First Time to Costa Rica - Need advice

Old Apr 14th, 2009, 03:00 PM
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First Time to Costa Rica - Need advice

Hi,
I have some time off for the next month or so and am thinking of going to Costa Rica with a friend. I have always heard you should go to Arenal, Monteverde, Tortuguero. Can I make these arrangements on my own or should I go through a travel agent. Is it better to go with an all inclusive group tour? How do I go about getting a driver? Can you recommend a first time itinerary to give us an overview of the country? What about hotels and activities? How much should I expect to pay for a ten day vacation? Any information you could offer would be helpful. I have lots of questions and am trying to figure out the best way to go. We are not five star people- we are seasoned travelers who are used to staying in moderate places and would like to find out about the culture of the country as well.
thank you.
Susan
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Old Apr 14th, 2009, 06:23 PM
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If you have 10 nights, that translates to about 3 locations comfortably. You can definitely make the reservations on your own, and May is a good time to go. You have the option of hiring a driver, flying domestic airlines, or renting a car. We always rent and have found it to be very simple, especially to the more popular locations, Manuel Antonio and Arenal.

I think for sure should plan 3-4 nights at Arenal. It is outstanding with the volcano (if you get a good view) and the hot springs. The Cano Negro daytrip is excellent for wildlife viewing and just seeing a good piece of the country.

Tortuguero is fascinating, the rivers and canals. But I do think you might want to save that for another trip in July through October when you can see nesting turtles, a truly mind blowing experience. Amazing. It certainly adds a nice dimension to the Tortuguero experience.

I think I'd suggest 3 nights Arenal, 3 nights Monteverde, 3 nights Manuel Antonio (nice park, beaches), in that order.
For overview purposes, this itinerary is hard to beat. You can hire a driver to Arenal, take the jeep/boat/jeep transfer to Monteverde, hire a driver to Manuel Antonio and another back to San Jose. Or you can rent and do the whole thing yourselves.

Keep in mind you may need to spend the 1st night near the airport, particularly if you arrive later in the day. The drive to Arenal takes about 1.5 hours and is beautiful. You can count on it being completely dark by 6:15 or so. It's another 3-4 hours to Monteverde, another 3.5 or so to Manuel Antonio, then 3 hours back to San Jose, so all fairly short transfers (for Costa Rica). You do need to be at the airport 2.5-3 hours before your scheduled departure. It isn't always necessary, but frequently is. It is quite unpredictable.

We frequent the more moderate places also, most of the time. Here are a few suggestions:

Arenal:

Arenal Observatory Lodge (nice grounds) and on the lava flow side of the volcano right now. About 20 minutes from the town of La Fortuna, but offers the great view.

Arenal Paraiso--also nice grounds, thermal pool, close to town.

Montana de Fuego--near Arenal Paraiso

Arenal Springs--gets good reviews


Monteverde:

El Sapo Dorado (the only one I know much about)


Manuel Antonio:

We are partial to Tulemar Bungalows (lower Villa MotMot--outstanding value, lots of wildlife right there on the property)

Also. . Villas Nicolas

Costa Verde (excellent views)

Hotel California--was okay. Not my favorite, though.

Good luck. . .just get your airfare settled, then shoot off your e-mails to these hotels. You couldn't go wrong with any of them. Prices should all be fairly comparable.

Since you are going so soon, you might want to e-mail Pat Hewitt at www.lovecostarica.com. He is really helpful in helping you to plan toward your interests and then booking for you. Makes it all so simple.

If you do it yourselves and decide to rent a car, I recommend Tricolor for price and service.

www.tricolorcarrental.com

10 days, you'll pay about $450 for a 4X4.
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Old Apr 14th, 2009, 06:26 PM
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Oops, before anyone out there in Fodor Land has a heart attack, I meant to say the drive to Arenal is about 2.5 hours, not 1.5! Round it off to 3, and you'll have a little cushion.
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Old Apr 14th, 2009, 06:36 PM
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Susan,
If you go to Monteverde, we liked Arco Iris Lodge, very reasonable. It's right in Santa Elena, but the cabins are spread out and you don't feel like you are in town, very lush landscaping. We drove to MV from Liberia, had heard so many horror stories about the road there, found it to be rough, but very doable. It took us 2 hours to go 30 miles, but there were no problems. We went hiking in the MV reserve along with the Santa Elena reserve, night hike at the Children's Eternal Forest, coffee plantation tour. There are also canopy tours and many other attractions such as the Hummingbird Gallery.

We loved Tortuguero, just went in February with Modesto Watson who runs Riverboat Francesca tours. We did the 3 day/2 night package at Laguna Lodge, $295 pp which included 6:15 am pickup at San Jose hotel, 8 meals, van transportation to Moin dock, boat to Tortuguero and several tours via boat. The only thing not included was $10 admission into the national park.
www.tortuguerocanals.com It wasn't nesting season, but the amount of wildlife we saw surpassed anywhere else we visited, including Cano Negro, but of course that is a two hour trip while this was three days.

At Arenal you'll see more wildlife at Arenal Observatory Lodge or on the Cano Negro tour, the Hanging Bridges are great, there are several zipline tours offered, Eco-Termales is a lovely thermal spring, very popular with Fodorites with good reason.

Enjoy!
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Old Apr 14th, 2009, 08:09 PM
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I second the recommendations of the Arenal Observatory Lodge--just an amazing place with all kinds of crazy wildlife and lava viewing (we saw a jaguarundi on the old lava trail) and Arco Iris--the honeymoon cabin is heavenly, and you're walking distance from everything in town but you feel like you're in the country.
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Old Apr 14th, 2009, 09:00 PM
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In Arenal, if you stay at AOL you'll probably want to rent a car. Silencio del Campo is a wonderful place as well. Smallish (a dozen or so cabinas I think, owned by a super Tico family and there's a hot spring on their grounds).
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Old Apr 15th, 2009, 01:08 PM
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thank you for your help. I will look into this. I do have another question. Which is a better place to go -Guancaste or Manuel Antonio. It sounds like Manuel Antonio is really touristy but would like your feedback.
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Old Apr 15th, 2009, 10:19 PM
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It's more touristy than parts of Guanacaste, but at least it isn't lined with all-inclusives and big hotel chains like Guanacaste is starting to be. The national park is really nice in Manuel Antonio, and the wildlife viewing good. There is more to do in a smaller area, whereas in Guanacaste you have to travel a bit (1.5-2 hours) for some of the daytrips.

More touristy is a relative term. None of Costa Rica is ever as touristy as we think of it here in this country, with hordes of people. The last time we visited that nice 2nd beach inside the park, there were a few people there, but still we had acres of space all around us--might as well not have been any others. That was end of June.
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Old Apr 16th, 2009, 11:12 AM
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You've already gotten wonderful advice by some folks who know what they're talking about.

We visited Manuel Antonio a couple of years ago in early December (before peak tourist season started). We didn't find it to be crowded at all. It is popular with visitors, but should be pretty laid back if you visit in the next few months (peak season pretty much ends in April). I always recommend it for first-time visitors because it's easy to get to, has beautiful beaches, and a good selection of places to stay and things to do. Arenal and Monteverde are also terrific choices and make for a very user-friendly introduction to Costa Rica.

Shillmac mentions contacting Pat Hewitt in her initial post. He's helped with arrangements for 2 of my CR trips and does a nice job if you'd like some help tying everything together.
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Old Apr 16th, 2009, 06:55 PM
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Hi! In March I took my first trip to Costa Rica and spent 3 nights in Arenal, 4 nights in Manuel Antonio and 1 night in Jaco. In Arenal, we stayed at Tabacon and loved it. For excursions we did the volcano hike (which I wrote all abt on my blog: http://www.travelogged.com/travelogg...e-volcano.html) and Cano Negro, which is fabulous if you like taking photographs of wildlife (http://www.travelogged.com/travelogg...fe-refuge.html). In Manuel Antonio, we stayed at La Mandion Inn, which was very nice. We spent 2 full days at the park and loved the capuchin monkeys (http://www.travelogged.com/travelogg...onio-park.html). We also did the Rainmaker Hanging Bridges Tour (http://www.travelogged.com/travelogg...osta-rica.html). Our last night we went to Jaco because it was closer to the airport by abt an hour. Jaco wasn't that great though.

I blogged a lot abt my trip to CR and it may be interesting/useful to you as you plan:
http://www.travelogged.com/travelogged/costa-rica/

Have a wonderful trip!
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Old Apr 17th, 2009, 02:14 PM
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I have looked up many of your suggestions and I appreciate it. In Manuel Antonio it looks to me like many of the places to stay are very modern resort like. I really wanted to stay in something that had a bit more charm and character to it. Also when they quote a price is for the room or for each person occupying that room. Can anyone suggest more hotels in Manuel Antonio?
Also, is it possible and/or wise if we arrive in SAn Jose at 12:30 p.m. to just go directly to Arenal from there. I don't see the point in staying in San Jose for just a few hours and one night. Please advise.
thank you.
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Old Apr 17th, 2009, 03:32 PM
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Have you looked at Mango Moon in MA? It's got some character to it, sort of like a B&B or small boutique hotel.

Definitely go straight to Arenal when you get in.
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Old Apr 18th, 2009, 08:55 AM
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How many nights would you all suggest for Monteverde- 2 or 3 nights?
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Old Apr 18th, 2009, 10:17 AM
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If you have 10 nights and you are going straight to Arenal, I would do 3 nights there, 3 nights Monteverde and 3 nights MA, last night back by the SJO airport. With 9 nights I would cut one out of MV. It will take you around 4 hours to drive from Arenal to MV, so that's a half day, giving you 2 1/2 days for all the MV activities. The road around Lake Arenal is fine, but will be slow going on the other side of the lake. But if you aren't driving, then check into the jeep-boat-jeep transfer which runs around $25pp from Arenal to MV. It saves a lot of time.

You'll spend another half day transferring from MV to MA.

Depending on the time of your outbound flight home, you may need to be back around the airport for your final night instead of staying at MA.
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Old Apr 18th, 2009, 02:11 PM
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You could take a look at La Posada Bungalows in MA.
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 03:24 PM
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We used Desafio for Jeep, Boat, Jeep and they were a good company. I'd recommend them. We stayed 3 nights in Monteverde; we could have done it in two, but it wouldn't have allowed us any time to relax. I always try to think of what I want to do there and then plan my days accordingly. We wanted to hike the reserve, do a night hike, and zipline. It's just that it eats up so much time to get there so you miss a lot of your first day there.
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Old Apr 19th, 2009, 03:43 PM
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The reason to stay in San Jose the first night is to allow for airplane delays. You do NOT want to be on the roads at night. I'd skip Cano Nano; long way for not much wildlife. Recommend Doka Estate coffee plantation and definitely Poas
Volcano Park. Gunacaste is OK, but I'd skip that as well and stay around LaFortuna. Monteverde Heliconia Lodge is great.
Do not bother sending any postcards! My 30 never made it to the USA, mailed from 3 different places. Have a great trip. Wonderful country.
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Old Apr 20th, 2009, 05:04 PM
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You should be able to make it to Arenal your first day, depends on your mode of transport. There's an Interbus transfer that leaves around 2:30. The Cano Negro is a wonderful tour with plentiful wildlife. Don't miss it!
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Old Apr 20th, 2009, 05:59 PM
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hip, I totally second that. We loved Cano Negro and the wildlife sightings were amazing. We got great pics there too.

We stayed at Fonda Vela in Monteverde in a new junior suite - it was big with a lot of light, very comfortable, had a bathtub, and a good restaurant on site. You might check it out. We saw tons of birds on the property including toucans. The price was reasonable.
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Old Apr 21st, 2009, 06:57 AM
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Everyone's recommendations have been terrific. Now I have another question. Would it be wise to try to leave Manuel Antonio in the morning to catch a 2 p.m. flight out of San Jose to go home. Is there any kind of shuttle bus service we can take early in the a.m.? Please advise. Thank you.
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