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Craig Mar 12th, 2001 01:59 PM

Costa Rica Trip Report: Lapa Rios, Villa Caletas & Vista del Valle
First of all, thanks to all of the posters who responded to my questions prior to my trip both on this site and via e-mail. <BR> <BR>My wife, Jeane and I flew United Airlines out of Hartford, CT via Washington Dulles and Mexico City. Although there are more direct ways to get to CR, we wanted to upgrade to First/Business Class using United frequent flyer miles. The upgrade makes a big difference on a long trip. Since the weather was good, all of the flights were on time. We left Hartford at 2:30 PM EST and arrived in San Jose at 2:00 AM CST. Immigration went quickly since we had carried on all of our baggage. Our driver, Enrico, from Vista del Valle (in Grecia, near the Airport) was there waiting for us and we were at the inn in 20 minutes. If you are a regular on this site, you know that Vista del Valle is THE place to stay on your first and last day in CR. It's a great location overlooking a canyon formed by the Rio Grande River surrounded by coffee and orange plantations away from the crime and chaos of San Jose. We had reserved an "Exotic Woods Suite" but were given the more expensive "Tea House" instead. The "Tea House" does not have the view of the "Exotic Woods Suite" but is very private and spacious. Although we went to bed at about 2:30 AM, we were up at 7:30 AM, ready to go. We had a wonderful Costa Rican breakfast (included) and proceded to hike down to the waterfall. It was an adventurous hike where we had to climb down ladders in a couple of places. The waterfall was very pretty and worth the 30-45 minute trek. We thought it would be more difficult hiking back up but it wasn't bad. After strolling the grounds and trying out the hamock on the front porch of our cottage, we checked out and set out for Villa Caletas near Tarcoles on the Central Pacific coast. Enrico was again our driver as we had made the transportation arrangements through Vista del Valle. After a fairly scenic drive of about 1 hour, 15 minutes we arrived at Villa Caletas. (continued)

Craig Mar 12th, 2001 02:28 PM

Costa Rica Trip Report: Lapa Rios, Villa Caletas & Vista del Valle, Part II <BR> <BR>We arrived at Villa Caletas in the early afternoon. It's a pretty impressive place. We had reserved a Junior Suite and were upgraded to a regular suite which happened to have its own pool. Pretty cool actually. We never thought we would use it but on the coast it is very hot and we found it refreshing all day long. We stayed at Villa Caletas for three nights, allowing us two full days for activities. I was glad to see they had a workout area with a universal gym with a great view of the Pacific. It was great getting up at sunrise and working out while watching the waves break. Villa Caletas has a very nice main pool which is shaded most of the time. It is designed so that it appears to drop off into the ocean. Sunsets are the main attraction, though. The inn has a special amphitheatere with Greco-Roman columns and new age music just for observing the sunsets which were spectacular. <BR> <BR>We used Villa Caletas services to arrange some local tours. We enjoyed the half-day "Crocodile Tour" which was more bird-watching than crocodiles. For the first half we were the only ones on the boat and had the guide to ourselves. It was our first introduction to the many species of birds found in Costa Rica. We also went on a hiking tour of Carrera National Reserve--disappointing, since it had been so easy to see wildlife on the Tarcoles River on the "Crocodile Tour". Finally, we went on a "Canopy Tour" which involves gliding on cables set up between tall trees in the Jungle. No wildlife to see, just fun. My wife never really got the hang of it, but we both thought it was a memorable experience. All the tours were local (within 1/2 hour of Villa Caletas) and we probably paid too much as Villa Caletas, the tour company and the guides all got a cut. It was easy, though and we were picked up promptly for each adventure. <BR> <BR>The beach at Villa Caletas is a long (40 minutes) downhill hike. There is also a shuttle that runs every hour most of the day. One day we hiked down and took the shuttle back. On the way down, we saw a troup of white-faced monkeys--that was definitely a highlight. The beach is volcanic so the sand is dark. The tide pools in the lava had some interesting shells, most of them inhabited by little crabs. <BR> <BR>We didn't bother to go anywhere else for meals. The food at Villa Caletas was excellent and not too expensive. <BR> <BR>One down note and something to be aware of: there was a corporate meeting that started on the last day we were there. They closed off the amphitheatre and one of the restaurants (there are two) to the other guests. That meeting was to last at least two days and if we had arrived later in the week we might have missed out on part of the Villa Caletas experience. <BR> <BR>On to Lapa Rios (continued--see next reply).

lisa Mar 12th, 2001 02:51 PM

Craig -- I am really enjoying reading this & can't wait for the next segment of your report!

Craig Mar 12th, 2001 03:09 PM

Costa Rica Trip Report: Lapa Rios, Villa Caletas & Vista Del Valle, Part III. <BR> <BR>Note that because we were going to Lapa Rios, we decided not to bother with Manual Antonio, about 1 hour, 15 minutes south of Villa Caletas. We had heard though posters on this site and from others who had been there that it is small and crowded, especially during the dry season when we were there. <BR> <BR>Lapa Rios was great!!! It is a private reserve so only paying guests are allowed to explore its miles of hiking trails. Although we arranged transport to Quepos Airport through Villa Caletas, Lapa Rios took care of everything else. Our flight to Puerto Jiminez left a few minutes early and took only a half hour. After the flight and a dusty, bumpy 45 minute ride, we arrived. After a late lunch and brief orientation, we were shown to our bungalow #12 (Sargento). Although we had requested one closer to the lodge, it hadn't worked out so we settled for the long hike back and forth. Actually, it wasn't that bad but it is an extra set of stairs. We would see about 10 lizards each time we made the trek. We also saw Scarlet Macaws and Toucans as we hiked back and forth. The bungalow was great--nice view, nice breeze, nicely appointed. We liked the fact that it had two sinks and plenty of closet space. Our first day we watched a family of coati mundi (racoon like animals) playing by our large deck. We stayed at Lapa Rios 3 nights and had two full days to hike. The Osa Trail with Dilber as our guide was the best. Dilber carried along his "scope" so he could zero in on the four types of monkeys, various birds and other wildlife. It is a long, 4 hour hike but not too much up and down. Also good was the "Starfish Walk" with Danillo to explore the tide pools at the beach at low tide and the "Early Birds" walk with William which starts at 5:45 AM. On the "Early Birds" walk we got our closest look at a couple of Scarlet McKaws. We also observed two types of Toucans. The "Wild Waterfalls walk was disappointing, probably because it was led by Augusto, who has a wonderful heart, but is more interested in his specialty which is the medicines of the rain forest for which there is a separate walk. <BR> <BR>I missed the pool that we had at Villa Caletas but the very private outdoor shower was very refreshing after the hikes. <BR> <BR>The food at Lapa Rios is wonderful. I especially liked the cold soups at lunchtime. They also make a wicked Tico Sour, if you like a cocktail before dinner. <BR> <BR>After thanking everyone on our last day at Lapa Rios (and you really do want to thank everyone--the entire staff is wonderful!), we left for the airport. We arrived a half hour before our flight time but our plane was waiting for us so again we left early. Even though we were 45 minutes early, a driver (not Enrico) from Vista del Valle was waiting for us. It took about 45 minutes to get there this time since you arrive at a different airport for internal flights. <BR> <BR>After relaxing that afternoon, we had a terrific dinner at Vista del Valle with a great view of the lights of San Jose over the canyon. After dinner, Arturo, the manager let me check out the weather at home on the net--we had missed a major blizzard that hit Hartford and a smaller snowstorm a few days later. <BR> <BR>We had to leave Vista del Valle at 4 AM in order to have plenty of time to get to the airport, check in, pay airport tax, etc. and make the 6 AM flight. Enrico was our driver again--I don't think he ever sleeps. <BR> <BR>This time we flew to Hartford via Mexico City and Chicago, arriving in Hartford. Again, all the flights were on time. <BR> <BR>Feel free to post a reply if you have any questions about the trip. My only regret is that it was very hot once we got away from Vista del Valle which made some of the hiking (and walking!)uncomfortable for my wife.

Craig Mar 12th, 2001 03:10 PM

Lisa, <BR> <BR>Again, thanks for all of your help! <BR> <BR>Craig

Iza Mar 12th, 2001 03:22 PM

Great report, Craig! I know exactly why you thought the upgrade to first class was worth it on those flights. We flew the same way to and from Costa Rica last year and there is no leg room whatsoever in the coach. <BR>We are planning a return trip to Costa Rica this summer and are thinking about "hitting" the same places you stayed at. Could you give me an idea of the cost of transportation from Vista del Valle to Villas Caletas and from Villas Caletas to the airport in Quepos? Thanks.

Joni Ciarletta Mar 12th, 2001 03:53 PM

You are very lucky you had a good experience at Villa Caletas. Our's was horrible. They were doing construction on our room and on the entire building where our room was located. It was noisy, dirty, and felt unsafe with all of the workers constantly peering into our room. Romantic, quiet and relaxing? Anything but. I was very disappointed and the hotel staff would do nothing to help. We shelled out big bucks to stay there and even bigger bucks to eat there, and the money would have been better spent at many other places. <BR> <BR>Fodors, please make a note of this!!! <BR> <BR>Joni <BR>

Craig Mar 13th, 2001 09:48 AM

Iza, I think we paid $95 to go from Vista del Valle to Villa Caletas and $75 to go from Villa Caletas to Quepos Airport. <BR> <BR>Joni, sorry your experience at Villa Caletas was not good. They were doing construction when we were there as well but it was far enough from our suite that it did not bother us.

Joni Ciarletta Mar 13th, 2001 12:51 PM

We paid $200 round trip from Xandari to Villa Caletas and back to Xandari again. This was arranged by Villa Caletas. We probably could have hired our own taxi driver for about $150 but we were lazy and just let the hotel handle it. <BR> <BR>Joni

v Mar 14th, 2001 08:08 AM

Thanks Craig and Joni for your remarks. We are going to Costa Rica in 6 days. Craig, we are also flying United and have the same flight times as you (arrive at 2:00am and leave at 6:00am). We will only be there from 3/20-26. Do you suggest we stay at the Vista del Valle the first night (and leave in the morning to catch a flight transfer from the intl airport at 12:30), or should we just stay at the Hampton Inn which is right across the street from the airport and catch an 8:00 flight transfer to Quepos? Our concern is that we only have 5 days in CR. Is Xandari nicer than Vista del Valle. We have plans to stay at the La Mariposa once we arrive in Quepos. What part of the building do you have to be in to be away from the construction at Villa Caletas? Your trip sounds wonderful, I hope our stay is as pleasant as yours!

Craig Mar 14th, 2001 09:26 AM

Dear "v", I would stay at Vista del Valle and leave at 12:30, especially since you probably won't be able to check into your hotel in Quepos until early afternoon. Also, interior flights from San Jose on Sansa and Travelair do not leave from the International airport but from another airport about 25 minutes away (45 minutes from VdV). Vista del Valle is a nice place to hang out for the morning--a full breakfast outdoors in the restaurant overlooking the canyon is included in the price of your room. I suggest you make your reservation asap. <BR> <BR>As for Villa Caletas, the construction that I saw was on a new main building that will eventually house the reception area, conference rooms and some additional rooms for lodging. I didn't think anyone was staying there but maybe Joni can clarify that. Our suite was actually almost next to that building and as I said, we were not disturbed at all. If you are able to get anything on this short notice, I would stay away from any "new" rooms.

v Mar 14th, 2001 09:49 AM

Thanks much!!

Joni Ciarletta Mar 14th, 2001 12:23 PM

Xandari is closer to the airport than Vista del Valle and also offers the free breakfast with a beautiful view of the central valley. Both are great places to stay. <BR> <BR>For Villa Caletas, it would make me feel great if I could convince you not to stay there!! (Vengeance is sweet!) You will not be allowed to decide which room you want to stay in. When I made my reservations 6 months earlier, I requested one of two specific rooms and they would not reserve a certain room so you will be stuck with what they have. <BR> <BR>Trust me, there were people staying in the building they were still working on. I was one of them. One poor soul was even staying in the room below me which was even worse. These rooms are still not finished, they overlook a construction site, it is noisy, and even unsafe feeling with all the workers around. It is not worth $150 - $250 a night to have to gamble on whether you will get stuck in one of these rooms. <BR> <BR>As an alternative, I recommend Lapa Rios. It is about 20 minutes north of Villa Caletas, right next to Carara and I have heard great things about it. If we could have gotten our money back from VC we would have moved to Lapa Rios but they refused!!!!! They have such incompetent front desk staff that my husband was convinced the front desk manager must have been the idiot son of the owner. <BR> <BR>I could go on and on but I think you get my point....I was very upset about VC.

Joni Ciarletta Mar 14th, 2001 12:29 PM

Oops...I made a goof on my last post. I meant to recommend Villa Lapa(s) not Lapa Rios. Villa Lapa(s) is located near Carara and they just put in suspension bridges so you can walk across the rainforest. I heard from several of the guides that it is supposed to be a very nice place with incredible grounds. (Lapa Rios is also a fantastic place but it is on the Osa Peninsula). <BR> <BR>

Iza Jun 8th, 2001 12:51 PM

Up for Mark

Connie Jul 12th, 2001 01:40 PM

Dear Craig, <BR>We're planning a trip from 11/9 to 11/18 and after continuously reading through this site for a week and changing our minds 3 times, we're now probably going to go to the same areas you have. (skipping Manuel Antonio entirely) <BR> <BR>Our current itinerary is 2 nights at Vista del Valle (we arrive at 9:45 pm) <BR>3 days at Osa Pennininsula, (but at Bosque del Cabo because Lapa Rios was out of our price range). 3 days at Villa Calletas, and then the last night at Vista del Valle. We will not be renting a car. <BR> <BR>In your opinion, would you go to Osa or Villa Caletas first. Our thought was to rough it first and have the pampering at the end. <BR> <BR>From Puerto Jimenez, what is the closest airport to Villa Caletas? Do we go to Quepos and drive? How long is the drive? (I know you did it the opposite, from Villa Caletas to Lapa Rios). <BR> <BR>I know you went in the dry season and I'm going at the end of the wet, but how hot was the weather? Was it similar at Villa Caletas and Lapa Rios? We're planning to spend most of our time hiking especially in Osa and want to know what we're in for. <BR> <BR>Thanks for the imput. Your and Lisa's report have been invaluable for me!

lisa Jul 13th, 2001 07:54 AM

Hi Connie. I would go to Villa Caletas first because I think the Osa Peninsula will be the highlight of your trip if you enjoy it as much as we did -- so I would save Osa for the end. I hope you post a trip report when you get back.

Craig Jul 13th, 2001 07:56 AM

Connie, <BR> <BR>Sounds like a great itinerary. I wouldn't rule out a day trip to Manual Antonio. It will not be as crowded when you go as when we were there, since its the end of the rainy season. However, if you go to Osa first you will probably have already seen a lot of what you will see at Manual Antonio. <BR> <BR>The only reason that I can think of to go to Villa Caletas first is that the rooms are air conditioned which would allow you to adapt to the heat better. Although, I did not mind the heat, it really made my wife uncomfortable at Osa. She said that because there was no air conditioning, there was no escape from it. I found that our cool outdoor shower was sufficient to cool me off. I used it several times a day. <BR> <BR>It was very hot, no question about it--probably hotter at Lapa Rios, for the reason above. Just remember to drink lots of water when you hike and concentrate on enjoying the magnificent surroundings. You'll be fine. <BR> <BR>Have a wonderful time. <BR> <BR>Craig

Connie Jul 13th, 2001 08:29 AM

Dear Craig and Lisa, <BR>Thanks for the tips! We just booked Bosque del Cabo for the first part (because 'Green Season' prices end 11/15 there) and have tentative reservations at Villa Caletas for the next. We're also checking into Punta Islita as an alternative to Villa Caletas because everyone (including Elisa and Arturo from Vista del Valle) has been raving about it and Punta Islita has mountain biking. They haven't responded to my e-mails, however and travel arrangements seem more complicated, so it may not pan out. <BR>One LAST question about weather: Lisa, you went in November, about the same time we are going. Was the heat as unrelentless for you during that time. We won't miss Osa for anything because it seems so incredible, just checking. <BR>Thanks!

Iza Jul 13th, 2001 09:10 AM

Connie, <BR>did you see the two threads dealing with Bosque del Cabo that I brought up for you a couple of days ago? A guy named Jarred stayed there and described his stay in detail (one thread entitled "Quepos v. Osa", the other "Jarred - Bosque del Cabo"). It sounds like he and his wife had a great time there. As to choosing between Punta Islita and Villa Caletas, when we were in CR last year we had a Costa Rican guide during one of our tours who was getting married and going to Punta Islita for his honeymoon. He raved about the place and from what he was saying it sounded like one of the best places in CR for both romance and more active pursuits. <BR>Given the fact that Punta Islita is in Guanacaste it will not be as lush (in terms of surrounding vegetation) as Osa or even Villa Caletas. However, being in Punta Islita will give you an opportunity to experience another microclimate in CR - I believe it is dry tropical forest around that area. Logistically, you may have transportation issues: you may have to fly to SJ from Bosque del Cabo and then catch another flight to Punta Islita (I think Travelair flies there). <BR>Good luck and have a great trip.

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