Costa Rica Newbie

Old May 30th, 2004, 10:01 PM
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Costa Rica Newbie

Never been to Costa Rica and am considering a trip in February for 7 or 8 nights. I love researching and planning my trips, but I need some help. I'm confused about where to go and where to stay. We are beach people who like to chill out totally when we go on vacation. We like to snorkel and like to swim in the ocean. I'd like to pick one place to hang out and to use as a base for possible day trips. I know from reading the various posts here that you are an experienced group that knows your stuff. I'd love to hear your suggestions.
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Old May 30th, 2004, 10:18 PM
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Welcome to the group! Good options for you and the way you prefer to spend your time would be the head to the Manuel Antonio area. There is enough there to entertain you and amaze you for a week easily. There is the national park here (fantastic), and several different types of activities to enjoy.

Another area that would serve you well would be the Tamarindo area further north. This location allows some exploration to other nearby coastal towns and beaches.

Playa Hermosa (just a little further north) would also be a good area for you.

From all of these locations (all Pacific coast locations) you could take any number of tours or just explore on your own.

Costa Rica is better known for its rainforest and biodiversity than its beaches (although some are quite pretty), but you can have the best of both in these areas.
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Old May 30th, 2004, 11:00 PM
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Thanks shillmac. What about Santa Teresa or Malpais? Keep the info coming!
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Old May 30th, 2004, 11:41 PM
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The MalPais/Sta. Teresa area, while more difficult to get to, has some very nice beaches. I'm not sure what the snorkeling is like here. We spent a few days in March (it was hot!) We stayed at Tropico Latino (in the only beachfront bungalow on the property--no matter what the website says, there is only one right in front with a great view) for about $90. We thought it was very nice and the most conveniently located by far. There are 2 more upscale places--Milarepa (around $150) and Flor Blanca ($250)

This is an excellent place to relax totally--there isn't much else to do. It's really good for beachwalking or just lying in a hammock and reading! There are a lot of surfers. MalPais & Santa Teresa are side by side, but Santa Teresa has the little town.

About 30 min inland by car is Cobano, the business center of the area. 15 minutes further is Montezuma, another beach town attracting a younger crowd. It has several hotels and restaurants. Kind of funky.

From Montezuma, you can explore the falls right out of town or take a short drive to Cabuya and Cabo Blanco Reserve (good hiking and wildlife).

The only unfortunate part about any of these areas is that, during the dry season, they are not as lush and green as in July, for example. Particularly near MalPais, the road is not paved (this is not a problem) and the vegetation is covered with dust from the road. Still, it was enjoyable. We had been to all the other parts I mentioned and thought we wanted to try this area for a change. We're trying to "do the country" a little at a time. There is so much to see.

It all depends on what you are looking for. If you want more activities, options to drive around looking at other beaches, etc. Tamarindo or Flamingo would be good. Flamingo is very Americanized, but we have always enjoyed it there. Very nice long beach. .the sand is about as white as you'll find in Costa Rica. This entire little area around Tamarindo and Flamingo provides a lot of opportunity to explore.

Playa Hermosa is a neat location because you are in good position to go to Rincon de la Vieja National Park where you can do all kinds of things. .from hiking to horseback riding to canopy tours to mud baths, etc.

Manuel Antonio would probably be the greenest area this time of year.

Are you flying into Liberia or San Jose? If you are interested only in the Pacific beaches, Liberia could save you a lot of transfer time depending on where you are heading. For example, it is about 5 hours to these locations from San Jose--just a little longer to Malpais because of the ferry. So you will lose the better part of 2 days in getting around in the country. Sometimes flight arrival and departure times mean you need to spend your first and last nights in San Jose.

If you fly into Liberia, you are 45 min. from Playa Hermosa, 1 hour from Tamarindo, but still about 5.5 hr. to Malpais.

On the other hand, if you are going to Manuel Antonio, it would be just as well to fly into San Jose--you can transfer there in about 3 or 3.5 hours.
If you can manage to arrive fairly early in the afternoon, you can drive it same day. It isn't a good idea to drive after dark. Too many people and animals and bicycles on the road.

I know this is a lot to think about. But with 7 days, you want to try to plan flight times and transfer times so that you don't lose 3-4 days either in San Jose or on the road! Nearly everyone heads back to San Jose the day before their flight. . .just to be on the safe side. Sorry if I have rambled.

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Old May 31st, 2004, 12:03 PM
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We had 7 days last February and wanted to do the same thing you want to do--just relax at the beach. We went to Samara and loved it. It is a very relaxed, Costa Rican small town. There are several restaurants on the beach and quite a few more in town. The ocean was perfect for us---warm and very calm although I am not sure how snorkelling is.The weather was really warm but dry so it was comfortable--around 98. We did not have a/c at night and I was fine. I had injured my shoulder and couldn't "swim" so I didn't get to explore like I usually would.

We didn't have a car but we took a taxis and a bus. We spent a day in Carillo (amazing beach) and in Garza (pretty beach--we were the only ones on it). We had been to Costa Rica before and didn't feel the need to explore but for your 1st time, you might want to look around more.

In February, it is VERY dry. Shillmac's suggestion of Manuel Antonio is another good one. We were there in the April and May and it was much prettier and more tropical feeling. It is much more humid than in Guanacaste (samara, tamarindo, hermosa) which can be good or bad

We are headed to Hermosa next week and may stop in Tamarindo. I will post my trip report sometime after we get back. Let me know if there is anything you need me to find out while I am there.

Have fun planning. Whatever you decide, you will have a great trip!
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Old May 31st, 2004, 01:04 PM
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Thanks! Rjd24: Where in Samara did you stay?
Shillmac: Is it possible to fly to malpais/santa teresa?
Would it be greener in December?
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Old May 31st, 2004, 03:21 PM
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Yes, you can fly from San Jose to Tambor, which is about 1.5 hr or less to MalPais. You can also fly into Samara/Carillo airport from San Jose.

I just checked today by e-mail with Las Brisas del Pacifico Hotel in Samara (because we haven't been and are interested in a couple of days in late June). They have been closed for remodeling, but will be open again June 20 so I was glad to hear that.

We were in Guanacaste (north Pacific beaches) in December. It might have been a little greener then than it was in March. . since March is toward the end of the dry season.
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Old May 31st, 2004, 04:11 PM
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shillmac, Las Brisas del Pacifico was one of the places that looked interesting to me. The prices seemed good. They will probably go up now that they have remodeled. If you end up going post a report please. Thanks!
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Old May 31st, 2004, 05:02 PM
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I'd be glad to. I have been in contact with them today by e-mail--prices looked good to me as well. I'll ask if they have increased. How are your plans coming along? It's half the fun!
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Old May 31st, 2004, 05:08 PM
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iamq,
We stayed at Las Brisas. Unfortunately, we are leaving on the 20th so can't stay there this time. We stayed in one of the beach bungalows--very small and not much light but clean and comfortable for 2. The location is great and I think it is the nicest place to stay in Samara. As for the price, ask Barbara if there is a cash discount.

The sky rooms looked empty when we were there and the pool on the website was drained. There is a small pool right by the ocean but no one ever used it. The sky rooms were up a steep, but not too long hill. I would recommend staying in the beach bungalows.

Villas Playa Samara look nice from the web page but the location isn't as good as Las Brisas. We walked into town for all of our meals and I think Villas Playa Samara is too far for that.

Let me know if you have any more questions.
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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 01:46 PM
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Just another vote for both Playa Samara and Las Brisas. We also stayed there this past February (the upper hotel, not the beach bungalows.) We loved our room with a balcony and a great view of the water. Some patrons did not appreciate walking up the stairs to the upper part.
Playa Samara is still fairly Tico and can get crowded on weekends. There are a lot of decent restaurants (including Tico and some Italian.) There is a decent reef off Playa Samara and there are snorkeling trips available. Playa Carillo (about 10 minutes south) is a beautiful beach which was completely deserted when we were there.
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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 02:06 PM
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Received this from Las Brisas today: Still looks very reasonable, no?

The rates are :

In a Junior Bunglalow with ceiling fan, private bathroom with hot water US$ 58 + tax (=$ 67,51) per night for 2 persons, breakfast included.

Beach Bungalow with ceiling fan, private bathroom with hot water at US$ 68 + tax (=$ 79) per night for 2 persons, breakfast included.

Bungalow with AC private bathroom with hot water at US$ 88 + tax (=$ 102,42) per night for 2 persons, breakfast included.

For a fix reservation I will need your credit card dates. If you don?t want to give them over the internet please let me know your fax number in order to send you a form.

Hope to hear from you soon.



Kind regards

Barbara

Hotel Las Brisas del Pacifico

Playa Sámara/ Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Tel. (506) 656 02 50, (506) 656 02 48, Fax (506) 656 00 76







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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 08:08 PM
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Thanks for the suggestions. Here is what I am thinking: 4 nights at samara (las brisas) or punta islita (luxurylink auction) and 4 nights at bosque del cabo. If I were to do this, what would be the best order? Bosque first and then punta islita/samara?
What would bosque be like in February? Would it be dry and dead? Or is it pretty lush year round? I could do this trip in mid June as well as in February. Any comments on this plan?
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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 08:24 PM
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iamq,
Both months would be good to visit Bosque. It will be green year round. Punta Islita would definitely have a prettier surrounding area in June. It will be hotter in February, but not a huge difference. You'll have some afternoon showers in June, which many of us who post on Fodor's think is nice and refreshing!

As to the order, how do you plan to get around? I am assuming you will be flying to Bosque. Options would be:

rent and drive to Punta Islita, return to San Jose for flight to Bosque

fly to Bosque, return to San Jose, rent and drive to Punta Islita.

Either way, I don't know how you are going to avoid having to return to San Jose midway through your trip.

I hope you can come up with a couple more days to allow you the travel time you need without compromising your 4 nights at each location. If you have to give up a night, I'd give it up at Bosque since you're flying there. Your time at Punta Islita will be already be short due to travel time between there and San Jose. Does that make sense? Let's see what some of the others think.

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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 07:02 AM
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You can also fly into Islita. Punta Islita is located about 1 mile from the Islita Airstrip. They have their own plane, and Sansa and Nature Air also have a daily flight. Please note though, you will not be in/near Samara, but in the 'town' of Islita. I use the word 'town' loosely, because there is really nothing there. If you were to go to Punta Islita, which I have heard is very, very nice, you would be very limited, if not completely limited to eating there at the hotel. As far as I know, there are no 'toursit' restaurants around. You may be able to find a Tico restaurant in the area, but they will probably only speak Spanish. But, from your first post..."we like to chill out totally when on vacation..." this would be a great place for you!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 08:33 AM
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We stayed at Punta Islita for the last 4 nights of our 12 night trip to CR in April. We had spent the first 8 days at Arenal and Manuel Antonio doing lots of adventure activities, and 4 nights at PI was absolutely a perfect end to the trip! However, I would have gone out of my mind if we spent the entire time at PI.

As for restaurants in the Islita "town" there is 1. We did not go to it, but I heard it was good and cheap. Other than that there is what they called the Monkey Bar (cocktails, I believe) and of course the resort restaurant. We ate all our meals at the resort.

They offer a taxi service to Samara for $40 each way. Samara has a bigger town more restaurants and shops. Punta Islita has nothing. We didn't mind, by the time we got there we were ready to stay put and enjoy the sunshine. They do offer horseback tours, Canopy tours and ATV tours, I'm not sure about snorkeling. We snorkeled in Manuel Antonio and we weren't impressed. But we were in Belize last year and the water was much more clear.

We also got our package from Luxurylink.com. It seems that since we purchased our package, the prices have gone up! PI had a much more quiet and romantic feel (we were on our honeymoon so it was perfect for us)

If you just want to chill on the beach, PI is the place for you. But if you want some activity/nightlife, then I wouldn't suggest it.

Also, it is a LONG drive from San Jose (we drove from Arenal - 6-7 hours, we got a bit lost). Fun ride, but for limited time, I don't recommend it. Flying was easy (40 min each way from San Jose) and I think it was $70 each way per person on Nature Air.

Based on your original post, you might look into Manuel Antonio. There are beautiful beaches, but it's also a great spot for lots of activities.
Stacey
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Old Jun 4th, 2004, 12:57 PM
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Thanks for all the suggestions and info. I think I've decided to do Punta Islita for 7 nights and just hang out there. My guess is that we will probably go back and we can visit a different locale when we do. For those of you that have stayed P.I., what would suggest as far as rooms go? Are the regular guest rooms okay, or is it worth it to go up a notch or two? I have no interest spending more than I have to to get a comfortable room. Thanks again.
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Old Jun 7th, 2004, 08:07 AM
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Hi,
We stayed at PI for 4 nights. We got our package off luxury link, so definitely try that for a good package deal (though they seem more expensive now than when we booked about a year ago). We were originally in a junior suite with a private outdoor jacuzzi on a deck overlooking the ocean. It was great having the private space. We were then upgraded to a casita which had a private plunge pool (bigger than the jacuzzi), a mini yard and great views of the Pacific. We actually spent 1 entire afternoon at our casita in our plunge pool and sunning from our "yard". Talk about relaxing and quiet! We loved having the private pools, but they do have some suites without them. They are not a necessity as PI has 2 pools, both with swim up bars and the ocean. Overall, though, I think the quality of the actual suites are very similar. We actually liked the set up of our junior suite and with jacuzzi better than the Casita (and Casitas are considered an upgrade). The junior suite seemed bigger, and it had a great bathroom. The tub overlooked a private garden.

Stacey
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