Drake Bay, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio. March 2005

Old Apr 28th, 2005, 09:22 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
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Drake Bay, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio. March 2005

I too used this site heavily, so before our departure I decided that no matter what I'll post the report when I come back. We came back March 22 and it took me a month to sit down and write it. Yet, here it is.
We (Chicago couple in late 40’s) arrived in San-Jose airport late at night on March 10 and right away went to Vida Tropical hotel where we stayed overnight. It is managed by two young Americans Martin and Ali who are very nice and friendly. The place is serving almost exclusively US tourists, mostly young and energetic. Vida Tropical is good for an overnight and serves good breakfast. Early next morning we were joined by our friends who arrived in San Jose the day before too, but were asleep when we came to the hotel), We had breakfast and flew to Drake Bay.
Warning: There is only one room with private bathroom in Vida Tropical. Occupants of all other rooms use shared (but clean) bathrooms on the floor.
Drake Bay-Corcovado 3/11-3/14
We flew with Sansa, the flight was easy and on time. Book your flights early they sell out. The plane lands on dirt strip so it is OK in the dry season but (as I was told) present problems in rainy season. In Drake Bay we stayed in Marenco Beach lodge (http://www.marencolodge.com). Few years ago it was a private biological reserve that was converted into the lodge 5 years ago. The place is comfortable, and clean. Bungalows smell wood, almonds, flowers and heat. Each bungalow is with private bathroom and (cold) shower. If you happen to take shower during the day you won't even notice that water is not heated: sun warms it up to an expected temperature. Electricity runs from 5pm to midnight. Food is good, but basic. The nicest thing about Marenco is that every day around 5pm capuchins come through the lodge, toucans fly in between 3 and 5 pm and as do macaws around 5 pm. The reserve is still there so you can walk private trails through the jungle. One of the trails leads to the waterfall on Rio Clara-great place to swim (40 min walk). Another trail leads to the 'oldest tree of the forest'. This trail is good for bird watching. We also saw coati on this trail (if you’d like to see photo’s of Marenco click here). Staff is friendly and nice. At any time there is someone speaking English at the desk and in the dining room. Coffee is available from early morning to late night.
Warning: the lodge doesn't employ experienced guides who know the habitat and can show you Corcovado well. Also their tours are overcrowded (30 people per guide) and are set up as entertaining walks rather than serious hikes needed to find animals.
While in Drake Bay we went to 3 day tours: Crocovado Sirena ranger stations, Corcovado SanPedrillo Ranger station and Cano island (see photos-they are more interesting than the report). All tours are day long. You start early in the morning (between 6 and 6:30 am) and you come back in the late afternoon (sometime between 2pm and 3pm). Of course the biggest draw in Drake Bay is Corcovado national park. If you want to see it for real you need to hire a good guide. We hired a guide from Corcovado expeditions (http://www.corcovadoexpeditions.net). This is the small company founded by 4 naturalists who used to work with biologists at Marenco reserve but decided to go independent when Marenco turned commercial. We were lucky to contact by e-mail Carlos Gonzalez - locals call him Charley. He proved to be one of the best. He knows the place in and out and can arrange almost everything you can ask for. Both ranger stations in Corcovado accessible from Drake Bay are great: Sirena is untouched wilderness and SanPedrillo is absolutely gorgeous. Both places are good for monkey watching; also on Sirena trails we saw tapir, giant anteater, toucans, coati, kroks, caimans, and basilisk lizards. We met very few people there. San Pedrillo is more crowded. In San Pedrillo we watched scarlet macaws, agouti, sloth, hummingbirds nest, green parrots, and great blue heron. We also swam in the waterfall over there. Cano Island is not as spectacular as Corcovado but the forest on the island is very interesting. Vegetation over there is different than in Corcovado and there are no animals there (except for bats). However, on the way to Cano Carlos treated us to unusual spectacle: dance of giant mantas. They were jumping out off the water all around us. We also saw blue whales and dolphins.
Quick notes: in March the forest is full of ticks. Each of us picked 2 ticks in 4 days despite using the strongest repellent available. On the bright side ticks do not carry infections. Also tides are high in March, so swimming is out of the question and snorkeling is not good.
Monteverde 03/16/05-03/17/05
On the 15th of March we flew back to San Jose where our 25 year old daughter joined us. We rented Jeep Liberty and drove to Monteverde. The drive was nice and easy until we got off Inter-American Highway onto infamous dirt road to Monteverde. The last 20 miles (35 km) are awful. It took us 2.5 hours to get to Santa Elena from Highway (see photos)... Finally we arrived in Santa Elena -the village 4 km from Monteverde reserve. There we had a guaranteed reservation at Sunset hotel that was made through monteverdeinfo.com. Sunset hotel is billed on the net as the nice and clean, German-run hotel with good rooms. When we arrived at Sunset the staff (2 tica women in their 40's who did not speak a word of English) tried to explain something to us. Finally they gave up and phoned the owner. That is when we learned that the owner have overbooked the hotel (talk about efficiently run). He sent us to another hotel he owns down the hill from Sunset called Sunkiss. The owner told us that one of the women will show us the way. Indeed she waved her hand down the hill and disappeared in the dark; when we turned down the hill out of the parking lot the car got stuck. Apparently you can't turn downhill there because if you do you run over a feet deep step. Instead you need to back off up the hill and then drive down. Coincidently no one told us about it. And since it was dark and there is no electricity there we did indeed run over the step. So with our front wheels reeling freely over the ridge, the 4-by-4 sitting on its belly I stepped out of the car, over the ridge, downhill, fell on my hand and broken the wrist. But I didn't know it at that time, so I continued as if nothing happened except from this point on my hand was in pain.
We looked around and discovered logs, stones, etc stored nearby- evidence that we were not the first and only unfortunate travelers there I called the owner pleading to rescue us. He arrived with his son and 2 men in 25 minuets. He and his son were already drunk but tico men who were supposed to be doing our rescue were not. It took half an hour and another man with a 4 wheel drive (this time another German) to get us out. During this time the owner and his son had another couple beers each watching the scene. Finally we were rescued and drove to Sunkiss which is a newer place than Sunset. Apparently we were supposed to have 2 twin rooms and one single, the owner offered us just 1 twin and 2 singles. We grudgingly accepted because it was too late to go anywhere else. Next night the owner gave us another twin room in Sunset.
Although both hotels are located on a very picturesque hill, I would strongly recommend against Sunset/Sunkiss hotels for many reasons: the staff doesn't speak English, the owner is not friendly and quite often drunk even during the day, rooms at Sunset are old and smell respectively, sheets are worn, etc. The only good rooms at Sunkiss are twins (3 on the second floor and 3 on the first floor). Singles are located next to the kitchen and smell food. Also the staff starts working in the kitchen around 5am. Both hotels are way out of Santa Elena and the 1 mile drive is really bad at night when it is completely dark. Transportation to Santa Elena and/or Monteverde is not possible without a car, etc. So in my opinion any of these hotels is a bad choice.
Next morning we went to Selvatura. It is a system of suspension bridges over the canopy of cloud forest. It also boasts the longest cable ride in Monteverde. Because of my hand problem we didn't go for a cable ride. Yet the forest is nice, mountains look magnificent. We saw few birds there, and no animals except coati. This day we stopped at Morpho restaurant for dinner which was nice. Next morning (at 6:30) we went for a guided tour of Monteverde. We had a good guide and saw interesting birds-quetzal, owl, and plenty of hummingbirds. Around 2 pm we started toward Manuel Antonio and by 7 arrived at our hotel. Someone would say that Monteverde is interesting enough to justify awful drives into Santa Elena and around. Not for me. However, I'll let you decide: here are the photos of Selvatura and Monteverde forest reserve.
Manuel Antonio 03/17/05-03/21/05
Around 2 pm on March 17 we left Monteverde for Manuel Antonio. It took us good 5 hours to cover 90 miles. Again we had to drive out by the same awful road we came in. Somewhere near Jaco we stopped on the bridge to watch croc's and birds, had half an hour snack, and by 7 pm right after sunset we passed Quepos (you do not want to stay there) and got to hotel Divisamar. It is located at the very top of the hill between Manuel Antonio and Quepos in the same place where most good hotels are (Mariposa, Si Como No, villas Nicolas, etc.) yet it has a disadvantage: compared to others: it doesn't have a view. Hence, a little lower class of this hotel than its neighbors, lower prices, etc. However, if you are on a budget it is a good option. Think of it as Days inn in a good location and you'll be close. Rooms are clean, air conditioned, have cable and fridge, with private bathrooms and hot shower. The hotel has secure parking, nice pool and star fruit trees on the pool’s side. Hotel is 20/40 min uphill from Espadilla beach (very good one). Walk is a pleasant 20 min stroll in the morning (downhill) and 40 min of terrible hike (uphill) in the afternoon. So instead of climbing uphill, walk 20 min along the beach and take Collectivo. It is 5 min drive to the hotel from the other side of Espadilla beach and the bus stop is in front of the hotel. The hotel owner Eric Ash is friendly and reliable. His brother 'little' Al who manages the place for Eric is easygoing and helpful and so is another manager 'big' Al. Everyone speaks English. Next to the hotel is a great coffee and sandwich place cafe Melagro. Across the road are 2 good restaurants.
We spent our first day in Manuel Antonio on Espadilla beach. The beach is nice but tides are high and dangerous. No wonder it is so popular with surfers. The guards have plenty of work over there. We watched a number of people washed away by the tide. You can't overpower it if you do not have a floater. However, if you do have one it is easy to swim back to the shore. We were almost washed away too but managed to escape.
The other 2 days we spent in the park walking the trails and on the beach. All beaches inside the park are very good: one is in the cove that is protected from the tide, so you can swim there any time. Another one is a little more open. Trails are nice and short, so you do not need a guide to walk them to see animals that are plentiful. We saw monkeys, sloth, toucans, large land crabs, green parrots, agouti, coati, armadillo -here are photos. We made a mistake and hired a guide on our first day in the park but it was waste of money in fact he only showed us agouti and capuchins. We did way better on our own.
Early morning of March 22 we drove back to San Jose and flew back to Chicago.
aw is offline  
Old May 13th, 2005, 09:15 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 145
which did you like better, manuel antonio or monteverde???
bondgirl78 is offline  
Old May 13th, 2005, 11:13 AM
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 157
Thanks for the report! I'd like to see your photos, but am I missing where you say they are?
allison04 is offline  
Old May 13th, 2005, 12:39 PM
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 336
you saw Tapir!! so jealous
greenfieldhunter is offline  
Old May 13th, 2005, 07:30 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 734
Wow! What a great report - full of information, and entertaining, to boot.

I was very curious about Marenco Beach Lodge, and you've provided some excellent details. I'm so sorry about your Monteverde experience! Thanks for the heads-up!

I too am jealous that you saw a tapir!
Molly2 is offline  
Old Dec 4th, 2005, 01:34 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 1
Found your review for Marenco very helpful. As I am a birder and looking for a little more than an entertaining walk I now know I have to pay a bit more and organise a guide.
MickB is offline  
Old Mar 15th, 2010, 10:17 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 3
I used Corcovado Expeditions as well and Carloz organised my trip. He did not deliver what he had promised, the boats were delayed, I had to share my private guide etc. I do not recommend using him as he is not reliable.
jonhall is offline  
Old Mar 15th, 2010, 10:20 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 3
PS more information on costa rica and my feb 2010 trip is here http://www.mammalwatching.com/Neotro...costarica.html

This has a big focus on seeing mammals
jonhall is offline  
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