CR Trip questions

Jun 7th, 2007, 12:50 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 2
CR Trip questions


Planning week-long family trip to CR in early August: 4 adults, 2 kids, aged 15 and 11.
We were thinking of trying Arenal for four days, then Pacific beach for the other four.
This is our first trip there so any and all advice is welcome...

1) Should we fly into San Jose or Liberia?

2) Is renting a car / 4x4 a good option to travel from San Jose to Arenal and then from Arenal to coast, then back to San Jose again?
(Have read that some of the roads can get dicey in the rainy season, esp from Arenal to the coast).

3) We were considering Lost Iguana, Tabacon, and Kioro as hotels in Arenal? Any thoughts on these or other hotels? (I read that current lava flow might make Lost Iguana a better option).

4) Any recommendation for beach hotel? We were considering Punta Islita. We'd like something very nice, but relaxed ambiance.

5) Is it necessary to set up tours (zip line, white water rafting, Tabacon springs, etc.) ahead of time? If so, should we do this through our hotel or through a guide / tour operator? Any suggestions?

6) Any NOT TO BE MISSED sights / stops along the way? (Sounds like there are too many for one trip but any help would be great.)

gdb is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 01:02 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
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Just fly into SJO, take a Nature Air flight to Arenal, taxi around, fly to Quepos (manuel antonio) via SJO, taxi it around. I bet same or less than rental, plus no time wasted. Nature Air
ATL4SAHoneymoon is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 02:31 PM
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We enjoy renting and driving ourselves around. The roads are decent in most areas, particularly the ones you mentioned.

You can certainly wait and book activities once you arrive. It will be very simple through the hotels. Arenal is a great area, and any of the hotels you mentioned would be good, although Tabacon would be my last choice. The hot springs is great, though, and the spa excellent and beyond!

As for Punta Islita, I've not been there, but understand it is magnificent. The only problem is your time constraint. One week is cutting it really short to include someplace as "out of the way" as Islita. You would have to spend quite a few more hours on the road to include it, which, of course, would take away from your time there or even your time at Arenal.

A better choice (easier to get to) might be Manuel Antonio. There is a terrific amount of wildlife there and beautiful beaches, tons of excellent hotels to choose from.

That said, if you SHOULD decide to fly instead of rent, Punta Islita would be much easier to include. You could even rent a vehicle to get you to Arenal and back, then schedule flights to Punta Islita for the last leg portion of your week. Return the day before your flight and stay somewhere relaxing and beautiful like Peace Lodge or Vista del Valle. Try not to schedule an early morning departure so you can enjoy your time a bit more. I highly recommend Peace Lodge on the La Paz Waterfall Garden property for your group--everyone would really love it and what a way to finish up your vacation!
shillmac is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 02:32 PM
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 16

I would rent a car as the driving is not bad at all from SJ to Arenal and then to the beach. Regarding Arenal check out the Los Lagos resort as it has 2 pools, one with a waterslide, zip line, park, etc..The rooms are very nice, good food and the kids will enjoy it. We have stayed at the Tabacon and Los Lagos twice, once with our kids ages 9 & 11 and besides Mal Pais the Los Lagos was their favorite part of the trip. Also, the Vegabondo in town has the best pizza in Costa Rica.
jski5793 is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 03:21 PM
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We stayed at the Lost Iguana in Arenal and absolutely loved it. It's one of our favorite places that we've ever stayed. The grounds are really lush, and it has a wonderful view of the volcano. Our room had a big balcony with a jacuzzi on it, as well as 2 rocking chairs where we could sit to watch the lava flow. Even if you decide not to stay there, check out their web site for trip planning - it's full of really useful information.

Lost Iguana is set away from town, but we liked that, and when we were there, they had a free shuttle that went into town around dinnertime, and it was always easy to get a taxi back. They also have a nice pool area and open air restaurant with a view of the volcano.

They arranged all our tours for us - the highlight was Cano Negro - I would not miss it; it's a boat ride near the Nicaraguan border, and you will see howlers, capuchins, sloths, a variety of birds, etc. and also have a really delicious lunch. To me, it's definitely a don't miss. We still talk about it, and we got amazing pictures.

Lost Iguana is right by the Hanging Bridges and offers discount admission there. Also, I'd go to Tabacon for the hot springs, but I probably wouldn't stay there - seems overrun with people (like us!) coming to use the springs.

You also may want to try the Skytrek ziplines in Arenal.

We stayed at Mango Moon in Manuel Antonio, and got upgraded to a great king suite - it had a bedroom, bath, small kitchen, and living room with additional bedding - I think it was a daybed/couch. It had a private balcony and its own entrance - really nice. The rooms there vary by price/amenities, so ask a lot of questions to get the one you want. The park there offers great wildlife viewing - loads of monkeys - and we also went sailing and snorkeling. Snorkeling wasn't so great, but we were there in the rainy season so there was a lot of sediment in the water.

If you drive to Manuel Antonio and go over the Rio Tarcoles, check out all the big crocs underneath the bridge.

I would definitely fly into SJO. A lot of people drive, but we hired a private driver and really liked that option. Driving in San Jose would have been a nightmare but outside of SJ, I think it's easily doable - my husband just didn't want to drive because he wanted to sit back and see all the sights and relax. You will love CR. Have a wonderful trip.
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 03:29 PM
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 248
Maybe fly into Liberia...take the car drive to Punta Islita..about 2 and a half hours...from there drive to Arenal...Lost iguana is a great choice...then to Manuel Antonio...Si Como No good choice...and to San Jose...a lot of driving,,,,but nice drives anyway...I love when people are crazy about country is for people that love driving...even that we do not have the best roads in the world!! But is not like many people write some bad but not that bad!!

Luis R.A

Just buckle up and enjoy the ride in paradise!!

100% costarican and proud of it!!
roadadvisor is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 04:17 PM
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Thanks to everyone who's responded. Reading all the replies is making me wish we were going tomorrow...though also making me realize there are a lot of wonderful places there to check out. Wish we could stay longer than a guess is we'll be back. If anyone else has tips or suggestions, we'd appreciate them.

shillmac: how long would you say the trip from Arenal to Puta Islita is? (Doesn't seem so that far on map, but am guessing it's a question of road conditions???) We may well follow your suggestion of heading back to SJO then flying.

Volcano girl: We are definitely staying at Lost Iguana, thanks to your posting. How did you hire the private driver? Did he drive you for all the legs of the trip (SJO to Arenal, Arenal to Manuel Antonio, then back to SJO)?

Tanks again to everyone!!!
gdb is offline  
Jun 7th, 2007, 08:38 PM
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Arenal to Punta Islita, hmmm, it's a guess on my part, but I'm thinking 6.5-7 hours. Not sure how much time the air would actually save you--probably not all that much by the time you get to the airport an hour early for the flight. And you'd probably need to return to SJO the day before your departure flight from the country.
shillmac is offline  
Jun 8th, 2007, 01:37 AM
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Hi, gdb - we hired 3 different drivers all through our hotels before we left. We just called Lost Iguana and said we'd like to be picked up at SJO airport and driven to Arenal. When we got off the plane, there was a man standing there with a sign that had our last name on it, and he whisked us away in his van for the drive to Arenal. He was great - fluent in English and really interesting. He told us all about everything we passed, their culture, housing prices - anything we were interested in. The drive was really pretty, so I was glad we were both getting to relax and enjoy it.

We did the same thing with Mango Moon and Grano de Oro. Those drivers had varying levels of English, but they were so kind and we were able to communicate. One of those drivers is the one who stopped to show us the big crocs. I think they know the highpoints that tourists are interested in.

Our flight into SJO was delayed by 2 hours, and we were worried that our driver wouldn't be there, but he just waited there patiently until our flight arrived. They made it really easy for us. They'll also stop anywhere you'd like - for a bathroom break, snacks, etc.

For the most part, I thought the roads were pretty good. There was one section going from Arenal to Manuel Antonio that had huge potholes and then we had to go over a one lane bridge - my husband would have gotten stressed out doing that, but I know other people view at part of the great adventure. In SJO, there was a lot of traffic, people driving quickly, and passing on hills - our drivers handled it all much better than we would have. I guess it all just depends on your personal preference.

Regarding the Hanging Bridges, it's really lush and nice, but we didn't see a single animal there. Maybe our eyes weren't trained yet! But in Cano Negro, there were animals everywhere - it really was the highlight of our trip. We used Sunset Tours and would highly recommend them. I hope you have a wonderful trip.
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 8th, 2007, 09:33 AM
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Sorry - I meant view it as part of the great adventure... Can't type today!
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 8th, 2007, 09:49 AM
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I wanted to mention some restaurants that we liked. In Arenal/La Fortuna, El Novillo has really good steaks, and La Choza de Laurel had good casados; they have a spit out front where they roast all their chickens.

In Manuel Antonio, we liked Ronnie's Place/Mi Lugar; they have great fresh seafood and good sangria - it's a great place to enjoy the sunset. My husband said his fish tasted really fresh, and they told him it was just caught that day. Can't get much fresher than that. We found all the restaurants on this board, so I always like to pass along good info. Enjoy!
volcanogirl is offline  
Jun 8th, 2007, 12:57 PM
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Posts: 470
I personally prefer Kioro or Lost Iguana over Tabacon. I think either is a better value. I also think that four days is a little long for Arenal. If you are doing some of the other things mentioned, you might want to trim a day.

I almost always vote for driving, rather than flying. Even an experienced traveler has a hard time getting down to that 25 pound luggage limit. My teen daughter once tried to take 14 pairs of shoes! She takes after her mom I guess.

Plus, there are a couple of routes that one can take to Arenal from San Jose. If you don't mind taking a little longer, I feel the more mountainous route through Grecia and Zarcero is one of the prettiest drives in the country.

Also, what time do you arrive and depart? This will impact a lot. You may be obliged to take a night coming or going from San Jose. Shillmac recommended the Peace Lodge too. If you can squeeze it in, I second her recommendation. It is such a great spot, and it is only a little over an hour from the airport.

Punta Islita is nice, but there are a couple of issues to consider. It is awfully remote, and if you don't have a car, you are kinda married to their restaurant. If you are driving, well it is awfully remote! It takes some effort to get there in the rainy season. The beach is also not as close as to the hotel as the pictures on their web site make it seem. These were obviously shot with a long lens. It is not a major hike, but it is a little bit of a walk.

I have always much preferred the Quepos / Manuel Antonio area over the Guanacaste region. It is not crowded at this time of year, and their are lots of good lodging choices. There are some very good nature / adventure tours available from here as well.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can offer more advice.

Warm Regards,
Pat Hewitt
(Travel professional)
Pat_Hewitt is offline  
Aug 30th, 2007, 01:16 PM
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Noting to add (unfortunately), just tagging for all the good info.
karens is offline  
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