Costa Rica Trip Report - Guanacaste

Old Jun 15th, 2005, 10:58 AM
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Costa Rica Trip Report - Guanacaste

Hello all, Thank you for your help in planning my recent trip to Costa Rica. We went to the Occidental Grand Papagayo resort in Guanacaste and took several tours. We thought Costa Rica was beautiful. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks again!

Days 1&2 – Arrival, Monkeys and Relaxation

After much excitement and anticipation, it was finally time for my husband and I to leave for Costa Rica! We boarded a redeye flight in Denver and headed for Atlanta. We slept the entire flight and when we arrived we quickly found our gate for the flight to Liberia, then wondered how we were going to spend the five-hour layover. My husband got a newspaper and we dozed on and off but wondered how we’d get any real sleep. Eventually, we joined several others on the floor by the windows and slept for a little while. I got anxious and walked a little bit, and later we had breakfast as the terminal started getting busier. Finally, it was time to board our flight to Liberia. The flight was very full and we spent the time napping and watching the movie Hitch. When we arrived at the tiny airport, we were immediately hit with the warm, humid air as we got off the plane and walked down the steps. Going through immigration was easy and our bags arrived promptly. After a bit of a wait at customs, we exited the airport and were greeted by our J&C Tours rep holding a sign for us. We booked them for transportation to and from the airport. It was $30 each way for the two of us. We hopped in and enjoyed our 30-minute trip to the Occidental Grand Papagayo.

When we arrived at the resort, we were greeted with a glass of chilled champagne as we were checked in. We had e-mailed the resort ahead of time with a room request based on recommendations we had received and had requested building 17. Despite numerous e-mails and contact with the resort regarding transfers and room requests, they told us they didn’t have our reservation. We had booked online and showed them our confirmation. Turns out that throughout the week, we saw other couples who had the same problem when they checked in. Luckily, the resort was only about a third full. After that was straightened out, we were disappointed when we received a room in building two, right by the pool. It turned out that because of the low occupancy rate at the resort, most of the guests were in buildings one and two and the building we requested, along with many others, were actually closed. After learning we’d have to wait for our room to be ready (even though it was 2:15), we went off in search of lunch.

The resort is very pretty and featured tremendous views of the bay with the hillside setting. The grounds were gorgeous with tons of trees and flowers everywhere. Things were clean and everything was very lush. We walked down to the snack bar where lunch was being served. After eating and exploring a bit, we walked back up to the lobby only to find out our room still wasn’t ready. Finally, about 3:20 we were shuttled to our room. We were in building two, lower level. The room overlooked the hillside and pool area and had a nice balcony. The room had a king-size bed and marble floors. We fought the urge to take a nap, changed into our swim suits and went swimming and exploring instead. I was very frustrated at how our vacation had started and decided I had to get in the pool to cool off and relax. We headed down to the pool and had a relaxing swim. I could feel myself unwinding slowly. After we were cooled off, we took a walk around the resort in search of howler monkeys and other wildlife. Enjoying the views of the ocean, we marveled at the flora and fauna, the crashing waves and tall green trees. After exploring a bit, we got cleaned up and went to dinner at the main buffet. After dinner we went back to the room and crashed, happy and excited to be in Costa Rica.

On our first full day at the resort, we woke up early as we would do several times during the week. The noises we heard were very loud and we were hoping we were hearing monkeys in addition to the birds. Even though it was only about 5 a.m., it was light out and sunny. In general, it got light out much earlier and darker earlier in the evening than we are used to in Colorado. We decided to get up and go exploring around 5:30 a.m. I couldn’t believe I was up that early but we were excited to be on vacation! Plus, I was desperate to find those monkeys! We ventured around the resort, around some of the buildings closer to the ocean where we were told there were monkeys but found nothing. We did see several beautiful plants and birds and enjoyed our time together. We got to the main road and asked the guard where the monkeys were. He claimed in the morning they were up the road in the forest across from the resort so we took off walking. Still, though, no monkeys. Discouraged, we headed back to our room and went back to sleep around 6:30 a.m.

Refreshed, we got up around 9 a.m. and went to breakfast. After breakfast, we decided to walk down to the beach. As we walked up the beach, we heard a new noise and, lo and behold, there were the howler monkeys!! I was so excited. There were several people gathered around enjoying them. They were in the forested area, right by the beach. We watched at least eight of them for about 45 minutes, and then decided to finish our beach walk and go for a swim as it was very humid. We spent most of the morning by the pool reading and relaxing. After lunch, we went snorkeling at the beach. It was decent snorkeling right off the beach and we saw puffer fish, angel fish, sergeant major fish, parrot fish and several others. The showers that had been threatening all day finally hit mid-afternoon and we went back to the room. After getting cleaned up, we were ready for our dinner in the Italian restaurant. The resort has two specialty restaurants, the Oriental and the Italian. Only one is available each day and you have to make reservations in advance, although it wasn’t difficult with the resort having plenty of space. We were greeted in the restaurant and seated after a few minutes. The restaurant was very small and you felt very close to the other guests. We got to choose a cold appetizer, soup, pasta dish, main entrée and dessert. We both had a green salad and I had vegetable soup while my husband had the tomato and shrimp soup. Then, he had four cheese pasta, while I had a meat sauce. His was horrible, while mine was decent. For the entrée, I had chicken parmesan and my husband had mahi mahi. Mine came with potatoes and vegetables, while his came with pasta and oysters. We both enjoyed our main dishes. For dessert, he had the cannolis, while I had ice cream with strawberries. We wanted to try two different things but his was probably the best dessert of the whole trip. After dinner, we took a walk around and went back to the room fairly early, ready for our canopy tour the next day.
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Old Jun 15th, 2005, 10:59 AM
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Days 3&4 – Canopy adventures, crabs and more monkeys!

We awoke the next morning excited for our trip to Rincon de la Vieja national park. I had booked our tours in advance with Vargas Tours based on many recommendations from this board. This tour was the “mega adventure 2” tour and included a trip to the national park, horseback riding, canopy tour, lunch, hot springs and mud bath. We chose the “Borinquen” tour over the “Buena Vista” tour for several reasons. Most importantly, we heard it was a more challenging and longer canopy tour. The food was also better and it didn’t have the waterslide of the Buena Vista tour. We were picked up right on time by Lupita, who owns Vargas Tours with her husband, Ricardo. Lupita drove us about 25 minutes away where we met Ricardo, who had picked up the other people in the tour. One of the reasons we picked Ricardo’s tours was because of the small group size. This tour had just seven of us. On the way to the national park, Ricardo was fantastic, pointing out birds and other wildlife to us. We pulled over for pictures and he explained and showed things to us as we drove through towns and saw the countryside. It took about an hour and 45 minutes to get to the park as the roads were quite poor. We arrived at the mountain resort and were greeted with a cold drink. Then we got suited up in our canopy gear and fitted with the horses.

Then we were off, on a horseback ride that would take us up the mountain to the first canopy. I was nervous about the horseback ride but my horse was very slow and calm. When we got to the top, we got a little more gear and the safety demonstration. Then we were ready! The first cable is perhaps the most intimidating of the whole trip but also one of the prettiest. There was a lovely waterfall to one side and the cable was over 600 feet above the ground. It was also one of the longest cables of the trip. The whole canopy tour was filled with amazing views, lush hillsides and beautiful mountains. At one point, we looked out to the right and there were a couple of monkeys! We took off on the cable and were on the same level as the monkeys as we passed them! I was pleased with the length of the cables and how fast we could go. We had gone before in Mexico, but that one paled in comparison to the length and speed of these. We had nine cables total and the last one left us off down by the horse stable. The ziplines were completely exhilarating and it was a great way to see the forest. I was especially glad that the cables were long enough for us to see the forest as we went along. Just remember to stop and see the scenery! We had a blast. After the canopy tour, we went in the restaurant and had a nice lunch, just our group, which included fresh cheese from the resort’s cattle farm.

After lunch, we ventured over to the hot springs where we were shown the steam room, mud area and three springs. We first went in the steam room to open our pores, then we slathered the mud all over. After it dried, we washed it off and got in the three springs, all varying temperatures. First was the hottest one, then the second one, which was a few degrees cooler but still very warm, then the last one that was like an ice bath. It was freezing! After the hot springs, we walked over to the pool and relaxed for a little while. My husband when exploring and got many pictures of lizards, frogs and even an agouti, a small rodent. On the drive back, we were able to see even more wildlife, including more monkeys, many beautiful birds, including turkey vultures, motmots and caracara birds. The only thing I was disappointed in was not getting to see a toucan. Again, Ricardo was very patient and pointed out everything to us. He also answered many of our questions and had tons of interesting facts for us. Ricardo took us back to a store and we were able to do some shopping before Lupita met us to take us back to the resort. We loved the tour, although I do wish there would have been a small hike through the forest before or after the ziplining. I loved the canopy tour, but it would have been nice to walk through the forest and see a little bit more at our own pace. I would have preferred that to the time at the pool at the end of the tour. The scenery on this tour was just gorgeous. But remember your bug spray! And you can’t take anything on the canopy tour, such as a small backpack or camera bag. Put on the bug spray when you get out of the car as there were tons of mosquitoes. After the tour, it was raining back at the resort so we went back to the room to clean up for dinner. A great day!

Day four was a resort day and we enjoyed sleeping in a bit before getting up after our busy day on Monday. Before we ate breakfast, we made a dinner reservation for the Oriental restaurant for that evening. After breakfast, we took our usual stroll around the grounds and down to the beach. My husband went off into the forest still in search of the perfect monkey pictures, while I relaxed on the beach content to watch all of the hermit crabs scurring over the sand. There were showers and thunderstorms that lasted all day and it was pretty cloudy, which was disappointing. After my husband returned happy after having good luck with the monkeys, we went swimming to cool off. We read by the pool, went swimming and occasionally ducked into the snack bar when the showers persisted. After lunch, we tried snorkeling again but it was pretty cloudy with all of the rain and we didn’t see nearly as much as the first day. After the showers pushed us inside, we went inside, I took a nap and we got ready for our dinner. Wow, the Oriental restaurant was even smaller than the Italian one. I was literally right next to someone, separated only by a screen. The staff greeted us warmly and we looked at the menu. The dishes seemed to be mostly Japanese and they were all new for me but I wanted to try something new. You got a cold appetizer, a hot appetizer, soup and a main dish. We had two different salads for our cold appetizer and both had these chicken skewers that were the best part of the meal for our hot appetizer. They were delicious. I didn’t care for the soup but my husband liked it. For our main course, I had a chicken and vegetables, that was similar to teriyaki, but didn’t have a lot of sauce, with fried rice. It was decent but nothing special. It wasn’t too flavorful. My husband had a type of stir fry with different meats and shrimp. It also didn’t have a lot of flavor. For dessert, I had a chocolate mousse and was very disappointed as it had a horrible aftertaste, kind of like pistachio, while my husband loved his lemon pie. After dinner, we went back to the room and relaxed, eager for our Palo Verde River Tour the next day.
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Old Jun 15th, 2005, 11:00 AM
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Day 5 – Palo Verde National Park River Tour

We were very excited about Wednesday’s Palo Verde National Park River Tour because of the amount of wildlife we hoped to see. I booked this tour ahead of time with Michael Mills but later learned that he worked very closely with Vargas Tours and is a booking agent only. Sure enough, we were greeted by Lupita and Ricardo was running the day’s tour. Perhaps the best thing about the day was that there was just four of us, plus Ricardo on the boat. It was fantastic. We were able to ask tons of questions on the drive and once again, Ricardo stopped to show us things, answered tons of questions, and had interesting stories for us about the land and Costa Rican people. It took about an hour to get to the river with our stops and more bad roads. We all got on the boat and met our guide. They call him “Hawk-eye” for his tremendous vision on the river. And they were right! Within minutes of leaving, “Hawk-eye” pointed out a green frog on a green leaf on the left side of the river! We knew we were in for a tremendous tour.

We saw so much wildlife over the next two and half hours. Bats, frogs, iguanas, Jesus Christ lizards, crocodiles, herons, storks, motmots, egrets and many other types of birds were just some of the things we saw. It was amazing. Crocodiles followed our boat and others sat on the mud so close we could have touched them. Birds just sat in trees and let us take pictures of them as we watched. Oh, and we also saw white-faced monkeys! They were more active than the howler monkeys and we watched them jump from tree to tree. Both Ricardo and “Hawk-eye” worked together to show us Palo Verde. They were both fantastic. We had a couple of downpours on the trip but it didn’t keep us from seeing the wildlife. We arrived back at the dock very happy with the tour. After the boat ride, we went to a Costa Rican soda, a local restaurant, and had an authentic Costa Rican meal. They cooked it with wood, not an oven, and it was the best meal we had on the trip. Absolutely delicious. They had so much food for us. Rice, beans, chicken, beef, salad, potatoes, fresh tortillas, and more. It was so good. We even got ice cream for dessert. After lunch, we headed over to the grocery store in the town of Filadelfia to get some great salsa they had at lunch and some coffee. Again, on the way back, Ricardo took time to show us the wildlife and birds. We met Lupita at a souvenir shop and she took us back to the resort, while Ricardo took the other couple back.

We had a truly wonderful time with Ricardo on both tours. Ricardo and Lupita were easy to work with. They responded quickly to our e-mails and gave us direction on what tours would be best for us with what we were looking to do. They answered all of our questions and were very kind. It was great to go with just a few other people as they tailored the tour for what we wanted to do. There was never a time limit. If we wanted to stop and take a picture, we just asked. We highly recommend Vargas Tours.

Day 6 – Last full day in Costa Rica

We slept in a bit and were ready for our last full day in Costa Rica. After breakfast, we walked down the beach. Because it was low tide, the rocks on the left were completely exposed. We walked out to the rocks and did some exploring. We found mini tide pools everywhere filled with sea cucumbers, little fish and hermit crabs. We enjoyed the water crashing over the rocks and the small animals all around us. After we had explored for a bit, we took a walk along the beach and enjoyed the bigger crabs in the sand. After we got too warm, we walked over to the pool for a dip. This was our first day since we arrived of nice sunshine as we had a lot of overcast days all week so we wanted to enjoy the sun. The rest of the morning, I spent by the pool reading and relaxing, while my husband spent time both at the pool and watching the parakeets. He was determined to get some good pictures of the beautiful green birds. We ate lunch and talked about what we wanted to do with the rest of the afternoon. We decided to spend a little more time at the pool then go down to the beach. When we got to the beach, we decided to go kayaking and it was a lot of fun. The water wasn’t too rough and we paddled all over the bay. As we were paddling, the weather started to get cloudy and my husband wanted to try snorkeling again before the rain made things murky so we paddled in to shore. While he snorkeled, I swam in the waves and lay on the beach watching him and enjoying the peaceful surroundings. He came back after a little while and was excited at how good the snorkeling was because of the clear conditions. We decided to go up and sit on the cliff above the beach to watch the sunset. Because of the clouds and rain showers, we had not seen one sunset all week and we were determined to see one. However, soon after we got a cold drink and found our spots, the black clouds rolled in and the sun disappeared. Disappointed, we headed back to our room to get ready for dinner.

Day 7 – Time to leave

We woke up fairly early on our last day to do a few things “one last time” before we left for the airport around 11:30. After breakfast we walked down to the beach determined to see the monkeys again. We walked into the forest listening for the monkeys but couldn’t find them. After walking for about a half hour or so and not seeing any monkeys, we headed back to the beach. Amazingly, there were a half dozen or so people clustered around some trees at the beach watching the monkeys! They were right at the beginning of the forest! Frustrated but happy, we watched several monkeys as they called out to each other in the trees. After watching the monkeys, we took a walk down the beach and enjoyed the crabs before heading over to the pool. During our last soak in the pool, it started to pour. We headed to our room to change and finish packing. We headed down to the lobby to wait for J&C Tours. They were a little late but after a phone call we were told they were on their way. Upon arriving at the airport, a nice man directed us to the booth to pay our departure tax and get our paperwork. We waited in line at the Delta counter as they searched our checked baggage by hand – a little different from the States! It went fairly quickly and we were through to the next checkpoint. We boarded another full flight and made our way to Atlanta. About nine hours later we arrived in Denver with no problems, excited about our experiences in Costa Rica.

General thoughts

We enjoyed Costa Rica very much, especially the tours. If anyone asked, I would emphasize to them that Costa Rica is a place to get out and see, not one to stay at your resort by the pool. There is so much wildlife and beautiful scenery to enjoy. Our tours were definitely the highlight of our vacation. I would strongly recommend Vargas Tours for a wonderful experience. The small tour size, the knowledge of the guides and the wide variety of tour experiences that Vargas Tours offers is unmatched. We saw numerous tours leave from our resort on huge tour busses. They can’t stop at things you want to see and they can’t get on many of the roads that we traveled on to see interesting sights. Because of the weather and the secluded nature of the resort, we wish that we would have planned another tour during the week, although we did find enough around the resort to enjoy. There are lots of bugs, it is a tropical climate. There were even more than I had imagined and we have been to several other tropical areas. Bring bug spray and use it, even at the pool and around the resort. The Grand Papagayo was a nice resort but it was very secluded and it was difficult to get out and see things without a vehicle or tour guide. We were frustrated that many things seemed to be shut down due to low season, but enjoyed things not being too crowded. Although the staff was very friendly, the service was lacking in many areas. The resort is truly beautiful, though, and we had a very nice vacation in Costa Rica.
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Old Jun 15th, 2005, 05:47 PM
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Hi rickie

Nice report I enjoyed reading it and could indentify with all you said.

Glad you enjoyed Ricardo and Lupita, I took seven tours with them in December 2004.

They really do a terrific small group tour.

And I tell people about them every chance I get...for those that visit the Northern Pacific Papagayo area of Costa Rica.

I also went with Ricardo Vargas to Rincon de la Vieja and the Palo Verde Tour.

I found the white faced monkeys to be a good highlite of this tour as the monkeys jumped right onto our boat.

Yes, The Grand Papagayo is sort of secluded, but I guess for relaxation and to do private tours it serves the purpose well.

Thank you for the great report.


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Old Jun 16th, 2005, 05:18 AM
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Enjoyed reading your report.

Our first trip to CR was to this same resort, however it was called the Costa Smeralda back in 2001.

We had a wonderfully comfortable room there, and found the grounds and views to be very pretty, but the food a bit lacking. I agree totally that CR is not a place to hang out at a resort, you have to get out and explore. We went into the little town of Coco a few times for meals, shopping and simply people watching and also went up to Monteverde for a couple of days. Had we not left the resort, we most likely would have not returned to CR. As it is I have become addicted and cannot wait for my next trip, which will be trip #5.

Costa Rica is an amazing place, glad to hear you enjoyed it as well.
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