Family Trip Report: Poas, Arenal, Alajuela, Osa

Old Apr 11th, 2007, 08:22 AM
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Family Trip Report: Poas, Arenal, Alajuela, Osa

Our trip took place March 25 to April 4, 2007. Thanks to everyone for all your help in planning and in helping us look forward with great anticipation to our trip. Husband, two boys (12 and 15 now) and I went for 10 days and had a fabulous time.

Poas Volcano Lodge, 1 night
Lost Iguana, 3 nights
Orquideas Inn, 1 night
Bosque del Cabo, 4 nights
Orquideas Inn, 1 night

Just a note about money: We brought dollars with us, never changed money, instead paid with dollars, or with colones that we had received as change from purchases. We also only used our credit card to pay for one hotel and for the car rental. (Traveling in Canada last summer, an extra fee was added to our credit card bill each time we used it, so we didn’t want that to happen again.) We attempted to use an ATM in La Fortuna to get more dollars (many ATMs give dollars or colones, depending on your choice), but the machine was only giving colones. So we went inside the bank and a bank clerk used our ATM card (after looking at passport) to give us dollars. The charge by the bank in La Fortuna was $1 but the charge by Chase Bank at home was $25! Poas Volcano Lodge and Orquideas gave us a discount with cash; BdC takes a personal check. At Lost Iguana, we were told that since they have a large volume of charges, the credit card companies only charge them a 2% fee, which they don’t pass on to their guests. Because the other hotels are much smaller, they might be charged a 5, 6 or 7% fee by the companies.

We don’t speak Spanish but my husband had been listening to tapes and watching Spanish TV for a couple of months, and my younger son had tried to learn some Spanish too—but clearly speaking to people is much different than practicing from tapes. Everyone in Costa Rica was enormously friendly, though, even with my hand gestures.

Our direct flight from NYC arrived at San Jose on time at 11:30 AM. Tricolor met us outside the airport and a van brought us to their office. We were a little surprised to see a guard with a rifle in the gated front parking lot. We had reserved a Suzuki Grand Vitara, 4wd manual, for four days for $196, including mandatory insurance. However, in filling out the forms at the office, I realized that if the car was damaged, there was a $1200 deductible. I asked about adding insurance (since I was unsure what our credit card co. pays). We were told that insurance can be added at $15 per day to eliminate the deductible but that the car must be rented for five days minimum in order to add that insurance. Since we wouldn’t be returning it until three or four hours after the noon pickup time, four days later, we did have to rent for five days and added the extra insurance. This brought the price to $320. The car was a perfect size for us. It clearly had new, replaced locks on the driver’s side and the trunk, and many scratches, so we thought it wise to add the extra insurance, in case that happened to us. Since the gas gauge was on empty, we asked for directions to the closest gas station, got lost trying to find it, went back (to the guard’s consternation) and got better directions, and were on our way. We drove north through Alajuela, past the fast food franchises, with the boys crying pitifully for lunch. We had thought about going on the Doka Coffee Plantation tour, and believed there was a restaurant there, but when we arrived, the restaurant was closed (no tour buses were there and only two other cars so perhaps that was the reason) and we knew the boys wouldn’t last. So we returned to the main route and stopped at “K-mart” for lunch supplies. Had to laugh because it has so little similarity to a Kmart in the States; this was a small food market with cheese, bread, water, cookies—all we needed. A few miles further north, we stopped at the satellite Doka Coffee café for delicious coffee, and they kindly allowed us to eat our picnic as well—lovely views out on the coffee bushes. We finally arrived at Poas Volcano Lodge, situated on a dairy farm, around 3:00. We had reserved the two small rooms that share a bath in the main house. They were fine for us, but are right next to the kitchen so somewhat noisy beginning around 6:00. Of course, we were up by then and ready to go walking around the grounds.. The third bedroom in the house, the master suite, was unoccupied so we took a look and highly recommend that. Our boys loved this Lodge; they loved the trampoline, pingpong table, and billiards, the huge fireplace, the walk back on the road to see the cows being milked, the hummingbirds, the pastoral views, and, oddly, the temperature, which was so cool and drizzly when we arrived that I wore a thin and thick fleece at the same time. This was the only hotel we stayed in during the trip that had no other Americans while we were there; the other guests were French, Canadian, Dutch and Spanish. It seemed a bit like a B&B in foggy Wales. We had a delicious dinner and breakfast there. Our dinner table companion had just visited Poas and Arenal, and told us that she hadn’t seen a thing, and that the volcanoes were socked in by cloud cover, so we shouldn’t expect any view the next day.

Happily such doom and gloom was proved wrong, When we arrived at Poas the next morning at 8:45 after a 20 minute drive, the guard at the entrance told us the view was crystal clear. We hiked up and saw the wonderful crater, with a small fumerole smoking next to it. We also hiked to the lake in the extinct crater and loved discovering the “hot” spots on the trail, where smoke came up from the ground. From there we drove back to the Lodge to pick up our luggage, and to gloat when our friend from the night before asked us if we saw the crater, and then 15 minutes further on to La Paz, for which we had been given 30% off vouchers at Poas Volcano Lodge (so the price came to $74 for the four of us). No lunch yet, and the boys were groaning again, but they quieted down when they saw the fabulous butterflies, frogs, hummingbirds, snakes and finally the waterfalls. Two hours later, back at the car, food was on everyone’s mind, so we ate the rest of yesterday’s picnic and planned to find a soda on our way to La Fortuna. Husband is a focused driver, however, especially on winding CR roads when we were afraid of taking the wrong turn, so we didn’t get him to stop until we arrived in La Fortuna about 2 or 2 ½ hours later. We could see Arenal long before we arrived in town, and to our great luck, the summit was clear. Even though it was around 3:30, we went to a tiny outdoor soda that we found on a street parallel to the main street, called (in English) Café of the Ants. Two of us enjoyed our chicken, rice and beans, and fruit drinks, all for about $3.00 per person and insect free. On we went around the north side of Arenal to Lost Iguana Lodge. Since I discussed this in a posting about Arenal’s activity, I won’t add much here about our experience there, except to say that once again our dinner companion would have had to eat her shirt. The other two of us had dinner here, and wished we had eaten earlier.

The next morning we bought discounted tickets ($15 each) to Hanging Bridges from the front desk, and had one of the hotel’s golf carts take us up the steep hill to the entrance around 8:30, a quiet time before the tour groups arrive. We heard howlers, saw some birds on our laminated wildlife foldout, but mainly enjoyed the (humid) hike on all the bridges. Afterwards we walked back to Lost Iguana, and then drove out to Toad Hall along the lake for a fun but expensive lunch. My husband tried to buy a bottle of water next door using colones from the mid 1980s, which a friend had given us, but the store owner just laughed and handed them back. From Toad Hall, we drove back to the dam, and then onto the dirt/gravel road that goes to the National Park entrance and on to Arenal Observatory Lodge. We had arrived too late to hike at the Park (it closes at 4:00) so went on to Arenal Observatory Lodge ($4 per person to enter) from where we saw closeup the dramatic eruptions from the summit of Arena, which were taking place then in the direction of the National Park entrance and the town of El Novillo, so slightly to the left as we looked from AOL. The clouds started moving in around 5:00, so just as well that we didn’t stay for dinner. We never got tired of the views of Arenal. From far away, like from Lost Iguana, its almost perfect conical shape is striking; from close up, seeing the eruption was fabulous; from the east side, which is greener rather than covered with lava, there is a totally different feel. It was interesting seeing it cloud covered, mist covered, just the summit covered, at dawn, at night, and completely clear. That night, we had dinner at El Novillo (about $40 for the four of us and 12 minute drive from the hotel).
My son’s 15th birthday was on March 28, and he received his own digital camera which we had brought to give him, and was hooked on taking pics from then on. His birthday treat was going on the zipline at Skytram/skytrek. As soon as we reached the top, we ran into a group of families from the boys’ school. The mothers and daughters all did the ziplines, but the boys in that group (not ours) decided to go back down on the tram. Our family had a great time and loved the views of the lake and volcano. We decided to go to the nearest town, El Castillo, for lunch because I had noted that there is a hotel and several B&Bs there; I thought there must be a soda too. The town is lovely but we couldn’t find a restaurant and had stopped to turn around when a very friendly man on a motorcycle pulled up next to us and asked if he could help us. We asked about a restaurant and he steered us to the Serpentarium in the town. I thought it would be a snack bar attached to the attraction, but although it was in the same building it seemed very separate. We were the only diners, had a beautiful view of the hills and lake, and a delicious meal, again about $4 each. A small black dog joined us and snoozed on his back with his feet in the air next to my older son. First of many animals that seemed to enjoy my son’s eating habits. We didn’t go to the Serpentarium, although we met people later who said their kids had a great time there. While we were eating, school kids were being picked up, and we loved watching how they got home; some on horses, one on a tractor, many walking with their mothers or alone. From there we drove to La Fortuna, dropped off a load of laundry at the Laundromat on the main street ($7 for a large load for wash, dry and fold, took 2 hours) drove on to the waterfall and hiked down. Afternoon seems like a very crowded time there, with lots of people in the water, and lots of mosquitoes so take insect repellant. We enjoyed the refreshing water before starting back up. The boys arrived at the top long before their parents. We picked up the laundry and back to Lost Iguana. That night we went back to El Novillo for dinner. It was never very crowded while we were there, and is an informal, quiet place with pretty good food.

Next morning we started back to Alajuela around 10:00 AM, planning to take the short route. However, in San Isidro where the bridge is under construction and where there is an (unmarked) detour, we ended up going east and taking the middle route. This was a different experience from our drive north. Both have beautiful scenery but this had many more trucks and traffic. Going up the steep climb behind a sugar cane truck can be a bit wearing. My son took a photo of the rear of each truck that we got stuck behind. My husband was determined to return the car with as little gas as when we picked it up, which meant that we had to stop twice for $5 worth of gas on the way, with much anxiety over whether we would find a station before running out of gas. We finally stopped for a delicious lunch and fruit shakes at El Mirador, on the left after leaving Zarcero. We enjoyed walking through the topiary in Zarcero, but didn’t stop to shop in Saarchi or to look at the church in Grecia, and in retrospect I would probably take another faster route. By the time we reached Alajuela, with the prospect of trying to find our way through town to Tricolor to return the car, and then having them drive us to Orquideas Inn, we were exhausted. Suddenly, like magic, we saw a sign for the entrance to Orquideas, and we decided to pull in. At reception, I asked whether Tricolor might pick up our car there, and they said someone else had just left a key for Tricolor, so I called them, and they said yes, they would pick up in an hour, at no charge. Bliss, no more driving! Our room and dinner was fine, although we could hear the trucks on the road from our room at the top of the hill. The birding there seemed very good. In the afternoon we watched a mot mot in the tree and parrots across the road, and the hotel’s dogs went on a walk through the grounds with us. We had a 6:30 AM reservation for Luis at Wady Tours to take us to Nature Air for the flight to Puerto Jimenez ($20). The hotel let us leave a bag for free in their luggage room.

Some of us were nervous about the flight in a small plane, but the flight was smooth, on time. The plane held about 19 passengers. My son uses Earplanes to avoid earaches on flights and had no problem. After we landed, however, I had pain in one ear for about an hour. Frank picked us up in Puerto Jimenez for the beautiful 45 minute ride to Bosque del Cabo, where we arrived around 10:30. We had our welcome drinks and Eduardo showed us our standard cabina, Pizote, which was ready for us.
Since so much has been written about Bosque, here are just some comments about our experience:
Of the three cabinas that we stayed in during our four days, this was the smallest but our favorite. The view was very open, partly because monkeys must have eaten a lot of the foliage off one tree. We could hear the waves, it was still a nice temperature, and we felt relaxed immediately. We found that on both sides of the cabina, there were monkey routes up from the cliffs, especially early in morning and later in the afternoon. We watched the spider and white face monkeys eating and swinging in the trees from our deck. When my son tried to take a photo of one who was very close to us, the monkey stared him down, bared his teeth and made all the aggressive gestures, which worked! We also watched pairs of scarlet macaws flying by frequently. We were booked in this cabina for two days, but then were to move to the garden cabinas because that was all that was available. I asked soon after we arrived if there had been any cancellations because we preferred staying where we could see the water and where there were some ocean breezes. Luckily there were two deluxe cabinas open for one night, then we would all have to share one of them for the last night. Not sure why we agreed to have the two cabinas for one night, because it was much more expensive, but it was very nice. The parents were in Mariposa and the kids in Lapa for the one night, and for the second we all were in Lapa with two rollaway beds. Mariposa is huge and private at the end of the cabinas but I liked the view from Pizote more. We were prepared to see geckos in the bathroom at night as we had at Pizote. My husband used the bathroom during the night and made the mistake of closing the door as he did. Just when he couldn’t escape, he realized there was a huge bat stuck in there with him. We decided that was what had left its calling card in the middle of the bedroom floor, with a seed in the middle, earlier in the evening. We liked to sleep with the doors wide open and the mosquito netting down so wildlife was bound to enter, but we still felt safe. Bats, however, are a bit unsettling. The drawbacks to Lapa are that it is smaller, so a bit cramped, closer to another cabina (Congo) and has a tin roof area around the perimeter of the thatched roof. The entire night, a large nut dropped about every ten minutes from a tree onto the tin with a loud BANG, startling us each time. Philip, the guide, told us that it was a favorite tree for bats. However, enough complaining about what was essentially paradise, beautiful, quiet, natural settings for extremely comfortable cabinas, and we loved Bosque.
We took two guided hikes with Philip, the Primary Forest Experience (4 fascinating hours) and the Sunset Hike (1 hour) to see nocturnal bats, snakes, frogs, insects. The last morning we took the early morning birding hike with Eduardo (about 2 ¼ hours). We hiked every trail except Saino. One day, we reserved a boxed lunch and a beach pick up ($10) for our hike down to the Golpho Dulce beaches. We ate under the shade at the third beach after a long walk on the Beach Access Road to get to it. The sand was extremely hot in the sun so we wore shoes into the water, which immediately filled with small rocks. So we learned to sprint over the hot sand to the wet sand and wade in without shoes. We were surprised at how many houses and small lodges there are along this road, but it looks like a wonderful place to stay for those people planning to rent a house there. There were loads of monkeys along that road, and Kevin pointed out a sloth with a baby after he picked us up. Another day we hiked down to the Pacific beach, sat in the tide pools, and the boys played coconut baseball with a stick found on the beach. Too hot for us to walk all the way to the waterfall, but we enjoyed the waterfall that is just to the left of the path down when you reach the beach.
My very reserved, sometimes anti-social, family enjoyed eating with all the different guests. The first night we sat with a couple who are now posting their fabulous wedding and honeymoon trip report on Fodors. Another night we found another family from our sons’ school (those families love to travel), although we didn’t know them before because their children are much younger, and loved talking to them. The last night we sat with a family from England and another family from Atlanta while all the kids played cards and spoons together up in the “library.” As so many people have written, the staff at Bosque is spectacular, so friendly and informative. Can’t wait to return!
We were so sad to leave. I hated having to figure out how much to tip everyone; wish in the end it was added automatically to the bill. Kevin drove us back, and we told him we were disappointed that we never saw any squirrel monkeys. He stopped near the Beach Access Road so we could look at a sloth. With our great luck on this trip, a woman standing by the side of the road told him that a large group of titi (squirrel) monkeys had just passed by and gone down the Beach Access Road. Kevin took us down there a few yards, and we got to watch and photograph those adorable monkeys.
While waiting for our flight to arrive, a man pushing a cart came by selling coconuts, so the boys were able to have him slice off the top and drink the milk with a straw (about 50cents each). The flight back was a bit more bumpy but still smoother than the flight I had taken on a large plane the week before between N.C. and NYC.

Luis picked us up and took us back to Orquideas. I asked him whether we could walk in the area outside of the hotel, but he discouraged us, saying he would hate for something to happen to us our last day. When I walked out later just to the corner, I had to agree. We ate lunch in the Marilyn Monroe bar when the hotel dog and cat had a loud fight between my son’s legs about who could sit closer to him. He jumped up, knocked over his chair and fell down, giving everyone in the bar a good laugh. We ate dinner there (and were the only people in the restaurant), and had Luis take us to the airport at 9:30 AM for a 12:15 flight, thinking we could spend a little time shopping there. We were very disappointed that we hadn’t bought coffee earlier and left it in the bag at Orquideas while we were in the Osa. Only Britt coffee is sold at the airport, not my favorite. Paying the departure tax, going through passport control (where there was a separate, very short, line for families with children younger than 18), passing through security (my husband’s hand sanitizer was taken even though it was less than 3 oz.) took very little time. We bought Lizano Salsa in the airport, and because it is liquid, it was given to us just as we entered the plane. One warning: unlike leaving from NYC, you are not allowed to board the plane with any water bottles or drinks that you might have bought in the airport. We had to leave them on a table just after giving up our boarding passes. Along with our hearts!
sms73 is offline  
Old Apr 11th, 2007, 02:53 PM
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I read this earlier but had no time to comment. Sounds like a great trip. My fave at BdC is Lapa, never had any problems with bats inside though - I would freak stuck in a bathroom with one! But I usually keep my doors closed at night. I've noticed on past trips CR sometimes makes their own rules at the airport, like the water you mentioned. I've had matches taken away when you're allowed to bring like 4 boxes, weird!
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Old Apr 11th, 2007, 07:27 PM
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Pleasure to read--thanks so much for posting! So glad your family had such a nice time; especially enjoyed reading about all of your Bosque accomodations--you almost sampled them all! I like the standard cabina El Sol for its shower. We liked Lapa as well. Glad the bat didn't visit!

Also, Poas Volcano Lodge sounds charming. I've always thought it would be a great place to stay. We've visited the property once, driven by many times, someday we will stay! The master suite sounds like a good bet!

Thanks again. . .and welcome back to "reality"!
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 03:30 AM
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thanks so much - great report!! So glad your boys had a good time too - do they now want to learn Spanish?
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 05:08 AM
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I wish the boys did want to take Spanish, but they chose Mandarin at school. Well, someday when we travel to China that will have some use, but I have the Central and South American bug now.

I forgot to mention one thing that was helpful for us. Before we left, I printed out ALL the directions given on every website of every hotel or attraction we wanted to visit: Doka Coffee Plantation, Poas Volcano Lodge, La Paz, Orquideas etc. That, along with directions given by various posters on Fodors and Tripadvisor and a map (!, helped us to navigate.We enjoyed driving ourselves, but also enjoyed all the information we got when we used Luis to drive to and from the airports.
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 05:37 AM
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What an absolutely perfect trip! And an excellent report. I felt I was traveling right along with you! Brought to life so many of my own memories.

Pleased you posted about Poas Volcano Lodge. It does not get mentioned that often, but to me is in a perfect location to visit both Poas and La Paz. We stayed at Peace Lodge our only time in this area, but if ever again - we hope to stay at Poas Lodge!

Once I was hooked on Central America it has been very difficult to look elsewhere!

Sounds like your boys are excellent travelers.

Welcome home.
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 06:37 AM
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Great report!

So jealous you got to see Arenal & the lava -- such a fun area though even when the volcano never shows on our trip

So glad you got to change arrangements at BdC, the Tropical Garden cabins looked nice, but VERY open to the jungle. Great that you also got to see the squirrel monkeys at BdC, we only saw them in MA.

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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 06:51 AM
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Thanks for the report sms73.
Very informative. Well done.
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 09:30 AM
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CRIdo: Can't wait to read more about the honeymoon part of your trip. Loved meeting you and your husband at BdC. We took your advice and didn't bother to walk all the way to the waterfall on the Pacific because of the heat, and we had such fun spending more time in the natural jacuzzis of the tide pools. We really enjoyed Phil's 4 hour marathon walk, also per your advice; amazing how he can do that every day and still sound so excited and inspire such great interest. (When my teenager questioned his description of the leaf cutter ant society as communistic, saying he thought it was more totalitarian, you could tell Phil had been a great teacher when he didn't cut him off!)
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 11:27 AM
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Really enjoyed your report. Like the others, I felt like I was traveling right along with you.

It really is amazing that Philip can be so enthusiastic. I am sure he has seen every thing that is to be seen on that trail a million times. And explained it too.

We happened to ask him about a butterfly and that really opened him up. He loves them and has a ton of pictures on his lap top.

We carry mostly cash too. We just got so sick of all those extra charges.

We are former military people and USAA has free checking and ATM anywhere in the world. My look into that.
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 12:50 PM
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whoa what a great trip! we were just behind you. We left March 30 and returned April 8th. We had a bitter sweet trip though. The experience in costa rica was wonderful. We mostly went to the beaches in the north of peninsula nicoya--Tamarindo, La Penca, Playa Grande, Playa Langosta, and we took a 4 hour ride to Arenal to see the volcano but yea it was cloudy we also went to the thermal waters and that was really close to the volcano so it was hot!! The views were breathtaking specially from the house we were staying and the ride to arenal. We rented a house called "Casa Fiesta" in portrero that my friend had won in a charity "silent" auction for very cheap, because luckily nobody bet on it! I say the trip was bitter sweet because at the end we had a horrible experience with the owners of the house. The couple that takes care of the house seemed very nice and we were a young group of "multicultural" people as they called us, because they never seen a group like us in the house, and maybe they thought it was ok not to do their work, so they would not come clean as often and were rude to some Costa Rican friends we had over...the last straw was when $180 disapeared from my bag!! So we decided to call the owners of the house who in turn told us that we should look into our friends for the money, and that we were not the class of people that they would have stay in their house! They were also upset that we only pay the low amount of money to stay in the house, which by the way it was not our fault since they put it up for a charity auction themselves. So that was schocking! I never thought I would be discriminated against by foreigners in Costa Rica of all places!! I'm Latina too! Anyways I refuse to let that bad experience ruin my wonderful trip to Costa Rica, but I really feel that those kind of people should not even be allowed to have property in a country where you don't even have a respect for the people there.
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Old Apr 12th, 2007, 03:28 PM
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Thanks for your report, sms73!

I loved La Paz and Arenal on my first trip to CR last year. Later this year I'll be experiencing Bosque del Cabo and am so excited about it! I eagerly devour all posts about BdC.

Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Very cool that you got a good look at both Poas and Arenal.

Thanks again for posting.
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Old May 11th, 2007, 06:38 PM
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Old May 11th, 2007, 10:03 PM
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It was so wonderfull...reading your post,,,thank you for sharing your great experience with us!!

Even that I am costarican...I love to read about my country..and how visitors may see it and feel it...not doubt in my mind...that you and your family...really saw my country the way it really is!

Please come back...we need people like learn more about ourselves!!

R.A Luis

Just buckle up and enjoy the ride!!
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