Driving from Arenal to Manuel Antonio

Old Apr 22nd, 2018, 12:42 PM
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Driving from Arenal to Manuel Antonio

How is the drive from the Arenal to MA? I've read that it is best to avoid driving at night in Costa Rica. My husband, 17 year old son and I will be in Costa Rica for 7 nights next February. We will split our stay between the Arenal area and Manuel Antonio. I'm having a hard time deciding if we should spend 4 nights in the Arenal or in MA. I'm leaning towards more time in MA since my husband is a beach lover. If we go with that plan I'm wondering if we could maximize our last day in the Arenal by staying until late afternoon to start the 5+ hour drive to MA. How are the road/driving conditions after dark on that route to MA?
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Old Apr 22nd, 2018, 07:23 PM
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It's been a while since I made that drive. But the roads in CR are generally not very good. It's never a good idea to drive at night in any country in Central America, not so much from a crime perspective, (though that's always a concern), but rather because of livestock, pedestrians, and God knows what else you might find in your path. Not worth the risk.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2018, 08:41 PM
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Donít drive at night. Confusing enough in the daylight. Previous poster is correct about livestock and pedestrians wandering about at night. It is generally dark by 5:30-6 pm.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2018, 08:01 AM
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Thanks for the replies. We will plan to avoid driving at night. Now just to decide where to spend 4 nights vs 3... I guess I will have to better map out our itinerary in each area.
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Old Apr 24th, 2018, 10:54 AM
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No never drive between towns at night and never leave anything in your car unattended since petty theft isn't uncommon. I prefer more time in the Arenal area just because there's more to do there, but if you're a real beach lover then more time in MA would be perfect for you. We just got back from a trip and a big section going from Arenal to SJO was shut down, added a lot of time to our drive. Usually about 3 hours, and it took almost 4 due to traffic jam and alternate route. Might be fixed by the time you go. Things we love in the Arenal area are hiking at the Hanging Bridges, the waterfall, tons of adventure activities like ziplining at Sky Trek or rafting with Rios Tropicals, the Bogarin Trail, the Cano Negro tour to see wildlife, the Penas Blancas safari float, tubing at the Springs - take a look and see if any of those interest you. Desafio is a good tour company if you need one. In MA, we like the guided tour of the park with Manuel Antonio Expeditions and the Damas mangrove tour with them as well, nice sailing in the area, but the snorkeling is usually bad due to sediment in the water so I'd skip that. The beach inside the national park is gorgeous, usually lots of monkeys in the park too.
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Old Apr 25th, 2018, 09:22 AM
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Thanks volcanogirl! I actually had read several of your comments on threads when I was booking and followed your advice. I booked 2 nights at the Arenal Observatory & 2 nights at the Lost Iguana (the Observatory didn't have all 4 nights available). The next 3 nights we are booked at Tulemar. Do you have any idea how quickly activities book up for mid-February?
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Old Apr 26th, 2018, 09:58 AM
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Oh those are all good spots. You'll like them. One thing to consider is that both AOL and the Lost Iguana are quite far from town, as long as you're okay with that. If not you could consider staying at AOL and then switching to a hotel closer to town if you want to go to any restaurants, visit hot springs, etc. Tours will usually pick you up and drop you back off at your hotels, but may charge extra to pick up at AOL and LI. We had great wildlife sightings at AOL this trip - lots of pretty birds we had never seen before - tanagers and honeycreepers at the feeder. Don't miss going to the observation deck in the mornings - lots of wildlife just strolling by. They also have a free guided hike every morning about 8:30.

Tours shouldn't book up quickly in February, usually Christmas and Easter are busy times, and Spring Break. If there's anything I have my heart set on doing, I book it ahead just in case, but I think you should be fine to book much closer to your trip.
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Old Apr 27th, 2018, 10:54 AM
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Thanks volcanogirl! I guess I hadn't thought much about whether we'd want to be close to town or not. If proximity to restaurants is the main benefit, I don't think it's all that important to us.

Something I did just realize is that we will have a night driving issue the day we fly into San Juan. Our flight lands at 4:30pm and it looks like sunset is around 5:30pm in February. Given that we'll have to go through customs and rent a car before we can hit the road, it looks like we'd better plan to stay that first night in San Juan rather than have the night drive to AOL. So...that means we'd cut our stay at AOL to just one night and then have 2 nights at the Lost Iguana. Do you think it's worth the effort to stay at the two different properties or do you think we should skip AOL completely and spend all 3 nights at the Lost Iguana?

As far as activities in the area go, at this point I think we'd be interested in the hanging bridges, hot springs, hikes (probably not much more than 3 hours r/t), waterfall & zip lines. The Cano Negro tour looks great, but I wonder if it's adding more driving than we really want to do on this trip. Is there a boat tour you would recommend closer to the Arenal area? I'd prefer a boat to a raft if we go on a float style wildlife viewing tour.

Is there anything of interest on the drive from Arenal to MA? I've read to be sure we take the route with the best roads and not necessarily the fastest route that google maps might suggest.

Thanks for all of your tips!
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Old Apr 27th, 2018, 12:36 PM
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I would pick one place to stay and not move. I have only stayed at AOL , so canít offer a comparison.
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Old Apr 27th, 2018, 02:46 PM
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Yes, you definitely don't want to drive to AOL at night; the road to get there is bad, bumpy and dark. Definitely stay in Alajuela the first night, that's where the airport is. There are lots of American chains where you could just sleep and head out the next day - Holiday Inn, Hampton, Marriott, etc. It's San Jose, not San Juan, I'm sure you know but just in case. Easy to confuse. Cano Negro is the only covered boat tour that I've done, the rafting ones are the only thing closer. Desafio will take you and bring you back so you wouldn't have to drive it yourself, but yes, it takes almost the full day. It's night to pair with a night at the hot springs. I'd most likely just stay at one property for the three nights vs. switching. AOL has much better wildlife and the free morning guided hike; LI is a little more upscale but still rustic.

There is a great stop from the Arenal area to MA - the Rio Tarcoles; people stop there to see the big crocs down below. There's a parking lot, and you can buy a fresh fruit smoothie and see the crocs; they're enormous, usually lots of them just laying under the bridge. Good photo op.
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Old Apr 28th, 2018, 11:02 AM
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Thanks volcanogirl. Yes, I'll need to keep my San Jose's & San Juan's straight!! I did book a room near the airport for our arrival night. If I had to choose between AOL and the Lost Iguana I guess I'd lean towards the AOL for the price and wildlife. However, they don't have availability for 3 nights. I'll have to think on that some more and decide if we really want to hassle with moving between lodging in a short time.

I'll plan out our activities a bit more and see if it makes sense to go to Cano Negro booking through Desafio. The tour sounds great and I like the idea of adding the hot springs on at night - I wouldn't have thought of that as a timing option. Is the drive to Cano Negro interesting?

Thanks for the tip on the Rio Tarcoles. Viewing from crocodiles from the safety of the bridge above is my preference I guess we could be up close and more personal if we end up on a water excursion...
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Old Apr 28th, 2018, 11:51 AM
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Only adding that you will not regret your stay in Tulemar. Yes there probably are more activities in Arenal, but we all preferred Tulemar hands down for the ambiance, scenery and private beach.
We did a rafting trip from Tulemar if you're so inclined on the Savegre that I highly recommend.
You mentioned you already booked a hotel in San Juan, but just in case I highly recommend the Courtyard Marriott in Alajuela. It was clean, comfortable and had plenty of dinning options just across the parking lot. Was also next to a walmart, which made it very practice for last minute buys before you head out.
Oh and the other thing I wanted to mention, we found the roads pretty decent, what held us up was getting stuck multiple times behind slow moving trucks without the ability to pass them.
Good luck on your trip .
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Old Apr 29th, 2018, 04:33 AM
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No, the drive to Cano Negro isn't particularly interesting. Occasionally the guide will stop and point out something along the road like a sloth in a tree or something like that, but other than that I can't think of anything. It is really cool to see the crocs from the bridge. If you wanted to, you could also do Jose's Crocodile Tour. We did that as a day trip from MA, and it was great - a boat tour that goes through the croc river - you see the crocs up close and can see some nice birds; of course that would take away from beach time. The guide gets in the river with the crocs which is kind of scary and kind of fascinating. I'd probably either do that or Cano Negro.
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Old Apr 29th, 2018, 10:15 AM
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Thanks mabella101 and volcanogirl for the suggestions!
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Old May 2nd, 2018, 08:55 AM
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Just got back from Costa Rica and the driving is definitely interesting. Large potholes, no street names, and it will take you way longer that you think it will. Your average speed will be around 40km/hour.
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Old Oct 19th, 2021, 11:06 AM
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Arenal - Monteverde Cloud Forest - Manuel Antonio drive in 1 day?

Would it be reasonable to drive from Hotel Linda Vista del Norte (Arenal) at sunrise (or up to 30 minutes before sunrise), stop for about 2-3 hours at the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, and make it to Hotel Costa Verde at Manuel Antonio at or slightly after sunset?
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