Costa Rica Trip Report, Part 1

Mar 14th, 2005, 01:09 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
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Costa Rica Trip Report, Part 1

Costa Rica Trip Report

I havenít posted in this forum before, but I have lurked and learned a lot about my travel destinations from yíall. So I thought it was my turn to give a trip report, in the hope that it might help someone else plan.

My husband and I just returned from a 10-day/9-night vacation in Costa Rica. We had a fabulous time and enjoyed a good mix of interesting accommodations, restaurants, activity, and down-time. I include some prices below just for purposes of helping those on a budget plan.

Day 1 --- We flew from Houston to San Jose, direct, on Continental. Easy 2.5 hour flight; arrived early. We breezed through immigrations and customs, got our bags, rented a car (small Kia sedan from Avis --- we needed an automatic, and that was our only option; it cost $330 total for 10 days) and arrived at our first hotel, Vista del Valle, within an hour of landing. It was very efficient! Vista del Valle is a small hotel --- more of a B&B, really --- on a coffee plantation overlooking the Rio Grande. It is about 25 minutes west of the airport and staying there saved us some time on our trip to Arenal the next morning. The architecture and grounds are stunning; the atmosphere is very intimate and relaxed; in short, I recommend Vista del Valle unequivocally to anyone looking for a quiet, comfortable, special place to begin or end their Costa Rican vacations. Their website is, but I have to say that the pics on the site donít do the hotel justice. We paid $99 for our room and another $45, total, for dinner and wine.

Day 2 --- After a complimentary breakfast at Vista del Valle, we drove to La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano, stopping in Sarchi (artist town) and Zarcero (lovely topiary gardens) on route. We loved the scenery --- it reminded us of Switzerland or Northern Italy. Once in La Fortuna, we ate lunch at El Novillo, which has excellent, inexpensive food (filet mignon, appetizers, and wine for 2 was less than $22 total) and spectacular volcano views. We then did a three-hour, self-guided hike at Arenal Volcano National Park before checking into Tabacon Hot Springs Resort (, where we had booked a standard king room for $159. Iíve read a lot of negative reviews about Tabacon on these boards, and I had tempered my expectations accordingly, but our experience was positive. Our room (in the 400 building, on the second floor) had excellent volcano views; the service everywhere at the resort was friendly and efficient; the rooms were extremely comfortable; the hot springs were not at all crowded and were gorgeous; and the restaurants were much better, and less expensive, than we expected. No, Tabacon doesnít have a ton of character, but if you plan on taking advantage of the hot springs and spa, it is very convenient and comfortable, especially since it is one of the few hotels we encountered with central air-conditioning. Anyway, after checking in, we enjoyed a few hours of hot springs/pool time, and then went to dinner at Luigiís Pizza in La Fortuna, which was fine but not stellar. Dinner cost only $25, including wine.

Day 3 --- After breakfast, Tabacon arranged a private horseback ride to the Rio Fortuna Waterfalls for us. It was just my husband and I and our excellent local guide. We rode for 90 minutes, enjoying lovely pastoral views, hiked down to the gorgeous waterfalls, swam for 45 minutes, hiked back up (a bit taxing!) and then rode for another 90 minutes. Afterward, we met our guideís family, saw his house, etc., which was a nice bit of local culture for us. It was a lovely morning, and we are so glad that we didnít go with one of the larger groups we saw at the falls. Our tour was intimate and rewarding, for the cost of $45 pp. Afterward, we had a casual lunch at Tabacon (much better than we expected) and enjoyed more hot springs time before dark. That night, we had an outdoor couples massage at Iskandria (Tabaconís spa) and the setting was divine --- waterfalls all around, the smell of flowers in the air. Later, we ate at Tabaconís ďnicerĒ restaurant back at the hotel. We had excellent churassco steaks, appetizers, dessert, and a bottle of wine for less than $60.

(continued in next post)
crimsonowl is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 04:27 AM
Join Date: Jun 2003
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My family will be staying at Los Lagos this summer. Your ride to the waterfall sounds great. We would love to book a similar trip. Who did you book this through?

Thanks in advance
nancygol is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 07:22 AM
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We booked our horseback ride to Rio Fortuna Falls directly through Tabacon. Our guide was a one-man operation --- he keeps his horses at his house. Unfortunately, I don't remember his name --- I think it was Alvin --- but perhaps you could call Tabacon and get his information? There are numerous horseback ride tours in the Arenal area; they all follow approximately the same route, and many are less expensive than the one we took. We liked ours b/c it was private, and we didn't have to deal with a group, but if you don't mind groups, I think both Sunset Tours and Desafio Expeditions are reputable bets.

Good luck!
crimsonowl is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 07:28 AM
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Thanks for the report. It has been very helpful! We are going to be doing something similar and I wanted to stop at Sarchi but we will have all of our luggage in a terrios. So we can't lock it in a trunk. Did you notice if there were are parking areas with security? Thanks! Holly
oldermom is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 07:42 AM
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I didn't notice any secure parking areas in Sarchi, but we didn't worry about it, as our luggage was in a trunk, and we didn't stay long. We checked out the church and a couple of the artist galleries. I felt safe there, but I have heard the warnings about car break-ins. Hope you find a safe solution! Good luck!
crimsonowl is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 02:47 PM
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Thank You for the information. We will be traveling March 27 to Tambor and are trying to book a connection from SJ to Tambor. I was wondering how long it really took you to clear customs and get luggage when you arrived in San Jose?
kidsfirst is offline  
Mar 15th, 2005, 06:43 PM
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To add to the Pura Vida talk - surfing is a fabulous family activity too! When I was in Costa Rica recently, I found a marvelous surfing school in Samara (on the Nicoya Coast)...wasn't listed in Fodor's though. Their website is Actually, it was my first time surfing...and I'm happy to report that I got up on the board during my first lesson. This surf school is small and really cheap too; it's an American guy and his daughter who run the school. Nice people.

alliboo is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 11:28 AM
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kidsfirst --- It took us less than 15 minutes to go through immigration, get our luggage, clear customs, and arrive at the rental car desk. BUT, our flight arrived mid-afternoon, when the airport didn't seem that busy, and we flew first class, so we were first off the plane, and our bags, which had been tagged priority, were first off the plane, too. So, while we found the Costa Rican immigration and customs process to be very efficient, I don't know how long it would take if you arrived at a busier (evening) time, or were last off the plane and thus had to wait in line at immigration. I'd probably budget at least an hour.... Sorry I can't be more helpful! Good luck!
crimsonowl is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 12:16 PM
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What is the best time of year to go to Costa Rica? I hear its rainy and places are inexcessible part of the time.
Barrow is offline  
Mar 16th, 2005, 03:30 PM
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Lovely report, thank you for posting it. Did you see many snakes in Arenal? (I'm asking cause I don't want to see them! )
tully is offline  
Mar 17th, 2005, 09:15 AM
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Tully, we were in CR last Thanksgiving at Arenal and didn't see any snakes, but saw a tree full of coatimundis.
flyboyarl is offline  
Mar 17th, 2005, 12:34 PM
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We didn't see any snakes anywhere in CR, including Arenal, but I'm sure they are there!

And I can't speak to the weather at other times of year, but when we were in there in late Feb/early Mar, it was gorgeous, everyday, everywhere. Highs in the high 70s and low 80s; lows in the 60s. Sunny, clear, and not even too humid. Perfect!

I believe the rainy/green season runs April through November.
crimsonowl is offline  
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