Costa Rica Trip Report- Osa, Arenal

Old Jan 3rd, 2005, 09:51 AM
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Costa Rica Trip Report- Osa, Arenal

We just returned from a fabulous trip to CR and thanks to all who gave me advice on this forum! We are a family of 5- 2 adults, a 15 year old boy, a 13 year old girl and an 8 year old boy.

Tuesday night (12/21)- flew to Atlanta and stayed at a Comfort Inn near the airport. We did this to avoid having to leave NY at 4 am for a 6 am flight.

Wednesday (12/22)- got up and caught a much saner 10:35 am flight on Delta out of Atlanta. Arrived in CR around 2 pm and was picked up by our hotel’s driver. We stayed at the Alta Hotel in Escazu the night before flying out on Nature Air for 5 nights in Osa.

The Alta Hotel is fairly pricy- we had a junior suite for about $175.00. It was 2 rooms, one with 2 beds and 1 with a pullout couch. We thought the lobby, the pool area and the restaurant areas were charming. The rooms however were on basement level with a little sitting area outside. While convenient to the pool, the rooms smelled quite musty. I would have complained but we were only there for one night. Took a nice dip in the pool which was a bit cold though- not heated. We ate in their restaurant, La Luz, which was well reviewed in my guidebooks, but we found the food expensive and disappointing. The chef was making a valiant attempt to formulate high end exotic cuisine, but he couldn’t pull it off. The Escazu area however is only about 15 minutes from Tobias Bolanos Airport in Pavas so it is a good area to stay if you are catching a flight on Nature Air. I wouldn't have wanted to be staying in Alajuela and worrying about the traffic!

Thursday (12/23)- Caught a 9am flight to Palmar Sur for our five night stay in Osa. Nature Air left on time. We were in a small 8 seater airplane. My husband has done a lot of flying in small aircraft in different parts of the world and felt that their operation was very professional. The flight was smooth. At Palmar Sur we transferred to a van after about a 15 minute wait and then caught a boat at Sierpe. Our boat driver, Oswaldo, took us through some narrow mangrove channels which not all of the boats do. He was very informative. We arrived in Drake Bay and went up the Rio Agujitas river to our lodge. Oswaldo pointed out a cool nocturnal bird- a type of heron- hiding in the shrubbery and maneuvered his boat to give us a good view. Amazing he could spot it!

At the top of the river, Tracie Stice (the Bug Lady) and John Franco, her partner, were waiting for us. We stayed at their rental house, the Drake Bay Rainforest Chalet. We loved staying there and had a fabulous experience! We had paid for chef service and our chef, Sean, greeted us with a delicious curried fish lunch.

Friday (12/24)- We went on our boat tour to Cano Island. Our guide was Luis of Corcovado Adventures. We saw a pod of dolphins. While snorkeling, we saw all the basic fabulous fish, plus my son saw a white tipped shark, and we saw a hawksbill sea turtle. We ended up seeing 3 turtles, but this one we got close to. There were jellyfish in the water. Near the rocks by the beach, they only caused your skin to slightly prickle, but we tried another area where we just couldn’t stay in the water- it was too uncomfortable.

Saturday (12/25)- Rest day at the house. We swam at the beach (which we had to ourselves) and in the afternoon took a kayak trip down the river to the bay, then swam in the river. I love the Agujitas river- it is cool and refreshing and a nice change from salt water which can leave you feeling sticky!

That night, we took Tracie’s (the Bug Lady) tour which was FABULOUS! Some of the lodges (such as Aguila de Osa) have started using in-house staff to give their tours, but I can not imagine that anyone could be as knowledgeable or fascinating as Tracie who is an entomologist and has lived in Osa for 12 years. She is a wealth of fascinating facts about insects. My kids loved the night vision goggles as well. If you plan to stay anywhere in Drake Bay, I recommend arranging a tour with Tracie! You can arrange a tour with her directly through her website, which is This tour was a highlight of our trip.

Sunday (12/26)- We went to Corcovado. Again with Luis and Corcovado Adventures. Hiked through the jungle, saw monkeys, coati, agouti, and scarlet macaws. Then hiked up to the waterfall where we swam in the river. My son got tired and needed to piggy back part of the time.

Monday (12/27)- Rented horses and snorkel gear. Our guide, who spoke very little English, came with 5 horses. My 8 yr old son rode his own horse but was yoked to the guide’s horse. The horse back riding could be a little scary as at times we went up or down pretty steep trails. But it was also fun and the scenery was spectacular! We rode to San Josecito, a stunning beach about 1.5 hours away. There we snorkled for about 2 hours. Then had a snack and returned back to our house. (We were trying to keep within the ½ day rate of $45 per person). This turned out to be our favorite day of the whole trip. When we got back, Tracie came over and spent about 2 hours showing us amazing photos she has taken of the wildlife in the area- weird insects, snakes swallowing bullfrogs- incredible pictures.) Unfortunately, after hearing some of her snake stories, we were too creeped out to take our farewell river swim!

We were due to depart the next day. The Osa portion of our trip was amazing- one of our best trips ever! I was very glad we booked five nights there and even would have liked to have an extra night or two. (I met some tourists who stayed there 7 nights- they felt it was one night too long- so maybe 6 is optimal.)We had perfect weather. It did rain during two of the nights but our days were sunny and beautiful. We only got a few mosquito bites and didn't have much of a problem with insects, although the house can get ants if you are not careful about crumbs.

I will post the second part of my trip report shortly and if anyone has questions, feel free to e-mail me or ask on the forum for all to see!
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Old Jan 3rd, 2005, 10:08 AM
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cinepez, I'm looking forward to the rest of your trip report!

I enjoyed reading the first part, as I'm planning our first family trip to Costa Rica for June 2005! I'm travelling with husband, 22-year-old son and 2 daughters, 18 and 19.

We're going to San Jose, Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. Where did you stay in Arenal? What did you do there?

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Old Jan 3rd, 2005, 10:41 AM
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A wonderful report, cinepez. Thank you so much for all the terrific details. We're leaving for our first CR trip in 3 days (!), and we'll be in Arenal (not Osa this time). So I'm looking forward to your report.
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Old Jan 5th, 2005, 10:55 AM
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Rest of Trip Report

Tuesday (12/28)- Travel Day. Went back up the Sierpe, back on Nature Air- and this time we had a bit of a bumpy flight back. Arrived in San Jose where our rental car- a Mitsubishi Montero 4x4 (automatic) from Adobe was waiting. (I recommend them). We paid $75 a day including insurance, but we decided to take the optional full coverage insurance for an extra $8 a day, and paid an extra $2 a day for an extra driver (me). Drove about 4 hours to the Arenal Volcano and checked into the Arenal Paraiso. We took the highway through Cuidad Quesada- lots of trucks and tour busses. It was raining and going was slow. The hotel is simple but cheap and not bad for the price. All five of us could fit in one room. We had some cocktails at the swim up bar of their heated pool. Unfortunately, the volcano was completely clouded over! Had it been clear, we would have had a fabulous view- but we could only see clouds! It never cleared up!

Wednesday (12/29)- took the Arenal Paraiso Canopy Tour, which was 12 platforms. My husband and 3 kids did it, I declined due to a fear of heights. This tour was very convenient as it is right at the hotel. You can do 3 lines and then have an opportunity to bail out if you are not comfortable. Out of a group of 15 people that my family was in- 8 bailed out (including my 8 year old, who pronounced the whole experience “too freaky”). My husband and two older kids continued on and loved the zip line where you are flying over a river.

That afternoon we went to the volcano national park. Got there late as my guidebook (Frommer’s) didn’t say it closes at four. The park ranger said we could park outside the barrier. There is an 8 km trail that takes about 3 hours to do. Because we got there late, we just hiked through an area of tall reeds and then through a short area of primary forest to the lava fields. At that moment, the weather cleared and we could see up the slopes of the volcano although the cone was still obscured in clouds. Fabulous view of sunset over Lake Arenal.

I should talk about food in the area. Some fellow travelers recommended Toad Hall which is near Nuevo Arenal along the lake. I believe it is only open for bkft and lunch though. We never made it there. The first night we went into La Fortuna. Tried to eat at Las Brasitas, a Mexican restaurant and we found out, after waiting 20 minutes for a menu, that they were out of pineapple and flour tortillas! So we left and went to Luigi’s where they brought us the wrong pizza and never brought my son’s spaghetti. (He fell asleep while waiting). The next day, we ate at El Novillo, on the right hand side of the road past Arenal Paraiso as you drove to Tabacon. Tenderest steaks we had in CR! Enormous portions, so consider sharing! For dinner, we ate at El Cholo de Laurel in Fortuna- pretty good but the meat was chewier than at El Novillo.

Thursday (12/30)-
Waking up in Arenal feeling pretty soggy. Volcano still socked in. Got an early start for San Jose where we would spend our last night. We took the smaller road down which goes through Las Tigras towards San Ramon. There were fewer tour busses and trucks on this road. At times the driving was a bit hairy due to fog. But overall the driving in CR didn’t seem so bad. We are from the NYC area though and my husband has driven in Europe, Mexico, Turkey and Morocco. Despite CR’s reputation for bad drivers, we didn’t find it that bad.

We cut over to Sarchi which is a handicrafts town. Not much there though- just some big souvenir stores on the outskirts of town with tour busses pulled up. There were not so many of these stores. We went in and picked up some souvenirs- prices were reasonable. Some beautiful boxes are about $20, cutting boards for about $10.

Continued and started looking for our hotel (Buena Vista) in Alajuela. We ended up getting lost but this actually led us up to Poas Volcano National Park. We arrived at 2:50pm and the park closes at 3:30pm. The ranger kindly charged us Costa Rican price not foreigner price to get in. Dashed to the crater where we had about 20 minutes to check it out. This was actually just the right amount of time since there was a strong sulfur smell that eventually bothers your lungs. Despite the fact that it was the afternoon, the crater was clear. It is really impressive with a turquoise blue acid lake in the bottom and steaming vents which leave yellow sulfur deposits. As we stood there, the clouds started to roll in, completely obscuring the view of the crater. So we were lucky! If you get there with more time to spare, there is a ½ hour hike down to another lake you can do. You must start the hike by 2:30pm.

12/31 Last Day.

Our hotel, the Buena Vista, was not fancy but was clean and comfortable with lots of hot water. Also not expensive. We had two rooms with 2 beds in each. Kids were thrilled not to be sharing with us! No view- some rooms have nice views over San Jose. But we walked out on the grounds to see the view anyway. The owner is American, a nice gentleman from Florida by way of Georgia. Hotel is only 15 minutes to the airport.

Our flight wasn’t until 3pm but I could not motivate my family to do anything such as visiting Zoo Ave- which the owner of the hotel recommended. We did drive up the mountain towards Poas. The Doka Coffee Plantation is here and you could do tours, but we were nervous about the time. So we just stopped at La Casa del Café (about 5 km from the hotel) which is the coffee shop for Doka Coffee. They have 500 gm bags (1.1 pounds) for $6 for French roast, and $7 for Peaberry which is their smoothest bean. I bought the Peaberry and it is great! I bought 6 bags and wish I had bought more! They make great gifts!

Then we headed for the airport, returned our car to Adobe, and fortunately had a smooth and on time trip back to NY. But, Costa Rica, we’ll be back!

PS. If you need to email me, the best email for me is [email protected]
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Old Jan 5th, 2005, 05:05 PM
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Thanks for sharing with all of us such an interesting story of your time in Costa Rica!

You made a good point in talking about the routes to and from Arenal. Yes, it does take longer and is a busier road through Cuidad Quesada (also called San Carlos). The San Ramon route is at least an hour shorter. That fog you drove through was actually cloud forest--you were passing through or very near the Los Angeles Cloud Forest. Gives a little hint of what Monteverde must be like!

We loved our Doka tour--wish you had had time. BUT, you stopped at one of the Doka coffee houses and we didn't. Their Tres Generaciones cafe is quite good. We always try to bring back at least 20 bags (30 if we can fit them in somewhere)--not necessarily of that brand, since it is quite expensive. We can get by about 3 or 4 months on that amount. And yes, it is the perfect gift from Costa Rica! No doubt about that.

Tres Generaciones can be ordered online since Doka has a website. Cafe Britt as well. I'm going to have to break down and do that soon. Cheaper than going and getting it myself, but not nearly as much fun!

Thanks again! The country does weave a spell, no? Hope you are having decent weather in NY--we are iced in here in OK!

By the way, Sarchi, if you drive a little further, does actually offer a tiny bit more than just those souvenir shops you see when you first arrive. They have a beautiful church--very unique!
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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 12:52 PM
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Dear Cinepez,

Thanks so much for the great Costa Rica recap, especially the info on the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay Rainforest Chalet. My fiance and I are planning our honeymoon in Osa Peninsula this year and were actually looking into staying at the Rainforest Chalet. Would you say it is a good honeymoon-type place? We hope to see lots of wild life and experience the rainforest, and also have a comfortable, private place to relax. We are also considering La Paloma lodge. Any tips are greatly appreciated! Thanks so much!
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Old Feb 9th, 2005, 01:40 PM
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Cinepez, thanks for the great trip report. It's easy to read, with convenient spaces between paragraphs, easy on the eyes, and is full of delicious details. I'm printing it out for the restaurant details at Arenal, and coffee details, etc.! We're going to Costa Rica in June.
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