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Costa Rica: First family trip itinerary...Comments, please?

Costa Rica: First family trip itinerary...Comments, please?

Old Dec 4th, 2004, 02:37 AM
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Costa Rica: First family trip itinerary...Comments, please?

I'm planning the itinerary for our first family trip to Costa Rica. We need a trip that is comfortable enough for me, adventurous enough for my son and 2 daughters (between ages 17 and 23), and that will satisfy my husband, who is a biologist.

I welcome comments on the itinerary and hotels, and any suggestions. Here's what I have so far. I need to buy the airline tickets soon and then book the hotels. So everything is flexible at this point...We're going in June for about 2 weeks. We'll need 2 rooms since we have 5 people.

Itinerary:
Fly to San Jose. Spend 1 night in San Jose or just outside of San Jose.
(Possible hotels: Hotel Alta; Hotel Le Bergerac; Melia Cariari; Peace Lodge (expensive); Vista Del Valle Plantation Inn.)

Rent a 4-wheel drive. Drive to Monteverede Cloud Forest and Arenal volcano. Which one first?! Any advice?
Monteverde Cloud Forest: 3 nights. Arenal volcano: 2 nights.

Monteverde plans: Spend 3 nights, which gives us 2 full days, one day to spend together exploring cloud forest, 1 day for husband, son, and daughters to do a Canopy tour. (I'm afraid of heights but they will love it, I think!)
Possible hotels: Hotel El Sapo Dorado;Hotel Fonda Vela; Monteverde Lodge.)

Arenal plans: Spend 2 nights. Possible hotels: Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa; Arenal Observatory Lodge.

CAN ANYONE TELL ME HOW LONG IT TAKES TO DRIVE BETWEEN Monteverde and Arenal? And which would you do first?

Next: Drive down to Manuel Antonio for 4 nights. My son will have to fly home from there after 2 nights to return to work. (fly out of Quepos? or get a taxi to San Jose?) The rest of the family will remain in Manuel Antonio for 4 nights. (Possible hotel: Hotel Si Como No) Plans include seeing monkeys hopefully in the Manuel Antonio national park; enjoying the beach; a little night-life at Mar y Sombra on the beach for dancing, a drink, etc.

CAN ANYONE TELL ME HOW LONG IT TAKES TO DRIVE from either Monteverde or Arenal to Manuel Antonio?

Next: Either fly home out of Quepos (Quepos to San Jose to USA), but where would we return the rental car, and do I really want to handle flying in one of those small planes, which make me nervous; or drive to San Jose, spend a couple nights in San Jose, and fly home out of San Jose.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE from Manuel Antonio to San Jose?

I would appreciate comments and advice on our plans. It's great to talk to people who have been there. Comments on hotels are also appreciated. We'll need 2 rooms.

Also, Alajuela, near San Jose, is one of the areas listed for greater risk of malaria. But there are a couple of recommended hotels near Alajuela, such as Peace Lodge, Xandari Resort and Spa, Vista del Valle Plantation Inn. Are these hotels really in a malaria risk area? I cannot find more specific info about why Alajuela and Heredia (near San Jose) are listed as having greater risk of malaria. Has anyone heard of the "cantons of Los Chiles, Alajuela province"? Also listed for greater malaria risk.

Ideal hotels would be near interesting nature areas, but would also have something to do at the hotel, such as a pool, jacuzzi, a good restaurant...This way, sometimes my husband could go out on his own and there would still be something for me to do at the hotel. Would also be helpful if my son and daughters could meet other young people at the hotel, but this isn't essential, as the primary point of the trip is family togetherness. I just want everyone to be happy.

Thanks so much!


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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 04:58 AM
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First of all, forget about the malaria risk. Alajuela and Heredia provinces cover a large territory particularly up toward Nicaragua and there may be some little out of the way places where this is a problem; but I can assure you that Alajuela town where the airport is located is not going to be a problem for you--nor will you need to worry about that at any of your locations. Costa Rica is actually a very progressive little country--you can feel safe there when it comes to health concerns!

Given your itinerary, I would choose a hotel there in Alajuela for your first night. Xandari, Vista del Valle are nice places as is Peace Lodge, but you can find very nice accomodations for less money--especially since you are just overnighting. I'd suggest a place called Villa Bonita about 5 minutes from the airport (San Jose is 20 minutes away the other direction from where you will be driving). Very easy to find once you leave the airport and pick up your rental vehicle.

I stayed there recently and it is a little B&B owned by a very friendly young Costa Rica couple whose names are Humberto and Carmen. It has about 6 bedrooms with private baths and hot water and they will provide a very nice breakfast the next morning. Lovely couple. $50 per night, or thereabouts. hotelvillabonita.com

Also I'd recommend Las Orquideas. It is a fun place with a great bar for hanging out in the evening. Very nice grounds, a little harder to find about 10 minutes from the airport and on the edge of town, but a great place to stay. Also a good breakfast.

I'd suggest Arenal first (about 2.5 hours from where you will be); then Monteverde. We liked Arenal Paraiso, so can't comment on your choices. You can search this board for comments. Same with Monteverde.

From Monteverde it will take you about 5 hours to get to Manuel Antonio. We loved Si Como No! Manuel Antonio to San Jose is about 3 hours and I'd suggest returning the day before your departure flight. Same hotel.

When in Manuel Antonio, don't book your park guide through the hotel. It costs twice as much to do that. You can go down to the park entrance (by shuttle)and hire a guide for half the price. For 5 people, you'll save over $100 by doing it this way. Just a heads up!

You could fly back to San Jose from Quepos, but since you have a car, this seems like a lot of unnecessary expense. They will pick up your car, but charge to do so. The drive back takes you through some gorgeous countryside (go through Orotina)--I think you would enjoy it!

As for your son, he would need to catch that flight from Quepos. Also, I don't have experience getting from Arenal to Monteverde. I'm guessing 3 hours or so. Perhaps a little more considering rough roads.

You're going to love Costa Rica!
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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 05:11 AM
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We stayed at the Fonda Vela in Monteverde in January and loved it. It is out of town, but it isn't that much of a town to start with and only a short drive away. Although driving can be quite an adventure in the Monteverde area. There was a place across the road from the Fonda Vela that had a club with music and dancing, plus some shops and restaurants in walking distance. We just used taxis to get around--$5 to $10 to get anywhere in the area. The hotel restaurant is great.

In the Arenal area, I wouldn't recommend the Observatory Lodge if you want to maximize your chance to see the volcano putting on its show at night. The Observatory Lodge is now on the wrong side of the volcano to see lava flow. The problem is that you might get a spectacular eruption of lava at midnight-if you're at the Observatory Lodge you'll never know it happened. If you are in a hotel on the other side, they will wake you up to see it if you ask them to do so.

From our personal experience, two of the best situated hotels are the Montana de Fuego and the Arenal Paraiso. We stayed at the Paraiso and enjoyed it a lot.

We were lucky with the volcano putting on spectacular shows both nights we were there--the first night it started at about 1 AM. We had requested to be awakened, and they send a guy to knock on our door "Volcan! Volcan!" Opened the door and there was Arenal with an orange-red halo at the top, and fireworks shooting up into the air, lava flowing bright and hot down the slopes. Deep, booming explosions. It was so astounding, so unlike anything we'd ever seen before that it didn't even look real. We stayed up 2 hours watching--ooooooo, ahhhhhhhhhh. We watched outdoors, sitting and rocking in the glassed in porch, and from our bed through the large room window. Oh, we gave the fellow who woke us up a tip--I think that it's a big part of their earnings.
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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 09:21 AM
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As Rufus pointed out the Arenal Observatory Lodge is on the wrong side if there is an eruption. On the other hand, your biologist husband might really appreciate the exquisite grounds and trails, with abundant opportunities to spot birds, butterflies, coatis and other wildlife. I did a review of this lodge awhile back. To sum up, we loved the grounds,volcano {no, not lava} views, wildlife-spotting opportunities our room and the restaurant. Disorganized management and tours made the visit more stressful than it should have been. That said, I would return - it's a beautful spot.
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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 12:09 PM
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Can we agree to a moratorium on mosquito malaise melodrama?
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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 02:40 PM
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Thanks everyone! Great info!

Shillmac, you are always full of sound advice and support...muchas gracias.

RufusTFirefly, your description of the experience of being awakened in the middle of the night to see the Volcano "fireworks" is sooo exciting! I do realize it's just luck whether we'll get to see it or not, but it's worth the chance...I'm going to look into Arenal Paraiso hotel, which I've heard mentioned a lot, and the Montana de Fuego too... If we get lucky, as you did, seeing that Volcano erupt at night will be one of those shared family experiences everyone will remember...

Shillmac, I'm thinking Hotel Si Como No in Manuel Antonio sounds good...thanks for sharing your experiences. I'll look at the hotels you recommended for San Jose. Since you recommend we see Arenal first after San Jose, which route would you recommend driving, considering it will be June and the rainy season, and we'll have a 4 wheel drive?

Eeek, the 5-hour drive from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio sounds a little long with 5 people piled into a 4-wheel drive. Can anybody recommend a nice hotel stop for an overnight between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio?

Thanks so much!

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Old Dec 4th, 2004, 09:27 PM
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The route to Arenal from Alajuela is very simple (remember, Alajuela is where the airport is located and is about 20 min. west of San Jose--toward Arenal). Go buy one of those wonderful laminated Berndston & Berndston maps--Barnes and Noble--you'll be glad to have it.

Monteverde to Manuel Antonio does seem like a long drive, but you can break it up with a couple of stops. Be sure to stop at the Rio Tarcoles to see the crocodiles. Take turns looking so someone can stay with the vehicle. Many thefts have been reported here as it is a busy tourist stop. I really wouldn't spend a night between these two locations. The time goes very quickly as you will be oohing and aahing over the scenery! There really isn't a good place to stay until you get closer to Manuel Antonio and there isn't any need to stop when you have only 1.5 hours to go!

Don't worry too much about June being the rainy season. Although it is possible, that doesn't necessarily mean it will rain a lot---likely just a light rain for a bit in the afternoon.
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 12:33 AM
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Shillmac, gracias for the good advice. I'll look for a Berndston & Berndston map at Barnes and Nobles...I have looked in a couple other bookstores but couldn't spot a Costa Rica map. There's one attached to the back of one of my 3 guidebooks, but it's not laminated.

In Italy we found it very useful to have more than one map.

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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 05:37 AM
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I'm sure the one you have is fine. I've seen those. We like the B&B because it does get a LOT of use and tends to hold up a little better. Most of the time, you can find it at B & N. It can also be ordered online. We've used ours for several driving "tours" and it is just now starting to show a little wear. I have another one that I keep at home with all the routes we've been on traced in highlighter. Fun to keep track of our happy trails. . .
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 02:23 PM
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Shillmac, how many trips to Costa Rica have you taken? You are generous to spend some time advising us first timers.

I had a wonderful first trip to Italy with all the great advice I got on-line from experienced travellers! I'm sure Costa Rica will turn out great too, despite all my anxieties.
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 07:37 PM
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It is about 4-5hrs to drive to Monteverde from Arenal via Tilaran.

For your first night your family might enjoy Vista del Valle. You will be able to get out and stretch your legs and it is far enough out of the city to feel like you are on vacation. You could possibly have time to see the La Paz Waterfall gardens or Poas the next morning before heading over to Arenal. Doka Coffee Plantation is nearby also if you want to see coffee growing (you will see plenty of that!) Keep in mind that you might get into San Jose in Plenty of time to make the 2 1/2hr trip to Arenal the day you arrive.

If you can squeeze an extra day in and you get in early on your first day, you might think about your first two nights in the Sarapiqui area. La Quinta de Sarapiqui is a nice place. It would take just about the same amount of time to get there as it would to Arenal. This would give you a day to check out the Organization for Tropical Studies at La Selva. Prior arrangements have to be made to visit and get a tour. Even as members we have to have a guide with us. This might be something that would interest your husband. For those of you not interested in that, there is white water rafting in the area as well as a slow boat wildlife tour. Another thing you could do that would be about an hour away towards the Caribbean coast and would make your trip report just a little different is to visit a sloth rescue facility. They also have a lodge there.http://www.ogphoto.com/aviarios/about.htm

With suggestions to hopefully "satisfy" your husband you can then go on your merry way and enjoy the many "tourist" things there are in CR. It is a wonderful country with wonderful things for everyone.

I second Arenal Paraiso. Zip line (although I would recommend one of the Sky Trek ones either in Arenal or Monteverde for some real excitement). Do a search. Someone just recently commented on the new one at Arenal. It also has a heated swim up pool/bar with an awesome view of the volcano. You could take a drive up to the Observatory lodge to see what they have. I found their little museum with seismographs and pictures interesting-just trying to keep hubby happy .

Monteverde is about a 4-5hr drive. Be prepared for a rough trip.
El Sapo Dorado is a great place in Monteverde and is a bit more centrally located. The Fonda Vela, Balmor, El Establo, all great places too. El Establo is within walking distance of the butterfly garden and you could actually walk into town from there. A little bit of a hike but not too bad. Beautiful views of the Nicoya Peninsula from there also. I wasn't crazy about the Monteverde Lodge but it is in a very good location. La Cascada is a fun disco. Some salsa lessons beforehand would come in handy.

It is about a 5-6hr drive to Manuel Antonio. If the "kids" wear their bathing suits they might enjoy a quick stop in Jaco to break things up. Plenty of places to eat by the beach. Try to park where you can see the car. It is never advisable to go off and leave things in it.

You can arrange a drop off of your car in Manuel Antonio and fly back although there will most likely be a fee. This trip can get slowed down by large trucks going over the mountains so I would allow 3 1/2-4hrs just to be safe.

I think you will be amazed at how easy a country Costa Rica is to get to know and how friendly the people can be. It will probably be a lot more developed than you think also.
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 07:56 PM
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Melissa5,
You must look into staying at The Lost Iquana Resort in Arenal. We just got back from there and it was wonderful. The View of the volcano is perfect, we saw lava fall a couple of nights. The rooms are huge! They have hot tubs out on your private balcony which we loved. And the food was the best we had in Costa Rica. The staff treated us like family and were so helpful in planning our excursions. The Hanging Bridges are walking distance from the hotel and the Canopy Tour is only a 10 min drive. I suggest going to The SkyTram. It is newer than the others and the zip lines are great!!!! If you book these excersions w/ the lost iquana when you get there it is alot cheaper. (They don't take a commision off of the excursions like most of the other places)
The 5 hour drive from arenal to Quepos is not bad. We did it in one day, there is alot to see. And some place to stop and eat or just strech your legs along the way.
While in M.A. we went horse back riding and this was the best excursion that we did. If you are into that kind of thing, we went all threw the jungle and then to a waterfall were we swam. They then brought us to the owners home(which was so pretty) and they cooked us a lunch and served wine. You could also go swimming in ther pool or sit in the hottub while you were there. I think the name of the ranch was "Vinca Falmy". I will look it up and let you know. Book this in advance b/c it does book up fast. Have fun.
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Old Dec 5th, 2004, 08:00 PM
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sorry, i was wrong about the name of the horseback riding. It is Finca Valmy Tours. www.valmytours.com also the Lost Iguana website is www.lostiguanaresort.com
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Old Dec 6th, 2004, 02:53 AM
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Thanks for your comments on hotels. I can't find Arenal Paraiso anywhere in fodors or frommers guidebooks...in lonely planet there's one in Arenal called Hotel Tropical Paraiso...is that the same? does anyone have the web-site for the Arenal Paraiso which many people have mentioned?

Also,Danmin, is the Lost Iguana, Arenal, mentioned by any guidebooks? (I love my travel research!) Can't find that one either. I'll try the web-site you mentioned tomorrow.

Now it's time to sleep on all these details.
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Old Dec 6th, 2004, 04:02 AM
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Hi Melissa,
How's the planning coming? You can find AP at wwwarenalparaiso.com. The website has an e-mail contact address and probably a phone number as well. I didn't spend a lot of time on it, just typed a bit to see if it was there! Good luck!
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Old Dec 6th, 2004, 09:08 AM
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mellisa5,
I don't think you will find Lost Iguana in any quidebooks, it is brand new. Which is another thing we liked about it. Definitly, check out the website and if you have any questions about the hotel email the owner. She is so nice!!!!!! She is from Texas and moved to C.R. about 10 years ago. Let me know what you think.
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Old Dec 7th, 2004, 01:13 PM
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Hey there, just got back from Costa Rica... Here are a few quick thoughts, based on your questions:

-- We hired a van to drive us from the airport in San Jose to Monteverde for $100. Believe it's the same price up to 5 people, so you may want to consider that b/c driving in CR sucks.
-- In Monteverde we stayed at El Sapo Dorado and thought it was AMAZING! You get two large rooms & the grounds are very peaceful and well kept. The restaurant there is great. And you can walk to Johnny's Pizzeria, which was very nice. Cab to town was $5. I thought it was so perfect & peaceful!
-- We did a 3-hour guided hike of the Monteverde preserve. Recommend this as the guides carry a large telescope and help you find birds that you otherwise wouldn't see.
-- We did the Original Canopy tour later that same afternoon. FUN FUN!
-- Then we did a van/horseback/boat/taxi trip from Monteverde to Arenal. You can do it either direction. This is a GREAT way to get between the two places without having to drive. Cost is $65/pp.
-- We booked our van trip and all tours thru one company, which was on time and great: http://www.monteverdetours.com
-- In Arenal we stayed at Volcano Lodge. It was OK. I'd recommend Tabacon Hot Springs Resort and Spa (if you can afford, it's pricey) because the hot springs ROCKED! Forget Observatory Lodge, too far away from everything.
-- We chose Tamarindo over MA for the last leg of our trip, so that's the end of all I have to offer! Good luck!
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Old Dec 7th, 2004, 04:17 PM
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Danmin, I viewed the web-site for the Lost Iguana and I am so excited about it! It has a lot of things going for it. Since it's so new it's not in the guidebooks which makes me nervous. But the owner has a very informative web-site...actually the most helpful hotel web-site I've seen so far for Costa Rica..

And also, not only do the rooms look nice, but they have the right combination of beds that I'm looking for...

I would love to hear more from you about the Lost Iguana if you have time...Did you have a view of the volcano from your bed, as the owner claims on the web-site? Did you have a balcony with a view? Did you have a jacuzzi on your balcony...which room did you have, standard deluxe, luxury suite, or "owner's villa"?

Also, the resort is on a 100-acre property...are there natural areas to explore on the property, or has it all been chopped down and landscaped, grass planted, etc. Did you find any interesting insects/animals/plants on the property?

What about the convenience of the location? How far to get from the Lost Iguana into town at La Fortuna; to get to the entrance of the Arenal National Park? Good food at the resort and nearby?

Did you enjoy any of the on-site facilities...was there a nice pool or jacuzzi (I forget).

Muchas gracias for reading all these questions!
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Old Dec 7th, 2004, 04:50 PM
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We drove past Lost Iguana. It is located the farthest from La Fortuna, even past the turnoff for the Observatory Lodge. If you have a car, that is not a problem. If you use taxis, it may cost just a couple dollars more, which is not a big deal. I believe it's right next to the hanging bridges. I remember seeing a pack of coatis on the road right where the turnoff to Lost Iguana is. We saw monkeys everywhere. Hope that helps.
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Old Dec 8th, 2004, 05:54 AM
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Any ideas for a good spot to stop for lunch between Quepos and Arenal? Will be traveling dec 24th and are headed for Tabacon. 2 adults and 2 sons (15 & 19 ).
Thanks!
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