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lvk Aug 30th, 2004 07:34 AM

CR Trip Report-9 Great Days
Hello All,

First let me thank everyone for all the great advice on this forum. I really enjoyed reading trip reports when I was planning, so I hope I don't bore you with mine! I tried not to get into too much detail, but will be happy to answer any questions.

Who we are: DH&I, Daughter(11), Son(9), Mother-in-Law (70). MIL lives in Germany and flew in from Munich-LA just 2 days before hopping on flight to CR.

Day 1 - TACA flight, LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, Central Valley & Arenal Paraiso.

Based upon advice from this board, got to LAX 3 hours ahead of our 1:30am TACA flight, expecting the worst. I'm happy to report that it wasn't as chaotic as expected. It took 1 hr & 15 min. to get thru both the TACA line and the TSA screening process.

The non-stop flight was uneventful. San Jose airport at 8:30am was a breeze. Our luggage was there immediately, customs and immigration took about 15 minutes combined.

Our driver, Oscar, was waiting for us with a sign. I have discussed our decision to go with a private driver vs. driving on several other posts, so I won't go into detail about it here.

First stop- Cup of coffee overlooking a Coffee Plantation. I think this coffee shop is run by the Doka Plantation (?), since all the coffee available for purchase had the Doka labels. Beautiful views and great coffee. What a nice start to our vacation!

La Paz Waterfall Gardens- Waterfalls were very beautiful and powerful. Very nice butterfly & hummingbird gardens. We got the package deal with the buffet lunch ($30/adults, $15/kids) and really enjoyed it. We also liked the funky bathrooms there (sounds weird, but those who have been there will know what I'm talking about).

Next we drove through the Central Valley on our way to Arenal. Oscar pointed out all the agricultural products and processing plants along the way -- very interesting. Just before LaFortuna, he stopped at a bridge will lots of iguanas lounging around in the trees. We also saw a baby armadillo crossing the street between LaFortuna & Arenal. So cute!

Arrived at the Arenal Paraiso. Check-in was a breeze. We had two deluxe cabins. The rooms were very basic, but very clean. We had dinner at the restaurant at the AP and were pleasantly surprised (heard that the food was "mediocre"). We had very good sea bass and tilapia.

It was raining pretty hard that first night, so we saw no volcano action.

poss Aug 30th, 2004 11:28 AM

please please continue!

trevorjoyce Aug 30th, 2004 12:47 PM

Good to hear about your trip; Trevor greeted me at the door and told me you had posted! Those La Paz bathrooms were something, weren't they?!

Percy Aug 30th, 2004 12:53 PM


So far everything sounds okay !

Glad Oscar was right there waiting for you.
Keep it coming


lvk Aug 30th, 2004 01:24 PM

Thanks, everyone, for the encouragement! I'm also going to try to post some pictures on a photosharing site, once I get this trip report finished.

Day 2 - Canopy Tour & La Fortuna

We woke up to pretty steady rain which turned to torrential downpours after breakfast. Breakfast buffet at the AP was pretty good (but got kind of old by morning #4). I was surprised at the lack of variety of fruit (there were only pineapples, papayas, bananas and watermelon) until I realized that they were serving only what was in season.

We had booked the 10:30 am Canopy tour, but had to reschedule to the 1pm, because of the heavy rain. MIL decided to bail out, after "not seeing any other old ladies" on the previous tour that walked by our rooms.

We had such a great time on this tour! The guides were fun and funny and very safety-conscious. On the platforms, you were clipped onto a line by caribiner at all times. The guide named Gustavo asked if anyone wanted to ride with him and go upside down. My dd volunteered and flew upside down with her feet on the pulley over the river, with "Stavo" right behind her. The photographer got about 5 shots of her like this. What a great memory!

The photographer took amazing pictures and his assistant who burned the pictures onto a CD was so nice and polite. We bought the CD for $30. When I got it home and loaded it, there were 240 shots of our Canopy tour! There was another family there, so only about 1/2 the shots are of us, but still well worth the money IMO. There are also shots of flower & fauna of CR, but I haven't even gotten to those yet.

That night, we went into La Fortuna for dinner and a little (very little) shopping. Because we were 5 people, we needed a van taxi, which didn't seem to be available. The front desk then called us 2 taxis, for which we waited over 40 minutes.

Dinner at El Jardin was good- the kids loved the pizza. We were able to watch some Olympic highlights on their TV. Stopped in a few souvenir shops, nothing too exciting. Waited another 20-30 minutes at the taxi stand for the ride back.

One thing to note, which really bothered the kids --there seemed to be a lot of "stray" (?) dogs in La Fortuna. The kids kept asking whether or not the dogs had enough to eat (they looked very skinny), and who was taking care of them? We tried to assure them that the dogs belonged to the town, and that the merchants and restaurant owners fed them and took care of them. I'm really not sure what the real answer is. But the questions came up again in Jaco.

Back at the AP, the rain stopped, clouds cleared, and the volcano put on a little show for us. We watched for a while from our patio, then from our beds. Pretty amazing!

Molly2 Aug 30th, 2004 02:55 PM

Super report! We too saw stray dogs, everywhere we went it seemed. At the Observatory Lodge, there was a sweet female dog who had obviously just had pups. No sign of the puppies, though. She didn't look skinny, so we could only hope that all was well with that dog family.

trevorjoyce Aug 30th, 2004 04:11 PM

Also saw a lot of dogs, usually friendly...but when we were at Carillo Beach (with nowhere to go) one dog nipped at Trevor and scared us. It was then annoying as we (along with others on the beach) had to stay in the water. Luckily, we saw no dead or injured as others said they did...

Kwoo Aug 30th, 2004 05:22 PM

lvk, Enjoying reading your trip report. It is bringing back memories of our trip to CR. We saw the same iguanas lounging in the trees on our way to Cano Negro from La Fortuna. We also ate at El Jardin & enjoyed our meal there.

shillmac Aug 30th, 2004 05:30 PM

Great report, Ivk! We've joked about the dogs having such a pitiful life--although I guess it isn't funny! Noticed one lying with its head behind a tire once, wishful thinking perhaps? :)

And I chastised my husband this past July when he honked at a little dog who was crossing (as fast as he could) in front of us with only 3 legs. Jim felt bad that he had honked before he noticed the handicap. I still bring it up every now and then. . . .:)

Jessie_ Aug 31st, 2004 04:29 AM

I have noticed that most of the strays are small. Survival of the fittest I guess. The small ones can get by on less food. I do hope to have a place down there someday where I can take some in.

lvk Aug 31st, 2004 11:28 PM

Day 3 - Penas Blancas Safari Float

The lesson here - not all PB Safari Floats are equal. I read on this board about a float tour which included a stop on a farm where the farmer gave you fresh homemade cheeses and flan. Unfortunately, this wasn't it. :( I booked it on our first day while still sleep-deprived, so I forgot to ask.

We booked the tour through Jacamar tours in LaFortuna, adjacent to the Lava Rocks Cafe. We did save $10 per person over what the AP was charging at their tour desk (maybe their's had flan?) The guide (another Oscar) picked us up at the AP promptly at 8:30 for our drive to the river.

The float was calm and relaxing, Oscar did all the work. We only had to break out our paddles 1-2 times. Oscar was very nice, funny and spoke very good English. He even threw in a few German words for my MIL. Imagine the look on her face when he pointed to a morpho and said "blaue schmetterling" :)

We saw & heard a few howler monkeys, owls, iguanas, a Jesus-Christ lizard and a poison dart frog. Oh, and lots and lots of cows. No sloths or crocodiles made their appearance that day. We stopped at the side of the river and Oscar cut up some fresh fruit for us (it wasn't flan, but it was okay).

Back at the AP, the weather was sunny and nice (a rarity on our stay there), so we had lunch by the pool watching the big gray boulders roll down the side of the volcano.

We weren't up for another taxi ride/wait, so we had dinner at the AP as well. Guess what I had for dessert? Right, a very nice coconut flan. :-d

lvk Sep 1st, 2004 08:40 AM

Day 4 - Arenal Hanging Bridges and Tabacon Hot Springs
(forgot to mention, that was saw lots of lava flow on night 3 also)

Since Oscar was free on Thursday, we arranged for him to drive us around the Arenal area. Based on our taxi experience, we're glad we did.

He picked us up at 9 am and we headed over to the Hanging Bridges. Cost was $20 per adult, kids were free. We really enjoyed this place. The trails and bridges are very nice. There are nice lookout points to the lake, river and waterfalls. The trails have those those waffle-type concrete blocks under foot, so the hike wasn't too muddy.

We didn't see much wildlife --they all seemed to be hiding when we came to town. What we did see was an owl, lots of leaf-cutter ant parades and a caterpillar or two.

We took about 2 hours there then drove around the lake a bit and saw our first coatimundi. Lunch at Lava Rocks cafe in La Fortuna was good, then back to the hotel for some R&R.

Oscar picked us up for dinner later. We wanted to try El Novillo, but it was raining so hard, we decided to eat someplace indoors. I think the name of the place was Mirador Arenal Steakhouse (?). Pretty good steaks, with wonderful side orders and sauces.

After dinner it was off the the Tabacon Hot Springs, where we paid the after 7pm rates. The place was very crowded, but still enjoyable. The kids enjoyed the waterslide, which was conveniently located in the same pool as the swim-up bar, so we could have fun watching them while having a cocktail or two. We also tried out a few other pools sat under a few of the waterfalls. Like many other posters, I'm glad we experienced it, but probably wouldn't return.

Back to the AP, thoroughly relaxed. The volcano cleared up and started rumbling at about 3 am. I could see some lava through the fog. I took that as a good-bye present just for me. :)

lvk Sep 10th, 2004 08:34 AM

Day 5 - Transfer from Arenal to Los Suenos

Woke up to another miserable, rainy day. Check out of the AP was efficient. We were on our way.

Oscar had suggested another canopy tour near San Ramon, but it was raining too hard by the time we got there, so we just kept on driving.

We stopped at the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocodiles - lots of them. We had lunch at Steve & Lisa's overlooking the ocean. Beautiful view, good food, slow service.

Checked in the the Los Suenos Marriott. It is a very big, very pretty, very American resort. I started to have pangs of regret that we didn't book a place more "Costa Rican", but I did enjoy the creature comforts. I took the kids to the pool while DH went to the golf range to hit a bucket of balls.

Dinner was appetizers at the lobby bar with live music.

Day 6 - Los Suenos/Jaco

DH decided he was going to play golf today. Since his Mom had never been on a golf course, she accompanied him in the cart and they both had a great day. Lots of iguanas on the course! The Marriott staff is very, very eager to please. An attendant came to ask them if they wanted drinks or food. MIL asked if she could get a fresh coconut (they don't get those in Germany!). He left and came back with a fresh coconut, all cut up for her. She was thrilled.

Back in the room, DS had come down with a nasty little flu bug. I gave him Motrin, and he slept it off while I read my book on the balcony facing the ocean.

That evening, we took a cab into Jaco ($8 round trip, charged to our room--very convenient). We got there about sunset and watched the surfers as the sun went down. It was very beautiful (though Jaco beach itself seemed kind of dirty to us). Jaco seems like the kind of town that would be fun if you were in your 20's, backpacking and surfing.

We had dinner at a little pizza place called "El Picaro". It is Italian-owned and the caprese salad and pizza was excellent! Highly recommended!

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