Costa Rica trip report

Jan 4th, 2005, 05:22 AM
  #1  
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Costa Rica trip report

Thank you to everyone who helped me plan our trip. I will try to give some useful information here. We just returned from a week in Costa Rica 12/25/04-1/1/05. We are 2 families with 4 kids total- ages 17,16,15, and 12. We had an amazing time and actually managed to agree on most things even though we have somewhat different interests. I planned the trip from this web site.

Day 1- we flew AA from JFK where it took 1 hour to get through security. So many people were held up they delayed the flight an hour. We landed in San Jose and my daughter's luggage was lost. (The 17 year old- you can imagine how pleasant a 17 year old girl without luggage can be!) After 2 1/2 hours at the airport reporting the loss we met Oscar our driver. He was perhaps the most wonderful part of our vacation. I can't say enough about how kind, helpful, funny, and pleasant to spend a vacation with he was.

Oscar drove us to Manuel Antonio and we stopped along the way at a local soda for lunch. We arrived at the Hotel Parador after dark. We were glad we had hired a driver because we had anticipated arriving before night. It was dark and the road to Parador is terrible. Our rooms were lovely. Mine overlooked the tennis courts so it did not have the best view but we did not spend much time in the room. Our friends were in the building with the tram and had a beautiful ocean view. We had a light dinner at the hotel. The service was very slow but the food was OK. The kids went swimming in their beautiful pool and we called it a night.

Day 2- We had breakfast at the buffet which was very nice with an omelet station, etc. Oscar picked us up and took us to Manuel Antonio Park where he hired a guide for us-Juan. We paid $20 at the park entrance. The park was beautiful and we saw lots of things including a few monkeys, sloths, iguanas, leaf cutter ants, etc. We then walked back to third beach in the park which is just beautiful and we swam and relaxed. Oscar then took us to lunch at Hotel Si Como No at the Rico Tico Restaurant. This was very pretty but overrated and the food was expensive.
When I returned to our hotel still no sign of my daughter's luggage. The staff was very nice and allowed me to call on their phone to AA in the US as evidently the San Jose desk never answers their phone.
We went in to Quepos in the evening but everything had closed early on Sunday so we left for dinner. we did manage to buy some coffee at Cafe Milagro in downtown Quepos.
We had dinner at Karoala's which was by far the best meal we had in CR. The dinner though cost $320 for 8 of us which included margaritas.

Day 3-After breakfast Oscar drove us to Finca Valmy ranch for our horseback riding tour. As they were busy we got Adrian their horse trainer and Fransisco as our guides. It was a wonderful day and we rode up to a beautiful waterfall where we swam in the pool. We were the only ones there. The ride is through the countryside and back through the forest. The horses were well trained and we were able to cantor if we wanted. When we returned we went to the Ranch for a wonderful lunch in a beautiful seting. There was a pool if you wanted to swim. The ranch is owned by Valentin and Michel (hence Valmy) who were very gracious hosts. We returned to our Hotel for some relaxation (we did not do a whole lot of this during our vacation) Later Oscar took us to Mar Luna for dinner. We did not love this restaurant and somehow it ended up being as expensive as Karoala's. Afterwards we went out to Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio for desert and returned to the hotel.
cont'd...
jquentzel is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 07:32 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Oh my, a 17 year old without her luggage - her poor family!

A lot of people seem to have wonderful experiences with drivers, and Oscar sounds like a good one.
Molly2 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 07:40 AM
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Join Date: Jan 2004
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I'm in suspense hoping she gets her luggage soon! I just went on that horseback ride with you--it sounds like so much fun and so beautiful. Anxious to hear more!
shillmac is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 08:54 AM
  #4  
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Day 3 cont'd- When we got back to the hotel my daughter's luggage had finally arrived. I forgot to mention that in the car ride back from Finca Valmy we saw sloths in the trees on the road to Parador. There was a crowd of people around the first because they were trying to get it away from the electrical wires. Evidently they are being electrocuted by the low wires. They were successful and we continued on the road to see another crowd around another sloth. This one fell out of the tree while we were watching. He seemed fine and someone placed him back in the tree. He was still there the next day so I guess he was OK.

Day 4-After breakfast at the buffet we decided we needed to relax at the pool. My daughter's main goal for the vacation was a tan and now that her luggage was found she had something new to concentrate on. The pool is really nice and it has a swim up bar. I think they were happy to see us leave as I managed to spill the snack peanuts and raisins in the pool. My husband had returned from a walk to the beach to report there were monkeys on the road. We walked down to see 2 monkeys playing in the trees.
Oscar picked us up at noon to take us to our next stop La Finca Que Ama. On the way we stopped at the Waterfall's canopy tour outside of Jaco. I picked this one because my friend was terrified of safety factors and this was one of a few in CR which was ACCT certified. The tour was great. (my favorite thing I did) It was deep in the canopy. We had to hike a little, cross a suspension bridge and climb stairs to get to the beginning. The guides were very nice- especially to my friend who was terrified and did not know if she could go. The tour consisted of 7 zip lines. The first is off a slide so you sit and slide off the edge. It makes it easier to do the first one. There is 1 tarzan swing and in the middle you land in a 2 story tree house. This has a large bed which can be rented for the night. No thank you! You then can end early (as my friend did) or continue on a long zipline and then a rappell down. This is basically where they let you free fall from the canopy until you are about 10 feet above the ground when they slow you down. The tour was great and fun and beautiful.

After the canopy tour we crossed the Rio Tarcoles and viewed the crocodiles. We continued on to La Finca Que Ama where once again we arrived after dark. (poor Oscar). We were greeted by Neta and Arbol who showed us to our beautiful casitas which were built into the hillside. The then hosted us at a wonderful Israeli dinner with course after course of food which was served family style. They had a Mariachi band serenade us while we ate. After a lovely evening we retired to our casitas for some much needed sleep.

Day5-After a morning hike around the property we had another nice meal at La Finca Que Ama. Oscar picked us up for the ride to Arenal. As I've mentioned earlier we were 8 people with different tastes so what we usually ended up doing was a little bit of everything. Today was no exception. We started the day at a cigar factory in Santiago de Puriscal called Vegas de Santiago. It was a 1 room factory with about 8 people rolling cigars by hand. The owner gave us a tour in Spanish with Oscar as translator. He showed us to the Maestro of rollers who he said was 1 of 3 in all of Central America. He evidently used to live in Cuba and rolled Castro's cigars for him. It was really fascinating to watch. He presented us with one of the Maestro's cigars and we all had a taste later that night. He said it was special partly because of the wrapping leaf which is grown in Connecticut. We couldn't believe it because we are from CT and have never seen tobacco growing there.
Next stop was near San Jose where we met Oscar's wife and 2 adorable children for lunch at a local soda. They were so nice and we loved having the chance to meet them as by this time he was like a member of our family.
On the way to Arenal we stopped at the Los Angeles Cloud Forest since we would not be making it to Monteverde. We did a short hike on the trails which was very nice.
Finally we arrived in Arenal and stopped on the way to Tabacon for dinner at Luigi's which was very good.
We arrived at Tabacon at around 8:30 and encountered our first major glitch of the vacation. We had booked this leg of the vacation through a travel agency and they had not given us any vouchers for the hotel despite the fact that we had paid in full in advance. We had booked a superior suite and a junior suite for my family alone and they had given away the junior suite. They finally put my kids in a regular room (which would have been fine from the beginning but we had no choice from the agency) but it took us about 1.5 hours to get them to refund us the difference in the rooms and agree that we would not have to move the next day. We also did not have the volcano view that we had been guaranteed. (It didn't matter in the end because the volcano never made it out of the clouds while we were there. The hotel was so sure of it that they told us they would comp us the suite if the volcano was visible and we missed it because of the room.) I would like to state that the management at Tabacon was terrible but the workers we encountered were all very nice. We never made it to the hot springs that night but our friends did and loved it.
cont'd...
jquentzel is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 10:44 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Posts: 78
Your report is great. As for CT and tobaco, they grow it up near Bradley. You can see all the fields and drying barns on the connector. (I'm from CT too)
LePageS is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 12:27 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2004
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I have seen the Tobacco also up around Windsor Locks. I am a transplanted nutmeg.

Great trip report. Your daughter must have been lost without her beauty supplies and all those nice clothes I am sure she packed.
Jessie_ is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 08:16 AM
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As I look out my window watching the snow falling I want to make a quick comment about the weather before I continue. This was something I was unable to get a handle on before I left. The weather was much hotter than I had anticipated. I came prepared with a light fleece for those chilly nights in Arenal but I never needed it. In Manuel Antonio it was very hot and humid. Even at night I wore a short sleeved shirt and never needed even a sweater. It did however rain in the afternoons. In general it was very hot and sunny during the day until 1 pm. Then we would get a shower (or downpour) and the sun would return afterwards. I was unable to wear anything more than once except my dry wicking clothes which I could wash and they would dry overnight. At Arenal it was cooler but the most I needed was my gortex rain jacket as it alternated between sunny and hot and raining off and on all day. At night it got cooler but I still did not need anything more than a light hoodie. We used lots of the hotel laundry bags as things did not dry completely in Arenal and the bags came in handy for muddy shoes. I also would advise bringing 3 bathing suits as I only had 2 and I had to wear them wet.

trip report cont'd.
Day 6- After a lovely breakfast (the food at Tabacon was much better than I had heard) Oscar picked up 6 of us (My daughter and the other mother stayed behind to hang out at the Hot Springs) and we drove to the Sarapiqui River to go rafting. We had tried to arrange rafting in MA but the rivers were very low. As it had been raining in Arenal we figured this might be better. On the way to the river we passed by a place where we got out of the car to look at Iguanas. We were on an overpass over a river with the treetops just in front of us. Throughout the tree there were about 30-40 Iguanas staying in the branches. It was amazing. We continued on to the River where we boarded our raft with a guide and a safety kayak. There were about 4 boats total. The river was supposed to be class 3-4 but it was higher due to the rains. I almost always fall out of the boat while rafting and the waves were big enough that I almost lost it twice. We had a great time. There were almost constant rapids on the 7 mile stretch we did. We stopped at a place so people could jump off the cliff into the rapids and there were several places you could jump off the boat to swim. When we approached the end there was Oscar with our camers on the overpass taking pictures of us. We had a great day.

We returned to Arenal and met the others at Lava Rocks for lunch. This was very good. We returned to the Hot Springs for the afternoon and to fight a little more with the management about our rooms. (My son told me he sat in the lobby for a while and saw a constant stream of people at the desk complaining of something.) The Hot Springs were very crowded and I waited in line 20 minutes for a towel and locker key. It was dark by the time I got in the springs and they were a little of a disappointment. Luckily I brought my Tevas because there are a lot of stones in the pools and they made it easier.

We decided to have dinner at the hotel which was very good. This was the only time on the trip I got bitten up by mosquitoes. (I did uses deet for most of the tours)

Day 7- Our last day. We had another great breakfast and the 2 couples and my 15 year old son decided to do the hanging bridges. We left the other kids at the Hot Springs which they loved. The hanging bridges were great. We did not see much wildlife except for some butterflies and a turkey but it was an amazing view from the bridges into the canopy. My friend did manage to take a movie on his digital camera of the leaf cutter ants marching by with leaves. It was really funny and it is now his screen saver. There is a coatimandle (?sp) which hangs out at the office and he jumps up on your leg looking for food (which we did not give him). We returned and we all had lunch at the Hot Springs restaurant and again the food was very good.

The guys went into town to the ATM as we were almost out of cash. The ATM did not charge any fee. We paid mostly by Visa when we could but I would advise cash if possible. All prices are quoted in US dollars but when you sign the slip it is in colones. When we got home we were billed in dollars but the price had gone through 2 exchanges. We invariably got billed $3-5 more than was qouted. Not a big difference but just be aware.

We spent the afternoon in the hot springs and this time I thought they were great. It was not crowded and we could find some very private pools. If you walk way up there is a bar with 2 for 1 specials next to a waterfall with a rock chaises built in. We sat in the waterfall and had our drinks and it was like paradise.

In the afternoon we had treatments at the Iksandria Spa. I had a volcanic stone massage which was so relaxing I kept falling asleep.

Later we went out to Mirador Arenal steak house for dinner. We were back at the Hotel by 10 and we watched the Time's Square ball drop at 11:00 CR time. Back in our rooms we watched Tabacon's fireworks from the garden.

Day8-Oscar drove us 2 1/2 hours back to the airport and we cried when we said goodbye. We had an uneventful flight home and are now back to reality.
jquentzel is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 08:30 AM
  #8  
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This program would not let me edit so just to add a couple of things:

I think the rafting co. was called Poz Azul. The river was supposed to be class 2-3 but was higher.

There is a great artisan who sells huge carved wooden masks on the road from La Fortuna to Tabacon. We bought a 4 foot tall carved mask for a very reasonable price. He wrapped it in foam and we shipped it with our luggage.
jquentzel is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 01:44 PM
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Just happened to go to this site right now and you brought back all our memories of last summer with our 15 yr old son and Oscar...we too are from NYC area. Trevor wrote some reports that are similar to yours...we stayed with Neta and rafted the same river, which was rough for us too! I'm glad you had fun! Trevor talks often about going back to study Spanish. Thanks for your report, Joyce
trevorjoyce is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 02:17 PM
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Since I have a 17 year old daughter, I feel your pain! I know life was much better once her luggage arrived.

dfarmer is offline  
Jan 6th, 2005, 05:05 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Oct 2004
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It sounds like your daughter and my daughter could be best friends! No matter what interesting things I plan on a trip, a tan is always her primary goal. Imagine how she hated me when I forced her to wear a life jacket on a boat we rented for a day in Arizona. Not only did she not wear sunscreen (which I did not know), she got the ugly marks from the life jacket and straps -- very sexy! Luckily, it was the last day of our trip because she was burned to a crisp. Thanks for the laugh!
Laurie
blackmons is offline  
Jan 6th, 2005, 07:06 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 13,177
What an exciting vacation. I am sure your children will never forget hanging bridges, etc... Uggh..I would be your petrified friend on those! Thanks for a great trip report!
girlonthego is offline  
Jan 6th, 2005, 05:01 PM
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jquentzel: Thanks for sharing your trip report. You mentioned that you never did get the volcano view you had been promised at Tabacon...Which non-volcano view rooms did you have? "Standard", "Superior Standard", Junior Suite?

I am sorry you had some frustration on the trip. I have 2 teenage daughters and I can imagine a 17-year-old without her luggage cannot be ignored! Tell her from now on to do what we try to do now...We pack 2 smaller bags each, and take one as a carry-on and check on the other. One rolling carry-on size suitcase works well with an 18" duffel that fits on top for carrying. That way you are guaranteed to arrive with at least half your stuff. You also have to pack light to do this, but arriving with "light" luggage is better than arriving with no luggage at all.

Tell your daughter I arrived in the Caribbean for my honeymoon with no luggage at all! All I had was the clothes I was wearing for 2 days!!!
Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 7th, 2005, 01:29 PM
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Thank you all for you kind remarks. My room at Tabacon was supposed to be a superior suite. There was no volcano view for some reason although the 800 number says they guarantee a view with all superior rooms. Tabacon denied that that was true. It did not matter, however, because the volcano never came out. My kids were put in a superior standard which would have had a nice view. My daughter is now very happy sporting a tan extended by makeup at the duty free airport store! I am happy to answer any other questions.
jquentzel is offline  
Jan 7th, 2005, 06:23 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
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jquentzel

What !!,You cried when you said good-bye to Oscar!!??

Yes, Oscar will do that to you.

I had him for nine days straight last year and after driving all over the Central Valley with him, it was like leaving a member of your family behind.

Thanks for the nice report.

I could identify with much of what you did.

Percy

Percy is offline  
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