Costa Rica Trip review

May 14th, 2007, 12:40 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Apr 2007
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Costa Rica Trip review

Costa Rica Belated Honeymoon – Trip Review (April 26, 2007 – May 8, 2007)

First let me preface by saying this trip was fabulous! Everything was fantastic and we can’t wait to go back. Even DH is up for another trip (although not right away!). He spent most of yesterday (mother’s day – Sunday after we returned) in the hospital after vomiting blood for 3 hours that am…he picked up some kind of parasite while we were away and then after 4 days of it he decided he had had enough bland food and if he was going to be sick he might as well enjoy what he was eating. Bad idea! His body took it one step further and rejected heavy sausage pasta and wine very violently and he ended up tearing his esophagus from being so violently sick…so, mother’s day in the ER was what was on our agenda. After some IV fluid and some anti nausea meds he is home and resting comfortably. He is back to bland food and pedia-lite until all of this has passed.

Now, on to the trip review…

Day 1 – we flew continental from orange county, ca to Dallas, TX with no major problems. Our flight was delayed 1–hour leaving Dallas to San Jose, CR but not really a big deal. We had a couple of drinks and some fish and chips at a pub in the airport and were happy to wait. Arrival in San Jose was fine and we sailed through customs with no problems. Our driver (John) from latitudes adventure travel, along with the rep (Yi) met us as we left baggage claim. They held signs with our names and even in the chaos they were easy to spot. They took our bags and we went right to the van where they offered us cold bottles of water and the rep gave us all of our travel docs (which included a cute hand-made picture frame as a souvenir). The drive to hotel Grano de Oro took about 15-20 min. and we spent the time talking with them about CR. They took us inside and waited until we got checked in and all was well before leaving us for the evening. We confirmed the pick up time for the next morning and were all set.

**NOTE** be sure and bring bills smaller than $10…we didn’t get colones before we went, which was fine, but wanted to tip our driver, the bellman at the hotel etc. and ended up handing out $10 bills b/c it’s the smallest I got before heading out of the states. Some $5 and even singles would have been helpful to save the $30 we dropped right at the beginning of the trip…could have been $10-15 instead.

Hotel Grano de Oro – A++ this place was beautiful! A restored mansion near down town. Since we arrived late the front desk called the restaurant which was getting ready to close and asked if they would allow us to come in for a quick bite. They were happy to stay open for us and the few other guests also arriving about the same time. They told us to take our time and get settled in our room and come down when we were ready. Not to keep them waiting we just changed out of our travel clothes and headed back down. We sat at the bar and ordered a mohito (DH) and blackberry (mora) margarita (ME)…both were so yummy! We had a small fruit plate and a heart of palm dip with crackers for a light snack before heading up to bed.

Standard room – No frills but beautifully done. We had a window that opened over the roof looking in to one of the many garden courtyards. It was lovely. The bathroom was good sized and the shower had hot water although the water pressure wasn’t the greatest but not any worse than what we have at home. The bed was ok but the sheets were soft and clean. We slept well after a long trip.

Our driver (John again) the next day was right on time and after a yummy breakfast in the hotel restaurant (one of the best in the city), we were ready to head to the nature Air terminal for our puddle-jumper flight to La Fortuna/Arenal. We got checked in with no problems and made it in well under the 30 lb baggage limit. My bag was only 22.6 lbs, which I was very proud of. Our flight left about 1 hour late but was only ½ full and after our 25 min ride on what DH now calls “Holy Sh**” airlines, we were at the first stop on our long awaited trip.

The driver met us as we got off the plane, grabbed our bags and took us to the waiting bus. The A/C was running which was nice as it was much warmer here and we took the quick trip to the Arenal Paraiso Resort and Spa. Check in was quick and efficient but our room wasn’t ready yet since we arrived about noon, so we went to the restaurant For our first Imperial beer and a snack. An hour later we were taken to our superior room (a stand alone cabin). Our cabin was nice but rustic…this part of our trip was more like summer camp and this hotel is not what we would call a resort, but the staff was friendly and we had a wonderful stay. We headed to the pool for the afternoon and then later made spa appointments (the spa facility is ok and the services are limited compared to what we have here in the states, but still nice) and booked our excursions through the travel desk. The gal there was great and you can charge anything you book there right to your room which was nice.

We got a taxi and asked him to take us to El Novillo for dinner since this little steakhouse - type place came so highly recommended. When we got there the owner came over and told our driver that they were closed for the evening (looked like they were having som kind of family dinner) and asked if we could come back tomorrow. We said that would be fine and asked our driver to take us to La Fortuna instead. FYI – El Novillo looks much different than I envisioned from the review I read. I expected a building but it isn’t it is a concrete slab with a patio-type cover and a small kitchen area to the side. The actual dining area is all open air and instead of the white plastic tables and chairs they have upgraded to wooden tables and chairs.

Instead we went to La Chosa de Laurel in la Fortuna for dinner which was yummy. Be sure and ask how much (quanto questa?) the special are if you order them…ours were $18 and $24 which after an appetizer and 4 beers plus 2 deserts brought the bill to $64…these wre much higher priced than the rest of the menu (I had shrimp/fish and DH had rabbit), so we were startled at the price. Dinner was still ½ what it would have been at home so it wasn’t that big of deal. A cab back to the hotel and we called it a night.

**NOTE** Many of the places make a note that they don’t include the 10% service charge, but they note what it equates to on the bill. We tipped a standard 15-20% b/c it was just easier for us to tip like we do at home and not worry about it. Also, we were told later that in places that charge 13 or 16% tax (can’t remember what it is) and the 10% service charge, that does not go to the server and goes to the restaurant or hotel so they only make what extra you leave…not sure exactly if this is how it works or not…maybe as American tourism increases they are moving away from the automatic 10% and letting people tip on their own?

For the next few days (we spent 5 nights in Arenal) we did the horseback ride tour to the volcano (A+++ ask for the guide “Rudy”. He was fantastic…we saw monkeys and toucans and had a great day. 3 hours of horseback riding leave you sore the next few days if you don’t ride often, but it was well worth it). We did the zip-line tour right there on the hotel property and it was awesome (A+)! The guides were great, although they don’t like it if you try and video while you are zipping…oopsey. They send a photographer along and you can buy picks of yourself zipping! I of course had to suck it up and spend the $20 on the sheet of 2 - 5x7s of each of us swinging through the trees! We also did the Cano Negro boat tour on the rio Frio (the river that separates Costa Rica from Nicaragua), which was fantastic A++. Our guide was great and the lunch was yummy. We didn’t know that the drive was 2 hours each way, but was well worth it! We even got to stop at the Los Iguanas restaurant on the way and see tons of Iguanas in the trees! Very cool bonus. We saw tons of birds, 3 types of monkeys, caymens, turtles, lizards, iguanas, and even both a 2 toed and 3 toed sloth while on the boat cruise. Definitely the way to see the wildlife!

We spent a day lounging a the hotel pool having massages and enjoying the swim up bar. We even had dinner in the steakhouse one night b/c DH wasn’t feeling great and wanted to stay on the property. It was pretty good and the service on the steakhouse side was far superior than the other side (international I think they call it). Again all the spa, pool bar and restaurant charges can be put right on the room if you like.

Other places we ate in La Fortuna…Lava Rocks Café (Yummy and good service), We went back to La Choza de Laurel a couple of times…the best ceviche we had the whole trip! And we did finally make it to El Novillo…the price here and everywhere seem to be more than the reviews I read from the past few years but as with anything, there prices go up and tourism increases. We never did find the $9 lunch we were expecting but at El Novillo we had 1 beers, 2 sodas Garlic chicken, black bean soup and the filet mignon (FYI they put a creamy mushroom sauce on it here and pretty much everywhere else we saw it on the menu…this must be the way they do it but DH just wanted a steak without the sauce…we didn’t know until they served it)…our bill was $22. We left $26 and were on our way. We also took the recommendation of the cabby who services the Paraiso hotel for pizza and ended up at the Cuban pizza place (his family runs it I think). We wanted pizza and beer and they only had soda (we didn’t tell him the beer part). We ordered 2 smalls and could have shared one they were so big. They were ok...canned mushrooms, canned watery tomato sauce and not somewhere I would go back to or recommend. Needless to say we ate lightly and then walked up the street for a beer at Lava Rocks and then across to La Chosa de Laurel for ceviche and more cervesas before catching a cab back.

**Note* cabs are still about 2,500 – 3,000 colones (about $5) from the paraiso to town…we saw later that from the Observatory lodge to town is $20 each way…rent a car if you stay there!

We decided to rent a car one day in Arenal…we just were needing the freedom of being able to go where we wanted. We took the very bumpy long road to the Observatory lodge and actually got to see the lava boulders bouncing down the hillside (the lava flow isn’t viable right now from the paraiso). We drove to the hanging bridges and did the tour ourselves. We only saw leaf cutter ants and it was quite the workout, but really beautiful and well worth it. We did need our rain ponchos right at the end.

Our pick up from the paraiso was on time for the quick drive back to the La Fortuna air strip (yes, I said air strip…complete with gravel run waY). The driver was in a super big hurry…DH looked at me and asked the time, I told him 10am and he then asked, is our flight at 10:15 or something? The guy drove so fast and wreckless….he even almost rear ended an egg delivery truck b/c he didn’t see that it was stopped ahead. He had to swerve off the road to miss it…lovely! We let the company that booked all of our private transfers know about this one. He dropped our bags and left, didn’t even come inside to see that we were there at the right time, that the flight was still happening, etc. and he did not get a tip. We were there before the nature Air agent who showed up about 20 min later. He checked us in and didn’t even weigh our bags since we were the only 2 on the flight.

More review…including the Los Altos de Eros…to come…
dvlish is offline  
May 14th, 2007, 12:59 PM
  #2  
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Oopps...jusy to add: Arenal Paraiso has hot springs on site and are free to guests. They were great! We staying the hottest one at the top the 2 times we used them and were the only ones there the whole time! We didn't pay to visit any other springs. The pool area was nice but they need new lounge chairs and could use some little tables. The first day for a few hours we had no water pressure to the room but it came back and there wasn't a problem again. The breakfast that was included was a buffet and quite tasty. Tons of fruit and pastries and very yummy pancakes!
dvlish is offline  
May 14th, 2007, 02:45 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: May 2005
Posts: 132
Dvlish,
Thanks for sharing your trip report. It sounds like you and your hubby had a great vacation except for his sickness. Any idea what he ate or where that made him ill?? That is something that I always worry about in Latin America.
Flying_Mom is offline  
May 14th, 2007, 05:48 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
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Thanks for the report, dvlish!

Glad you had fun in Arenal. We also loved La Chosa de Laurel. We had one of our favorite meals of our entire trip there.

Looking forward to your next installment.
cmerrell is offline  
May 14th, 2007, 06:13 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 10,212
I am so sorry your husband became so ill--that must have been terrible. Glad he is recuperating--such a thankful feeling when we leave those types of illnesses behind us! Yuk!

You've made some good points. For sure always take lots of $1's--in good condition. We usually take about $50 in ones. Once we start getting colones for change, we frequently switch over to leaving colones. And it's true that the tipping customs are starting to be a bit more Americanized.

I always stay at Arenal Paraiso and wouldn't characterize it as a resort either. But it's a decent little place and a nice property. We've always been very pleased there and especially like the location. Stayed at AOL and liked that last year as well.

You had some nice experiences at Arenal. Staying as long as you did certainly gave you the op to relax as well as do activities.

For some reason, Las Chozas didn't do much for us this past March. I don't really know why. We do like El Novillo and I'm glad to hear they've replaced the plastic chairs. My son-in-law scooted back and broke one when we were there! They're not designed for 200 lb + scooting around, and he wasn't thinking, I guess. So that's an improvement!

What a fright you had with the last driver. Man, I would have been yelling! Could he tell you were nervous? Did he understand when your husband commented about the 10:15 flight time? I'm glad you reported it. It's just unnecessary. There's typical Costa Rican driving and then there's very reckless driving--which goes a bit beyond the typical and is the reason for that high fatality rate down there.

Can't wait to hear more--tell your husband at least someone can sympathize. We honeymooned in Acapulco 33 years ago and both of us got bugs. I brought mine home and suffered for another week with it. Finally had to get an antibiotic.

That said we've eaten all over CR--all kinds of places, some that look pretty questionable, with never a problem. And it can happen here as well. Tell him to enjoy his Pedialyte. . .the popcicles are pretty good!

Waiting for more. . .and congratulations!
shillmac is offline  
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