Costa Rica Trip Report June 2008

Jul 3rd, 2008, 04:47 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: May 2008
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Costa Rica Trip Report June 2008

Let me start by thanking everyone on Fodorís and Trip Advisor for their trip reports, tips, hotel reviews etcÖ Our trip was an incredible adventure and I owe all Fodorites and trip advisor a huge thank you for helping me plan it. Hopefully this report might help others plan their special vacation.

Our family consists of me, my (not so excited about this idea of yours) husband, (fun to be around and easygoing-right now) thirteen year old daughter and (donít want to hang out with mom and dad) 16 year old daughter

Our itinerary -

June 19 - Pura Vida Hotel in Alajuela (Toucan Casita)
June 20 - June 23 - Los Lagos (deluxe room at top of hill)
June 23 - Peace Lodge - Monarch Villa
June 24-26 - Black Turtle Lodge (tree house)
June 26 - 30 - Bosque del Cabo - Casa Blanca
June 30 - Pura Vida Hotel ( Katydid Casita)

We flew out of Chico, CA at 5:30 am to San Francisco to Dallas to San Jose arriving at 9:30 pm. Everything went smoothly - what a long day!

Arrived at Pura Vida Hotel at 10 pm greeted by Berni, the owner and his three sweet German Sheppardís. He had packed us a light dinner which I requested. I wasnít sure if we were going to be starving as overpriced airport food sucks. There were 4 chicken sandwiches, four small cans of Pringles, and 4 cabbage salads. It cost $40 for everything, maybe not the most cost effective move, but I wanted decent food for my family at the end of the day. It was good to know it would be waiting. Our room was very clean and could fit four people comfortably- we ate and went to sleep. Next morning we were up early and excited. The gardens at Pura Vida Hotel are beautiful. You wouldnít know that you were in the middle of Alajuela. It was very private with meandering paths through gorgeous flowers and fruit trees. My husband was in heaven as he has a degree in horticulture. We went up on the patio for one of the most delicious breakfasts we had in Costa Rica - a beautiful fruit plate, delicious and still warm chocolate banana bread, a fresh fruit smoothie and granola and yogurt. It was fantastic! Leo our driver showed up right on time with his friend Victor who is also a driver/guide. Leo couldnít drive us due to a van that needed attention so Victor drove. He was very nice, extremely polite, spoke some English, and was very accommodating.
hopvac is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2008, 04:51 PM
  #2  
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We started off to Arenal with stops at Poas Volcano and Saarchi. Poas was clouded over by the time we got there, but we waited long enough to see the clouds part and catch a glimpse. We probably wouldnít take the time to do this again. Another stop in Saarchi to shop and eat lunch, our first taste of Typical Costa Rican food. It was good. The drive was beautiful - Iím glad we could enjoy it and grateful we had hired a driver. Victor put on 80ís pop which Iím guessing is his favorite. Of course, immediately my girls popped in their ipods. We finally arrived at Los Lagos and were checked in by 3:30 pm. It was cloudy so could not see the volcano.

Los Lagos is very big and our room was at the very top of the hill, quite a hike from the pool and restaurant. They did have a shuttle which we used constantly and never had to wait more than five minutes - they were great! My kids loved this resort - there were lots of pools, hot and cold and swim-up bar, very fast water slides and beautiful landscape. We didnít have a car so we chose to do the horseback riding and zip line on the premises. We had a fabulous time and both tours were great! The 2.5 hour horseback ride turned into 3.5 hours with Jonathon, our guide- he was one of the best we had the entire trip! The zip line was adventurous and I used muscles I didnít know I even had. I had to talk my husband into the zip line and of course he ended up having a blast (I knew he would). Between the two tours, we were hurting the next couple days. We also went to Eco Thermales Hot Springs. It was beautiful, but because we were at Los Lagos and had been at the pool part of the day, my kids and husband got bored fairly fast. We had dinner there which I thought was the best typical Costa Rican meal (delicious juice and rice pudding) we had during our trip. It was very good. After dinner we left even though we had a couple more hours left. Gorgeous setting! I might splurge on Tabacon next time. I think their setting might have been more in line with my familyís style even though Eco Thermales was more my style. The rooms at Los Lagos were basic, but clean. We didnít choose this place for the rooms so it was satisfactory. There was some partying going on near us so somewhat noisy at night. We made friends with the guy at the entrance - Luis. He was so sweet and could speak very little English so we taught him some English and he taught us some Spanish. He ended up giving us some collectible Costa Rican dollar bills that are no longer printed in Costa Rica that he collected. This marked the beginning of our love for the Costa Rican people. Breakfast was okay at Los Lagos, but not exceptional. We ate at Lava Lounge and Choza de Laurel in town - both were okay. The roast chicken at Choza was very dry.

Monday morning Leo picked us up at Los Lagos to take us to Peace Lodge. He gave us a lot of information about Costa Rica along the way and also stopped by a bridge with a huge population of Iguanas. The drive was absolutely beautiful. It was misty and foggy. We drove past Peace Lodge to the next little town to eat at a soda before arriving (aware the food was pricey at Peace Lodge). We found a place which Leo recommended which was nearly empty and owned by a Puerto Rican. He was very friendly. While we were eating a big group of Puerto Ricans on a tour bus stopped in for a shot of ďspecialĒ whisky and started taking pictures of this photograph of a guy on the wall. We had Leo ask later who this guy was. Someone important to Puerto Rico - I guess this man facilitated Puerto Ricoís Olympic team independent from the U.S. which then assisted them in being thought of as separate from the U.S. After they left, the owner came over and offered us a drink of his special liquor - very cool!

Peace Lodge - well what can I say - itís gorgeous and we thoroughly enjoyed our 18 hours there - 7 of which were sleeping, but dang the beds are comfortable! We didnít have time to even see the water falls since everything closed at 5 pm, even for the people staying there (but saw the last waterfall from the road as we were approaching Peace Lodge). The exhibits are incredible and my kids loved it! We ate at the Trout bar. My husband and I split the calamari and Caesar salad and my kids got the burger and chicken strips. It was all very good, I thought. The Monarch Villa was over the top gorgeous! I of course used the waterfall shower in the morning and took a bath with the fire going at night. My family tried to use the public Jacuzzi but it wasnít hot. We borrowed a DVD and slowly realized how uncomfortable the couch is in the living area. My youngest daughter got the free massage which she said was heavenly. Iím mad at myself for not taking advantage of that, but I had to check my email and time was of the essence. I wouldnít pay to stay here again, but donít regret the money I spent as it will be an unforgettable memory. If there was a place like this in the U.S. it would be double the price.

hopvac is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2008, 04:59 PM
  #3  
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Victor arrived to take us to Sansa for our flight out to Osa Peninsula. Everything went smoothly and before we knew it, we were enjoying an unbelievable view of the Pacific Coastline. The plane ride was an experience in itself. It was clear and there was no turbulence. Great ride!

We flew to Drake Bay first wondering where the heck the runway was, but as the plane shifted it came into view. Just one guy there and a little shack? Everyone got off but us and two people got on and we backed up and off we went. Puerto Jimenez was a little bigger with the airport being situated next to the cemetery. How convenient my husband joked. We got off and found our taxi driver waiting to take us to Black Turtle Lodge.

Black Turtle Lodge is next door to Iguana Lodge. You can walk easily next door to their bar (Pearl of Osa) and get a drink. We did both nights. We loved Black Turtle Lodge. Nico came to greet us as we pulled up with his 5 dogs and showed us to our tree house. It had a upstairs (queen bed) and a downstairs (two twins) and an outdoor bathroom with sporadic hot water. The beds have mosquito nets around them. The upstairs had a deck with a wraparound sofa. It was very clean. It was just a short walk to a very nice beach and also to the main quarters where they served meals.

We loved the low key vibe here. Nico who was very down to earth is originally from Berkeley, I believe. Meals were simple, healthy and delicious. We ate with the other guests and got to know them. We had spaghetti and garlic bread for lunch the day we arrived. Dinner that night was herb chicken, couscous, and a veggie and a coconut cakey thing. Homemade bagels/cream cheese, cinnamon muffins, fruit and juice for breakfast the next morning. One night he had a tomato basil salad and shrimp stir fry and mashed potatoes. Nico knew that my daughter didnít care for shrimp so they make chicken for her - they were very accommodating. Drinks were available on an honor system -just write down what you take and we paid the bill at the end. I noticed they always had great music playing during our meals.

We hardly had to tell Nico anything- he knew we wanted to go to the animal sanctuary and had it organized without a word from us. That was lots of fun, but beware -- there were lots of red ants. Everyone was getting bitten - I couldnít concentrate on what Earl was saying because I was too busy dodging the ants. Nico had boogie boards so my kids and husband spent one afternoon playing in the waves. My husband loves to fish and struck up a conversation with the bartender at Pearl of Osa. They hit it off and the next day the bartender brought all the stuff my husband needed to fish from the shore. Another wonderful Tico! At Black Turtle we saw spider monkeys daily and went on a night walk to the beach seeing tons of the Jack-oĎ-lantern crabs. Our time here was so different than anywhere else and we enjoyed being on the beach very much! We did go over to check out the Iguana Lodge and liked it also. Everyone was very friendly and one employee even gave us a tour of a casita. Same type of layout as BTL, much bigger though and little more luxury. The price difference was fairly big between the two and I was happy with our choice.

Frank picked us up as planned, right on time for our ride to Bosque del Cabo. We stopped off to get a wonderful French couple at Iguana Lodge and headed up to BDC. We made a quick detour to Pirates Cove and walked down to the lagoon, river and saw some caiman up close. After a bumpy ride, we arrived at BDC and lunch was waiting - you all know the drill - of course, we were in awe - it was incredible. This is by far the most beautiful place Iíve ever been to! We stayed in Casa Blanca for 4 nights and loved every minute of it. It was beautiful. The deck is incredible and when we werenít hiking or eating we were lounging on the wonderful deck. Thereís been a lot of talk about Casa Blanca lately and let me just say, to have a house this beautiful in the middle of the jungle is a feat within itself. Sure we had a couple big spiders, scorpion and gecko, but I would have been disappointed if we hadnít. We had a cute coati visit us (he was as surprised to see me and I was to see him) He was looking for our snacks and yes, he did succeed one day in finding them and ate some of our chips. After that, we hid them in the bathroom drawer and closed the door to the bathroom when we left. We sure fooled him. No problems after that. (The toilet seats were replaced by the way.) We did have some problems flushing the toilet - it didnĎt always want to. But Carlos resolved the problem pronto,

The people working there - we absolutely loved them!! The food - delicious - we loved breakfast and lunch for the menu and dinner for the company. It was fun hanging out at the bar learning about everyoneís day. The first night there was only 23 of us at dinner and the last dinner, I think there was 50. Dinner was very good, but a little too gourmet for my kids. If Maureen saw that you werenít helping yourself to something she made sure she put a helping on your plate. My husband and I enjoyed dinner! The problem at BDC is that we were never hungry because we never missed a meal. I might just go for breakfast and dinner and bring food for lunch next time, but I loved the lunch menu so itís a hard choice. We hiked all the trails but the Golfo Dulce and Sanrio?. We saw the four baby armadillos by the creek trail - adorable (but where was Mom? She wasnít keeping a good eye one them at all). We saw spider monkeys and white faced Capuchins and only heard the howlers. Toucans hung out around Casa Blanca and we saw macaws flying everyday passed the deck. Lots of coatis and agoutis.

Phil and Kim were wonderful and down-to-earth and their baby Ben was beautiful - what an adventurous life he has ahead of him! We did the sunset tour with Phillip and the horseback riding tour to the beach - lots of fun. Phil even picked us up from our tour because it was Saturday night and everyone wanted to go to town. My favorite foods - tuna melt for sure - banana pancakes and Maureen made this yucca breaded chicken for dinner one night with a hot sauce that was to die for! We had pina coladas every night that were out of this world.

We met people from France, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina, California and there was actually a Latin America professor there from Chico filming video for his classes (this wasnĎt his first visit). We loved meeting all the different guests - it was definitely part of the fun of BDC. What a small world! This place is heaven on earth. I am wondering if it will continue to remain affordable after the word gets out beyond Fodorís. We need to get back there before it does!!

Well, it was time to fly back to San Jose and very sad to leave as our trip was coming to an end very fast. While waiting at the Sansa airport - two scarlet macaws flew down to the tree right outside and started eating the fruit in the tree. Great photo op! After we got back to San Jose, we walked over to the big airport and purchased our departure tax since we were leaving the next day. I didnít know what to expect and thought it might save us time.

Back to Pura Vida Hotel. We arrived and they showed us back to our room we were in the first night and brought us a delicious fruit smoothie. Berni called us a taxi and we went to this souvenir shop near the airport - Green Turtle? Nothing really worth buying there, but the kids bought some trinkets.

I scheduled dinner there that night so we wouldnít have to worry about where to eat. I had heard that Berniís wife Nihe was an excellent cook. It was just us and another couple who were newlyweds. The dinner was the best I have in the two weeks we were there. First course a crispy tortilla shell filled with spicy pork and a watermelon shooter. Main course - chicken enchilada with a spicy tomatillo sauce and dessert was a cocoanut ice milk with a warm cocoanut bar. It was so delicious!!! And a great ending to our trip! We were up early for a 9 am flight and check in and going thru security took all of 15 minutes - we were home by 9 pm.

Back to reality - as for my husband who wasnít so keen on my Costa Rica trip idea - he canít wait to go back!

Tips:

Take time to enjoy the ticos - they are the loveliest people

Donít go for the food - its secondary to the people and beautiful country

Even though the food was secondary to me, I felt very healthy eating it - the philosophy there is more ďeating to liveĒ than ďliving to eat"

Mosquitoes were most noticeable in Arenal when doing the zip line - most of our bites came from there- donít take oily repellent - we used repellent wipes, a travel spray and a lotion repellent with sunscreen which was very convenient. The oil we took got messy.

Did our laundry thru los Lagos - it was about $13 but great to have clean clothes.

donítí let the rain stop you - it stops as fast as it starts

We used the weekender bag from Ebags which was suggested on this Fodorís. It was perfect for Sansa requirements and turns into a backpack with was much easier to handle. Great Tip!

Bring lots of zip locks in every size

Bring lithium batteries for your digital camera - we only had to replace three times and we took a lot of pictures

Medicine you should take? I took a little of everything since I had kids with me, but we only used bonine, Neosporin, Advil, band aids and benedryl. The last four were used on only my daughter who had a reaction to the red ant bites Also we did take two Pepto-Bismol the first few mornings to coat our stomachs (tip from our dr.) but stopped after a while. We never had any problems with the food or water.

Enjoy the fresh fruits - itís the best!

I bought Tevas that were similar to keens and they were great and quite a bit cheaper. also flip flops and tennis shoes. Used them all equally.

Oil of Olay face wipes were great - my daughter said her complexion had never been so good.

Pura Vida!
hopvac is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2008, 09:38 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2007
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Great report Hopvac, thanks for posting. Good to hear from some other Norcal folks (my EDH stands for El Dorado Hills).

Glad you had a great time Costa Rica. I am sure it was hard to come back to the dry brown hills here after being in the rain forest.

I hadn't heard about the armadillos at BDC. Did you happen to get any pictures?
EDH_Traveler is offline  
Jul 4th, 2008, 03:07 AM
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I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and now your husband is a convert!
volcanogirl is online now  
Jul 4th, 2008, 05:43 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Apr 2004
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So glad you enjoyed your stay, especially at BdC! (It's kind of like talking up an old friend, telling someone to meet them, you really will like them and then they do!) Agree about Maureen, don't ever say you're not all that hungry at the buffet, she will set you straight, lol! Nice to get a review of Black Turtle as well, it doesn't get much mention - did you happen to see Yellow Coco lodge nearby? I know it's right in that area as well. So when are you coming back?
tully is offline  
Jul 4th, 2008, 06:45 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2004
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Great report, so glad you loved Casa Blanca, we were there the first week in June, not our first time and for sure not our last!
Glad to get the scoop on other places as well! Weren't the toucans wonderful to watch. We did not have any coatis in the house!! Alas..
Thanks!
parrmt is offline  
Jul 4th, 2008, 07:07 AM
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Thanks so much for your wonderful report I am doing a similar itinerary inJan with a teen girl. Would you skip eco thermals if staying at los lagos?? thanks again your report got me excited to go
cmazza is offline  
Jul 4th, 2008, 09:12 AM
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EDH_Traveller - Hello neighbor! Yes the brown hills were waiting to greet us - actually black hills. Everything's burning up around us. The armadillos were right at the base of the creek trail. We excitedly told Francisco and Cindy at the bar and they ran up to them. Then we saw Kim in her car who also ran to see them. Guess it's not a common sighting. Kim said she'd only saw a few over the years. Francisco said that a gardener told hime that the mom and dad lived by Mariposa (that may be the wrong name but it's the closest cabin to the creek trail), maybe under the deck? We did take pictures and I hope to post some.

tully - we definitely plan on returning - possibly without kids next time - our 20th anniversary coming up in about a year!

Volcanogirl - I knew my husband would love it - like anything else I just had to get him on the plane.

parrmt - The toucans were wonderful at Casa Blanca. Also I guess when my 13 year old was lounging on the deck by herself, two scarlett macaws landed on a branch in the tree that sits directly in from of the deck. She got a picture, but was so excited it didn't turn out very well.

cmazza - Eco Thermales is so beautiful, but my kids don't really like lounging in hot water - they're more into water slides and boogie boarding - very active. So you'd have to make that call based on your teenager's likes and dislikes. Los Lagos has what I guess you could consider hot pools, but it's not like Eco Thermales - I can't stress enough the beautiful setting. I hate to say it was a waste of money, but no one in my family got much out of it, but me. I think it might have been more fun for them if we had gone with another family
hopvac is offline  
Jul 6th, 2008, 04:13 PM
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Nice, detailed review - thanks!! Glad to hear you enjoyed Casa Blanca, sounds like a great choice at Bosque del Cabo.

Did you think that the time you spent between the two locations in the Osa was a good split - was 4 nights enough at Bosque? I'm contemplating doing the same thing, only spending the two nights at Iguana Lodge.

Just wondering how the weather was while you were there? I know it's the rainy season, but curious about the temperature/humidity during late June...
Tasha440 is offline  
Jul 6th, 2008, 04:23 PM
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Thanks for a great report hopvac. We're off to Costa Rica on the 12th, so this was very timely. I'm glad you had such a great time and that your husband did as well.
Dana_M is offline  
Jul 6th, 2008, 04:26 PM
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Hey, hopvac, didn't know you were a fodorite! We met at Bosque del Cabo, I was the one with the girls ages 5 and 7. We did love Los Lagos and the waterslides! :0)
MonicaRichards is offline  
Jul 6th, 2008, 08:32 PM
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Tasha440 - The split between Black Turtle Lodge and BDC was perfect - you experience different things and the animal sactuary tour is more reasonable closer to town. From BDC its more expensive due to drive to town. So we liked the way we did it. You'll love BDC and we visited Iguana Lodge and really liked the looks of it. Four days was perfect for BDC , just a enough time to do everything and have time to just hang out. The weather was great. It rained a ittle, but it never got in the way. The humidity took a little getting used to (mostly damp sheets on the beds), but not really not an issue at all. I think it was a great time to go weatherwise. Have fun planning your Trip!

Dana_M - have fun on your trip -I'm jealous!

MonicaRichards- Wow, I thought I might run across someone from this board! Glad you liked Los Lagos - did you do any of the tours there?How was Cano Negro? Wish se could have done that, but everyone was tired of driving. We tried to fit Zoo Ave in like you suggested, but not enough time. Glad to have met you at BDC! Wish we were still there!
hopvac is offline  
Jul 7th, 2008, 10:43 AM
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Enjoyed reading your report. I am just starting to research a trip to Costa Rica for next year and the trip reports are very helpful.
Thanks for taking the time to write a report.
LindainOhio is offline  
Jul 7th, 2008, 11:43 AM
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Cano Negro was good. Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable so we got to get a lot of our questions out of the way. He still didn't know why all the kids were always walking to or from school or hanging out outside but never seemingly inside actually studying. Anyone know the answer to that one? Anyhow, we did see a lot of birds and iguanas and caimans on the tour and slipped across the Nicaraguan border for a microsecond so we could add that to our list of countries traveled. The girls really enjoyed just being on the boat and the guide was taken with our seven year old and her immense love of nature and ability to both spot and identify all kinds of critters (she was addicted to our wildlife cards). We didn't do the ziplining at Los Lagos but we did do the hike to the volcano viewpoint which we found out from our guide later is a lot more dangerous than we realized. And we went to the serpent museum in El Castillo which was also a big hit.
MonicaRichards is offline  
Jul 8th, 2008, 06:16 AM
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Great report, hopvac! I've been away from a computer for 5 days, and have been suffering withdrawels from no Fodors, so your report was just what I needed! So glad you had a great trip!

What part of your trip was the favorite for your daughters?
janenicole is offline  
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