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Dazed, Confused and dreaming of CR paradise

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Sep 20th, 2009, 08:23 PM
  #1
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Dazed, Confused and dreaming of CR paradise

Okay, my eyes are crossed and my head dizzy from reading all the posts - which have been most helpful! We are a family of 6 (2 adults kids ages 11,12,13, and 15) planning our first trip to CR. Based on the fabulous posts I've read, we are planning on 8 nights - 5 in MA and 3 in Arenal the first week of April, 2010. We are staying at the Marriott Los Suenos using hard earned points and heading up to Arenal for the remainder of the trip. Looking for:

1) Lodging advice to accommodate all of us in Arenal (reasonably priced)?
2) Day trips from the Marriott - is it really an easy drive to MA?
2) Canopy tours in MA or Arenal, which is best?
3) Anything we shouldn't miss in either location? Planning on canopy tours, volcono/hiking tours and beach/pool/relaxation time. And good food....
4) Is it really easy to get around?- we're planning on renting a car....
5) Dumb question of the day - this is spring break in the states (Michigan anyway), is this area typically as impacted as say, Mexico or Florida? Is it going to be horrifically crowded?
6) Dumb question #2 Having 4 teen/tween daughters - is safety a concern?

Lots of questions, I know. All advice is greatly appreciated!
Thanks!
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Sep 21st, 2009, 04:56 AM
  #2
RAC
 
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1) The only place in Arenal we've stayed is the Arenal Observatory Lodge. I know they have a couple of group lodging places--La Casona and the White Hawk Villa:

http://www.arenalobservatorylodge.co...ew-rooms.phtml

Whether they're reasonably priced is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

2) I'ts an easy drive to Manuel Antonio, but a difficult parking situation. The park is best seen during the afternoon during dry season.

3) We did Titi Canopy in Manuel Antonio and had a fantastic time. But, I'm sure you could have a great experience at Sky Trek in Arenal too.

4) It's pretty easy to get around while renting a car, but I'd rent a GPS just to avoid the angst of the unmarked roads between Arenal and San Jose.

5) Maybe some spring break kids near Manuel Antonio, but you're going during high season anyways for the entire country. The Cancun/South Padre Island crowd won't be seen or heard in Arenal.

6) Safety is as much or as little of a concern as you'd find in the US.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:08 AM
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We stayed at La Casona at Arenal Observatory Lodge a few years ago when looking to trim the budget a bit. It was perfect for us. Although there was a shared bathroom situation, the bathrooms were neat and clean (it was during green season and we were practically the only people staying at La Casona, which helped).

Do try to stay at AOL if you can, though; the lava views from there will be your best bet as the activity is on that side currently (for about 2.5 years now). Also, the grounds of AOL are enjoyable for birding, hiking (waterfall), etc. It's about 9km up a rather rough road, but very close to the entrance to the national park. About 20 minutes to the little town of La Fortuna--for restaurants and souvenir shopping.

We love having a car while there and wouldn't do it any other way. You'll enjoy the freedom it will provide, especially since you are staying at Los Suenos. The 2nd beach inside the park (MA) offers great swimming; go in prepared with snacks and anything else you might need. There will be people there to help you park, but they will also try to offer their services for guiding inside the park. There will be plenty of legit guides at the park entrance. It's nice to have one as they have excellent eyes for spotting all kinds of wildlife.

I haven't checked Easter dates for 2010, but if your trip is coinciding with that, you can expect more crowds everywhere you go as the Ticos vacation with their families during that week as well.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:09 AM
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Just thought of something. Another place your girls might enjoy more than AOL (given their ages) is Los Lagos; very family oriented. We don't have first hand knowledge of it, but it has gotten great reviews.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:20 AM
  #5
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I second the recommendation of the Arenal Observatory Lodge--I didn't want to editorialize too heavily on behalf of the place, but it may be the best combination of volcano and wildlife spotting available on the planet. All kinds of birds, monkeys, tons of coatis, and a decent chance of seeing something more exotic--we saw a jaguarundi come up one of the paths to within 60 feet of the lodge.

An excellent guide for Manuel Antonio (and other area attractions) is Juan Brenes. He does tours not only of Maneul Antonio, but also the Damas estuary/mangroves and Carara National Park. His email is:

[email protected]
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Sep 21st, 2009, 05:22 AM
  #6
 
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I would look at Silencio del Campo and also Los Lagos that shillmac mentioned; both get rave reviews from families with kids. In Arenal, check out the natural hot springs Eco Termales or Tabacon, and if you get the chance, hike the waterfall and swim at the bottom. We liked El Novillo for steaks, La Choza de Laurel, and loved the food at Don Rufino. The Cano Negro tour with Sunset Tours is great for seeing widlife.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 07:47 AM
  #7
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Thank you all for your responses. I'm definitely leaning towards AOL. It seems to be the consistent recommendation along with Los Lagos. Any thoughts on the Hotel Linda Vista?
A couple of additional questions I thought of:

This trip does coincide with Easter. It will be the Wednesday before to the Thursday after. Considering the areas we will be, MA and Arenal - does it matter which we do first?

Is is necessary to have a 4x4 vehicle? Again, having a family of 6, I've been limited to the minivan category - the chain rental companies don't typically have the SUVs with 3rd row seating.

shillmac - thanks for the info. I've bookmarked most of your posts. Hope you had a great birthday!
RAC - thanks for the guide email, I'll definitely follow up on that.
volcanogirl- Thanks for the restaurant info - always handy to have that. In general, what can we expect to pay for a meal?
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Sep 21st, 2009, 08:53 AM
  #8
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4X4 isn't a bad idea for the road to the AOL, but not essential (you'll just have to be a little careful).

Manuel Antonio park is closed on Mondays and will probably be more crowded on weekends. I would do that first followed by Arenal.

Linda Vista is a decent alternative if the AOL is booked up, from what I've heard, but not as close to the volcano and without the wildlife (but with the same bad road).

I'd book the AOL ASAP. It's one of the most in-demand places in the entire country.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 08:56 AM
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Silencio del Campo and Los Lagos are both great places for different reasons. I would definitely choose AOL next time if I have a car. My daughter loved both the former when she was 10 and the next year at ll, probably Los Lagos a touch more because of all the pools and slides, whereas I enjoyed SDC more.

The time before Easter is busier and more hectic than it is afterward. Since a lot of families head to the beaches, MA will most likely be more crowded. I'd go for Arenal first.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 10:03 AM
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Gray, we usually average about $25-30 for dinner for the two of us - you can get cheaper or more expensive depending on where you go. If you want to save $, check out the local sodas. Soda La Parada in Arenal was good - we shared a pizza and drinks for ten bucks there. Casados are always good. In Manuel Antonio, you'll find great local seafood.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 02:45 PM
  #11
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Thanks! AOL has availability Mon-Thursday after Easter. I'm waiting to hear about the week before. I've gotten conflicting posts re: which time is better, before or after Easter. Any other thoughts? While were on this subject - either way we book, we'll be in MA for Easter. Any restaurants jump to mind for an Easter dinner?
Again, thank you all so much!
Volcanogirl - thanks again for the restaurant info!
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Sep 21st, 2009, 03:23 PM
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You're welcome - I should have mentioned some spots in MA too. We liked Ronnie's Place/Mi Lugar for fresh seafood and sangria. Cafe Agua Azul had good food; Salsipuedes had good tapas. If you need a Starbucks fix, go to Cafe Milagro. Most places have good views of the sunset over the water, so go to dinner a little early if you can to catch the sunsets.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 03:45 PM
  #13
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I don't know about their fitness for Easter Dinner, but Barba Roja and Soda Angel were both great choices for us--Barba Roja has one of the best sunset views in town.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 04:44 PM
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Great suggestions, I looked up the menus and I'm drooling on my computer it looks so good!
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Sep 21st, 2009, 07:07 PM
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Yes, we had drinks at Barba Roja and enjoyed the sunset. Our favorite was Ronnie's Place/Mi Lugar - we went on a sailing tour, and that night we went to Ronnie's and saw every single person that had been on our tour - that was too funny! My husband commented on how fresh his fish tasted, and the waiter said that it had just been caught that morning. I don't know if any of these place would have a traditional Easter meal, but their food is good.
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Sep 21st, 2009, 09:11 PM
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Ronnie's Place was one of our favorites as well. But El Avion is a big hit with the kids, nice open air and views and really good food as well.
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Sep 24th, 2009, 07:39 AM
  #17
 
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One trip that you might consider when staying at Los Suenos is driving south to the Dominical area. Hacienda Baru offers great nature hikes, zip-line and a beautiful beach..very good guides, educational for the kids. It is not real busy either. It is north of Playa Dominical. The road is almost finished (paved) between Quepos and Dominical. It is great...we drove it a couple weeks ago.
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Sep 25th, 2009, 02:24 AM
  #18
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Thanks for the restaurant suggestions. Exploring and finding those great places to eat is one of my favorite parts of a trip.
Molly thanks for the Dominical idea. We'll be at Los Suenos for 5 nights and are just beginning to sketch out our itinerary. We told the kids last night about our trip and they will be helping plan our activities. I think that's half the fun! Any and all suggestions about food, fun, day trips - are most appreciated.
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Sep 25th, 2009, 05:31 AM
  #19
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Other area attractions could include Carara (though it's less kid-friendly than Manuel Antonio) and a boat safari on the Tarcoles river ($25/person) that allows you to see everything from scarlet macaws to giant, humungous crocodiles.
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Sep 25th, 2009, 06:54 AM
  #20
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RAC- Carara looks beautiful - what do you mean by less kid friendly?
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