Costa Rica Honeymoon - 10 Day Trip Recap

Old Feb 1st, 2010, 06:59 PM
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Costa Rica Honeymoon - 10 Day Trip Recap

This is a little delayed due to me being crazy busy at work and in life in general, but here is a (very long) recap of my honeymoon in Costa Rica in December. Much thanks to everyone here for their reviews and recommendations!

Day One – Travel to San Jose
The first night we stayed at La Amistad in downtown San Jose. Our flight was scheduled to get in pretty late (and was delayed), so we wanted somewhere relatively close to crash. Plus it was convenient for our 6:30AM pick-up by the Pacuare Lodge rafting guide the next morning. La Amistad is very cute and the staff was very friendly. When one of the restaurant staff discovered we had no time to eat breakfast, she packed us to-go boxes with rice & beans, and we added fruit and toast. I’d recommend La Amistad.

Day Two and Three – Rafting on the Pacuare River
We got picked up early by one of the rafting guides for the Pacuare Lodge. We chose to do their 2-day, 1-night rafting trip. We drove for a few hours through the rainforest and stopped for breakfast at a restaurant on the way. After breakfast we made a pit stop at their take-out location to drop off any extra luggage people weren’t taking to the lodge. Then the drive got interesting. We basically went vertically down a mountain to get to the put-in for the river. There were other groups there – Rios Tropicales was one I remember. Our raft was us, one other young couple, and our guide, Antonio. Day one on the Pacuare is pretty easy – Class II and III rapids. We took it slow and also pulled off to the side at one point to hike up a low-grade waterfall to a beautiful natural pool which our group (~10 people) had all to ourselves. It was amazing. We got to the Pacuare Lodge around 12:30. The restaurant manager greeted us with fresh fruit juice and explained how things at the lodge work, then we had time to shower and change before lunch. Lunch is served buffet style (as is breakfast), and that day was pasta, salad, fruit, bread and cheese. Very yummy. We opted not to do any of the additional activities available for purchase (ziplining, canyoning, a hike to an indigenous village, etc) and instead asked Antonio where and when to gather for the included hike to a waterfall. He said: “You are the only ones who want to go, so meet me over there in 15 minutes, my friends?” We got a private hike, and Antonio was amazing at pointing out and explaining all sorts of plants and animals. We hiked to the top and then down to the bottom of a ~17 meter waterfall. And it was just us alone in the rainforest. Beautiful. You are assigned your own thatch-roof bungalow. There is no electricity except in the kitchen, so at night it’s all candlelight. It’s luxury in the middle of nowhere. (You do have your own bathroom with all the necessities.) That night we headed to the bar which is in a lounge area above the dining room and kitchen in the main lodge building. All open-air, of course. The bartender asked us what we wanted, and we asked if we could have some more of the same fruit juice we had earlier but with rum. The bartender said he didn’t have any juice, but Antonio was helping him and said he’d check in the kitchen. He was gone for quite a while, then all came back with a huge pitcher saying, “I couldn’t find any, but I made some for you, my friends.” Talk about service! Dinner was a gourmet meal under the stars. Antonio had asked us during lunch what choice we wanted to eat: Tuna or filet. I had the tuna and my husband had the steak. He loved the steak. The tuna was also excellent (a teriyaki version). Just delicious food.

The next morning we opted to take the bird watching hike. It was early – 6:00AM, but that’s when the animals are awake! We didn’t really hike too far – stuck around the lodge grounds, but they’re pretty extensive. We saw a toucan, sloth, many flycatchers, and more birds I can’t remember the names of. Also learned about many plants. Breakfast was the typical rice and beans, eggs, fruit, bread and cheese, all very good. Then it was time to start a full day of rafting! Day two on the Pacuare is more intense – Class III and IV rapids. Very exciting! You also go about 17 miles (the first day is only 5). We had the best time! You are with the same group as you came in with. Antonio was an amazing guide. Not only did we have no worries about flipping the raft, but he told us so many interesting things about the river, the area, the indigenous people who live there, and just Costa Rica in general. Once again there were multiple groups going down the river. We had a few opportunities to jump out and float along beside the raft in calm water, and the scenery is just amazing. Multiple waterfalls, canyons, you name it. We stopped for lunch at an area the Pacuare Lodge owns and the guides cooked chicken for us which we had with salad, fruit, bread, and homemade cookies. At one point during our trip Antonio was drenching us in a waterfall just following a rapid when another guide signaled to him that people had fallen out of a raft going through behind us. We stuck close to the rapid and had to rescue two people and multiple paddles. A whole raft of 6 people flipped. Nobody was hurt and they got them all back in, but while we were waiting we got to pull off to the side and hang out just looking at the waterfall and scenery. We got to the take-out and drove back to San Jose.

That night we ate at Café Mundo, which was quite delicious and not in the location it was supposed to be according to all the maps online and guidebooks. We found it by pure luck, but we’re glad we did! We stayed the night once again at La Amistad.
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 06:59 PM
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Day Four and Five – Arenal
We got picked up in the morning by Interbus for the drive to Arenal. This is the point at which I understood what everyone had been saying about the roads. The drive was uneventful until we were pretty close to Arenal and all of a sudden the driver exclaimed and pulled over. We could clearly see the volcano from a pretty good distance. Absolutely no cloud cover. The driver and a Tico passenger who makes the drive often for business both agreed that it’s almost never possible to see the volcano from where we were. We were so lucky during our trip. The weather that day was perfectly clear and we saw the entire volcano the entire day and night. Also, the volcano had been quiet for about a month until a few days before we arrived when it started up again. Again, so lucky! We chose to stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge because we wanted to take the chance of seeing lava and hearing the rumbling. We are so glad we did! We had a Smithsonian room with an amazing view. When we arrived just after lunch, a big eruption occurred. So cool! That afternoon we hiked the Old Lava Flow trail, which takes you to Rio Calientes. It was pretty steep, but not impossible. That night we went to the hot springs. We were stuck with Titoku since the agent we used to book at Tabacon made a mistake and they were full. I do not recommend Titoku. But on the bright side, we had the place almost to ourselves, which was nice. However, they did not mention beforehand that their dinner is actually at their partner hotel (???) which you have to take a shuttle to, and is pretty fancy. We felt very out of place as we were still damp from the springs. The food was pretty good, though. That night we sat on our porch and watched the lava for hours. There were some pretty fantastic eruptions. During one particularly big one, my husband said, “Should we be worried?” haha!

The next morning we took the guided hike to the waterfall. A very easy hike (mostly paved). The guide was excellent. We saw multiple toucans, howler monkeys, other birds, and fun plants like citronella. We had decided that we were going to hike Cerro Chato in the afternoon, so we were stuck with the AOL restaurant for lunch. The food is not bad, contrary to popular opinion, but it’s disappointing because the menu has mostly American items (burgers, hot dogs). We chose to eat casadas instead, which we liked. Before we set out we asked one of the managers how the hike was. He said, “It’s not easy, but if you think you can do it, you can.” With that ominous opinion we set out. The first part is easy – you walk along a road on the grounds. Great views of the volcano. Then we arrived at the base of Cerro Chato and saw an almost vertical “path”. My husband made us some walking sticks and we headed up. Definitely the most difficult climb I’ve done so far. We didn’t see anyone for a long time, then an older couple was coming down and we asked them how far it was to the crater. They told us something we hadn’t heard (and they hadn’t either): To get into the crater, you basically have to rock-climb down a vertical wall. They decided to not do it, and by the time we got there and looked down, we decided we’d never get back up. So if you decide to hike up, just be prepared for that part of the climb! Just seeing the lake and knowing we climbed up a dormant volcano was reward enough for us. The hike down wasn’t much easier as it was very slippery.

That night we went out to dinner in La Fortuna. We went to _________, an open-air restaurant where they serve you on giant leaves on giant plates. And you can also get a pina colada in a pineapple. It was good. We wandered the town for a little while after dinner, then got drinks at the Lava Lounge. There weren’t many people out, and the atmosphere was nice. That night it was more cloudy, but we could still see some lava and definitely heard it.
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 07:00 PM
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Day Six and Seven – Monteverde
We opted to do Delsafio’s (sp?) boat-horse-taxi transfer from Arenal to Monteverde. At first we were a little worried as we alone on the boat, but then were joined by a group of tourists. Then we got dropped off by ourselves on the side of the lake with four Ticos and a bunch of horses. Another group of tourists showed up on another boat, and we were off! The guides were great, and they were a lot less strict than horse tour guides in the US. We were allowed to shift positions in the pack when we wanted to, and even ran the horses a bunch of times. The view was beautiful, and it was tons of fun. At the end we took a taxi to Santa Elena, and found out how bad the roads can really be. While in Monteverde we stayed at the Rustic Lodge, which was amazing. It’s really cute, and the brothers who own it are super friendly and helpful. They greeted us with fresh coffee (of course), and booked our tours for us. That day we took the Hidden Valley night hike. Saw lots of interesting animals (ants, coati, spiders, frogs, a huge tarantula). After the hike we went to dinner at Morphos. Very cute, and the food was great! Huge portions!

The next morning we took a tour in the Santa Elena reserve. We didn’t see any monkeys, but not for lack of trying on our guide’s part! We did see some pretty fresh puma tracks, though. Lots of birds, millipedes, butterflies, etc. After the hike, we did the hanging bridges at Selvatura. That was pretty awesome. Being up among the animals in the treetops a different viewpoint than hiking in the rainforest. It was very cool, and rained on us when we were leaving. Before dinner we went exploring to some art galleries and stores. We also tried some Monteverde ice cream at ????. Yum! That night we went to dinner at the Tree House. It was raining, so we were glad to get a table inside quickly. The food there was excellent, as was the service. We particularly liked how they use iPhones to put orders in on a website directly linked to the kitchen.

Day Eight – Travel to Manual Antonio
To get to Manual Antonio from Monteverde, we decided to hire a private driver. Leo was unavailable, but he sent his friend Carlos, who was amazing! He would tell us facts and info, then quiz us later by saying “Senor Andy…” followed by a question in Spanish for my husband (who speaks some), or “Senorita Kerri…” for me in English. Too cute! We stopped along the way to take a Rio Tarcoles jungle cruise. Yes, one of the ones where they feed the crocodiles. We had the boat and guide to ourselves (another private tour!), which was awesome. We saw iguanas, birds, two scarlet macaws flying overhead, and tons of crocodiles, of course. That is quite an experience!

We arrived in Manual Antonio just before sunset, which we watched on the public beach. We stayed at La Posada Jungle Bungalows while in MA. We were intrigued by the reports that they have monkeys come visit their property. So true! That night we spontaneously hopped on the MA-Quepos local bus and ended up eating dinner in Quepos at a Mexican joint. Whole red snapper! We also bought groceries for lunch for the park the next two days.
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 07:00 PM
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Day Nine – Manuel Antonio
Since the park at MA doesn’t open until 7:00, we thought we would sleep in. Definitely a miscalculation on our part, as the place was packed at 6:30AM. The new method is that you have to stand in line for a ticket at the back entrance (right next to La Posada), then you can enter the park whenever you want during the day. They only let 600 people max in the park each day, so if you don’t get a ticket first thing, you have to wait in line for people to leave the park so you can go in. So the first day we ended up waiting in line, but it went very quickly and we got in at lunch time. We hung out on Manuel Antonio Beach for a while, then hiked up to the lookout point. Pretty easy hike, beautiful view. On the way back we took the side trail to Gemelas Beach. Almost deserted – just us and some monkeys trying to steal our stuff! Back at La Posada, the monkeys were still there trying to mooch off the guests.

Day Ten – Manuel Antonio and San Jose
The next day we learned our lesson and got tickets at 6:30AM. After breakfast we went into the park and had the whole Espadilla Sur Beach practically to ourselves for a few hours. The water was a little rough, but swimmable. We saw so many animals in the park! Monkeys, sloths, birds, iguanas… very awesome. We stayed at the park until just after lunch, then got picked up by Interbus to return to San Jose. We stayed the night at the Alegria Bed & Breakfast in Alajuela that night and flew out in the morning. Highly recommend Alegria. Very cute, and the owner is great.

All in all, an amazing trip and many once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 07:00 PM
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Sorry, forgot the name of the restaurant in Arenal, but I'll reply with it as soon as I look it up!
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 07:42 PM
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It sounds like you had a wonderful honeymoon! You got to go to such a variety of places! The rafting sounds great. Thanks for all of the details!!!
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Old Feb 1st, 2010, 08:10 PM
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It was La Choza de Laurel in Arenal - very yummy!

It was an absolutely awesome trip!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 03:03 AM
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What a grand time you had. Some great tips,headed in the same areas soon. Cheers!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 04:24 AM
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Congrats, shutter, on your marriage! I'm glad you guys had such a great time. Thanks for all the details on the Pacuare Lodge - I'm very interested in that one! Sounds like you guys had great luck with the volcano!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 04:58 AM
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Loved the detail, and what a great itinerary! Congratulations!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 05:31 AM
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Sounds like a great trip, thanks for sharing!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 08:28 AM
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Congratulations on your wedding. What an amazing trip you had and you wrote an awesome trip report with lots of details! I've never heard of the hot springs you went to. Is it new or go by another name?
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 11:17 AM
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It was a great trip! We loved it!

wanatrvl - I had never heard of it before, either. I have no idea if it's new or not. Sorry!
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Old Feb 20th, 2010, 08:31 PM
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Glad you had such a great time! Thanks for sharing your experiences
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Old Feb 20th, 2010, 09:50 PM
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Congratulations. Thanks for a wonderful trip report. I'm copying the parts for places that we are going to take with us.
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Old Mar 14th, 2010, 10:06 AM
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sb,
Thanks for all the info. DH and I are doing a similar trip in May, but we will be going to Osa instead of MA.

We have reservations at Rustic Lodge and are still looking for a place for one night in the SJ are mid-trip. I was happy to see you like Alegria because I just started checking on it last night.

Congratulations on your marriage and may you have many more adventures in the years to come.
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Old Dec 30th, 2010, 08:25 PM
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SB,

I'm enjoying your posts very much, and it seems that when we go to CR in March, we'll be doing a similar itinerary. We don't plan to rent a car but will use either a shuttle service like Interbus or a private driver. Did you book your shuttle from San Jose to Arenal Observatory Lodge in advance? And did you have to catch a taxi from La Fortuna to the AOL? Because we don't arrive in SJ until about noon, we're considering paying the extra for a private driver so we can avoid wasting any time and hopefully get to the property before dark. Do you have any thoughts on that?

We'll go from AOL to Playa Santa Teresa down near Malpais for a few days after that. I did the same thing you did, looking to book with Wilson, but he was already spoken for, so I contacted Leo. He quoted me what I think is a fair price (after doing some checking around) so I've booked with him. My only concern is that he wouldn't commit to being our driver/guide. You really eased my fears when you wrote that you ended up with Carlos and were happy with the result. Leo hasn't really gone into payment for the services. Did you pay Carlos cash at the end of the trip? Can you use US dollars? Some of my friends have expressed concern about getting into a car with a total stranger (especially one that's not connected to some large company with a website). I have to admit that I've had visions of our being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, the driver laughing as he takes off with our luggage and money. Were you nervous about that prior to your trip?

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to recap your trip. Sounds like you had a great time, and the info you've provided is very useful for our planning.
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Old Dec 31st, 2010, 05:52 AM
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screemie - you may want to post a new topic with your questions, so it doesn't get all mixed up with shutter's trip report. Btw, I've arranged many trips with private drivers and have never been left alongside the road without bags/money and haven't heard of that ever happening. Large companies with websites don't always insure great service, especially in CR.
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Old Dec 31st, 2010, 09:08 AM
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screemie,
I agree with tully. We were lucky enough to have Wilson as our driver, but it never occurred to me that problems might arise. I guess I'd read enough on this board to feel secure. Wilson took credit cards, but I'm not sure about the others. We used him to get from SJO to Monteverde and again from Arenal to SJO. The costs were $150 and $140 and I tipped on top of that. I feel the driver is well worth the money since they know where they are going and they serve as a guide as well. We stopped for a late lunch on both drives as well as for animal sightings.
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