

We just returned from our Costa Rica trip, which was arranged by Costa Rica Connection. It was a great trip and everything went very smoothly. All of our transfer drivers were always on time (usually arrived early and very nice). We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. It is a wonderful lodge, with lots of hiking trails, a wonderful view of Arenal lake and the Volcano is so close you feel like you could reach out and touch it. On the down side, the lava is flowing on the other side and you can not see it from the lodge and it is a $40.00 taxi ride to where you can see it. Tabocon Hot Springs was a blast and try to stay for lunch or dinner, the food was great. I don't know where you are planning to stay in Monteverde. We stayed at the Monteverde Lodge and we really enjoyed this lodge, however, we felt the food was very overpriced. we went to dinner at the Hotel El Sapo Dorado. The food was fantastic and we walked up to the cabins and they seemed very nice. We did not stay at Si Como No, however, we did have dinner there one night and it was fantastic. One thing you must do while you are in Costa Rica is go white water rafting, we went while we were in Manual Antonio and is was a blast. Let me know if you have any other questions, I would be happy to fill you in. Oh and I would love to hear what you think of Lapa Rios, we are thinking of returning to Costa Rica next year for an overnight rafting trip and to go down to the Osa Pennisula. Have a great trip, you will absolutely love Costa Rica.
 
Old Jul 13th, 2000, 09:57 AM
  #11  
Beth
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Cynthia,

I forgot to mention that we did the boat/4x4 from Arenal to Monteverde. The total time was 2 1/2 hours. I would definately recommend this. The scenery was beautiful.

And our first night in Costa Rica we stayed in Grano de Oro, it was very nice. Our last night we stayed at Xandari Plantation, it is in Alejula. Which is about 15 minutes from the airport. This place is great and very romantic. There are 16 private villas, with excellent views of the city below. Xandari and some private hiking trails too. Highly recommend it.
 
Old Jul 21st, 2000, 02:25 PM
  #12  
Judy
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My husband and I went to Costa Rica last September. Really enjoyed the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Be sure to take the guided rainforest hike offered by the lodge. Our guide was excellent. I would not recommend Tabacon - we found the people there to be rude, and we talked to several people whose cars were broken into in the parking lot. We did have a very good dinner there, though. We went to a lower key Hot Springs nearby (sorry - can't remember the name) that was recommended by our Arenal guide. This place was less than half the price of Tabacon and had a swim up bar and an awesome view of the erupting volcano. The Arenal lodge also has an evening volcano-watching excursion which takes about as close to the fireworks as you would want. We took some local rum and fruit juice along with us for the show.
I also highly recommend the overnight rafting trip on the Pacuare River with Rios Tropicales if you can squeeze it into your trip. You stay in a Gilligan's Island type village - we got our own "hut" - very romantic with the rain falling that night.
 
Old Jul 23rd, 2000, 03:48 PM
  #13  
Micah
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Just an update -- there ARE flights from SJ to Puerto Jimenez leaving around 11:30 in the afternoon. I just booked one for next month. So if you leave REALLY early, it should be possible to get from the Arenal area to Osa in one day.
 

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