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first time in Costa Rica

Old May 22nd, 2012, 04:26 AM
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Join Date: May 2012
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first time in Costa Rica

Hubby, I, and our 10-year old son have just picked a destination for this year's vacation: Costa Rica!!! To avoid the rainy season and for other logistical reasons, our timeline would most likely be a week or so during Christmas and New Year's. However, that seems like the height of the tourist season there. Would it make sense to postpone the trip and go, say, during the Spring break? Or, if we do end up going in the winter, how to make the best of it? Also, we are open to all sorts of activities from beach bumming, snorkeling, hiking to a waterfall or a volcano, ziplining, or white water rafting to observing wildlife in a rain forest and visiting a banana or coffee plantation. But we don't even know where to start. Ideally, we should pick a location (or two) that has enough activities to keep us busy for a week without having to spend too much time moving from one place to another. Please advise (or suggest a reliable travel agent). Thank you!
Nikoleta_Dineen is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 05:15 AM
Join Date: May 2007
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The most popular itinerary for first timers is a combo of the Arenal area and Manuel Antonio. MA has the beach, and Arenal has the volcano, waterfall, ziplining, and white water rafting. Check out Sky Trek, Sunset Tours, Desafio, and Rios Tropicales for more info. There are also beautiful natural hot springs in the Arenal/La Fortuna area - we like Tabacon or Eco Termales. The Cano Negro Tour and Penas Blancas river float are nice to try to see some wildlife; there's also wildlife in the national park in Manuel Antonio. If you want to visit a coffee plantation, the Doka Coffee Estate is nice; we did our trip from the Peace Lodge which is also close to Poas Volcano and about an hour from SJO. We haven't found great snorkeling in CR; I'd probably just give it a pass since there are so many other great things to do. Your son would probably like to visit the Proyecto Asis animal rescue center as well.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 05:29 AM
Join Date: Apr 2011
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You just chose the absolute worst time to visit Costa Rica.
Visit between April and the end of August to really enjoy this place. Yeah. The so-called rainy season that the "experts" make sound like it's a monsoon season are just BS.

Looking out my window at lot's of clouds and a great view of the Volcano. I expect rain about 4 or 5 pm.
Arenalbotanical is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 06:27 AM
Join Date: May 2007
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We travel during the rainy season a lot, and we like to go then. You can get great deals on hotels and things are lush and green. We've traveled there in December, and it poured every single day, more than we ever saw during rainy season, so it's not all that predictable. We've also been to the Osa in July and didn't get a drop of rain. I'd look at going in July if you could; we like going then. Christmas is going to be so busy and packed. With the rainy season, we've had rain, but never an all day rain.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 06:49 AM
Join Date: May 2012
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VolcanoGirl's suggestions are right on point. December can be a bit unpredictable, so its important to plan accordingly, which may mean having rain-friendly alternate plans. A travel agent I would recommend is Latitudes Adventure (
brockw is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 07:42 AM
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Thank you for the useful tips regarding the itinerary and the weather. I did notice that most pictures of CR had clouds. Some websites also said that the so-called rainy season means rain and sun. In the retrospect, summer may now seem like a better option. Any hurricane threats? And, volcanogirl, as I read some of your replies in other topics, staying in a resort in the outskirts of Arenal would be less touristy, correct?
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Old May 22nd, 2012, 07:56 AM
Join Date: Jan 2007
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We've been three times between May and August. We had the most rain on our trip that was July into August and while it did rain quite a bit for a couple of days, it didn't prevent us from enjoying the trip. I will admit, when we came home I said if I had to do it again, I wouldn't travel back during that time again, yet, the following year, I was back again - this time bringing my parents! Two of our three trips we brought our kids and it has by far been some of their favorite vacations. They have been 7 and 9 yrs old and then 9 and 11 yrs old. In Arenal, we stayed at Los Lagos and they had a blast. It's a very reasonably priced hotel, includes breakfast (or did at the time) has several pools, including water slides. Hot springs on site and several other activities that would appeal to your son. They have an area with alligators, a leaf cutter ant farm, there's a small butterfly garden as well. We did their horseback riding too. As a matter of fact, it was the horseback riding that we ended up doing in the rain one afternoon.

Our second trip we stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge. It's not a place I'd like to stay without a rental car because it's somewhat of a distance from town and activities, but we really enjoyed it there. The hiking trails are great and you're as close as you can be to the volcano. The views are amazing, even if it's not active. We saw quite a bit of monkey there as well.

We've found with kids, travelling to Costa Rica, I'd trade in a longer trip and take the chance of rain during the summer, for a shorter trip over a holiday.
ShellD is offline  
Old May 22nd, 2012, 08:49 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,251 is a good general weather map. Mouse over the areas you're interested in; like I said it's not entirely predictable. July has what they call "little summer" that can mean a break in the rain. We tend to go in early July. For us, I think the further from town the better just because we like it to be jungly and enjoy nature - Lost Iguana and Arenal Observatory Lodge have the best chances for wildlife; if you want closer to town, explore Los Lagos like Shell mentioned or Silencio del Campo - those are both popular as well.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old May 23rd, 2012, 08:49 AM
Join Date: Apr 2012
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I've been 3x. Once w/my son who was around 10 yrs old at the time. There is a little known window in the rainy season: it is around the last week of July-first week of August and doesn't rain so much - afternoon sprinkles. We went during that time and I'm glad - the "Green Season" (otherwise negatively known as the "rainy season" is THE time to go to CR...It's amazingly green, fresh, refreshing. We found this itinerary worked for us, we didn't have a car-didn't want to deal w/possible washed out roads (frequent once you get off the highways this time of year) or breakdowns.

We flew into SJO, walked out the door of the airport and stayed overnight not far from the airport at a really nice little hotel, Hotel Bouganvilla in Santo Domingo de Heridia; next morning flew Sansa Airlines in a small plane to Playa Carillo (awesome); then a taxi short ride to Samara and stayed a few nights at Samara Beach (awesome, great for kids-protected by coral reefs)at Las Brisas bungalows right on the beach; we then arranged travel thru the hotel to go to Arenal-we took a van w/a transfer to Arenal for 2 days-toured the volcano fields, nature trails, great pool; back around to Monteverde rain forest. Bus back to SJO. 2 days is enough at Arenal, 2 days is enough at Monteverde, 2 days is enough at Samara. Hope that helps.
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Old May 23rd, 2012, 03:00 PM
Join Date: Mar 2012
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Christmas and New Years week are definitely the busiest time of the year to visit Costa Rica, and prices are A LOT more expensive at this time as well... most places also make it difficult if you decide to split up your time between two places because a lot of hotels require minimum stays of 7 nights. This being said, most holiday periods are through January 5th and that after that the prices substantially drop to normal high season rates.

Spring break would be a nice time to go as well, still busy, but the prices are better and no rain, it's a very dry time of the year, lots of sunshine!

I personally really like May-August. The prices are so much cheaper, it's less crowded and you still have beautiful sunny days where you can go to the beach and do your tours/activities.

Volcanogirl was right, most first timers typically like to visit Arenal and Manuel Antonio. I would recommend going to Arenal for 2 or 3 nights and then spending the rest of your time in Manuel Antonio. In Arenal check out the Lost Iguana, The Springs Resort and Nayara. All are very nice!
In Manuel Antonio I highly recommend Tulemar Vacation Homes, they have a great location, tons of properties available, and they have a full-service private beach which is so nice - tons of opportunities to see wild-life!
mangoemily is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2012, 10:49 PM
Join Date: Jun 2012
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My husband and I traveled to Costa Rica in December 2010. We found online and called their toll free number. Gretchen Hamel, and others at their agency, were excellent at planning every detail of our trip.

We visited a coffee plantation, went on a river boat ride down the Rio Frio, visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve with a private guide, went horseback riding near Areneal volcano and relaxed at EcoTermales Hot Springs.

With all the plans from Gretchen, we were confident renting a car on our own. Just a few tips though:
1. Don't drive at night. Many roads aren't paved and hazards are not well marked.
2. Rent the GPS when picking up the rental car - road signs can be scarce. (We brought a compass & map which helped, but a GPS would have come in handy at times.)
3. Give yourself plenty of time to travel. When returning to the airport, it took us 5 hours instead of 3, due to getting stuck behind a truck on a two-lane road.

Whenever you decide to go, you'll love it!

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Old Jun 4th, 2012, 06:30 AM
Join Date: May 2007
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4, wow, that is a really great description; that's exactly how I feel too.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Jun 5th, 2012, 03:24 AM
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That's really cool, 4, I'm so glad you loved it as much as we do. It's the first place we ever stayed in CR.
volcanogirl is offline  
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