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Costa Rica with biologist and poet: Comments on Itinerary?

Costa Rica with biologist and poet: Comments on Itinerary?

Jan 2nd, 2005, 12:43 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2004
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Costa Rica with biologist and poet: Comments on Itinerary?

I have airlines tickets and a revised itinerary for our first family trip to Costa Rica. Thanks for all your support...I'd appreciate comments on this revised itinerary.

My husband is the biologist, I am the poet, and we are travelling with my son age 23, and my 2 daughters, entirely too lovely at ages 18 and 19.

Day 1,2: San Jose (2 nights)
Fly into San Jose. Arrive at 8:30 pm. Take shuttle to hotel, either in San Jose, or just north of airport. Spend a day either exploring San Jose, or else exploring nature and small towns just north of the airport.

Day 3,4: Arenal (2 nights)
Have a pre-arranged rental car dropped off at our San Jose hotel, and drive to Arenal. Visit Tabacon hot springs, hike, observe nature, hope for night-time view of volcano lava flow.

Day 5, 6, 7: Monteverde (3 nights):
Drive from Arenal to Monteverde. Hike, observe nature, write poetry, catch some thrills on canopy tour.

Days 8, 9, 10, 11: Manuel Antonio (4 nights):
Drive from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. (6-hour drive on bad roads? Is this too far?) Visit Manuel Antonio Park and beaches, see monkeys, visit Mar Y Sombra for dancing by the sea. Day-trip to Carrara National Park to see scarlet macaws one morning or evening.

(Day 10: My son returns home a few days ahead of us. How do I get him from Manuel Antonio to San Jose on time to catch his 2:12pm flight home? Bus? Taxi? Flight out of Quepos?

Day 12: San Jose (1 night)
The rest of the family drives to San Jose and spends the night. This gives us one last afternoon and evening in San Jose.

Day 13: Fly home.
We fly out of San Jose on a 9:00 am flight. Adios Costa Rica.

Comments on itinerary are welcome!

Question #1: When we fly into San Jose at 8:30 pm, should we spend our 2 nights in San Jose and see the Jade Museum and enjoy some dancing at night? Or should we stay someplace just north of airport and enjoy nature and small towns nearby?

Question #2: Hotel suggestions: We prefer hotels which have some local flavor, and it would be a great bonus to see some native wildlife on the hotel grounds. Prefer having some safe night-life nearby if possible.

San Jose and nearby:
Hotel Le Bergerac
Vista del Valle Plantation Inn
Peace Lodge (maybe too far for 1st night)
Pura Vida Hotel
Finca Rosa Blanca Country Inn
Orchideas Inn

Arenal Paraiso
Montana del Fuego
The Lost Iguana
Tabacon Hot Springs and Resort

El Sapo Dorado
Fonda Vela

Manuel Antonio:
Hotel Si Como No
Makanda By The Sea


Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2005, 02:51 PM
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We just came back from our 2 week honeymoon in CR. We stayed at Tabacon and it really was not worth the money. The only bonus is having acess to the hot springs at all times. Unless you will you use the springs EVERY day it's not worth the extra money. We did a repelling trip while we were there that is absolutely not to be missed. We repelled down a whole bunch of waterfalls and it was completely exhilerating. We stayed at the hotel Belmar in Monteverde adn absolutely loved it. You feel more like you are at a swiss chalet then in CR but almost all the hotels are foreign owned, there really is not a typical Tico place. Hope this helps. Have fun!
cjulius94 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2005, 03:24 PM
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cjulius94, welcome home from your honeymoon!

Interesting to hear your viewpoint that Tabacon is not worth the money. It's hard to know ahead of time if we would have time to use the hot springs every day. There are other things we want to do of course too...

The hotel Belmar in Monteverde sounds more memorable from your description...

Where did you go rapelling down a bunch of waterfalls, and with what company or guide did you book that adventure?

Did you do a canopy tour at Monteverde?


Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2005, 06:18 PM
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We enjoyed the Fonda Vela a lot January 2004. Very good restaurant there, too. There was a place across the road that had nighttime bands and dancing. We were too tired from hiking, exploring, zip lines, etc. to check it out. Maybe the Fonda Vela can give you some info about it.
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2005, 11:39 PM
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RufusTFirefly, thanks...the Fonda Vela is definitely one of my top 2 choices. Good to know that there's a place across the road with night-time bands and dancing.
Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 03:00 AM
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It is good to know about the place down by Fonda Vela thank you.

Just up the road a little ways from the Belmar is the disco la Cascada. I had a lot of fun there. I would recommend a lesson or two on salsa dancing to really enjoy it.

Le Monastere in San Jose has dancing on the weekends and has a nice restaurant. Beautiful views of the city lights also. For more casual dancing/dining El Pueblo might be fun for all.


You could easily enjoy San Jose from Finca Rosa Blanca but still have a place to get away from the noise and bustle of the city.
Orquideas Inn is fun and I love the Marilyn Monroe Bar. It is a good place to just relax and meet other travelers. Not quite in the same league as Xandari or Finca Rosa Blanca though. It is just on the edge of town and so gets a fair amount of city traffic noises.

There have been lots of good reviews here as I am sure you have seen for Vista del Valle. It is getting a little futher away from San Jose if you really wanted to do things there.

Peace lodge is about an hour from the airport and without a car your first day you might feel a little confined although it is a beautiful place and well worth staying in or at the very least visiting. You could certainly spend several hours just walking around looking at things.

Wildlife and night life (other than the wild kind) are probably not going to be in the same areas at least in the central valley near San Jose. You will see plenty in the Manuel Antonio area.
Jessie_ is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 07:59 AM
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You will have a great time...
1) I would go north of the airport as I found 1 day too much in San Jose to be quite honest-there is so much to explore around the country. We stayed at the Peace Lodge and would go back in a heartbeat. It was beautiful, staff great and lots to do...waterfalls, hummingbirds, butterflies, Poas Volcano,etc.
2)In Arenal, we stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge one night and Arenal Paraiso the second. I would recommend both. Tabacon was overrated(very North American), and Montana del Fuego was under a lot of construction. In Monteverde, we stayed at El Sapa Dorado, and it was fine-nothing to write home about but fine. In Manual Antonio, we stayed at the hotel next to Si Como No, i forget the name. It was great-we had a hammock in our room and had an ocean view. I heard nice things about Si Como No-if you stay there, make sure to go to the hotel next door for breakfast at the pool bar-have the french toast...it is to die for! ALso, make sure to go and have a 'sundowner' at Ronnie's Place-great mora margaritas! Don't miss out on Manual Antonio-it has great charm and isn't more than 4 1/2 hours from Monteverde. Easily do-able.
We were lucky enough to see great wildlife everywhere we went-i am certain that you will too. My only suggestion.. take a guide with you in the National Parks-they know what to look for and know the habitats of the animals. Have fun, and by the way the barking sound that you will hear every morning around 4:30 am or 5:00 am in Arenal and in Manual Antonio, is actually howler monkeys-it is incredible.
tanya0070 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 09:01 AM
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Next door to Si Como No is Villas Nicolas--gets great reviews almost every time!
shillmac is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 10:29 AM
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Thanks for the replies, everyone!

JESSIE: I appreciate the info on dancing and discos. I do think it would be fun to take a couple of salsa lessons before we go. It's good to know that El Pueblo is good for more casual dancing/dining. We like casual. I've also made a note of the other places you mentioned. Thanks for the web-site links also.

Jessie, I am going to look at Finca Rosa Blanca again, as you menioned that we could enjoy San Jose from Finca Rosa Blanca and still get away from the noise and bustle of the city. Sounds great, actually! I wonder if they have an airport shuttle?

Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 10:36 AM
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TANYA: Thanks for your input. Another vote to go north from the airport...It's interesting that you found 1 day in San Jose too much. What did you do in San Jose? Was it the noise/crowds/fumes that were too much? Or did you just feel like you were taking too much time away from the beautiful wild places?

I've heard only good things about Peace Lodge. If we stayed there I would have to give up San Jose entirely. Also we're arriving in San Jose at 8:30 pm...not the best time to try to drive in a new country in the dark!

I'm hoping to get a hotel the first 2 nights that has an airport shuttle.

Arenal Paraiso gets a lot of votes on fodors!

I'll make a note of where to find good french toast and mora margaritas in Manuel Antonio...Gracias...

I'm glad you saw wildlife everywhere you went, and I hope we do too. What month did you visit Costa Rica?

SHILLMAC: Villas Nicholas isn't on my list yet...I'll look them up too. You've been great.
Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 11:31 AM
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They do have a van that can pick you up.
Jessie_ is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 02:18 PM
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We went repelling in La Fortuna. I do not remember the name of the company but I am trying to find it for someone else as well. We did a canopy tour in Monteverde with Selvatura. It was good but quite frankly after our repelling excursion nothing was quite as exhilerating. The canopy tour is beautiful and a lot of fun but it really is more like a ride. I hear Sky Trek is really good too, they have tours in Arenal and Monteverde. Don't get your hopes up on seeing the volcano. From what all the locals said it rarely happens. We barely saw it one night and were squinting as hard as we could to find it. When in Monteverde make sure you go to Stellas bakery. They have great empanadas and strawberry pinapple pie. It is right across from the coffee coop that has the Best sun-ripened coffee.
cjulius94 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 02:27 PM
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The web site above is the waterfall canyoning.

Stellas is great. Also across the street is the womens coop CASEM where the local women artisans can sell their things.
Jessie_ is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 03:02 PM
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Melissa, my son and his wife returned less than 2 weeks ago. (Their computer's down so I'm summarizing what they say.)They're in mid-twenties, so hopefully, what they liked would appeal to your kids.
They loved Si Como No. Incredible views, helpful friendly staff, and great fun atmosphere, good food at RicoTico Grill. Monkeys everywhere, playing on roof of their room. Tour of the park with naturalist guide from Aguila Mayor, recommended by Cesar from Finca Valmy (see below). Yes, it cost a bit more than finding someone outside the park, but they had less time at MA than you will have, and price included park entrance fee and pick up from hotel. The man had telescope (that you could photograph through), "miraculously" spotted animals, etc.
Not to be missed is tour to Valmy Ranch. They will pick you up, take you on horseback ride, trip to waterfall, homecooked meal, great time at their farm with a "very cool" man named Valentin, who is one of the partners I think. wwwvalmytours.com.
If you contact them via website link, you may hear from Cesar, who's very informative and will answer questions in detail. They'll do whatever it takes to make sure you have a most memorable time with them: the right horse, a great meal, encouragement if needed. all done with patience and good spirits. E.g. My dtr in law had never ridden, was quite nervous, but ended up having one of their most memorable experiences in CR.
Re: Xandari--they stayed there at beginning and end of trip and loved it. There are nearby local towns, but they stayed on-site. Breakfast included in room price; dinner $25 pp and worth it. Stunning and unique hotel, beautiful property--hikes, waterfalls. Photos:
http://xandari.com/Photos/index.html(and see link to "more photos"). Apparently it really looks like that, except photos can't do it justice.
Guess you can tell I want to go myself before too long!!! Happy planning!
Have you checked out www.tripadvisor.com for reviews as well?
CaliNurse is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 04:58 PM
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Melissa, We went to Costa Rica this past October, and enjoyed every minute of our whilwind vacation. It isn't that San Jose is a bad place, there were some hidden gems. However, we felt like we went to Costa Rica for the flora/fauna, not for a city like any other. Does that make sense? Think about what you are going for, and then decide.
Shillmac, thanks for reminding me of the name of the hotel that we stayed at. It was very charming-Villas Nicholas.
tanya0070 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2005, 07:00 PM
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Just to clarify--the guides (at least the ones I am aware of) who wait at the entrance of the park are the same ones who pick you up should you arrange through the hotel. It's just that it costs twice as much to book through the hotel. We did that in 2003 for $39 per person. We had Elias, who was outstanding. He had worked the park for 7 years, had a wonderful Swarovski scope and spotted more than I would have believed possible. He was extremely informative and spoke excellent English. His father is the one who carries visitors back and forth by boat when the water is high.

The next time we went to the park with our daughter, we decided to just pay the park entrance and walk a bit without a guide. But Elias was one of the guides waiting at the entrance to be hired--along with a couple of others we'd seen before. There are a group of guides (naturalists)--they wear khaki park uniforms--who work the park. Sometimes they are on "hotel pick up call" and sometimes not!

Based on our experience, I think they are all very good, and I don't think you'll sacrifice "guide quality" or whatever you want to call it, by hiring for half the price at the park entrance.
shillmac is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 12:42 AM
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Thanks so much for all this info everyone.

I am now leaning towards spending our first 2 nights in San Jose, instead of north of the airport. The reason is that I'm trying to create a balanced trip that satisfies everyone's heart's desire, and my daughters really want to enjoy some night-life while in San Jose. So I'm trying to find a hotel close to the Jade Museum/El Pueblo area, but I also need a hotel which has quiet rooms for sleeping at night. I'm a light sleeper and can't sleep with traffic noise, or with thin hotel walls and noisy neighbors.

I'm looking at Hotel Le Bergerac, Hotel Don Carlos, and Hotel Santo Tomas for San Jose... (Wow, too many choices...I am having more trouble choosing a hotel for our first 2 nights than for any other nights! I have considered everything from Peace Lodge to Marriott Hotel Costa Rica to Hotel Don Carlos!!! I've been very tempted to just break down and book the Mariott Hotel Costa Rica, as it apprears to be the #1 hotel in Costa Rica so how could anyone be unhappy there?!)

One of the problems with staying north of the airport is that, with my husband's interest in biology, while we could theoretically take a shuttle to the downtown San Jose area, we might never actually make it! We could end up hiking down to a waterfall instead. Which sounds very nice but my daughters will be disappointed if they don't get to fit in some night-life as well.

Melissa5 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 03:57 AM
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Hotel Don Carlos and Hotel Santo Tomas are very near one another and the "epicenter" of San Jose tourism--for daytime exploring. Not sure but I think the Bergerac is located further away. It wouldn't matter at night, of course, you'd be in a taxi. Santo Tomas and Don Carlos extremely close to El Pueblo--not walking, but a 2 minute taxi ride away.

It's probably just me, but I wouldn't encourage nightclubbing in San Jose. The city becomes quite seedy at night, although I'm sure there are good (and hopefully safe) nightspots. El Pueblo would offer one of the better possibilities--especially if you and your husband were hanging around somewhere in the same area. El Pueblo is a fairly large maze (for lack of a better word). Admittedly, I haven't been to other nightclubs in SJ so really don't know! Just my 2 cents. . . Someone please correct if I am way off base here! Don't want to be an old fuddy-duddy!

shillmac is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 04:26 AM
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We did do the clubbing thing when I went years ago with my girlfriends , probably was not very smart as we were definitely in a seedy area ! Looking back I know it was not very smart , I would not be so keen to let my teenage daughters do the same .Also , As Shillmac said , even if you stay out of town a bit (Grano de oro etc.) things are just a short Taxi ride away . Faith
faithie is offline  
Jan 4th, 2005, 04:48 AM
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There are a lot of sweet lodging choices in Manuel Antonio . As others suggested , Villas Nicolas is really nice , and sort of central to restaurants you should try . Karolas being top on the list . Grabbing a taxi , or simply timing it correctly and hopping on the local bus which passes every half hour is easy . Barba Roja Restaurant was another landmark like Karolas and it was recently bought by an adventerous young American girl . I am sure it will be great again , she was still ironing out kinks while we were there . Cafe Milagro is great for yummy drinks etc. , if you see a little friendly brown dog , give her a pat , we named her Titi !! Please do the walk( road is practically opposite Cafe Milagro ) down past Makanda towards the Parador to little Beisanz Beach , a treasure . Have Fun !!!! Faith
faithie is offline  

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