Costa Rica Trip Report: Feb 7-16, 2009

Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 11:00 AM
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Costa Rica Trip Report: Feb 7-16, 2009

Day 1: Transfer from Toronto to San Jose, stay in Hotel Hojarascas, Heredia.
Day 2: Transfer to Malpais, Nicoya Peninsula, stay in Blue Jay Lodge.
Day 4: Transfer to Manuel Antonio, stay in Hotel Costa Verde.
Day 6: Transfer to Monteverde (Santa Elena), stay in Tree House Hotel
Day 8: Transfer to La Fortuna, stay in Arenal Volcano Inn
Day 10: Transfer to San Jose Intl and Toronto.

Day 1: Uneventful flight on Air Canada from Toronto to San Jose. Arrived 30 minutes early, in CR at ~2pm. We were met by Jose from Hotel Hojarascas in Heredia (a suburb of San Jose) where we stayed our first night. He is very nice, speaks limited English but tried to be very helpful. Heredia was a great stop, because it is not touristy AT ALL, so it got us to see the "real" Costa Rican life, we brushed up on our very poor Spanish, wandered around and had the tastiest Coolatas ever (basically Batidas) from Pops, had dinner (casados) at a sports bar showing bull riding, and then went out to a bar to try a few local beers near the university and met up with some Americans who spoke English, some of whom live in Costa Rica now. I think it was a good choice on our part to stay in Heredia instead of in downtown San Jose.

Hotel Hojarascas included transfer from SJ Intl to the hotel (does not include transfer to/from Tobias Bolanos airport which is where Nature Air flies). Included breakfast. It was $85.84 tax-in. It was a little bit noisey but it was basically on the main downtown road in Heredia so it was nice for walking around, not like being in the middle of suburbia. The noise was mostly from the church bell that rang every 15 minutes (even in the middle of the night). Otherwise I would highly recommend.

Day 2: We ate the included continental breakfast (very yummy), wandered around some more and had lunch at El Testy - NOT RECOMMENDED. They put mayo, mustard and ketchup on tacos, it was disgusting. The taxi to Tobias Bolanos was US$20, and we flew to Tambor via Nature Air. The flight was on time and very scenic. The cab ride to our hotel in Mal Pais was $40 and we arranged for the same driver to come back for our return trip. The rule of thumb seems to be about $1 per minute in a cab. We stayed at Blue Jay lodge which was absolutely marvellous. There are a total of 7 bungalows perched on a hill side with ocean views in the jungle. I think we got the best one (named Pizote), because it was the highest!! We had a view of the ocean and into the trees. The bungalows have screens on 3 of the four walls. We walked down to the beach "Playa Carmen" to watch the sunset and went to Frank's Place for supper (it was good but overrated - expensive compared to other restaurants in Playa Carmen/Mal Pais). Blue Jay Lodge is a 20 minute walk down either the beach or gravel road to Playa Carmen.

Day 3: We tried surfing!! Playa Carmen is great to learn because the waves break pretty far out, but the beach is sandy and goes out very gradually. I think my husband is hooked. It was pretty exhausting and fun. We had Russel from Alex's Surf Shop as our instructor, he was great at English because he is from the UK. We ate at Resto Charlies in Playa Carmen for lunch and it was good prices and good food. For the afternoon we walked south along the beach, and came upon bay after bay of deserted beautiful beaches - it was gorgeous. We passed the soda Piedra Mar on the way, so on the way back we stopped there for supper and the gorgeous sunset. Good food and good prices again. We were beat so went to bed early.

Day 4: We got up early to stay quiet in our hammocks and watch for animals - no such luck! After breakfast we packed up our stuff, went to the beach, then had just enough time to go for lunch at another restaurant with "It's the ShI+" in the title. The food was pretty good but it was more expensive than Resto Charlies that was practically next door. We rushed back to the hotel and our taxi was already there (30 minutes early). We picked up some random girl on the way to the airport who seemed to be his daughter maybe (they both only spoke Spanish). We arrived at the airport far too early for our flight based on our taxi driver's advice - I think he just wanted to be early to pick up that girl, so that was annoying sitting in the airport, which actually happens to just be a bench outside!! To get to Manuel Antonio from Tambor we went to Puenta Islitas, San jose and then MA all on one plane, it really didn't take too long and the scenery of the coast and mountains was beautiful. Manuel Antonio we got a ride from a shuttle that offered ride from Quepos to MA for $6 each, and we shared with another couple. If we did it again, we would probably take shuttle > ferry > shuttle to go between Malpais and Manuel Antonio, but we had already booked our flight to San Jose before we figured out our whole trip and just added on the flight to M.A.

We stayed at Hotel Costa Verde which advertizes "more monkeys than people". We booked an Efficiency Suite which is the cheapest type in this hotel, and we got room C1 which is basically across the entrance from the Reception. Surprisingly it wasn't loud, and we were hardly in our room so I'm glad we didn't spend the extra $45 per night on a better view. The room had not been re-decorated since the 70's so that was interesting!! The reception was a bit rude, which I have read in reviews, when we asked for help with the safe (it wasn't working properly) it appeared we were interrupting his online poker game LOL... he got it working when he fiddled with the battery. We went to Barba Roja for dinner - tasty!

Day 5: We went to Anaconda at the hotel for breakfast, which was good and filling - I recommend wrapping up the banana bread and keeping it for a snack later. However the biggest attraction for us we the MONKEYS!!! This was the first of the monkeys we saw on our trip and they were white faced monkeys. It was disappointing that someone was feeding the monkeys bananas but it was super cool to have so many monkeys around us. After all, the reason we went to Costa Rica was to see monkeys We walked through the hotel grounds to get to the national park, and we spotted more monkeys all around the pool. The hotel really lived up to it's slogan. We went to the park for the day, we hired a guide on our way into the park. They were offering $20 per person for a large group or $45 per person for private tour, but we offer $30 per person for a group of 4 (we met one other couple at the hotel). Our guide was great, make sure you get one with a good telecope, we could take photos through our guide's scope. Unfortunately we don't remember the tour guide's name or company. We saw a tree frog, 2 and 3 toed slothes, a howler monkey, iguanas, white faced monkeys and various birds (we aren't really into birds, so I can't really remember the names). The guide was pretty informative, I definitely recommend the guide if you do not have a scope or binoculars with you. If you do have binoculars, you coudl just walk down the main path and see where all the tour guides are pointing their scopes and use your own binoculars. After the tour, we wanted to go around the park a bit more. There are beautiful beaches there too. We wanted to spot squirrel monkeys since they are endangered and MA is one of the few places you can see them. We went for another hike and we were surrounded by white faced monkeys. We got a little hungry so pulled out protein bars from my backpack, but the monkeys new what that meant and they bared their teeth at us!! scary!! we put the protein bars away... I guess the monkeys are really used to people!! We spent a little time on the beach and then had to leave the park because we were out of water. They don't have any water or food for sale in the park, so if you want to make the most of your day, definitely pack a lunch and lots of water. We grabbed some food at a little place without a name among the souvenir tables, and then decided to go back into the park for one last hike and we saw squirrel monkeys right off the main path back into the park! Success!!! We also saw a sloth that was actually moving!! and more white faced monkeys! We went back to the beach to watch the sunset. We took the public bus that goes between MA and Quepos to climb the hill back to our hotel, it is only 210 colones and so worth saving your life (the road doesn't have sidewalks most of the way). El Avion was good for dinner.

Day 6: Anaconda for breakfast again but no monkeys! However walking around the grounds of the hotel we heard (and then spotted) howler monkeys! We went to the beach to check out the nude/gay beach (to see if what we heard was true). It is true, lol. If you walk along the beach for about 20 minutes away from the park, and then climb over the rocks, there is a hotel there and some beach. It seemed "normal" at first, then slowly there were more and more guys hanging out in the water together, then they put up a rainbow flag. I guess it's true!!! We went back to the hotel and had a dip in pool and spotted some squirrel monkeys!! We packed up quickly and then time to check out and get a ride to Monteverde! We hired Wilmer Flores Gomez, [email protected] (Willy) as a private driver. He is a really nice, funny guy and speaks English well. He knew some good stops to make on our travels. We stopped in Jaco at a very tasty fish taco fast food place for lunch, and we stopped at Rio Tarcoles to check out the crocodiles. He navigated the mountain gravel roads up to Monteverde very well and we got some great photos of the sunset. We arrived at our hotel Tree House in time to have dinner. The food there was very excellent but I think the most expensive in Costa Rica, we thought it was just more expensive since it would cost $$ to transport food into the mountains. There was a Selvetura office right in the hotel, so we booked a canopy tour (zipline) which includes transportation. Selvetura is only 200 metres from the Santa Elena Cloud Reserve.

Tree House Hotel was pretty good except the first night we stayed was very windy, and we had the front room with windows on all sides, the patio door rattled a little bit from the wind. It was fine the second less windy night though. There was also perhaps a slight mould or funny smell coming from the sink drain - my husband is sensitive to mould and it was bugging him. This was the cheapest hotel we stayed at $55 per night including breakfast.

Day 7: The breakfast at Tree House Hotel was good. We took the mini-bus up to Selvetura then walked up to Santa Elena Reserve. There are no guides hanging around at the entrance so if you want one, you should hire them ahead of time. We took the Cano Nego trail (~4 hour hike). It was great because it was cloudy, which are great conditions for a cloud forest reserve. We hardly saw anyone on our hike at all - maybe only 5 other groups. The forest was very mystical, magical, so much vegetation. It is hard to describe. After the hike we went back to Selvetura for lunch (the pizza is good, in a wood burning oven), and then our canopy tour/zipline!!! What a rush!!! It is beautiful there as the zip lines are between trees and either above or in the forest. There are 15 zip lines and a tarzan swing (which I didn't like but lots of other people LOVED). The reason we choice Selvetura is because of it's proximity to Santa Elena and we had limited time, however we were interested in Sky Trek, but we heard that it was just "fast" and in between metal towers, not trees. At the end of the day, Selvetura continues operating mini-buses back to Santa Elena until the park is empty. I'm glad we did Selvetura! For dinner we went to a restaurant in Santa Elena that was downstairs from a hostel. The food was great and I must say one thing: the coffee in Monteverde is AWESOME. Even the cheap restaurant made double espressos and steamed milk when you asked for coffee with milk. yum

Day 8: Breakfast was good again and we caught our ride (taxi-boat-taxi) to Arenal. $25 and definitely the way to go! We were there by 1pm and our room wasn't ready yet at Arenal Volcano Inn so we had some lunch in the restaurant (also good). It was raining for our whole trip from Monteverde but once we got our hotel room in lightened up. Our hotel room was great. We had our own bungalow and a view of the volcano (if only there were no clouds...). The resort seemed pretty new, and the bathroom was nice, there was a mini-fridge, and the beds were comfy. That afternoon we took a taxi downtown to check out La Fortuna and figure out what we would do the next day. We had only 1 full day in Arenal and wanted to pack in as much as possible. We booked a morning trip to the Hanging Bridges and thought we would play the rest be ear - if it cleared up we would want to go on an afternoon volcano hike, but if not we could go to the waterfall. We went to Nene's for supper (based on our driver Willy's recommendation) and it was great!

Day 9. Breakfast at Arenal Volcano Inn was fabulous! It was buffet with an omelette station, and the fresh fruit was awesome. It's just so juicy and full of flavour in Costa Rica!!! Our tour to the hanging bridges was great with Jacomar tours. Our guide, Edwin, had a degree in university for doing tours like this - it's hard to believie some countries have degrees to learn about wildlife, vegetation and customer service. We saw some more monkeys on this tour (yay), my husband spotted a sloth!! The sky was blue but there were still clouds in front of the volcano! The tour was worth it, because taking a taxi to the hanging bridges would cost $20 each way and entrance was $12 each, so adding on the tour guide with the tour didn't cost much at all. We decided to forgo the volcano hike and go to the waterfall, especally when our tour guide offered to drive us there because that was the next tour the same mini-bus would be going on!! The falls were nice to see! The walk to the falls wasn't bad but on the walk back up I am sure glad I practiced on the stair-master before our trip! Some less-fit people were stopping to rest!! We walked back to town, and I wouldn't really recommend walking unless you have lots of time - there wasn't much to see. Although I am sure the walk back that we did was much more pleasant than the walk uphill to get there! When we got into town we picked up a couple beers and 1 litre of cacique (around $4) to take back home with us. Cacique is a brand of guaro (sugar cane alcohol). We took a taxi back to our hotel to get cleaned up for going to Eco termales hot springs!! Eco termales is awesome. We booked it before we left for our trip because we heard it's the best and it sells out. We booked the 5pm-9pm time slot and dinner. We decided to eat first and do the hot springs after, and I think everyone else did the opposite because we had the pools almost to ourselves!! Seriously by 8pm there was only one other couple there. It is beautiful, they have built the cascading pools to look quite natural, there is no odor that you might expect at hot springs (sulfur), and the pools go from warm to hot. The pools are surrounded by vegetation and they have waterfalls. It was great, relaxing and had a nice ambience. The food was good too - I would recommend the tilapia, which are fished locally from Lake Arenal. No matter which food choice you book ahead of time you choose the food when you check-in. It was a great night, and unfortunately our last night!!!

Day 10: We got up early just in case the top of the volcano was visible, it was a lot clearer but no such luck!! We could hear the howler monkeys though and we walked around the hotel grounds and sure enough they were in the trees! We are impressed that we saw so many monkeys even right on hotel grounds. After breakfast and checkout we were picked up by Interbus and drove to the airport. The flight home was more interesting because they had to leave all our luggage behind because the plane was overweight for the wind conditions!! We received our luggage 2 days later.

Overall our trip was FABULOUS!!! We booked most transportation and Eco Termales ahead of time using This worked out great and we had no problems redeeming any of the hotel and transportation vouchers. Alfonso from this website was very helpful via e-mail.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions or want more details!!
Andrea_loves_travel is offline  
Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 11:24 AM
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Wow--you saw a lot of in short amount of time! Did you have a favorite? Malpais area is hard to beat! Good review on Costa Verde--great bang for the buck, horrible reception! I guess it's no big deal as long as you have a heads up.

Welcome to Costa Rican tacos! That's not just El Testy or whatever it was, that's nationwide! Hard to get used. . .I only ordered them once.

Heredia is actually not a suburb of San Jose, but the capitol city of Heredia province. It's an interesting city to explore. Never heard of that hotel; thanks for reviewing it for all of us.

Bummer about your luggage. It's always much handier if it stays on the same plane! Thanks for a great trip report.
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Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 11:26 AM
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Thanks for the great report Andrea. Sounds like a wonderful trip! The tacos not so good LOL, but everything else!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 02:03 PM
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Welcome back - it sounds like a wonderful time!
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 02:27 PM
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Fun to read your trip report. Glad you had a good time!
janenicole is offline  
Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 05:35 PM
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Yes, the Manuel Antonio white-face monkeys are notorious for their willingness to target women for aggressive behavior. Bad monkeys!

Eco Termales is a great place, and I can't recommend it enough.
RAC is offline  
Old Feb 22nd, 2009, 07:20 PM
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When we were in the Osa, I had a spider monkey come so close to me it scared me, and I asked Philip if they would ever attack me, and he said no because they would never win just because humans are so much bigger than they are, but those monkeys in Manuel Antonio seem different to me - they are used to getting what they want!
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Feb 23rd, 2009, 09:49 AM
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Shillmac- we did love Malpais but I can't really pick a favourite place. If we were to move to Costa Rica we would pick Malpais - much less touristy, more relaxed, cheaper, beautiful empty coastlines! When we were planning, we chose to go there on a whim because of Blue Jay Lodge, and kind of regretted it because it was an extra leg on our trip that would take up valuable time (we really had to work hard to cram in the other 3 destinations we wanted to visit). However after arriving and enjoying 2 nights there we did not regret going there AT ALL!! Manuel Antonio was great due to the National Park only because we really wanted to see monkeys and it sure did deliver! Monteverde was great due to the "magic" we felt in the cloud forest, and the length of the zip lines there just can't be beat at other destinations. Arenal was not really that special to us, although seeing the volcano was pretty cool - I am glad we didn't spend twice as much to stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge since it was cloudy!!

We definitely love the country and if it weren't for the other 150 or so countries in the world we haven't visited yet, I am sure we would be back sooner rather than later. I can see why it's a favourite among so many on this board! My husband has not been to Europe so I know that is next on our "exploring vacation" list (we are going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at Christmas to see my parents though).
Andrea_loves_travel is offline  
Old Mar 19th, 2009, 10:37 AM
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Hi Andrea-
Glad the trip was great! We are one month out from leaving. Since we are staying in Arenal two nights I have some questions for you. Should we look for a different Canopy tour rather than Sky Trek?

Also, do you wish you would have done the Cano Negro river tour? I know we were both considering it, but now that you've been what do you think?

I was not going to really schedule much before we got there except for Eco Termales, b/c depending on the weather, we may change plans. Sounds as if we have the same interest while we are there....Hanging Brigdes(thank for the tip with guiide), Volcano Tour and Waterfall.

Thanks again for the report!
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