Costa Rica Trip Report Part 3 of 3

Old Dec 17th, 2007, 05:47 PM
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Costa Rica Trip Report Part 3 of 3

This is Part 3 (Last part) of our Costa Rica Trip. Part 1 can be found here: http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...nses=6&start=0
Part 2: http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...nses=8&start=0

Recap:
Day 1: Flight
Day 2: DOKA Plantation, POAS, La Paz Waterfall Garden, San Jose
Day 3: Interbus to MV
Day 4: MV

Day 5: We took the jeep-boat-jeep to Arenal. We were very happy with the service as they were on time for the pick up, professional, safe. The drive was very scenic - we had beautiful views of the volcano as we approached Arenal Lake. The driver pulled over at perfect kodak spots to allow us to take lots of photos. The boat was a small (but safe) boat and took about 20-30 minutes to get to Arenal. The views of the volcano as we approached Arenal were breath taking. We were very lucky that we could see most of the volcano. Everyone in the boat ooh'd and ahh'd as we got closer. Once you get off the boat, more vans are waiting to take everyone to their hotels. We stayed at Magic Mountain which is a brand new hotel (only a few months old).

http://www.hotelmagicmountain.com/

We loved it because it was a hotel with all the amenities rather than a Lodge. We stayed at a lodge type accomodation in Monteverde and quickly learned it was not for us. We like the cleanliness and luxury of a nicer hotel. The grounds of the hotel are beautiful. The pool area was spotless and very beautifully decorated with tropical plants and flowers. ALL rooms have a volcano view, but it is the unactive side of the volcano so you will not see any volcano while in the hotel. Arenal downtown area where all the restaurants and shops are is only a taxi ride away costing $2 which is important to us because we life being close to town rather than isolated. So after checking in, we quickly took a taxi into town and lunch at La Choza de Laurel Restaurant:

http://www.lachozadelaurel.com/

The food was very good, once again I had the Cosado - the chicken was really good. Presentation was very pretty and it was large portions. They had refreshing smoothies that were really good too.

We booked a Volcano tour from a tour operator right there in town. We found that there were lots of tour operators in Arenal along the main street that had tour packages for much much less than what we see on the internet from the US. The only issue is that you don't know who the tour operator is and how professional they will be. Booking through a sunset tours (or other reputable operator) ensures you will get a good guide, organized and professional tour. But since we didn't have anything planned for this afternoon, we decided to go with one of these tour operators in town for the volcano tour. For $35 pp we got transportation, drive near the lake to see animals, volcano hike from 3-7pm, Baldi hot springs from 7-10 pm. This same tour was $58 from online on anywherecostrica.com

We got picked up and were driven through the area near Lake Arenal. Our guide pointed out Toucans, Turkeys (in the trees, very strange!), howler monkeys, parrots, and other wildlife. We then parked at the entrance of the national park and started our hike. The hike was about 45 minutes and was pretty flat. I was a bit tense though because the guide mentioned how he had seen the most poisonous snake in CR along that same trail the day before! yikes! Also, he was telling us how he came across a Puma in that area on the road one night when he was driving by. So needless to say, I was pretty scared (I am a big scaredy cat). We kept passing signs that said - you are heading beyond the safe zone. High volcanic Activity - enter at your own risk!! Then once you get closer to the volcano, you could hear the volcanic rocks being spewed out of the volcano. It sounded like faint fireworks and was getting louder as we got closer. Towards the end, you have to climb over lava rocks which were a result of the eruption from 1992. As you climb over them you find a nice spot and can sit on the lava rocks as you watch the volcano spurt out rocks and lava. This tour was amazing and we could'nt have timed it more perfectly. When we got there, the sun was just starting to set so we were able to see the volcano in daylight and take pictures. At this point, the lava that was erupting was gray and smokey. The guide explained that as it got darker, we would be able to actually see the red lava. We were there as the sun set, it got darker and we actually saw the red lava coming out the top and rolling down the side. Granted it was a small amount and nothing like what we see in the photos - but our group was totall excited and we were in total awe. We were all silent and sat there frozen as we watched this amazing site. Then we were told we had to start heading back as it was getting really dark now. We had to hike back in pitch darkness but were given flashlights by the guide. It was a bit more scary now because you really had to watch where you step.

Then we got back into the van and were whisked away to the Baldi hot springs. We originally were not even going to do the springs so we decided to check out Baldi since it was included in the package. And we LOVED it! It was so extremely relaxing esp. after the hike. We thought it was really beautiful, but we haven't been to any others to compare. There were lots of pools with different temperatures , there was a water slide in 1 of the pools, there was a huge waterfall with rocks to sit on in another, Swim up bar in a couple, a cooling pool, a jacuzzi style bubbling pool, 1 pool had a disco ball with good music. Some pools were further away and isolated for some alone time. Some pools were too hot to even enter. They were all pretty shallow except for 1 that was over 8 ft deep but they are all marked with temps, depth, etc. There were changing rooms, bathrooms, lockers that you can purchase a lock for. They also had compartments behing their counter that did not have locks but were watched by the workers. You are given a number associated to the spot where your belongings are kept. If you dont have any valuables, you can leave your stuff here for no cost. The people were mostly younger - around our age (late 20's, 30's). Some younger, some older...but mostly a young crowd. We found the food at the restaurant to be pricey and there was a mexican place in town we wanted to try so we headed back to town. We ate at Las Brasitas:

http://www.lasbrasitas.com/brasitas.html

The food was really good. The only issue we had with them was that everything we wanted to order, they had run out of. They didn't have the small tortillas for the burrito I wanted so I was forced to get the mega burrito. Same issue getting a quesadilla and Fluatas - only large size. Then I asked for something in chicken and they had run out of the chicken breast. So we ended up getting the larger size burritos but they were very good. So no complaints since it all turned out ok

Day 6: We had a buffet breakfast included with the hotel. They had rice and beans, Scrammbled eggs, bacon, plantain bananas, fruits, cheeses, pastries, breads, smoothies, juices, coffee - so it was very good and filling. Next we had the full day Cano Negro tour with Sunset Tours. They picked us up on time but we were late in departure since some people were running late from other hotels. It was about 1 hr 40 min to Cano Negro. The bus was one of those large city buses with very comfy seats so everyone took naps. Our guide stopped along the way at a place called Cafe Iguana (I think). Behing this Cafe were huge trees in which many many iguanas were living. It was a really interesting site since there were probably about 50-60 iguanas. From there we passed fields of sugar canes and pineapples before we finally got to the Sunset tours office where they gave us coffee and had bathroom breaks. Then we boarded the buses again and were taken to the area where we were to get on the river boats.

After getting on the boat, the guide begins his tour explaining everything while we relax and take it all in! It was a really nice boat ride and over the entire ride we saw bats, howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, caimans, sloths, lots of different birds, lizards, turtles. It was amazing. We had great weather and the guide gives out refreshments - cookies, drinks (mango juice, apple juice, iced tea) so it was a relaxing, laid back type of a tour. It was really really nice and I highly recommend it. Then we head back to the SUnset Tours office where they provided lunch and drinks. Lunch was chicken rice, beans and tortilla chips with fresh pineapple for desert. The pineapply was so extremely juice and fresh, it literally just melts in your mouth.

Then you are back on the bus and are dropped off at your hotel. We then relaxed for a bit, had some wine on the balcony facing the cloud covered volcano! We were so lucky that we did the volcano hike on the first day since the volcano was non-existant the next 2 days since it was blocked by clouds and fog.

We then went into town, did some shopping, exploring, and had dinner at Don Rufino:

http://www.donrufino.com/

The food was Excellent! It was a nice environment, good prices, good service, good food. My husband got the Grandma's Style Chicken which he loved. I got the (surprise surprise) chicken cosado which was good too.

Day 7: For the 1st time on our entire trip we slept in. We were getting up at 6 am for all our tours, transfers, etc. We woke up to see there was no view of the volcano again! All fog and clouds. So once again - we felt very lucky to have seen it on our first day. We had breakfast at the hotel again (which is included). Since we had nothing planned for the day and the only thing left that we didn't try and were up for was the horseback riding to La Fortuna Falls.

We booked it through the tour operator in town again (same as the volcano hike) since we were happy with them. It was $28 pp which included transfer, horseback ride, hke to waterfalls, stop at an indian village, see butterfly garden and transfer back. Entire tour was for 4-5 hours. The same tour on anywherecostarica.com was $40. I had never ridden a horse before and was extremely nervous when we started. But the horses were so calm and friendly that I soon got used to the idea and started to enjoy the tour. So you go on horseback for about 45 minutes to the falls. The ride was beautiful through flat lands, hills, creeks. When you get to the falls - you have a steep hike down. It was a very pretty hike down but I was not looking forward to coming back up!! Once at the falls, you can swim around, take pictures for about 20-30 minutes. Then came the hike back up was brutal! It was very very steep and was 485 steps!!! I didn't count - the guide told me at the end. I think I would've died if he told me before I started the hike up. Then you get back on the horse and in about 20 minutes reach the native indian village. It was ok - not very exciting. You sit in a straw hut where the native indian tells you about masks that they have created. Then you are allowed to walk around in hopes that you will buy a mask (they were pretty expensive). Then you get back on the horse and head back. Towards the end of the ride it started to rain a bit so it was really a nice experience since it was so refreshing. Then they had a butterfly garden at the end which was terrible because there were no butterfies and the grounds were very poorly kept. I saw some dead butterflies and that was about it. Then we got dropped off at the hotel.

We went back to town in the evening for some last minute gift shopping. Had dinner at Don Rufino again!

Day 8: This was our last day! We woke up early had a hearty breakfast. The interbus picked us up on time as usual at 8:00 am. It was a very pretty and smooth ride back to San Jose. We stopped once along the way for a break. We had a very speedy driver who got us to the San Jose airport at 10:20 am rather than the scheduled 11:00 am. We had more than enough time for our flight. So we boarded our flight and said good by to Costa Rica - hopefully to return one day!

It was an amazing trip..very different from what we have seen so far - Europe (Italy, Greece, Switz, Germany,France), Asia (Thailand, India) and US. We loved the diversity of Costa Rica, the friendly people, the wildlife (although we saw lots of monkeys in thailand and india!), the food, the weather, the ruggedness. Although it was adventureous - it was touristy enough where you knew everything was safe and you were on marked trails, etc which was perfect for 1st time adventure seekers like us! we loved it and hope you all enjoyed reading about our experiences. I'd be happy to answer any questions! Pura Vida!!!

Added Arenal Photos:

http://www.dotphoto.com
ID: NS
Password: CR
luvtravelin is offline  
Old Dec 17th, 2007, 07:38 PM
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Great trip report! I haven't had time to check out your pictures yet, but I definitely will! Your trip sounds perfect.
ShellD is offline  
Old Dec 17th, 2007, 07:39 PM
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first of all you are a god(dess) in our eyes, all hail luvtravelin for such a great series of reports!

really you have cleared up many issues for us and might just have found us our hotel, subject to wife approval. Thanks for such a great series of reports and such excellent detail. I am so pleased you had such a great trip and told us all about it, thank you for taking the time. Your photo's were spot on and made my mind up when I saw a rough approximation of a Chicago breakfast in one of them, I know that it wasn't real sausage but I can dream can't I

If you ever come to Chicago we will take you out for drinkies, this is a firm promise so please tell us, it is the very least we could do.

majorkong is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2007, 05:22 AM
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ShellD - thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Yes it was a perfect trip, perfect weather, perfect tours, caught a perfect view of the volcano 1 out of 3 days which is enough for us! I have nothing to complain about for the entire trip - it was amazing thanks to everyone on this board!

majorkong - you really brought a smile to my face this morning! That is so sweet! Not sure when my husband and I would get a chance to visit chicago - but we will definitely let you know if we do! I am glad my report cleared up some issues for you - I know I had so many before the trip too. I was posting so many random questions before leaving. If you need more info about any of the hotels, tour operators, restaurants - let me know! I am a travelling fanatic and it is my favorite topic of discussion, so ask away.....


luvtravelin is offline  
Old Dec 18th, 2007, 08:30 PM
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luvtravelin -- I've really enjoyed reading your trip report. Sounds like you had a really great adventure and special thanks for the details (especially what you liked/disliked and why) that will help others in planning. It's always nice to see people giving back to the board!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Old Dec 19th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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Great report. Do you remember the name of the tour operator you used for Arenal? We are leaving in one week. Thanks.
karenlf is offline  
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