Feb Trip Report

Old Mar 8th, 2008, 06:17 PM
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Feb Trip Report

i scoured the boards for advice and reviews before my recent trip to costa rica. everyone’s comments and trip reports are so tremendously helpful! here is my brief contribution.

my sister and i went on an all-too short trip from feb 22-27. we squeezed in 3 locations and a lot of activity. overall it was a fantastic trip, one of the best ever! there was so much fun adventure and such lovely people. here are the highlights and different experiences that might be helpful to others visiting the country.

we flew from jfk in new york and were delayed b/c of a snowstorm. our flight was scheduled to depart 5:45 am, but i don’t think we got out ‘til about 8. we were booked on a sansa flight to quepos that was scheduled to leave just over 2 hrs after our flight from ny. since we were 2 hrs late, it was not looking good for us to make the sansa flight. we landed and literally ran to the customs area where there was a not too long line. still it took us about 10-15 mins to get through the line, then we went to baggage claim and waited another 10 mins for our bags. as soon as they came, we started running again. thanks to the boards, i knew the sansa terminal was a short distance, to the left when you exit. as we were ran out, there were many taxi drivers trying to pick up customers. many were asking “sansa?” we laughed that someone might pay for a ride to sansa, when it was a five minute walk, 1-2 minute run.

so we get to the terminal and congratulate ourselves b/c the plane is still there! unfortunately, the door has been sealed and the sansa folks will not let us or any of the other late arrivals from the east coast of the u.s. on. we are seriously bummed b/c we have only one night in the quepos area. sansa has 2 more flights to quepos coming up. the first is full and they can’t put us on, so they add us to the later one (and we have to pay change fee).

so a couple of hours later…(we went out for fresh air, then mostly hung out in the small waiting area)…our plane is not there. several of us have been waiting hours and are getting agitated. 30 mins after the flight was scheduled to leave, we’re asking everyone what’s going on. even though sansa had many employees present, only one gentleman seemed to know or be able to do anything. so everyone’s trying to get a few minutes with him. come to find out that our flight may not go out…the quepos airport, we were told, is so small they don’t have the proper runway lights and can’t accept flights after dusk. while we’re all discussing this and figuring out our options, the plane arrives and we sort of plead to get out asap. sadly, no, no more flights to quepos that day. sansa starts making calls to get us a minivan and drive those of us remaining to quepos. we fill out refund forms (i’m still waiting on that refund) and, after a bit of waiting, board a minivan for a nearly 5 hr drive to quepos. not the way we wanted to start our trip, for sure, but we enjoyed talking w/ our fellow riders.

so that’s a long winded way of saying…if you hustle you can make it out of the san jose airport quickly, but you have to be relaxed and roll w/ the flow at sansa, where things depend on time of day, weather, the employees present, etc. even though you are eager to get to your destination, there’s not much a sense of urgency for the planes to get out. we wanted to be at quepos in the afternoon and enjoy some time there, but circumstances were we got there fairly late at night. keep a positive attitude and enjoy the fact that you’re there, the other people, etc. and keep in mind if you’re flying to small airports later in the day, a delay can seriously alter your plans!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 06:31 PM
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so here’s a rundown of everything else…

quepos/manuel antonio
we stayed at the hostel vista serena. one night in private room w/ shared bathroom. for budget/hostel accomodations, this place was great! it was clean, in a good location, and the staff was very helpful and friendly. beds were a little lumpy, but, still, it was great and i would def. stay here again. there are great hammocks w/ lovely views. we didn’t spend much time b/c we got in late and headed out fairly early in the morning (and came back in the afternoon to pick up our stuff), but it seemed the guests were friendly, too.

breakfast at café milagro (iirc)
a bit touristy, but a nice atmosphere. we went for the espresso shake in particular (a tip i read on the boards) and i’m glad we did. great coffee shake!

m.a. national park
terrific. we didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife (did not hire a guide) but the park was great. we hiked a bit, which was nice to get some physical activity, but it was the most scenic hiking and my sister said she’d advise others not to bother. (we hiked “up” the area near the main beach.) the beaches were all gorgeous. we hung out at the main (third?) beach. powder soft sand, clear water that felt great after the hike on a hot day. the jungly/forest area comes right to the sand, so it’s nice to have sun and shade both available. beware there are some large rocks in the water that can take you by surprise and my sis and i both got a bang or two from them. while on the beach white face howler monkeys came down, maybe b/c it was near lunch time? though there is plenty of notice not to feed the monkeys, my sister saw a family feeding the monkey, and then iguanas, cheese curls.

we headed out of the park b/c we had a 2:45 interbus reservation to take us to manuel antonio. we walked the main drag and had lunch at one of the reservations. don’t remember the name of the restaurant. food was okay, if a bit more $ than what we would have liked to spend. overall everywhere we ate was that way. next time i think we will scope out more “locals only” type places for more food adventure and, hopefully, lower prices.

we also browsed some souvenir stalls, but didn’t buy. we were “backpacking” it and didn’t want to carry gifts for the rest of the trip, but souvenir prices were lower in the m.a. area than arenal and san jose, so we semi-regretted not getting things there.
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 06:57 PM
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ps – our room at hostel vista serena also had an air conditioner, which we put to use.

interbus ride was comfortable…only 2 of us, no other passengers. we were glad we didn’t drive. we saw almost no street signs the entire ride! the roads were rough at times and we would’ve taken much longer driving ourselves since we’re not as adept at passing, blind curves, speeds in these conditions, etc. glad we went with interbus.

la fortuna/arenal
we were dropped off in town so we could go straight away to dinner. i read a post about tres leches cake at nene’s. we went there and the food was fine. not great, but just fine. again, a bit touristy. then we took a taxi to erupciones inn. we chatted with the engaging drive (juan de dios, what a great name) and when we pulled up, he idled a bit while we continued to talk. while we were in the car, jessenia, the owner of erupciones inn came out and was waiting to greet us. as before, we were “checking in” a bit late, but jessenia asked us to sit down to chat. she was so lovely and friendly. when she learned i was from ny, she went and got the newspaper to show me how the snowstorm made the news. we talked a good while, she was so kind and fun. she asked about our plans and she had positive things to say about all our arrangements. we shared that we were looking for ziplines and she talked to us about 2 companies she knew of. she didn’t try to pressure us and gave us a brochure and we said we’d talk about it again in the morning. the rooms were down a hill and, b/c it was late and dark, jessenia had her husband drive us to our room. it almost felt silly it was so close, but it was very considerate of them. as soon as we walked in the cabin, my sister started cheering about how much she loved this place and the hosts.

the cabin was bright and just right for us. the beds were very comfortable and the bathroom very clean. there was a tv, too, though we didn’t use it. we cleaned up and went to bed, happy to be so welcomed and comfortable. we woke up to birds and found we were nearly right at the base of the volcano. it was cloudy, but beautiful. it was nice to be among the plants, the inn’s horses, and all the birds. we went up for the complimentary breakfast, with fresh milk from their dairy farm. modest, but filling. fresh eggs, toast, a piece or two of fried plantain. jessenia came out and it was clear she’s just as friendly w/ all of her guests. we really loved this woman! she warned us that our first tour would probably be right on time so to be ready. also, re: ziplines, we told her we decided to go w/ arenal paraiso, which is not one of the two she recommended to us. she was still very helpful and offered to call and make the reservations. i had been directly quoted a price of $48, but when she came back to say she made the reservation, the price was $15. nice!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 07:21 PM
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So sorry to hear after all that hustle thru the airport & the run to Sansa you still missed your flight! But sounds like you had a great attitude about it & didn't let it effect your trip!

Sad to hear about the fanily feeding the animals cheese curls - wish they could understand they are basically killing them! At the very least i wish people like that would just be immed iately escorted out of the park!

Sounds like a great time & you got a great deal on the zipine!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 07:22 PM
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waterfall rappelling w/ desafio
they were right on time to pick us up. we picked up some other guests, then at an office switched from minivan to truck, where we all jumped into the back. a very bumpy ride to the “put out”. once there, we put away our bags and got harnessed. we then got a quick but thorough safety talk and set off. we had 2 guides who were very pleasant and knowledgeable. the rappelling was awesome! so much fun! i absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for some fun physical activity. you get totally wet. there’s one rappell where you do more of a free drop down the rope alongside a waterfall and the guides will swing you into the fall. this was so so so fun. would totally do this again, though next time i would hope for a few less companions. there were a total of 11 of us, which the guides said is a medium sized group. there was a little too much waiting around at each point for everyone to get down, but nevertheless, a great time. one of the guides spotted and caught a frog for us all to see. after the last rappell, there’s hike back up to the put out area that involves a little steep climbing.

once you get back up, you can change into dry clothes and there’s a delicious lunch. this was one of out best meals the whole trip. big, big thumbs up to this tour by desafio and their great guides.

we booked an afternoon tour for horseback riding to la fortuna waterfall w/ desafio as well. rather than go all the way back to erupciones inn, we arranged for desafio to drop us off and pick us up at their la fortuna office. so once they dropped us off, we took a short walk around the town and saw the church and lovely park in the center of town. then we walked back and our van was waiting! we picked up one other person and drove out to the location for the horseride. the group was already geared up and waiting for us 3. we were quickly put on some horses and there was a brief talk in spanish only of how to ride. (it was not the case that this was a spanish speaking group. as nice and capable as the guides were, they spoke virtually no english. i think desafio “contracts” with different folks for different tours so i wouldn’t take great reviews for one kind of tour to mean others kinds will be just as good. the quality of what we got w/ rappelling was quite different from this tour.)

the horse ride was nice and scenic. at a couple of stretches they trot/run a bit, which is fun…wish there had been more of that. we got to the waterfall park and my sister and i changed in the bathroom, then took off to get to the water. we didn’t know how long and steep it was down and it took us a little bit by surprise. a little jarring on the knees (and we’re fairly young, 28 and 30 on that day). we finally made it to the bottom and took a few pictures and discovered the water was very cold. we hesitated on going swimming, but finally took the plunge. it was very cold, but refreshing and i’m glad we did it. being cool probably helped for the long hike back up. during this time we noticed not many of our fellow riders were down at the water. when we got back up we learned many had seen the waterfall before and elected not to take the hike down and back up. we rode back and saw some really talented young boys riding bareback and making some impressive moves on their horses.

this tour was good for basic horse riding in lovely, lush scenery. if you want extra care, facilities, or english, you might want to look elsewhere.

we arranged for desafio to them drop us off at eco termales, where we had reservations. so great! perfect end to such an activity day, with all the “stair climbing” we did. i can’t imagine how sore we would’ve been w/o this soak.

we chose eco termales b/c it was a bit cheaper, supposedly less crowded, and supposedly better food. so glad we did. for most of the time, there were not many other people there. it was lovely to be able to move from pool to pool and relax w/o a lot of noise or distraction. towards the end of the night a very large tour group arrived, and several other smaller groups as well. it made us wonder if the price is discounted after 8 or something. nevertheless, the grounds were beautiful, the water fantastic, and the food was great! we drove by and saw the big buses at the other springs and are soooo glad we went w/ eco termales. re: the food, i ordered the middle priced option which gives you an extra side of veggies. this turned out to be plain steamed broccoli and cauliflower. we had too much food and the salad that comes w/ the first cheaper option was big and delicious, so the extra veggies may be unecessary. somewhat reluctantly, we left, taking a cab back to erupciones. (the young man at the front desk was disinterested and could not manage any care in his schpiel about the facilities, which is too bad. the place was so lovely some warmth and enthusiasm form the front desk would have nicely complemented it.)
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 07:27 PM
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tully - thanks for your comments. but you made me realize my typo! zipline was $45! that's what i get for writing this so fast. (and i said it would be brief, ha!)

re: cheese curls, i agree. we later met a local tour guide who told us fewer monkeys can be found at manuel antonio than years ago b/c they've been dying younger, supposedly b/c of heart disease!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 07:35 PM
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next morning we went for $45 (forgive my earlier typo) w/ arenal paraiso. so great! i was nervous, but this was so fun and a great intro. i can’t wait to zipline again. we felt very safe and got good instruction from the guides. (we met other girls who did another company and their experience sounded less safe, so i think there’s some variety in experiences.) we saw some great birds and the tour guide escorting some high school girls from the u.s. spotted monkeys. but this wasn’t about wildlife, just fun! go for it!

re: the guide, we struck up a conversation and he turned out to be one of the best people we met the whole trip! if you are looking for a local guide, i have someone for you! roberto is friendly, knowledgeable, such a good disposition, engaging, etc. everything you could want. (he spotted the monkeys, but he’s a general guide, not a wildlife specialist, i believe.) he travels all around the country, mostly with groups, but he’s happy to guide families, couples, etc. i don’t want this to sound like shilling, but he was so lovely, impressive, and kind. if you have a group of other plans to go to costa rica and are interested in a guide, i can give you his email address.

after this we had another intebus ride to san jose. this time there were other guests, but they were all nice. we mostly were all kind of quiet though. my sister and i are getting tired! we get to san jose and check into another hostel, san jose guesthouse. this is a sister property to the popular costa rica backpackers, geared to people who want private rooms and more quiet. the room was great! very cute, clean, and with the best bed we had the whole trip. it was already dark, we were a bit tired, and had an early reservation for rafting, so we had powerbars, showered, and went to sleep!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 07:56 PM
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we got up early for our rafting trip on rio pacaure w/ rios tropicales. they were a few mins late picking us up, but the bus was comfortable, if full w/ others. the drive out to their main building was quite long, maybe over 2 hrs. we got there, where a good breakfast was provided. we got geared up and got on the bus again to head out to the put out, which was almost another hour away. we got to the put out, hiked down to the river, put on safety gear and hopped in the rafts. the trip was great! scenic, w/ a couple of exciting sections. b/c it’s dry season, the river was lower/quieter than it can be. i’m sure it’s most exciting during the green season. nevertheless, the quiter stretches of the river were appreciated b/c it’s such along ride that you get tired even though it’s not constantly class 3 and 4. we had a waterproof camera w/ maybe 10 pics left and snapped some at different fun points…but the most scenic part of the trip is towards the end.

save some of your film for the narrow green canyon you pass through on, i think, the second leg after lunch. after one great rapid, you come to a waterfall, then enter this beautiful, gorgeous canyon…and get out and swim. BEAUTIFUL! wish we had a pic or two left in camera. stunning. my sister spontaneously starts singing “i’m in heaven” as we back float and admire the scenery. then we have to hustle and swim faster to catch up to the raft!

after the trip, we go back to the rios tropicales property to change. the ride back to san jose is long and during dusk, so there’s some emphasis to get out soon…passing through the clouds up in the mountains during the dark can be dangerous…we’re dropped off back at the hostel, then head out to a restaurant recommended to us by roberto. turns out neustra teirra is only a few blocks away.

food was good, but same deal as w/ the other places: a lot of other tourists and a bit more $ than we might have liked. portions were generous. one interesting thing, at the end of the meal, the waiter mentioned it would be okay if we tipped and he would appreciate it. we thought weird, but he had been nice throughout the meal and i guess we just felt put on the spot a bit. we tipped, but the next day we both said it was pretty wack that he did that (i don’t think it was just him…i got the feeling it’s du rigeur there).

we slept well after such an active day…got up in the am took check out san jose before our 4pm flight. we picked up something from a bakery, and walked to the national theater, through some of the main commercial streets, mercado central, parque morazan, plaza de la democracia. i’m glad we did this. then taxi to the airport and on the way home! too short!

highlights and what i would recommend: desafio waterfall rappelling, jessenia’s hospitality at erupciones inn, eco termales, rafting rio pacaure, ziplining.

the best food we had was the lunch that came w/ rappelling and at eco termales.

we didn’t spend a lot of time in san jose, but we enjoyed what little we saw. we read or heard so much about the potential for danger or problems there, but we felt perfectly safe. not to take away from anyone else’s experience, of course…

if you have any questions about our accomodations, logistics, getting roberto as a tour guide, etc., i’d be happy to answer. pura vida!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 08:16 PM
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cjw --- After a rough start your trip turned into a fabulous one! It sounds like Erupciones is a nice place. I've looked at it a few times before and one reason I didn't book it is because I really like to have a pool while on vacation. The rapelling sounds great too...thinking about it...were there any youngsters in the group? I'm taking my 11 year old and not sure how she'd do. She loved zip-lining though, but went tandem. Now you've also got me leaning toward the dinner option at Eco-Thermales. We didn't have dinner there last trip, but it sounds nice. I wish MA park could hire someone to politely inform people not to feed the monkeys and why. I honestly think some people don't even know, they just have this cute critters coming up for handouts, and I'm sure it's hard to say no!

Thanks for the report!
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Old Mar 8th, 2008, 08:33 PM
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hi hipvirgochick! thanks for reading!

re: rappelling, take your daughter and go for it! there were not youngsters on my particular trip (we were all mid twenties, with me probably topping the group at 30), but i did ask one of the guides about kids. he said he had a few 8 yrs olds the day before. he said some where hesitant/scared, but they were all fine.

if your daughter is adventurous - must be if she did ziplining - and she's not afraid of heights, rappelling should be fun. we went in dry season and in wet season i'm sure it's a bit rougher. they even cancel some trips during wet season. so w/ a youngster i'd probably go during the dry season.

the heights are not an issue except for the "free drop" rappells where you are not scaling the wall, but just descending on the rope. our trip had 2 of those. one or two people said something about getting spooked if they looked straight down on the high free drop, but it was momentary. (not an issue for me so i can't speak personally.)

i don't know if there's a tandem option on those free drops...that would probably be fairly difficult. but like ziplining, the scaling, drops, etc. can go by quickly, so if she ever gets nervous, hopefully you can encourage and talk her through it. but, really, if she loved ziplining, i don't imagine she'd be fearful of this.

again, i felt safe the whole time and i think it's something a young person (who listens to and follows safety precautions) should be safe as well. (and they probably can do the scaling and hiking better than us old folks!)
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Old Mar 9th, 2008, 04:35 AM
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It sounds like you had a good trip. What is it with people feeding the animals? I remember a woman on our zip line trip from MA talking about how she fed the monkeys. She said she knew that you weren't supposed to but no one was going to tell her what to do. She was on vacation! I was steaming mad. But did not know what to do. It was such a typically ugly amercican thing. The worst part was this woman was a teacher traveling with her 2 sons.
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Old Mar 9th, 2008, 07:00 AM
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kencolian,
What a horror story. Exactly the reason we are viewed as "tacky" all over the world. The problem is that it only takes a very few persons representing us to create that impression. All the good will the rest of us try to impart doesn't count for much when there are those "inconsiderates" roaming around!
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