Costa Rica itinerary help please!!

Old May 28th, 2012, 08:36 PM
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Costa Rica itinerary help please!!

I'm traveling to Costa Rica for 11 days in July with my husband and two kids (8 and 10 years old). I would really appreciate feedback on our tentative itinerary--I've spent countless hours researching this, and it's not quite clicking for me yet.

Day 1: Arrive SJO at 9:30 a.m. (relax in Alajuela -- Orquideas Inn?)
Day 2: Drive to Arenal via Poas Volcano/La Paz Waterfalls
Day 3: Arenal (lodging at Tabacon)
Day 4: Arenal (rafting trip on the Sarapiqui)
Day 5: Arenal
Day 6: drive to Monteverde
Day 7: Monteverde
Day 8: Drive to Samara
Day 9: Samara beach day
Day 10: Samara beach day
Day 11: Drive Samara to San Jose to catch 5:30 p.m. flight

Some questions:
--Since we fly into SJO in the a.m., should we head straight to Arenal that day? I'm worried about my kids being exhausted after a red-eye and needing to relax that day, but I'm wondering if we're just wasting a day by staying in Alajuela.
-- Are two nights in Monteverde enough? Is it worth the drive for that short of a visit?
-- Would MA be a better beach option than Samara? Or somewhere else? I'm having a hard time settling on a beach area.
-- Is it unwise to plan on driving back to San Jose on the same day we fly out? Our flight does not leave SJO until 5:30 p.m.
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Old May 29th, 2012, 08:22 PM
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How about spending that first night at Orquideas Inn (good choice, btw), and making a day trip to La Paz?

If you drive yourself, it will be cheaper than a day tour. Plus you can just blow it off if you are feeling toasty. Orquideas has a good restaurant and pool area, so it is a good spot if the family just decides to just hang. Zoo Avenue is only 10 minutes away too. It isn't La Paz, but it is worth seeing.

Or taking La Paz's "late morning" day tour. They would pick you up around 11:30 AM in Alajuela. That way, you don't have to drive while sleep deprived. That is important to consider, especially in a foreign country with your family in the car. This would cost you about $300.00 for four of you. But you could save a day of car rental. Admission, guide, and lunch are included too. Add it up, and you are not paying much more.

When we plan for our clients, we usually recommend three nights in Monteverde and two in Arenal. I think there is more to do there. But some of my friends in this forum might disagree. Full disclosure, I own a home in Monteverde and absolutely love it. So I might be a little prejudiced.

Tabacon is a beautiful hotel, and a beautiful hot springs resort. But be aware that the only room class that they can guarantee a volcano view, is a honeymoon suite. If you are going to stay for three nights, there are also some hotels in the area offering a free third night.

The drive from Samara to San Jose is a long one. Since you have to check in three hours before your flight, it means that you will be leaving at 9:00 or 10:00 AM. That makes for quite a travel day! With the new highway, Manuel Antonio is less that three hours to the airport. That might be a better choice.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can offer more advice.

Warm Regards,

Pat Hewitt
Travel Professional
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Old May 29th, 2012, 10:19 PM
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Pat: Thank you so much for the valuable input! I really appreciate it.

So you think with our early morning arrival, we could plan on doing a day trip to La Paz the day of our arrival and then head to Arenal the next day? Does it not make sense to try to do Poas/La Paz waterfalls the same day as we head to Arenal? I have a hard time conceptualizing the travel times and how much I'm trying to squeeze into a day.

As for Arenal, I added an extra day because we want to do a one-day white water rafting trip so I thought we'd want two full days to explore La Fortuna/Arenal plus the day of rafting. It sounds like you think that might still be one day too many, and that we'd be better off spending that extra day in Monteverde? If we only do three nights in Arenal, I'd love recommendations for lodging options that are offering a third night free--I have not come across that in any of my research.

I totally get what you're saying about the Samara --> San Jose drive. I'm now thinking that MA is the better choice for a few days on the beach and will start looking into lodging in that area.

My last question is about getting from point A to point B. I initially thought we'd rent a car, but then heard from friends who have been to CR that they would never drive there, especially in the Monteverde area. Are we then better off finding a driver for SJO to Arenal, taxi/boat/taxi from Arenal to Monteverde, driver from Monteverde to MA, and driver from MA back to the airport. Or would we be fine driving??

Thanks again! Your advice is very helpful!
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Old May 30th, 2012, 08:55 AM
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There was an earthquake around the Poas area a few years ago, and the roads going between that area and Arenal are supposed to be pretty rough. I'd check on that before you plan on going that route. La Paz gets clouded over, usually as the day goes on, so early morning is best for viewing. The Peace Lodge is a great place to stay your first day if you can swing the cost. It's about an hour from the airport. The Arenal area is about three hours from the airport if that gives you an idea of travel times. Arenal has tons to see and do - waterfall hike, Sky Trek ziplines, rafting, natural hot springs, Hanging Bridges, Cano Negro tour or Penas Blancas river float, and the Proyecto Asis animal rescue center. You won't run out of things to do. The Lost Iguana runs specials a lot. It's a wonderful hotel, but not close to town so you may want to have a car if you stay there. Closer to town Los Lagos and Silencio del Campo are very popular. The road to Monteverde is rough. We used the Jeep Boat Jeep through Desafio to get there and are glad we did. It's basically like a gravelly bumpy country road - doable if you go slowly, but kind of a pain, lots of turns in the road, and you may encounter kids, cows, etc. We stayed three nights in Monteverde so we could relax but could have easily done everything we did in two. We hiked the cloud forest, ziplined, and did a night hike at Hidden Valley. The night hike was fun.
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Old May 31st, 2012, 09:34 PM
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Thank you, volcanogirl! I've rethought the idea of trying to do Poas/La Paz on the way to Arenal (it's not really as on-the-way as I thought). I think we'll spend the first night in Alajuela and decide if we have it in us to do a half-day trip to La Paz the day we arrive. If not, we'll save it for another trip. Thanks for all of the great info!
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Old Jun 1st, 2012, 02:23 AM
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I think that sounds like a good idea. It seems like nothing is on the way to anywhere else!
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Old Jun 1st, 2012, 11:09 AM
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After arriving SJO, you should head directly to La Paz. Once there, you can relax. To drive anywhere in Costa Rica can take its toll on you, and it's a long drive where ever you go. Unless you are totally tired, keep going--the end result is amazing.
The drive from La Paz to La Fortuna (Arenal) is about 3-1/2 hours on a really mind-dazzling road. It's not that far, but the curves will keep you on the edge of your seat. Be VERY careful!
In La Fortuna, you can sign up for whichever tours you want to take at that time. You don't want to go hiking in the rain. It's very slippery. At this time of the year, it seems to start raining mid-afternoon. Looks like mornings is the best time for hiking. There are several places around La Fortuna to see butterfly farms: in El Castillo there is the Butterfly Conservatory; butterfly farm down the street from the cemetery at the Sky Tram office; ECOCENTRO DANAUS is about 20 minutes from La Fortuna. Serpentarium:
Arenal Eco Zoo is located in the town of El Castillo about 12 km from La Fortuna.
We found the best zip line to be at Sky Trek and Tram.
A great place to eat in La Fortuna is "Just Good Food." It's just off the main street (where main street becomes a one-way).
I took a boat ride down the Rio Frio on a covered boat with several other tourists. We saw Capuchins, Cayman, bats, etc.
Don't forget to ALWAYS look UP in the trees. The sloths are there but difficult to see. I managed to spot two on my May visit. The Capuchins are also there; just look for them.
La Fortuna has a grand waterfall. It's a difficult trip down as it will kill your calves and knees. The trip back up is even harder. But the site is wonderful. I think the La Paz waterfall may be more grand as it's taller.
Just be VERY careful on the drive. Use your GPS at all times. And be prepared for the secondary roads as they are not paved. To drive a secondary road, it's on large rocks that knock your socks off. You can only got about 20kph, if you're lucky.
Good luck, and have fun!!
If you go to "Just Good Food," if you see the owner "Mike," tell him Cindi from Houston said hello.
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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 09:48 PM
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Thank you, cindirtx!! All great tips. I will add all of your recommended activities to my growing list of possible things to do on our trip.
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