CR Trip reviews and 'best of' list

Jul 13th, 2005, 04:58 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2004
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CR Trip reviews and 'best of' list

These are short opinions of some of the establishments we experienced during our 10 day visit to Costa Rica. Star system is 1 thru 5 (best). Your can read our trip reports in a separate posting.

Toyota Car Rental – four stars – picked us up at the airport got us on the road with a nice Toyota Diesel 4 Runner in about 30 minutes. I guess the price was a bit higher than some – total cost with all taxes, insurance, fees and a cell phone $900.00 for 10 days.

Poas Volcano Lodge – We really enjoyed this bed and breakfast located about one hour northeast of the San Jose airport. The rooms were clean and comfortable and the breakfast was one of the best we had in Costa Rica. The main house is beautiful and there are several short walks on the grounds. It is about 20 minutes fromVolcan Poas and 10 minutes from the La Paz Waterfall gardens. The Lodge is on an active dairy farm – 3.5 stars.

La Paz Waterfall Garden – expensive but worth the visit. We got the lunch package for $1 over the cost of admission which made the high ticket price a little more palatable. The waterfalls are spectacular.

Arenal Observatory Lodge – This place is incredible. The views of the volcano were the best and we literally spent hours sitting on the balcony outside our room watching the eruptions and toucans. Staff and service were top notch and the meals good. The free guided hike in the morning was very worthwhile, with a knowledgeable guide and a nice walk out to the lava fields. We gave the Lodge four stars out of five. The only drawback to some might be that it is several miles off the main road and quite a way from the town of La Fortuna.

Tabacon Hot Springs – we splurged here as well and reserved the night pass with buffet dinner. It rained the whole time we were there but we didn’t care. The hot springs at night were great and the food ample and well prepared.

Toad Hall – on the road around Lake Arenal – this was a cool place and unfortunately we were just passing thru and didn’t try their lunch. Their prices are very reasonable and they have great views of the lake.

Hotel Belmar – We had mixed feelings about this hotel in Santa Elena near Monteverde. The rooms were clean and the staff efficient. Unfortunately the walls of the rooms were paper thin and they were very noisy. Some people found themselves in rooms under the restaurant and they were terribly noisy. The food wasn’t great and all in all we gave the place two stars

In Santa Elena – Restaurants – Johnny’s Pizza two stars, Morpho’s Restaurant (good value) 3.5 stars, Stella’s Bakery 3 stars.

Villas Playa Samara – took a two bedroom villa – if you are a family and plan on staying a while and doing your own cooking this place might be a bargain. We met many ticos here. The place is modern, well run and the food was ok. I guess what turned us off was that it was really a modern family style resort and the beach isn’t that great. 2.5 stars.

Hotel Guanamar – Playa Carrillo - Lonely Planet almost dismisses this place because it caters to sport fishing but don’t be put off by that. This is a GREAT hotel with spectacular views and a five minute walk from Playa Carrillo which is an incredible beach. We stayed here by accident because we had a hard time finding rooms in the area and wish we had found it before we spent two nights a the Villas Playa Samara. The staff here is great and very attentive. Four of us shared a spacious double room w/AC with stunning views of Playa Carrillo for $85.00 a night w/breakfast. A solid four stars.

El Sueno Tropical – Another great find two km. south past Carrillo. If you are in Samara or Carrillo you should definitely make the trip. This was the best meal we had in Costa Rica and the best service. If the new owners are half as good with the hotel part as the restaurant, this place should be seriously considered despite its out of the way location (but only if you have a car). The food was fantastic. Five stars.

Restaurant Las Brasas – in Samara – Spanish food with a twist. Great Paella and an attentive staff. This place has a clean, traditional feel in a nicely decorated room. We gave it three stars. Keep your eyes pealed about 7:00 pm for the bat that lives in the bull’s skull.

El Cafetal Inn – near Atanis and the San Jose Airport – Spent our last night here about 30 minutes from the airport. Unfortunately it was undergoing some construction which took away a bit from what is a very pretty inn. The staff did their best to make us comfortable. The inn is not inexpensive but the rooms are nice and spacious. Breakfast on the patio was special. Under different circumstances it probably would have gotten 3.5 stars.

Restaurant Rancho Tipico la Trilla – in Atenas - sort of out of the way but worth a visit if you are in the area. For about $20 dollars for four people you get drinks and great ‘typical’ food. This is the best of the CR local restaurants we went to. 3.5 stars.

We ate in many small ‘tipico’ restaurants and found most of them to be clean with attentive staff. The food was almost always abundant and good. Because they were so inexpensive it allowed us to ‘splurge’ at some of the more expensive ones listed above. Our best advice when you are hungry is took keep your eye out for a “Soda” or Restaurant ‘tipico’ with a few cars (or trucks) out in front and give it a try.


Best Cloud Forest – Santa Elena Reserve – smaller, quieter, less crowded.
Best Beer – Imperial
Best Rum – Ron Centenario 12 Anos Reserve
Best Beach – Playa Carrillo, hands down – but we only saw two.
Best Road – The road down to Samara from Hojancha after we made a wrong turn – really glad we had four wheel drive as the buzzards were circling.
Best natural “attraction” – Arenal Volcano – it boomed, spit, huffed and entertained us for hours. No wonder ancient peoples thought volcanoes were alive.
Best man made enhancement – Tabacon Hot Springs – we compared it to Glenwood Springs in Colorado and decided that the Costa Ricans had got it right.
Best unexpected experience – a 6.3 earthquake during dinner at Samara – no real damage but the earth moved.
Best overall part of the trip – the country is beautiful but it is the people that make traveling there such a nice experience.

hakmat is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 06:25 AM
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Thank you for this very informative review and thank you for the comments on some of the lesser talked about special finds.
dfarmer is offline  
Jul 13th, 2005, 12:20 PM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 17
HAKMAT----------You win the prize for best trip reports. I finally decided to just print off everything you wrote! We leave tomorrow and can't wait. We'll be using your comments alot, I'm sure, as we travel through the country. Thanks again for such great reporting!
wonderwoman2112 is offline  
Jul 14th, 2005, 08:35 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 50
Hello, Hakmat.

I was wondering about your GPS system..I too am going to costa rica ans will be driving around...and planning to buy GPS from ebay..but there are just too many models...

What is your GPS model and how much memory does it have? I noticed map project map is about 256mb?? do we get to choose once we download to computer?

Thank you for your wonderful trip report!!
worldtraveler25 is offline  
Jul 15th, 2005, 08:13 AM
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Worldtraveler25 - I use a Garmin Etrex Legend with 8MB of internal memory. In order to use the maps from the Carribean Mapping Project you would also need the Garmin Mapsource software. I have US Topo.

The interface to load the maps is the Mapsouce - it is on your computer and you connect the GPS unit with a USB and then download whatever map area you want.

The 8MB of memory was more than enough to load detail of most of Costa Rica.

Yours aye

hakmat is offline  
Jul 15th, 2005, 10:27 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 65
I agree wholeheartedly with your Best Man Made Enhancement. The hot springs are truly a delight.
Liquidsunshine is offline  
Jul 17th, 2005, 06:05 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 10
Hi hakmat,

About GPS, would you please elaborate a little more on the Carribean Mapping Project. I have a Garmin StreetPilot 2610. I have MapSource and City Navigator softwares.

Did you find the GPS useful for your driving in CR?

fothomas is offline  
Jul 17th, 2005, 10:31 AM
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I'd be happy to talk about the GPS. I'm a bit of a mapping nut - Map Corps Volunteer, Geocacher etc. So when I stumbled across Richard Smith's mapping project I jumped at the chance.

The maps are available at
They require Garmin Mapsource to be used. As I've said I downloaded most of Costa Rica into a Garmin Legend.

We used it extensively while driving. The project is a work in progress but the accurace was very good. A couple of problems due to old maps being the basis for some of the work. For instance Lake Arenal doesn't show up and there is a piece of the Gulf of Nicoya missing. But almost all the roads and towns are very accurate. We used it in conjunction with the National Geographic road map. The GPS kept us going in the right direction in many, many situations especially the frequent downpours when visibility was limited. I also found it neat to have all the stats about our trip: distance traveled etc.

So I guess it depends; if you like this sort of stuff, like I do, then the GPS added a interesting aspect to the trip and it most definitely was a great aid in navigation.

By the way: the Carribbean Mapping Project is an attempt to get all of the Carribbean converted to GPS compatible maps. Voluteers like me provide waypoints and tracks to Richard so he can verify the accuracy of his maps.

Yours aye
hakmat is offline  
Jul 18th, 2005, 11:26 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 50
Hello, hakmat

Thank you very much for your reply..just one more question. Your garmin etrex legend..did it come with mapsource? or do i need to buy software?( about 100 ). I know it comes with basic map...dont think mapsource is included..

Thank you!!
worldtraveler25 is offline  
Jul 21st, 2005, 08:07 AM
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Posts: 29
Mapsource was a separate purchase. The Legend comes only with a base map pre-installed. It has main roads etc. but not much detail.
Yours aye,
hakmat is offline  
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