First time South of Border - Family of 4

Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 06:24 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 4
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
First time South of Border - Family of 4

Hello! Appreciate your advise on the following. 

Given: 

A) Traveling with family - total 4 people including 2 Kids (10 & 15). 

B) Planning to stay in CR for 8 full days (excluding travel days).

C) Budgeting for a hotel "at least as decent" as Marriott Courtyard (IN / OF US Standards @ around $ 175 / day) 

D) Have travelled multiple times to Hawaii. Unfortunately that has set a high bar of expectations (safety and hotel comforts and ease of traveling/driving ON OWN). 

E) Assume all sight seeing (or for that matter travel that means more than 20 miles) will be by Day Tours by Tour Buses although we may also most likely has a rented car.

F) Assume intercity travel will be by Grayline ( OR please suggest anything better).



The following questions (1A to 1D) relate to having SJ as a Base for ALL or Part of the trip.



#1A) If a Beach is a MUST for at least 3 days, would a Coastal city make more sense to make as a base for the entire trip?
OR

#1B) Stay IN SJ the first 3 Days, move to Coastal City next 3 days, and come back to SJ for the last 2 days? 



#1C) Which Coastal city is the Best (Safe, Comfortable, offers lot of days tours) 



#1D) Your comment about having to travel to and fro from SJ to this other Coastal City.




#2. Is it manageable to drive to the Coastal City from SJ on the day of arrival (after a 9 hour flight)?



#3a. Please suggest Hotels - (I see on that even JW Marriott in SJ has 20% of visitor reviews giving poor ratings. Courtyard in SJ is new but is very far from City!).



#3b. Are name brand hotels (Marriott, Four Seasons, etc) okay ? Are they at the same standard as in USA?



#4 How about restaurants serving "Asian vegetarian food"? Would we have luck?

Thanks
fedconsul is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 09:52 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 16
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Most people don't want to stay in SJ. It is not a good place to base yourself for travels. The traffic is awful so it is very time consuming to get out of town even if you're not the ones driving.
You don't say when you'll be traveling but I think you should do the "usual" and do Arenal for 3nights then Manuel Antonio for 3nights. 1 night upon arrival & 1nt pre departure in Alajuela. There really is a reason that combination is so popular. You get a taste of the beautiful country in the short time you are there.
55crlover is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 12:16 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,850
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I agree - you don't want to stay in San Jose - big city, traffic, bars on the windows. There are some museums and things, but you want to spend your vacation where it's beautiful, out in nature with wildlife etc. not in SJO. I think the Arenal and Manuel Antonio combo is perfect for first timers and families. We fell in love with Hawaii but like Costa Rica even more because it's easier to get to and doesn't have a big time change difference; it's also more affordable. I wouldn't stay in a U.S. chain hotel. There are loads of wonderful authentic hotels that will you give you a feel for the country. The Lost Iguana is our favorite in Arenal; they offer a lot of good specials so check on that. Los Lagos and Silencio del Campo are also popular. In Manuel Antonio, Tulemar Bungalows is very popular. For inner city travel, we use taxis, and we hire private drivers to go from city to city, but a lot of people drive with no problems. It will take you about 3 hours to go from SJO to Arenal, and 3 hours to go to Manuel Antonio from SJO. Between Arenal and MA is about 5 hours or so. You can travel your first day as long as you don't travel after dark. You want to be in your spot by about 5:30 because it's hard to drive on the roads after dark and things are not well marked.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 06:02 AM
  #4  
RAC
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,951
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Honestly, the first thing I would do would be to reconceive the trip so that your baseline expectation is not based on vacations inside the United States. You can find Marriott style accommodations, but they are the least interesting options available, and rarely among the best. Costa Rica is not like anywhere in the US--there is not the sharp division between civilization and nature that there is here. That is what makes Costa Rica worth seeing, but it also means having the occasional gecko in your hotel room. (On our last trip there, our driver told us about a couple who cancelled their entire vacation after one night because their room had a gecko--no kidding).

There are no real coastal cities, but rather coastal towns and areas.

As far as locations for day tours, what kind of tours are you thinking of? Wildlife/birding, fishing, hiking, kayaking, ziplines, etc?

Arenal and Manuel Antonio have the most developed tourist infrastructure (lodging, restaurants etc) and thus represent a very attractive combination for first time visitors. However, there are dozens of places worth exploring that also deserve consideration.

Sorry if this comes off as condescending, but CR is a fantastic place if you embrace the sense of adventure, nature, and having an experience you can't/won't have in the US. At the same time, if one judges it by how it conforms to American standards, it will likely be a disappointment.
RAC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:52 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,850
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
In the Arenal area, you might take a look at Nayara too. It's a nice high end property, but I don't think it will be within the budget you mentioned. Their food is excellent. I'm a little perplexed that you want to eat Asian food in Costa Rica - why Asian food?
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:56 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 157
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi when we went with are daughter we stayed at silencio del campo in Arenal and loved it. I too would not stay in San Jose. See Arenal area and then head to the beach for a few days. Zipline, cano negro, and hot springs were the highlights for my daughter in arenal.
cmazza is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 11:46 AM
  #7  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2012
Posts: 4
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Volcanogirl , RAC,

Appreciate your insight. You both have explained it so well -- Thanks a tonne!

(RAC, you have hit my raw nerve for it so sad that having born and brought up in India and having stayed here for 20+ years in US, I am so Americanized that I have slowly started baselining differently --- everything from US point of view ! ).

The family (kids / wife) want to do it (CR trip) but I am dragging my feet since I first posted here. It is so easy to get in the car and be on a move in Hawaii - you know.

Any way, it is more out of concern for the kids, their health and safety I am worrying that this CR trip could end up as difficult as our trips to India. (And that is the reason asking about Asian food in CR).

I have about a day to decide ... any more encouragement from you will be much appreciated! - Would the trip end up as a 'messy, inconvenient, stressful travel' or would it likely be a pleasant journey that would pleasantly surprise me).

Thanks

/ST
fedconsul is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 12:11 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 16
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I'd vote for Hawaii if I were you. It sounds like you would be more comfortable and would appreciate the relaxation more there rather then adventure travel that usually is involved in Costa Rica.
55crlover is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 12:26 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,850
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I wouldn't be worried about the kids' health and safety. Have you checked out the websites and reviews for a place like Nayara? It's upscale with beautiful furniture, jacuzzi tubs, flat screen t.v.s. It's not really roughing it. Costa Rica isn't anything like India. If you can afford to go to Hawaii, you can stay at a pretty nice place in CR. The only thing I would worry about is leaving anything in your car unattended. You can eat and drink the food with no problems, and we've found the people to be amazing, bright, warm, friendly, and most of them speak English. Taxis are pretty easy to get and roads are in pretty good shape for the areas we mentioned. I'd go to tripadvisor and read some reviews and look at photos and decide from there so you can have a better idea of what it's like. I honestly expected CR to more like Mexico the first time we went, but it isn't like that at all. The natural beauty once you get outside of SJO is amazing, monkeys, waterfalls, rafting, ziplining, beautiful natural hot springs, and the people are the nicest, friendliest, and most genuine of any that we've met anywhere. You would probably like the Peace Lodge as well. It's nice for a night or two.

http://www.donrufino.com/e_index.php is a link to a restaurant we like in Arenal.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 12:29 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 24,850
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
http://www.tabacon.com/costa-rica-re...springs-1.html is a link to one of the fancier hot springs. Kind of reminds me of the way Hawaii looks.
volcanogirl is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 01:48 PM
  #11  
RAC
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,951
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Health and safety is probably better in Costa Rica than Hawaii, actually (tourists drown off Hawaii's beaches every year).

It's much more psychological--being in a place where nature is allowed to go untamed feels more dangerous (and most of CR is not wilderness) but in reality is less so. The food and water are safe, and many Americans take medical vacations there, so it is not a dangerous place at all.

One good thing is that you can choose how close to nature you want to get--you can stay at the Four Seasons, or you can sleep in the bunk beds at the Sirena Ranger station in Corcovado, or choose anything in between.

Costs Rica doesn't have big resorts or a lot of chain hotels. But it does have a lot of very lovely, small, intimate inns and hotels that offer a lovely experience for not very much money--especially compared to Hawaii.

My advice is always to read a guidebook (still the only comprehensive sources of information) and figure out which areas and activities appeal to you.

For Arenal--I always recommend the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which offers amazing views and some of the best wildlife viewing in the country--we saw a jaguarundi within 50 feet of the main lodge.

For Manuel Antonio, we recommend La Posada Bungalows. It literally borders the national park, so everything from deer to squirrel monkeys pass through. They make great home-cooked meals, and attentive service.

Both places are well under $150/night per room, have separate group accommodations, and will most certainly never remind you of a Marriott, which is why so many people love them.
RAC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 02:28 PM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,946
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Personally I think I would try to talk the family into going back to Hawaii, or perhaps to a resort in Mexico.

The roads in Costa Rica are terrible, with few exceptions, as are the drivers. The food is not particularly good, unless you enjoy rice and beans, and the prices are equal to the US for the same level of comfort.

The beaches are worse than Hawaii, but they do have monkeys in Costa Rica. Birders and surfers also find it worthwhile.

I think if you live on the East Coast, Costa Rica is more attractive than Hawaii as a destination.

For most of my friends from Southern California, it's a "meh" experience.
mlgb is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 03:13 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 53
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"meh?" Really?
I guess it is all in what you are looking for. I am from Southern California and absolutely LOVE Costa Rica. The food can get boring, but everything else is a wonderful, relaxing, and an adventure for me. The flora and fauna are priceless. CR is a beautiful country.
4deckers is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 03:35 PM
  #14  
RAC
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,951
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
True, if one is looking for an experience that reminds them of Florida or Southern California, Costa Rica will be a disappointment.
RAC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 04:56 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,946
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It can also be a disappointment if one is looking for a bargain.

It's just that from Southern California it is easy to reach places with a better range of food, better beaches, better wildlife, interesting culture, and better bargains. Such as Mexico, Belize, South America, and even Hawaii.

I think Costa Rica is living on some old capital as some kind of bargain paradise from 10 or so years ago. But now it's just Hawaii with monkeys, and just as expensive.
mlgb is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 06:14 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 1,340
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I think that this can easily degenerate into a "discussion" of whether Hawaii or Costa Rica is a better destination. I think that it's totally objective. I've been to both spots. I loved both spots. I prefer Costa Rica, partially because of the diversity of wildlife, but also because of its uniqueness. Some people dislike that it's becoming somewhat Americanized, others like it. You might like it because it will be less intimidating. It sounds as though, after living in India, you are at a point that you like something predictable?
Cattail is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 06:38 PM
  #17  
RAC
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,951
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
"just Hawaii with monkeys"

Oy. Just, oy.

Neither Belize nor Hawaii nor even Mexico (unless you go deep into the Calakmul or Lacandon areas) come close to the intense biodiversity one finds in CR. Certainly one can venture into the Amazon for unparalleled wildlife viewing, but that's not an easy to reach place unless you live in the Amazon.

While we were in Corcovado, at one point we were within 50 feet of a tapir and a bull shark.

At the same time.

Oh, and what rafting like the Pacuare river is there in Hawaii or Belize?

I guess one could say Peru trumps in all regards, but Peru is twice as big as all of Central America PLUS Chiapas and Quintana Roo from Mexico.



Certainly the food is nothing exciting, and in terms of archaeology it's got next to nothing. But that's not why people go there.
RAC is offline  
Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 08:50 PM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,946
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Megadiverse countries of the world in the western hemisphere

Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, and Venezuela.

I could also argue that Belize for the small size of the area, is just as diverse as Costa Rica. You have just as good a chance of seeing a jaguar or a tapir there, as in Costa Rica. Plus the beaches and archaeology are much better.
mlgb is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2012, 04:51 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 34
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It amazes me that what started out as a search for advice on travel for his family in CR has turned into a debate. Those of us that love CR love it for many different reasons. It is totally subjective. I, too, have been to Hawaii and loved it so much, but would not compare it to CR. I am not a birdwatcher, and can see most any animal in the zoo near my home, but still enjoy those creatures free in the wild. It is the total experience of CR that I love, and can't wait for our next visit.
skacian is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2012, 08:48 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 24,946
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Actually the OP is specifically asking Hawaii or Costa Rica, so It seemed reasonable to offer a comparison. I assumed perhaps wrongly that a variety of opinions were welcome.
mlgb is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Your Privacy Choices -