Family Fun in Dominical-Trip Report

Old Apr 15th, 2015, 06:52 PM
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Family Fun in Dominical-Trip Report

I typed up a long report so I will probably submit this as an initial report plus replies.

Our family of 4 (2 parents plus kids aged 9 and 12) just got back from a week in Dominical, Costa Rica. I got lots of great ideas on this board, so I thought I should post this for others.

Logistics--
Car Rental: We rented a 4WD through Solid Car Rental. They dropped the car off at the hotel at 9 am. Very easy process. We bought all the insurance. It was about $700 for the week, which I expected based on posts here. We got a nice, newer Kia small SUV—like a Toyota RAV 4. We needed it just to get to and from the main road to our hotel every day as well as to navigate some other roads. I was very glad we got it.

Driving: We drove 27 to 34 to Dominical—easy to do. The only issue was that other drivers pass like crazy—over the double yellow lines, around semi-blind curves, etc. We made sure we drove the speed limit the entire time. The bigger issue is that there are NO STREET SIGNS in Costa Rica. NONE. Somehow I missed that part or just didn’t put together what a pain that is for driving. I hadn’t rented a GPS and the car company didn’t have one when the dropped off the car. If you can’t put a Costa Rica sim card in your phone to get Costa Rica Google maps—get the GPS. And yes, we had several decent maps of Costa Rica.

Phones: We were able to call some number and we had phone and text via ICE. I didn’t accept any phone calls except my DH’s because I didn’t want to pay for it. We did not realize that all Verizon phones are supposed to be unlocked. We could have grabbed sim cards on our first day and that would have allowed us to use Google Maps to find our way around.

Groceries: We stopped for groceries at the Auto Mercado in Playa Herradura. Great grocery store with wide aisles and easy to find your way around. It was jam packed on Good Friday. We went to the Pali in Quepos—not good. Sort of like a warehouse grocery store. And I went to the grocery store in Dominical which had a lot of stuff in it but it is all crammed together in a teeny, tiny space so it is all little harder to shop there. They did have everything you would need though.

Money: Almost all of the excursions/tours we did only took cash. That was a lot of cash to have on hand. We could not get our bank card to work at the ATM in Dominical or the one next to the B&M grocery store in Uvita. Fortunately, we had brought quite a bit of cash and my husband had exchanged money for colones before we left so we would have money when we landed. We have never had a problem using the cards in Europe. Not sure what the issue was here. But I would recommend having some back up cash stashes.
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Old Apr 15th, 2015, 06:53 PM
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More Logistics:

Weather: Oh dear heavens above, it is beyond hot and humid by the beach in April. We live in a high desert. We are not used to humidity. Thankfully, we were fine in shorts and t shirts everywhere we went-or sun dresses. But I really don’t know that I would do this trip again at this time of year. Or I would go up to Monte Verde where at least it’s cooler but still really humid. It was much better at our hotel---we got a good breeze. And, yes, I realize we planned a vacation to a tropical country near the equator. I guess I just didn’t understand just how hot and humid it could get.

Air conditioning: An absolute must in your hotel. I would seriously reconsider staying at any hotel down by the water vs. up on the ridge above town. It is actually cooler and breezier up a little bit higher. I cannot imagine being able to sleep in a room with just a ceiling fan in that weather. We encountered an odd type of air conditioner that sits high up on the ceiling and is controlled by a remote control. For those of you inept at converting from Farenheit to Celsius, you want the room at around 20 at night so it is good and cold to sleep! The weird thing is that the beds had sheets and then a thick comforter. The sheet is fine if you don’t have the AC on but with the AC blowing right on you, you need a light blanket. Or, you can just crank the AC up higher and use the comforter. They only had ACs in the bedrooms, which was fine.

Hotels: We had to take a full day on either end of our vacation to fly to San Jose. So we stayed at Hotel Robledal the first and last night in Costa Rica. The staff there is incredible—we had the pleasure of interacting with both Guzman brothers. They provide a free shuttle to/from the airport. Our plane was delayed 2 hours coming into San Jose and they tracked our flight and were there waiting for us when we exited the airport. Perfect timing! It was very late but staff got us a liter of cold water which we needed. The grounds are really lovely with gorgeous plants and lots of birds. It is on the border of a more rural area. It is not actually in Alajuela but is a little south and west of that town. We ate 3 meals there over 2 nights. The breakfast was very good. Lunch and dinner were typical Costa Rican meals for the adults and kids menu for the kids. The meal is simple but very good—well seasoned meat (fish, beef, chicken, or pork) with rice and vegetables. It was a little bit difficult to find our way to the highway—we got lost a couple of times. But we figured it out and it was actually easy when we came back from Dominical. I would not have wanted to find that hotel in the dark, after a long flight, and in a new rental car. The shuttle to the hotel with car drop off at the hotel is the way to go. I wanted to stay at a place that was not the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn express. I have had experiences where I had to stay at a US chain hotel the night before flying out of other countries and it just feels like you break the magic bubble of being in another country. This was much nicer.

In the Dominical area, we stayed at Villas Alturas, which is actually just south of Playa Domincalita. The hotel is awesome. We got a 2BR casita with a big bathroom, a full kitchen and a living room. The porch overlooking the forest with ocean views was awesome. It was breezy out there and we would just sit, read, and enjoy the view. It had 3 rocking chairs and a hammock. Everybody wanted the hammock. The pool is small but there are not many people staying at the hotel so the size was fine. The view from the pool is superb. What is really nice is that they have a table set up with bird and other animal guides, 2 spotting scopes on tripods and binoculars. We would order food for dinner or breakfast and then look through the spotting scopes until the food arrived. The breakfasts were good. Dinner was good too—the toucan salad was my favorite. They have a good kids menu—not on the menu but you can ask about it. We were there for Friday pizza night-which was great. It did get tiring eating at the same place for so many nights. We were often tired at the end of the day and just didn’t want to drive back out for dinner. One night we just ate snacks in the room. The staff were great—took very good care of us. They did our laundry twice ($12 a load) and it came back the same day-really fast. They set us up with beach towels, chairs, and an umbrella for the beach. The sign to the entrance off of 34 is well marked. You absolutely want to have 4WD to get up the hill to the hotel on that dirt road. And they hang out a big bunch of bananas for the monkeys who come through the trees every morning to get some. My kids were enamored by all the geckos on the restaurant ceiling, on our porch ceiling, and the ones inside the stairway lights. They also enjoyed the bugs they spotted. I didn’t think the area was very buggy at all, which was nice. And—they did have wifi and TV. You couldn’t really stream videos but they could play games. The only English language station was BBC, which was great for DH—he loves Top Gear and the kids had fun watching it too. We also had some great games of cards, Apples to Apples, and Spot It.
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Old Apr 15th, 2015, 06:54 PM
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The Trip:
Day One: Travel to San Jose

Day Two: Car is delivered to hotel and we drive to Dominical. We stopped at Playa Herradura to get groceries at the Automercado. DH and kids stayed in the car with the luggage. We checked into our room with its great view. Then we went to the 3:00 tour of the animal sanctuary. Mike gave us a great tour for about an hour. We learned a great deal about the animals in their natural state and how/why they came to the sanctuary. I am really glad we did the tour—it was the only time we saw a coatimundi. And not just any coati—Bubba is a TV star who has been on Animal Planet and some other shows. The animals really like Mike and he clearly likes them. I enjoyed hearing their release stories as well. It is an expensive ticket but the money goes to a great cause. My kids loved it!!

Day Three: Ziplining at Hacienda Baru. We did the 8:00 tour. We had a nice hike over level ground to and then had to go up the hill to zipline. The flat walk was easy. The hike up the hill is something you need to be somewhat in shape for. The kids were fine with it. The guide was great—we learned a ton about animals and plants and what the refuge is doing to conserve land for the animals. We saw capuchin monkeys twice and at least two sloths and a giant cockroach the guide named “Elvis”. My son found more bugs than we even knew exisisted. We had never gone ziplining before and my daughter and I are afraid of heights. We had a blast! Very safely done. And the VERY best part—at the end, they give you a frozen towel to put on your neck to cool you off as you walk back. Best idea ever. We froze several wash cloths in the hotel fridge and used them throughout the week. The tour only took 2 hours because it was just us and 2 other people. We went through the butterfly garden there and ate lunch at the restaurant. Then back to the pool.

Day Four: The beach at Playa Uvita. It was Easter Sunday and we had been warned that the beach would be packed. It wasn’t at all. There were people but we had lots of space. The hotel staff set us up with chairs, towels, etc. The map shows a parking area at the entrance—it isn’t there. You drive toward the park and on your right there will be a man in a yellow safety vest motioning you to park. It was the standard 2-3 colones and actually had a shade canopy over it! It was low tide so the water was a long way from the trees where everybody had set up in the shade. Nobody had a beach umbrella out so we just set up there too. The hotel had lent us boogie boards and there was good surf for it. We saw a few iguanas. One of us stayed with our stuff at all times. There were not any critters angling to get into our food. We took food and water in plastic bags so nobody would want to take anything. I just made sandwiches for us to take. The ocean water is so warm. I made sure the kids didn’t go in over my waist—just to be careful. They have open air showers by the entrance gate but there aren’t any real changing areas.

Day Five: Horseback ride to the Waterfalls. This trip was great. The guides did a good job of matching horses and riders. I was the only experienced rider in the group. It was our family and another family with 3 kids ranging from 9-15. Somebody here had commented that they thought the horses were thin and not well behaved. The horses look great to me. They are in shape because they work everyday (heck, look at the Mules at the Grand Canyon!). They do know how to take advantage of less experienced riders but the guides helped the kids with their horses. I was fine with my horse. There were easily 30 people in the large group and they split us up into 3 smaller groups. It did not feel overwhelming at all. I was quite impressed with how sure footed the horses were. The food was good. Basic breakfast. Lunch was really, really good. My daughter (little miss skinny minny) could have eaten all of the chicken herself. The potatoes were really good. We really liked it. The service was quick. We passed people who hiked to the falls—they were sweating buckets. I am a big hiker but not in that humidity/heat! The waterfalls were beautiful even in dry season. And the best part was that the water was cold/very cool. I could have sat in that water all day. Some of the younger guides fixed a rope so people could climb up the waterfall—they even scrubbed some of the moss off to give people a better foothold and they helped climb up if they wanted to jump off into the deep pool. There are rudimentary changing rooms. We saw an albino bat hanging on the side of the shed—very rare and cool!

That night we went to Tortilla Flats in Dominical for dinner. Good sized menu with lots of choices. My kids loved the 2 resident dogs who were sleeping under the tables.
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Old Apr 15th, 2015, 06:55 PM
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Day Six: We went on a guided tour of Manuel Antonio NP. We used Manuel Antonio Expeditions. http://manuelantonioexpeditions.blogspot.com They met us in Manuel Antonio and we all parked in a paid lot. They will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the park as well. The guide was fantastic. He knew everything we could possibly ask—he had all sorts of books with him. He bumped into us on the way out and even took out his scope and set it up so we could look at some howler monkeys. We said we wanted to go snorkeling at Playa Biensanz. He said—let me call Lenny. (turns out Lenny rents snorkel gear and kayaks right on the beach there) He even offered to show us exactly how to get to the trail to the beach if we could drop him off back at the guide gathering spot. It was great! We saw plenty of animals—3 types of monkeys and lots of sloths plus plenty of birds. I am glad we didn’t go to the beach in the park. The first beach was PACKED with people. The next 1 or 2 beaches (I can’t remember now) were much less crowded but still lots of people. Plus a pack of raccoons and a pack of Capuchin monkeys were running around stealing food. Yikes! On the way back, we walked the smaller side trail—much nicer. I am torn on recommending this park. Maybe if you could get a private guide who would hike the other trails with you—but are they only allowed on the main road?? The main road was wall.to.wall.people. It was like watching Old Faithful in Yellowstone. I don’t know how some of the other private reserves or even Carrara NP compare. But I think I would seriously consider paying more or going somewhere else just to escape the crush of people. Seeing Titi monkeys just isn’t worth it.

By the end of that hike, we were drenched in sweat—just sopping. We pulled ourselves together in the air conditioned car and went to El Avion for lunch. There was a great breeze. The menu was exactly what we needed for the family. We changed into our bathing suits in their restrooms and off we went to the beach.

Playa Biesanz is a beautiful beach. You can’t quite believe the entrance—a hole in a fence with a small trail leading to the beach—is the actual entrance. But it leads to a beautiful shaded cove. And there was Lenny renting snorkel gear and kayaks. I think we paid 10 or 15 colones a person for the snorkel gear and life jackets. We took turns snorkeling along the rocks to the point and back. We say some pretty cool fish. The kids liked it and were tired out when they were done. Then we just sat back and let them play in the water and the sand. They had a great time.

I am glad we didn’t stay in Manuel Antonio. It would have been nice to have more places to eat dinner. But it is really developed—a restaurant next to a hotel, next to a shop, next to….all along the road. There were lots of people there with little kids and I can see how it would be more appealing when my kids were younger. Plus Dominical is cheaper and I liked the quiet!

Day 7: We booked a tour with Pineapple Tours http://www.pineapplekayaktours.com to go kayaking in the mangroves. This is dependent on the tides. So we had to go at 2 pm. We hung out at the hotel in the morning and relaxed. We met up at the tour office and followed the guides to the beach. You definitely want a higher clearance vehicle for this trip but the guides were able to take one couple in the truck. I had never been in a mangrove ecosystem before. Michael was great about explaining all of the plant and animal life. Fascinating. The other group saw monkeys and raccoons. We saw lots of cool birds and crabs. I have never seen so many different types of crabs. It was awesome. It is easy kayaking—flat and still. My daughter and I had one double kayak and my husband and son had the other. If your kids are confident kayakers, they could easily do it by themselves. The only hard part was because it is dry season we had to drag the kayaks across a sandy spot for a while. When we got back they served us amazing fresh fruit. Honestly, I think I have been spoiled for pineapples for the rest of my life after what we got to eat in Costa Rica. And mangoes—yum!

Day 8: On our last day, we went snorkeling to Cano Island. There are pluses and minuses. It is 1.5 hour boat ride each way-long. We did see dolphins, flying fish, and at least 10 sea turtles on the trip there. I had never seen a sea turtle and my kids had never seen dolphins etc. There is a very short snorkeling time. My kids were ok with it—I could have spent a lot more time. The water can be crowded with the other groups. But I have done snorkeling tours in Hawaii on a big boat where it was crowded just because you could get 100 people on the boat. There are no bathrooms until lunch. That was ok but I am pretty darn sure lots of people find ways to pee in the ocean! The bathrooms at lunch were ok. The water is not crystal clear but you can certainly see well in it. The plus side. We saw schools of fish—that was amazing. We saw more parrot fish than I have ever seen. We saw a ray and we at least 4 white tip reef sharks!!!! They are all swimming along the bottom and do not bother with people at all. But still-sharks! Then we went to Violines Island for a simple lunch. We spent the time looking for shells along the beach and found lots of sand dollars. That was fun.

Day 9: Drive back to San Jose. It was weird going back through the more developed areas—the high rises of Jaco. We used up as much change as we could on the toll road. We could have gone to the butterfly place or done something else but we got in at 1:30 and had lunch and then the car got picked up. It was really pleasant and breezy so we just relaxed and read and then had dinner at the hotel.

Day 10: Fly Home The earliest shuttle is at 5 am from Hotel Robledal. You can arrange earlier shuttles. I wouldn’t suggest it—getting up at 4:30 was enough for me!

All in all, it was a very good trip with amazing memories. I still want to go back to Monteverde but that sounds a bit overcrowded too. Still—the cloud forest sounds amazing. It will be a while before we travel out of the country again. This was the first time my kids have been out of the US although they have traveled all over the lower 48. I was very happy to add 2 national parks to our travels. Living in Utah—we really like the National Parks!

Thanks again for all the help and info I received on these boards. You guys are always great!
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Old Apr 15th, 2015, 09:48 PM
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As always, thanks for the great, detailed, report.
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 05:20 AM
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Thanks Michelle--I guess I just kept typing away!!
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 06:25 AM
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Your report brings back great memories of our family trip to Dominical. Glad you had a good time. We loved that area, mainly for the dramatic scenery and uncrowded beaches, and really enjoyed the Nauyaca horseback tour, too. Can you believe that in 6 trips to Costa Rica, we've never visited Manuel Antonio? It sounds too crowded and too developed for our taste.

We'll have to put the Cano Island tour on our list of things to do the next time we visit Dominical. Did you leave from Dominical? How much time do you think you actually got to snorkel?

There are other cloud forests besides Monteverde that might be more to your liking. Other posters will have suggestions for you. You may like visiting the Caribbean side in the future.

Thanks for the great report!
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 02:18 PM
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Thanks for a great report. I want to go to Cano Island now. Manuel Antonio was probably packed for Easter; a lot of Costa Ricans go there for vacation this time of year. I think a lot of it depends on where you stay. We loved Tulemar Bungalows. Was Juan Brenes your guide with MAE?
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 05:41 PM
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Janenicole: your trip report was very helpful to me in planning. The snorkeling tour left from Uvita where we had our beach day earlier in the week. The boat ride is shorter if you leave from Sierpe but I didnt want to drive that far-- we saw more in the boat. I think we might have only snorkeled for an hour??? But there are limits on how long each group can be in the water.

I am not sure where we will go next but I am keeping cloud forests in mind. Thanks again for your help!
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 06:06 PM
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Volcano girl: your repors and comments were so helpful in my trip planning. Our guide was Edgar (or Edward??). We met Juan and followed his van on the drive in to the park.
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Old Apr 16th, 2015, 06:30 PM
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That's great, Stanton; it sounds like a wonderful trip. Glad you guys had so much fun. I agree with you about the heat in April - AC all the way for me. Have not met Edgar/Edward, but I'm a big fan of MAE.
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Old Apr 17th, 2015, 05:03 AM
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Happy my report helped! Thanks for the info on your Cano trip.
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Old Apr 19th, 2015, 07:28 AM
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Thanks for this. We are going to Domincal for 6 nights as part of a 17 day CR trip. House is high in hills w ac and pool -sounds like we will need it!
Was considering Nuyuca horseback ride but was concerned it is a nose to butt horseback ride-do the horses just plod along and follow each other? Sounds like you really enjoyed it so would love to hear more-you did the Don Lulu one with breakfast and lunch included, yes?
Was also considering the Pineapple kayak tour - was concerned that I'd see a gator and freak out-so no gators? How were bugs? Or we are considering driving to Sierpe and taking a boat rode through the mangroves of Sierpe.
Thanks again.
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Old Apr 19th, 2015, 08:31 AM
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plambers:

The horseback ride is sort of butt to tail in that the horses walk. But the road is wide and you can ride side by side. It is way too hot and the road is steep and rocky to do more than walk--I wouldn't want to run my horse on that road! The horses did trot some to get back into their pecking order. At the end, they wanted to run. I was on the lead horse and I was holding her back because I assumed they didn't want them to gallop back to the barn. But the guide said let em run and we galloped up a hill and along a flat for a little bit. This is the one with breakfast and lunch and Don Lulu's.

The Pineapple tour was not a very long distance--you go up one "river" till you get to a bridge and then turn back, cross over the sand flat, and go down another river until it becomes too narrow. But it is right there in Dominical--so the driving to kayaking ratio was great! No gators. And the bugs were next to none. I didn't even spray and I didn't think they were bad. (I would spray next time) I really like flat water kayaking--it is quiet and a real low level of exercise. I rarely do it at home so that should give you an idea of how much experience you need! Plus it is a small group of people, which is more my style.
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Old Apr 20th, 2015, 07:22 AM
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StantonHYde, thanks. I guess going up to the waterfall has to be an orderly ride and think we will do it.

did you get the feeling of being in the magroves on the kayak tour?

I am really hoping it will not be as hot in July!
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Old Apr 21st, 2015, 02:34 PM
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Oh yes, I did feel like we were in the mangroves--the river narrows down quite a bit and you can in much closer in a kayak vs a boat.
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