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CR Trip Report - Manuel Antonio – Monteverde – Arenal

CR Trip Report - Manuel Antonio – Monteverde – Arenal

Old Mar 4th, 2005, 01:07 PM
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CR Trip Report - Manuel Antonio – Monteverde – Arenal

Our winter vacation February 11-21, 2005. My wife & I visited Costa Rica 12 years ago. This time we were bringing our two boys – ages 6 & 9

We flew Continental: Detroit DTW- Houston IAH – San Jose SJO no problems with any of the flights. After a short wait for our luggage – took a short line through customs. I must have been a bit tired from our 6:30 AM flight (got up at 3:30 AM) because when I used the ATM in baggage claim, I selected 8,000 colons from the menu thinking it was a lot (it is about $16) Later in the trip I felt like a rich man taking out C 100,000 (about $215). We were flying on to Quepos via Sansa

From reading this board, we knew it was a short walk to the Sansa terminal – exit terminal, turn right and follow the road around for about 150-200 yards. The Sansa ‘terminal’ is reminiscent of a rundown Greyhound terminal or the old Detroit Metro Airport. Their planes are 12 seat, single engine Cessnas. They tell you when you reserve that you are limited to 25 pounds of checked luggage and they do weigh it. They also ask you how much you weigh though they don’t make you hop on the scale. They do not weigh or ask the weight of any carry on luggage. We each had 1 small bag / backpack. Sansa has a rep for being unreliable / late. Our flight was about 20 minutes late but since I routinely fly Northwest it felt like an on-time departure.

It is a short flight over the mountains to Quepos. I fly a lot and it doesn’t usually bother me. Flying through the clouds put me a bit on edge – I wasn’t worried about hitting any mountains because I could see the altimeter and knew we were much higher than the mountains in that area. I wasn’t so sure about CR air traffic control and mid-air collisions…. The warning lights and alarms going off and the low fuel indicator didn’t bother me but they did bother my wife. The landing was a bit sketchy, there was a Nature air plane landing fairly closely in front of us. Our pilot must have thought they would be out of the way / off the runway in time but they weren’t (I’m not a pilot but I was surprised they were trying to land so close behind). We set down but then they accelerated / pulled up and we flew back around because the other plane was still on the runway. Not too scary but it does make we wonder about pilot judgment…

Quepos Airport
They’ve upgraded it from 12 years ago – the runway is paved, it used to be a gravel strip. The ‘terminal’ used to be a 10x10 concrete block building with no services (still there) – they now have about a 20x20 shed with a snack bar, tourist info desk and restrooms. There is a tourist van at the airport that takes those without prior arrangements to hotels for a flat fee of $5 per person. There were no cabs so we were kind of stuck. I negotiated $15 for the 4 of us. A cab would probably be between $5 and $10, so you may want to make arrangements ahead of time

Our guidebook 12 years ago described Quepos as charmingly scuzzy. It was an apt description then as it is now. A few more tourist related merchants but still a Tico town, you know your not in Kansas.

We stayed at the Tulemar Bungalows for five nights ($270 plus tax). This is one of the more expensive places in Manuel Antonio but we really enjoyed it and thought it was worth it. We had one of the bungalows, and octagon cottage set up on the hill with outstanding views. Each bungalow is split into a dining / living room with a small fridge / minibar that we used to keep our stuff cold, and a small kitchen area. The sofa is really a day bed with a pull out trundle bed on the bottom. Our kids slept out here so we could have some privacy. The bedroom takes up most of the other half – it has two queen beds. The bathroom has a huge tub / shower set up. Very clean and spacious.

(There is a market / convenience store within walking distance of Tulemar - we stopped there for beer, soda, water, snacks, suntan lotion, etc. They have wine, liquor, some health and beauty aids.)

We liked the fact that Tulemar has its own beach. You can walk down but it is steep. They have a van on call on the property that will take you up & down for free. We did tip out the drivers, especially Victor. He was our driver most of the time; he was very friendly and helpful. One time he stopped to show us a mother and baby sloth in a tree pretty close to the ground. We never had to wait long for a ride. The beach is awesome – I’m not the best judge of distance but I’d say it is ¼ to a ½ mile long and very private. I don’t think there were ever more than a dozen people down there at one time. They have a beach bar and grill so you can get bebidas and comida and charge them to you room. We also took a cooler to the beach with sodas and beer – this was no problem, we got ice from the Tulemar’s main restaurant. The beach has chairs, lounge chairs, boogie boards, sea kayaks, towels, toys, etc. It is all included in the price of the room. We sea kayaked one day over to a couple of other beaches on the same bay. If you were really adventurous you could probably kayak to Quepos or to the main beach at the park. Boogie boarding on some of the waves was a lot of fun (until you wipe out and get dragged across the beach..). The sand is excellent for sand castle construction – using the toys / shovels/ buckets provided, we made the mother of all sand castles. Another nice thing about this beach – it is on a small bay – no riptides to worry about.

Tulemar has two swimming pools; the main one is adjacent to the restaurant / bar, a short walk from our bungalow. There is another one by the villas (larger and more expensive versions of the bungalows, equipped with balconies) that says for villa use only. We went there a couple of times and no one gave us a hard time. This pool is smaller than the main pool but has more of a natural feel. There is a small bar there but it isn’t staffed and we didn’t see any towels. The bar at the main pool was convenient; again you could charge everything to your room (too convenient!)

Breakfast is included – they have what we found to be the typical spread – eggs (made to order), pancakes, gallo pinto, sausage a/o bacon, fresh fruits, fresh juices, yogurt, cereal, etc. and very friendly waiters.

Tulemar is a big property but it was not crowded. The pools had even fewer people than the beach! In addition to the sloths, we saw a lot of monkeys. We saw them one morning jumping in the trees outside our bungalow. We saw them parade through the pool / restaurant a couple of evenings, and we saw them down at the beach. We also saw Queti a few times (they are kind of a cross between raccoons and ant eaters).

My only complaint about Tulemar was making reservations. We emailed, we called, we faxed. When we called they said we had to email or fax but they were not good about responding. I felt like I had to pull teeth to get them to confirm our reservation. Perhaps it wasn’t crowded because people got frustrated trying to make a reservation. We made the reservation direct – perhaps the trick is to use one of the many travel agencies that focus on CR. In any event, it should not be that hard to make a reservation directly with a hotel / resort – especially at this price point!

That said, we are going back in two years and will be staying at Tulemar.

There are a lot of choices in MA. We ate at the following-
Escalofrio – an Italian / Pizza place in Quepos. They have great pizza cooked in a real wood-fired brick oven. It was so good we ate there twice. The front is “open-air” opening onto the side walk like a lot of the places in town. $30-35 for the four of us
Karolas – a cool outdoor spot. Great fish – we spent about $100 our biggest bill in CR by far
“Tapas” – this place has two names “Tapas” and something else (can’t remember). We walked there from Tulemar (it is basically next door). Good ‘small plates’ – excellent plantain salsa.
El Avion – restaurant housed in and around a 1954 Fairchild C-123 cargo plane allegedly used by the CIA to supply the Contras in Nicaragua – decidedly a tacky eyesore on the roadside but my kid wanted to go there. He enjoyed sitting in the cockpit
Beach Bars – there are a number of places down by the main beach at the park entrance. Mar y Somba is the ‘famous’ one – I’m told they have a disco there at night (we weren’t there that late). We had some decent nachos there after hiking in the park. We liked Restaurant Balu (next door) much better. It is smaller with more tables literally on the beach (we also enjoyed this one more when we were there 12 years ago). We went to Balu one night to watch the sunset. We also enjoyed swimming in the big surf after the sun went down

The Park / Trips
We went into the park one day. We didn’t hire a guide but still saw plenty of wildlife. Near the entrance and by the first two beaches monkeys were easy to find. If there were monkeys, there were a ton of people and guides. We took the Sendero Mirador (lookout path). It is a pretty good hike with some elevation gain and an awesome view. We found some monkeys on our own on this path. If you are in to birding, I could see hiring a guide –we didn’t see the need for one. We were pretty busy in our five days in MA. The only trip we did was a sail / snorkel. It was $65 each for adults and for my nine year old son. (My six year old didn’t go, but he would have been half price – I thought all kids should be ½ price). The sail was on a rather small catamaran. We enjoyed sitting on the netting up front, only a few feet from the water. Nice sail out and around the islands off the park. We saw dolphins. The snorkeling was at some rocks off of our hotel (we kayaked past them) No reef and the water was cloudy but we saw a ton of fish. Nice sunset view on the sail back to port.

Local Color
We went into town on Saturday for the Saturday market. We’ve been to some markets in Guatemala – compared to those, this was a bit of a disappointment. We did find a shop that sold CR National team football (soccer) jerseys. We got one for each of our boys ($10 for jersey and shorts). Our six year old wore his to dinner a lot and quickly made friends with our Tico waiters. For some other local color, our son spotted two rats climbing on the building across the street from Escalafrio – hey, they are every where, we used to see them often when we lived in Boston. I guess it is another kind of wildlife sighting.

We drove to MV from MA and spent two nights in the Hotel Belmar (about $100 night including tax – breakfast not included). Nice basic room with two double beds and a nice balcony with views of the Nicoya Bay. They have a hot tub but it is only open from 5-9:30PM. We didn’t get to MV until about 5 PM so we didn’t do much. Had dinner at Pizzeria Johnny (wood-fired brick oven, a trend in CR) $46. Good, but not as good as Escalofrio in Quepos. Took a dip in the hot tub then hit the hay. It gets quiet fast in MV. By 10 PM the hotel is silent.

We had one full day in MV. We started the day with a zip line tour with the Original Canopy tour. Seven zip lines and two rappels. I have a real fear of heights but was committed to doing this. It was pretty fun (though I did have my doubts) The guides were good and committed to safety. We had about 14 people and 4 guides. Our sons were the only kids. Our 9 year old was the first to go (after the guides) and really gung ho. Our 6 year old was afraid – he went with a guide every time except on the rappels. He was fine after the first or second zip line. The guides were really helpful with everyone and used people’s cameras to take pictures. After this, we went to the park and hiked it on our own. There are a lot fewer people here than in Manuel Antonio. I could see the benefit of hiring a guide. We went into town (Santa Elena) for dinner at Morphos. #1 son had spaghetti which he devoured. The rest of us had tortilla meat and beans plates. Both the steak and chicken were tasty – dinner and drinks for 4 was about $35. After dinner we went back to the MV cloud forest for the night hike. I highly recommend this! They limit group sizes to 7 or 8. We ended up with our own guide. She was fabulous with the boys – she showed them (and us) a lot of neat stuff. She was extremely knowledgeable. Highlights were the luminescent mushrooms; the tarantula that she coaxed out of its hole and feed a beetle; the bats flying around our heads at the hummingbird gallery. Our guide told us that they had fewer night visitors as a result of other night hikes closer to town (not in the cloud forest – different species) We didn’t try any of the others but my experience is the originals are usually the best. My family almost opted out of this trip because it was raining but after the fact everyone was glad we did it – again Highly Recommended!

The next day we woke to rain, ate breakfast and drove to Arenal

We originally planned for 3 nights near Arenal, including our last night in CR. After a solid day of rain, we cut our stay short by 1 night so we could get a last bit of sun. We did not get to see Arenal erupt and we didn’t think the third night would make a difference – it hadn’t been seen for 30 days.

Lost Iguana –
This is a fairly new hotel – not in any of the guidebooks. It is a very nice place, once the landscaping grows in and the guide books get a hold on this place, I predict rates & occupancy will go up. They currently have two buildings with 10 units each, they are building another twenty units. We had a standard room (two queens $110 + tax per night) on the ground floor. All rooms have nice / private patios or balconies with excellent volcano views (the first day we could see about 2/3 of the mountain, the second day we could see three thirds of the clouds….). The premium units on the ends of each building look really nice – king size bed, Jacuzzi tub out on the private deck, outdoors but enclosed double shower – perfect for a couple without kids. Next time I went I would ask for a room in the first building (units 1-10). From our building (units 11-20) we occasionally got odors from the kitchen exhaust fan from the building down the hill. The room included a breakfast buffet – similar to the one at Tulemar. They have two pools, a warm pool with a swim up bar and a lower cool pool. Both are very nice but given the weather we stuck to the warm pool. I’m sure there are many days when the cool pool would be preferred. We ate dinner at the hotel one night – both the food and service were good. We checked out a day early due to the weather with no penalties or hassles. Lost Iguana is a beautiful place – I highly recommend it. (Note that it is about 20 KM from La Fortuna on the far side of the Arenal Dam)

Activities –
We had only one full day in Arenal. We started the day at Hanging Bridges ($20 each but we got tickets for $10 from Lost Iguana – kids were free). We hiked up to the entrance from the Lost Iguana. The binder in the hotel said it was doable in sandals but our son got bit by an ant so we got our hiking boots on. Hanging Bridges is a two mile hike through the jungle with six or seven suspension bridges along the way. The longest is over 300 feet long and over 150 feet high. With my fear of heights, I actually found the two longest / highest ones more challenging than the zip line tour. Even though it started raining and Arenal was enveloped in clouds, it was a beautiful walk. I recommend it and would do it again. Now that we were cold and soaking wet we hiked back to the hotel to plan our next steps.

We were going to go to Tabacon at night at the lower rates but we decided that Hot springs sounded good. Price is a bit steep - $29 adults / $17 for kids 9 and under - $92 for our family. It is very beautiful, something you can better appreciate during the day. I was a bit put off by the unfriendly/unhelpful front desk staff and a lack of sufficient locker space. They tell you not to leave valuables in your car yet they didn't have any locker space. We kept some of our stuff with us but put the valuables back in the car (and had no problems) we carried the rest around with us (in plastic bags supplied by Tabacon) but since it was pouring rain everything got soaked. For the price they are charging, they should improve the quality of front desk staff and add more lockers. We left for dinner and there were plenty of open lockers but the front desk was still telling new arrivals that there weren't any lockers. We came back around 7 PM and didn't have a problem getting a locker. As busy as it was, I didn't find it overly crowded except around the bathroom / lockers when a tour bus unloaded. Night time had a different vibe from the day. I actually saw fewer families & kids at night. We got a little bit of Girls Gone Wild action at the front pool (the one with a slide) with a couple of young women dancing topless on the bar. My son's quote "I'm not going to tell my teacher about this, but I am going to tell my friends!" It didn't bother me (I'd rather have my kids see boobs than violence which is standard American fare) but it may bother some. I guess you file that under more local color or perhaps another kind of wildlife sighting….

El Cafetal Inn was a real find. With our last minute change, I started calling places in the guidebook that were near the airport. The first two were full, El Cafetal was not – good for us. It was about 2.5 hours from Arenal on a very scenic drive through the mountains. It is about 5 mile off the Pan Am Highway and about 30 minutes from the airport. It is a little coffee farm in a small town (name escapes me) outside of Atenas. This was one of the most mellow, relaxing places I’ve visited – you could feel the vibe when you got out of the car. Small hotel – really more like a small inn / B&B. Doors lock from the inside but there are no keys to lock your room when you go out – different but we went with the flow. It was run by Ozzie, the owner’s son – a laid back (very helpful) ex-Californian. They have three dogs (Panda, Foxy & Pseudo) we were missing our dog so it was good to see these three, they were a big hit with our kids. Cafetal has a nice (if a bit cool) pool – truly solar heated. Our room was really nice – Queen bed, two sofa beds floor to ceiling windows and a small balcony with an outstanding views over San Jose & the Central Valley ($120 incl. tax). At night you saw the lights of the city (but you were in farm country and could hear cows). In the morning we got to see the sun rise over San Jose and the mountains – thanks to a wake up call from every rooster in the central valley – I have never heard anything like it. Cafetal had, by far, the best breakfast in CR (small asparagus omelettes, empanadas, French toast smothered with cinnamon and nuts, a tasty potato and cheese dish as well as the usual suspects like fresh fruit and gallo pinto).

We took a cab in to Atenas to Alidi Restaurant (recommended by Ozzie). It is a great place outside but down a hill and down an alley – never would have found it or gone there on our own. We had the special pastas and a bottle of wine, kids got (you guessed it) pizza cooked in a wood fired brick oven. CR has some of the best pizza! Food was great, damage was about $50.
Local Color
There was a festival at the church a short walk from Cafetal so we decided to check it out in the afternoon. We were the only Americans / non-locals there. The kids had a great time jumping on the trampoline with the other kids. I do have to say we felt a bit uncomfortable – people were definitely looking at us (“Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t staring at me”). I don’t know if it was the blonde hair or if they didn’t want outsiders on their turf. I’ve been to church festivals in other countries and never had this feeling (ok – the blonde hair thing probably fit in in Germany). Another guest at the hotel mentioned the same thing. We didn’t feel particularly unsafe but it was a bit different.

Thirty minutes from El Cafetal to the International Airport. Finding a gas station so we could fill up the rental car took a little bit. Car return was uneventful.

The Departure terminal is new but they didn’t make it wide enough for the bank line, the exit tax line, the airline check in / security lines, the metal detector / security line before the gates. A couple of things to note: $26 per person departure tax. They don’t take travelers checks but will take Visa. (We found Visa easier to use in CR than Mastercard for some reason); there is a special security line for people with kids – I think it is to screen for child trafficking, but it got us whisked to the front of the line!


Take ‘em! Great time had by all.

CR gets a lot of grief about their roads. I live in Michigan – for the most part I wish our roads were as good as theirs (exception being MV).

MA to MV – the road from MA to the Pan AM highway is new and mostly pothole free. Closer to MA there are some sketchy 1 lane bridges (over old railroad bridges) but it looks like they are working to replace these. The Pan Am highway we were on was well paved but surprisingly narrow for the “main” road. We missed the 1st turnoff to MV but caught the 2nd one – they join up about ½ way up so I think it is a wash which one you take. The road to MV is every bit as bad as advertised. It is the worst road I’ve ever driven on – this includes the Alaskan Highway in 1978 and some old private road up to an abandoned mine in the mountains of Montana. We did the 35KM in 1.5 hours – that’s about 14 MPH. I didn’t know I could drive that slowly! We had a 4x4 (a really nice Toyota Land Cruiser) – I can’t imagine doing it in a car even in the dry season but people did. The scenery was amazing! Total trip MA to MV – 4 hours

MV to Arenal – via Tilaran around Lake Arenal
The road out this way started out as bad as the road in and it is about 35KM to Tilaran but only about the 1st 20 are unpaved. From there through Tilaran and to Arenal the road was fine. The road around the lake has quite a few potholes – you just need to take it easy (kind of like in Michigan). This trip was about 3.5-4 hours

Arenal to San Jose – we took the route to San Remos – beautiful mountain drive / scenery over well paved roads with very few potholes. This trip was 2.5 hours to our hotel – would be about 3 hours to SJO.

General – One lane bridges seem to be the rule in CR. These, road dangers and bad road conditions are very well signed (but you need to be able to read Spanish… you’ll figure it out pretty quick)

Other than some no see um bites in the central valley and a few bugs at the Lost Iguana – no problem.

Didn’t see any, didn’t feel unsafe, didn’t hear about any. Play it smart – no different than USA

ATMs are plentiful, dollars can be used most anywhere (given the steady devaluation of the Colon people like to hold dollars). We took a wad of single to use as tips. I’ve never used $s in other countries as you usually get ripped off on the exchange – not in CR. A # of our hotel and restaurant charges were made in dollars.

Closing thoughts

Vamos a Costa Rica! Pura Vida! Great Place / Great Time.

(I hope this wasn’t too long and that it is of some help to those that read it.)
wayfarer is offline  
Old Mar 4th, 2005, 03:20 PM
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very nice report, not too long at all! Nice to hear about Tulemar, whenever I go back to MA that is one of the places I might consider. You sound braver than I was on the flight to Quepos, first time I ever had that faintness feeling and a recon on the air sickness bag , "just in case". Lost Iguana seems to have been getting good reviews here since it opened too.

Pura Vida!
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Old Mar 4th, 2005, 04:14 PM
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Hi Tully! Enjoyed your remarks on another post that I probably don't need to mention!

Wayfarer--what a well written report. I liked the way you broke it down. Very helpful! Especially enjoyed reading about El Cafetal--we stayed there one night a couple of years ago when we were planning to pick our daughters up at the airport the next morning. Loved the place, the dogs, the breakfast, the grounds, the area. The little town is called Sta. Eulalia, I think. Great little place. Never gets mention on this board, but is a nice alternative to the more popular hotels in the Alajuela (and north of there) area. On a clear day, you can see Vulcans Irazu, Poas, and Barva all three from there. Very beautiful. Thanks again for a great report!
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Old Mar 4th, 2005, 07:25 PM
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Nice report wayfarer - We are from Michigan, too, and were there the same time as you - but did a reverse of your trip, kind of. My husband commented while driving around CR - that the worst roads so far were on the way to the airport (Metro, that is!) Glad you had a great time, too.
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Old Mar 4th, 2005, 07:41 PM
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I am so glad, Wayfarer and dhswor, that you have posted that the roads aren't that bad. Of course, the way one views road conditions is so relative to what one is accustomed to, but we have never thought they were THAT bad! Some are quite good. It always frustrates me when someone posts that (for example) "the roads are in the worst possible condition" or "the roads are unbelievably bad" or whatever. I suppose those of us who have grown up in rural areas are better able to appreciate Costa Rican highways and the effort they make to try to keep them in shape for all those trucks and buses!
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 03:27 AM
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Really great report . I will have to try Tulemar oneday . Karolas was our most expensive meal as well , but still less than the equilavent here , AND it was yummy ! Still have to agree on those bridges , they can be wild and sketchy ! Faith
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 04:08 AM
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Thank you so much for the wonderful post!

My husband and I are leaving for CR in less than a week, traveling with our 2 1/2 year old son. Taking the Sansa flight from SJ (sounds like an adventure!) and staying at Tulemar for 4 nights then driving on to Monteverde. Loved the description of Tulemar, scared I will not want to leave the grounds once we get there! Can't wait for my son to see live monkeys in the trees. The sailing trip sounds nice, did you arrange through the hotel?

The detailed description of the roads is really helpful, I will pass that information on to my husband who will be driving! We rented a 4x4 but not a Land Cruiser.

Thank you again!

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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 05:30 AM
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Wayfarer, wonderful report. I always enjoy reading others thoughts on their experience in CR. Sounds like your family had a wonderful time.

We fly Northwest often, as we live near a NW hub, can totally appreciate your comment!

Was this your first trip back to CR in 12 years? Or the first trip back to MA? I can imagine that much has changed in that span of time.
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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 06:41 AM
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Thank you for the trip report! We are going to Costa Rica for the first time next month. This report was very helpful!
I have a question for you - and forgive me everyone, cuz this is a question I asked a few weeks ago.
But- since you've been in the airport recently, is 2 hours enough time to check in for a departing flight back to the US? I am probably taking a Sansa flight from Tamarindo at 0935, arriving at 1030 (if on time). My flight home is on American at 1250. If we take the 0630 trip back to the airport, what will we do for 5 hours? Is it feasible to leave for breakfast?

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Old Mar 5th, 2005, 06:48 AM
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Hi there, Enjoyed your report. I made reservations to go to the hotsprings at Tabacon and we were told we could not leave, have dinner and come back can you tell me how you did that? Do they put bracelets or something on you? Because after spending all that money we wanted to see it in the dark as well as in the day! Look forward to your reply - 6 more days!!!!
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 10:43 AM
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Thanks everyone for the positive feedback - I sometimes worry that I get too wordy.....

dhswor -
Other than the trip to MV - roads were fine. On that leg our 9 year old commented "I'll never complain about 11 mile again!" As a Detroiter, I think you'll appreciate that.

shillmac -
I think the road reports are like the crime reports and 11 O'Clock news - they sensationalize things to make people afraid to leave their homes.

The Sansa flight really wasn't that bad. As for not wanting to leave Tulemar, that could happen. We met a family there that stayed at Tulemar, drove to Arenal and after 1 day came back (totally changing their plans). As beautiful as Tulemar / MA is, there are many other different and beautiful parts of CR. It would be a shame to miss some of the other parts of the country. We originally wanted to do our trip in reverse (Arenal/MV/MA) but couldn't make the hotel work in MA. While I would suggest leaving MA for last if possible, it works the other way too if that is what you have to do.

We booked the sail direct but we could have done it through the hotel for the same price. It looks like there are 3 different sailboats that take people out.

You will be fine on the road to MV with any 4x4 - you really just need the suspension and clearance. We got the monster Land Cruiser because that is all they have (it was really nice) we had reserved a 4 Runner. We saw a lot of Toyota RAV4s and Diahtsu Terios 4x4s.

1st trip to CR and MA in 12 years. MA has a lot more of everything (Tulemar wasn't even there last time and Makanda where we stayed did not have a pool). It is still a long way from Cancun (thank god!)

fonzie -
we had just a bit over 2 hours and had plenty of time to hit the souvenir shop and have some lunch. You can shave time by prepaying your departure tax (1 less line to wait in). I don't know how to do it, but I read about it elsewhere on the board. We flew Contential - their check in line was short. Some like Martinair had monster lines. I have no idea what you'd do at the airport for 5 hours. I'd chance the tighter connection, but that's me. Worst case, you get 'stuck' in CR for another day!

flycatcher -
they put a little plastic bracelet on everyone (like you'd get in the hospital or to show you are old enough to drink). They must use a different color everyday. It was no problem to leave and come back

Enjoy your trip!
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Old Mar 6th, 2005, 05:13 PM
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No, not too long. Extremely informative as I prepare to go in a month with my wife and 3 children, ages 7, 9 and 11. Wayfarer, I need clarification as I'm a dummy on the subject....did you say at the end that you intentionally brought lots of U.S. dollar bills...are U.S. bills accepted throughout. Can you give me a quick lesson on the currency exchange and what's popular in CR. I did see your note that ATM's are around. Thanks.
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 05:33 AM
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cpme -

ATMs are prevalent in CR so it is very easy to Colons out of the bank. I did purposely bring a wad of U.S. singles to tip out people but I honestly can't say why I did that (but it worked). I didn't read about that anywhere, nor have I ever done that in any other country. The root was probably in our experience there last time (12 years ago). There were no ATMs so we took a lot of travellers checks. We went into Quepos to go to the bank to exchange them but forgot to take our passport. Without the passport the bank would not exchange our travellers checks. We were running low on funds and one of the reasons we went into town was to buy supplies (food, beer, etc.) We went to the supermarket and there was a moneychanger. I normally try to avoid moneychangers because of bad exchange rates and potential scams. This guy took our travellers checks (with only my drivers license for ID) and gave us the official exchange rate. Given my business backgound and my curiosity, I asked him how / why he would do that. He explained that Ticos would rather hold $s than Colons due to the constant devaluation of the Colon, in essence he made his money on the future value of the dollar.

This still holds true today - go to Yahoo finance and look at a graph of the exchange rate - it is a straight line up! (http://finance.yahoo.com/currency )

I generally think it is culturally insensitive to use (and expect others to accept) dollars when you travel - especially since we are pigs and won't accept other peoples money. (We live near the border with Canada - Canadians take US money but few of our businesses will accept Canadian currency). In the CR case, I think there is actually economic value to the Ticos to take dollars hence I didn't mind handing them out. Besides a dollar bill seems more substaintial than a 500 colon coin. 1000 colon notes also work well for tips (about $2.15).

The exchange rate is currently C 465 = $1. To keep is simple, use 500 = $1. When your bill comes, take the 1000s and multiply by 2 - 17,000 colons = $34.

You will find a lot of places that price their wares / services in dollars and colons so either work most of the time.

Enjoy your trip - the kids should have a great time!
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 11:29 AM
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we are going in three weeks. do we need to make reservations ahead of time at the hotsprings?
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 12:35 PM
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Great trip report. I was so glad to see that someone else had a wonderful experience at El Cafetal! Beautiful place and wonderful owners!

I was surprised to hear that Ozzie was still there! He was leaving for the coast the last day we were there (Feb. 13th). He had told his mom he wanted to work by the ocean so that he could surf! Must not have worked out! Great for them because we really enjoyed all of his help and information that he gave us.

I agree with Shillmac that El Cafetal is not mentioned very often on this board but it should be.

It was a great place to spend our first and last night of our trip even with all the "outside" sounds. I actually woke up laughing the first morning because Ozzie had warned us about the roosters, etc. and to me it all sounded so wonderful!
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Old Mar 7th, 2005, 07:43 PM
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Glad to hear that others really liked El Cafetal. It was an awesome place - I'd stay there next time before or after the airport.

I am not a morning person, but the roosters were a real treat!

Ozzie was still there when we left on 2/21. He was busy painting for a gallery show he was going to do in California - perhaps that caused him to delay his surfing trip. He's a great host and an asset to El Cafetal.

If this is an undiscovered gem, more folks should consider staying here.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2005, 06:31 PM
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Thanks so much, Wayfarer, for one of the most descriptive and helpful posts I've read. One quick question------how did you find your guide for the night hike in the MV cloud forest? Do you remember her name----my kids would LOVE the kind of experience ya'll had there. Thanks so much!
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Old Apr 5th, 2005, 09:53 AM
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wonderwoman -

I am sorry but I can't recall the name of our guide ( I would have put it in the original post) She was great with the kids and highly educated (college degree in Biology I think). We lucked into our own 'private' tour. You just show up at the entrance / ranger station at the MV Cloud forest - no reservations necessary - and you get whatever guides are working that evening. I'm not sure how many female guides there are but perhaps you can get lucky and get the same one. They limit group sizes to 7 or 8, and we were the last 4 to show up (out of about 20 people that night) so again, we kind of lucked into our own tour. I doubt that they would be able to so directly focus the tour on the kids if we were with a bunch of other adults. Good luck and have fun!
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