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Costa Rica: Trip Report

Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 04:27 AM
  #1  
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Costa Rica: Trip Report

I recently returned from a 9 day trip to Costa Rica. We spent the first five nights at the Camino Real Inter-Continental in the Escazu suburb of San Jose. Posters on this board encouraged me NOT to stay at the I-C because it wouldn't give me the true flavor of Costa Rica, and that was true. But I did like the hotel. It was an American-style high-rise (5 floors) hotel, and it was filled with Americans. Many people seemed to use the hotel as a starting/finishing point for their trip, particularly if their flights arrived/departed early. It was about 15 minutes from the airport. There was a huge Multiplaza Mall directly across from the hotel. I didn't do much shopping, but we did visit the SuperMercado each day to buy beverages to stock our mini-bar. That saved a lot of money. The mall had lots of upscale stores (Villeroy & Boch, Liz Claiborne, Timberland), three sit-down restaurants (but all chains like Rosti-Pollo), and a huge food court filled with about 20 American chains (Burger King, McDonalds, etc). We did not eat at the mall, but found many excellent restaurants within a 10-minute cab ride (between $5 and $7 each way): Cerutti, Le Monastere, La Luz (Hotel Alta). The I-C had a beautiful French restaurant, the Mirage and also an all-day buffet restaurant (which we didn't use). The doormen and concierge were fairly helpful in planning day trips and restaurants. The pool was beautiful, and there was no fighting for pool lounge chairs like I have experienced at other hotels, but perhaps this was because we only used the pool towards the end of each day.

The hotel was a fair starting point for our day trips, although the Costa Rica Marriott (being closer to the airport) would have been a wiser choice, except for the accessability to restaurants for dinner.

We took a private mountain biking trip down Irazu Volcano. Irazu itself was a quick trip. The landscape is quite barren because of the elevation, but the green "pool" was very picturesque. The biking was unbelievable. Having never mountain biked before, I expected that we would be coming down the same paved road that we drove up, but we ended up off-roading for most of the trip, down a windy, rocky, dirt road. It was really fun, but I'm sure the bike company had to replace the brakes on my bike afterwards since I used them the whole time. Coming down through the clouds was amazing, past lots of small farms and animals right in the road. We passed a farm where the farmer was training two oxen to use the carts that they make in Sarchi, which provided a great photo op. It was really cold at the top, but by the time we reached bottom, it was hot and humid. We biked for about 14 miles, which took about 2.5 hours. It was all downhill, though, so almost NO pedaling was required. Highly recommended!

We used the Original Canopy Tour company and went to the Mahogany Park (Orotina/old Iguana Park) zip-line tour. That was also fun, and not the least bit scary. Their safety standards seem excellent. It has about nine platforms, so there are about four traverses, plus one belaying (professional lowering), and optional repelling at the end.

Our third trip was to Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Poas is much more impressive than Irazu. The park area is larger, with a 1/2 hour hike to Botos Lake available. It's much greener at Poas than at Irazu. La Paz is about 1/2 hour from Poas. I enjoyed the butterfly garden, hummingbird garden, and all the waterfalls. The park is well laid out, with lots of steps and handrails to make the climbing easier. The Peace Lodge looks beautiful.

We had reservations to do the Aerial Tram tour, but ended up cancelling. It seemed that everyone we spoke to encouraged us NOT to go, that we wouldn't see anything different than we did on the canopy zip-line tour. I hope we didn't make a mistake.

We went into downtown San Jose to the Central Market, which was interesting because it was so busy. There was also a nice pedestrian mall area that we really enjoyed.

Next time I visit, I plan to whitewater raft (probably the Pacuare), and also to visit Arenal and Tabacon for at least a 1-night stay. There just wasn't enough time to do everything on this trip.

We flew to Tamarindo for the second half of our trip, staying at Capitan Suizo for three nights. The pool area was awesome, with howler monkeys in the trees above (one day we counted 11 eating/sleeping together). It was an easy walk to town. We ate dinners at Le Jardin del Eden, Stella's, and Cala Moresca (at Cala Luna). We had lunch at Nogui's, Zullymar, and Las Palmas. Our beach days were a great, relaxing way to end the trip.

Now it's back to "real life". I took lots of great photos, but unfortunately, I'm not digital yet so I can't share them.
fluffnfold is offline  
Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 05:26 AM
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Fluffnfold, thanks for the great report! That mountain biking trip sounds like fun; something I'd love to do on my next trip. Do you remember the company you did that with (and where you booked it)?

Thanks!
Carol
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Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 05:38 AM
  #3  
Iza
 
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Fluffnfold, thanks for a great trip report. I especially liked the description of your day trips from SJ - the mountain biking sounds like real fun.

I think you didn't miss anything by not taking the Aerial Tram.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 05:44 AM
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Fluffnfold,
Glad that you had a great trip! Thank you for posting the trip report.
Gem
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Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 06:43 AM
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Hi, I would like to know if the Central Market is a place to walk around in the evening, if it is safe, and if there are good restaurants nearby. Thanks!
bugswife1 is offline  
Old Mar 2nd, 2004, 08:26 AM
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We used Biking in Costa Rica (www.bikingincostarica.com). Our guide's name was Eric, and our driver's name was Orlando. Pedro seems to handle the organizational side of the business. I booked on-line, and e-mailed back and forth with Pedro many times. When I finally got to Costa Rica and spoke with him on the phone, his English was excellent! Good thing, because my Spanish needs some work.

The Central Market appears to have been outside/outdoors at one time, but is now enclosed and under roof. It probably takes up about four blocks. Many produce and meat stands, with a few souvenier and floral stands mixed in. Also, lots of stands selling backpacks and children's clothing. There were a few stalls where you could order food at tables or counters. It was definitely where the locals shop and eat.

The pedestrian mall was near the Central Market, but I don't recall the name of the street. I think it ran near the art museum and the national bank. There were additional shops here, which were a little more upscale than the ones in the market. There was a definite class distinction between these two areas even though they abutted each other. The pedestrian mall had lots of chain restaurants (Burger King, McDonalds, etc.), but there were also two or three cafe-type places. We ate near the Hotel Presidente, and I think the place was called the News Cafe. Very accomodating to English-speakers. It was an $8 taxi ride each way from the I-C, and hailing a taxi in town for the ride back wasn't a problem.

While it was a good way to spend an afternoon, I wouldn't need to return to the Central Market. I also think that if you get the opportunity to visit somewhere else, you can skip this. I have seen better markets in Oistins (Barbados) and Papeete (Tahiti).
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