First trip to Costa Rica

Old Sep 7th, 2006, 03:17 PM
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First trip to Costa Rica

I'm going to plan a trip to Costa Rica, just my first day into this. I went to AAA today and the travel agent said that Jaco Beach Tabacon Hot Springs, Monteverde and Tortuguero were the places to go. Wanted opinions out there, if we take 10 days is that too many places to see? I'm thinking we should rent a car but heard the roads were rough. The hotels AAA gave me seem expensive, I thought Costa Rica was suppose to be cheap. Does anyone have a good itinerary with hotels they stayed at I could use as an example? At this time anything would help.
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Old Sep 7th, 2006, 03:26 PM
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I would NOT recommend Jaco Beach. DIrty, drugs, tattoo parlors. Not impressed. Think Manuel Antonio is nicer.
Tabacon Hot Springs was nice, but pricey.
Monteverde--depends on what you want. Are you into plants?
We went
San Jose to Arenal--loved it! Stayed at Lomas del volcan--was nice. Not too much to do there--the pool wasn't finished when we were there. Not close to town. Drove to Rio Canos (?) and had a nice day trip on the river
Arenal to Monteverde--stayed at El Establo--nice rooms, a big place, far from town.
In Monteverde the ziplines were awesome.
Went near Jaco--stayed at Punta leona--very isolated--wouldn't recommend it.

Like I said, I did not enjoy Jaco. It was the only place they openly tried to rip us off and we were offered drugs. Left a bad taste in my mouth...
LOVED Arenal. Would return there tomorrow!!!!
(By the way, we were there 9 days--1 night SJO, 2 in Arenal, 2 in MOnteverde, 2 in Jaco , 1 in SJO.)

There are some REAL CR experts who will help you!!
plmrod is offline  
Old Sep 7th, 2006, 04:27 PM
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I would've asked how many times that AAA agent had been to CR. You can do CR cheaply or spend lots of bucks, it's up to you. Personally I think that's too many places with only 10 days. Many first timers do the Arenal & Manuel Antonio route for the first trip. Don't forget you usually have to spend first & last nights near the airport. What are you interested in seeing/doing and an approx. budget? That will help give you advice & recs.
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Old Sep 7th, 2006, 08:06 PM
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Though I have not been, folks rave about the Osa peninsula as the ultimate Costa Rica rainforest experience. The transportation to get there seems to be domestic flights from SanJose only. The lodging is higher and all inclusive, since it is so remote. Worth considering a 3-4 day stay and the rest of the time up by Arenal/Monteverde.

North at Arenal for 1/2 time and south to Manuel Antonio is a good sampler trip.

The beaches of Nicoya are many if you want beach time. I would avoid Tamarindo since it sounds too built up and touristy. Nosara is my favorite, not much there, just enough great cuisine, wide range of lodging choices, waves for surfing, swimmable too. I read the beach south at Samara has calmer water better suited for swimmers/children. I think Samara has more in the way of hotels and more visible building than Nosara.

I agree with the previous poster-do not go to Jaco. We drove through and know some young girls who spent their week there and hated it. What a shame that was their only impression of CR.

I also try to avoid San Jose, I'm not going there for a city, and driving in and out is tough. The Liberia airport is a breeze.

The roads are tough but not impossible. We really enjoyed the freedom of a rental 4x4. There are potholes, lots of dirt roads, and where we were a river to cross 4 times to reach our destination. It was early Dec., end of the rainy season, last year and the water was about knee deep.

The most dangerous thing we noted were many "wash-outs" along the right side. One tire over the edge and you'd be upside down in the ditch, brush, stream, or whatever was down there! It was hard on my husband cause he wanted to sightsee, it's hard not to look around at the beautiful landscape as you drive.

Decide what you want to do and see, ie, beaches, volcano, animals, get a book and make your own trip up!
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 03:11 AM
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LOL.... I too wonder how many times that travel has been to Costa Rica....

One good thing - if travel agents keep sending folks to places like Jaco then there will be fewer tourists in the wonderful places many of us visit.

cheers

Jerry
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 04:56 AM
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I stayed at La Colina in Manuel Antonio about 18 months ago. The hotel was clean and very inexpensive. Breakfast was included, the food was good and it cost $60/day for both me and my husband. The only negative was the room we stayed in was too close to the street and there was a lot of noise at night. We booked a trip only four weeks in advance so there were not a lot of choices for the month of February.

Jaco is really a huge surfer's paradise from what I hear. We stopped there for ice cream and to see the town on our way back from Carrara National Park. We really enjoyed our hike at Carrara with a paid guide to view birds and other wildlife. It was one of the best we've done.

Arenal is a definite "must see" in my opinion. Stayed at the Lost Iguana this past February. Loved it. I didn't care for the Tabacon hot springs as they were very crowded. The La Fortuna Waterfall is a nice easy hike but a lot of stairs. It was worth it. On a previous visit, we did a waterfall hike near Tarcoles which Fodor's did not recommend for the "inexperienced hiker." Too bad the hubby didn't believe the book. We saw some beautiful things but I would never do that again.
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 08:30 AM
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definitely skip Jaco, manuel antonio is the best 'beach resort' near to san jose.

http://costa.rica.typepad.com/manuel...ome/index.html

i think Tabacon is way overpriced,go to the springs at eco thermales, you should stay at Arenal Lodge or stay in somewwhere cheap in la fortuna and spend the money on tours- i recommend cano negra- and restaurants:

http://costa.rica.typepad.com/la_for...ome/index.html
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 09:47 AM
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Like I said, I don't know anything about CR but after reading these comments I know to stay away from Jaco. Plmrod, you say there are some real CR epxerts to help, where are they?

So, what would be the best itinerary, 3 days in Arenal, 2 in Monterverde and 2maybe 2 in Manuel Antonio, 2 days would be travel. I picked 10 days but I can make it more days or less days, I'm trying to get a feet here.

We love the rain forest and beautiful beaches but the beach I can get anywhere. Hiking, river, nature, I don't know, we love all that. Appreciate your help.
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 11:05 AM
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There are so many things to do around Arenal and Manuel Antonio that you could probably fill your time up there if you have to allow 2 travel days coming and going from the country.

Tortuguero would really round out your visit with a very different experience if you could add a couple of days. A wonderful place to see nature. Another option for a different view of things would be Drake Bay or the Puerto Jimenez area.

So many of the more northern beach resort areas have so much building going on that I don't know how pleasant it would be. Possibly someone who has been there recently will chime in on that. A quieter place that is very nice is Hotel Sugar Beach. From the Guanacaste area beaches you can easily do a day trip over to Rincon de la vieja volcano area.

Tabacon is way overpriced and the hot springs can be very crowded. It is a beautiful setting though and if you can stand the crowd for just the hot springs for one visit anyway it might be worth it. Depends on how busy it really is. There are plenty of reasonable hotels and some even have shuttles to Tabacon hot springs. Arenal.net has a great listing of hotels and things to do. For the things to do list there are other options for doing those that might cut a few dollars off but we can fine tune things when you get then narrowed down.

As you are just beginning your research I am just going to give you some ideas of places and you can say yes or no after you have looked them over. We all have opinions on what we like but it is your vacation.

Costa Rica is loosing its grip on being a cheap place to go but there are still places that are reasonable and most budgets can be accomodated. You might have to stay in Quepos for instance which is just up the road from Manuel Antonio instead of one of the more expensive hotels.

Tortuguero- most of the sight seeing is by boat. Tons of nature to see-2days is plenty.

Arenal-so many things, canopy, hanging bridges, hiking, white water rafting, Cano Negro is another option and is more like Tortuguero in that you do your viewing from a boat. Waterfalls, hot springs and more.

Guanacaste-Rincon de la Vieja is my favorite place to visit up there but there are the usual things found elsewhere. Most people stay at the beach and do a day trip to Rincon but you can stay at those hotels.

Manuel Antonio-horseback riding, kayaking, sunset cruises, hiking, monkeys everywhere, surfing, white water rafting

Dominical,Uvita area- you can visit Ballena marine reserve and hopefully see whales.

Drake Bay-swim with the Dolphins, snorkeling/diving, hiking in Corcovado park, kayaking.

Puerto Jimenez-beach, horseback riding, birds, swim with the dolphins. (my favorite area of the country). Just up the road is Cabo Matapalo-things are pretty expensive here but the wildlife is wonderful.

For a 10-12 day trip 3 destinations is probably enough unless you like spending a lot of time on the road. Costa Rica may be small but it takes time to get anywhere. Someplaces are better accessed by air because of the time needed by other means. Tortugero is a good example although you could fly in and boat/bus/driver out.

You could fly to Tortuguero, take a boat and use a driver to get to Arenal, from Arenal you could bus/drive to Manuel Antonio.

Short of writing a book here you could help us help you by really letting us know what your interests are. We know for starters that you like nature and that the beach isn't that important. Do you have your heart set on seeing turtles, are you active and want to do things like white water rafting. The tours are where the money is going to really disappear. Manuel Antonio is considered a beach destination but has tons of wildlife-does this interest you in spite of your beach comment. What time of year? CR is small but it has so many different climates. The north is hot and dry most of the year, the Caribbean side is pretty wet most of the year but has an interesting Jamaican feel to it. Those places as well as others do have exceptions. The Caribe area is actually drier during Sept and Oct.




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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 01:46 PM
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This is helping, I don't want this trip to be stressful so it looks as if I should split my time between Manuel Antonio and the Arenal area.

I don't want to give a negative opinion about the beach, me and my husband love the beach and its beauty, its just that I live in Laguna Beach,CA. I just didn't want to go to CR and sit by the beach for a whole week but it looks like Manuel Antonio has a lot of nature for us to observe and lots to do. I'd love to see the turtles, monkeys, everything.

Do we like white river rafting, well, we went years ago and that was enough for me, nothing over a class II. Do they have just calm river riding, I'm being a sissy.

Should I also skip Monteverde, it looks close to the Arenal area on the map but I'm sure the map is deceiving.

Is it better to try to get a package for the hotel, flight and car for these 2 areas or better to just do it myself. I know sometimes travel agencies have better pricing than the private individual.

We were planning on going around the month of April.
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 01:50 PM
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Monteverde might look close, but nothing is close in Cr due to the roads. It is probably 3-4 hours.
I think you can do a lot of the planning yourself, but others might have done a package.
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Old Sep 8th, 2006, 10:44 PM
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suze1,
Our daughter lived just up the road from you (PCH 1) at Corona del Mar for about a year. We LOVED visiting Laguna Beach when we were in that area. Fabulous town--and there is a restaurant (is it Splash?), I think, where our son in law (now) proposed. . .

Anyway, sounds like you are getting good help in your planning! Definitely spend a few days at Arenal. So much to do there! And Tortuguero would really offer you something a little different--definitely not your typical beach experience, although you'll be very near a pretty beach--just not the swimmable water here! You'll be more captivated by the rivers and canals anyway. . .and the turtles, if you could time your visit between July and October. . .

Good luck to you--it's always reassuring to know that, no matter where your planning takes you, any visit to Costa Rica is going to be a memorable, WOW experience!
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Old Sep 9th, 2006, 09:52 AM
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Glad we are starting to connect on what you are looking for. I am repeating myself but think it will be easier for you to see the full picture in one reply rather than having to bounce around to put it all together.

You have a couple of options other than Tortuguero if you would like to just take a nice slow ride to see wildlife. Both of these options can be done from Arenal area. One is Cano Negro up by the Nicaraguan border and is a popular tour. The other would be on the Sarapiqui river (see this option later in this reply) which would give you a look at some rainforest on the Caribbean slope. A stop for lunch at Selva Verde and a walk through their private rainforest would be very interesting. This would give you a look at cloud forest in Arenal, rainforest in Sarapiqui, and coastal rainforest in Manuel Antonio. A pretty good look at some of the many of the microclimates CR has.

Day 1 arrival -hopefuly early enough (by 1 or 2pm) so you can get on your way. It is about a 2 1/2-3 hr drive to Arenal from the airport. Roads are fine. It can get foggy and is definitely twisty and winding as you go up through San Ramon but you will go back down as you get closer to La Fortuna. From what I saw last week when we went through there the signs are good so you shouldn't have any trouble finding your way. La Fortuna/Arenal is one of the very few places that you won't have trouble driving in at night. Most places I don't recommend it but if you do get there a little after dark you shouldn't have any problems unless you are staying at one of the hotels up in the mountains. Those are on unpaved roads off the main road.

If you need a hotel near the airport there are a couple of good B&B's. Vida Tropical and Villa Bonita always get good reviews. For something a little larger Pura Vida Hotel, Orquideas Inn...both good reviews as well. There is also a Garden Court (Hampton Inn) right down the street from the airport.

Days 2,3,4 (possibly 1st day)
Arenal....so many choices. After looking at some of them on Arenal.net I would put out some inquiries on the travel board for personal reviews on the ones that interest you. I have stayed at the Observatory Lodge and Arenal Paraiso. I will say that the Paraiso has the better view of the lava at this time but it could change by next April.

Day 5
Transfer to Manuel Antonio. Plan on about a 5 hr drive. Roads are pretty good. Steve and Lisas is a good place to stop for lunch on the way. First time we stopped there was 14 years ago and the road wasn't paved so it looked like an Oasis to us. We will always have fond memories of it.

Days 6,7,8
Manuel Antonio, It has been awhile since I have stayed there so you would be better off with fresher ideas on places to stay. We have driven around there a couple of times recently just to see how it is looking now but then we go on our way. We have been traveling to CR for over 14 years now and are still trying to see new places all the time. Some places just don't interest us enough to return to. Manuel Antonio is good for a first timer but being birders we prefer the road less traveled.
Plenty of things to do such as horseback riding (Finca Valmy), kayaking in the mangroves where the monkeys will often come right down to the boats, hiking in the park, sunsets.

My recommendation here would be to leave after lunch on the 8th to head back to San Jose. There are some interesting things to see from there that you might enjoy. Again, we are just fishing.

Day 9
From San Jose you can sign up the night before for a full day of adventure seeing some of the things I have mentioned from Arenal, thereby giving you the option to skip them in Arenal so you can do other things or leave Arenal a day early so you have more time in Manuel Antonio. There are tours that will take you to Doka Coffee plantation for breakfast, to Poas Volcano, to La Paz Waterfall Gardens and then over to the Sarapiqui for wildlife viewing by slow boat all in one day. The Highlight tour does not take you into the waterfall gardens but you do stop on the road so you can look at La Paz waterfall and they are well worth the time to go in. There is another tour called the 4 in 1 that does. Your hotel should know who to call for the one you want.

The most important thing to do is relax and enjoy the journey. I have as much fun planning my next trip as I do taking it. Almost more because once I am there it is almost over.

You will not see everything but you will enjoy what you see. There is no right or wrong trip to take because this is your trip and we want you to do what you enjoy not necessarily what we enjoy.



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Old Sep 12th, 2006, 02:33 PM
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Suzie2, thanks so much for all your great information. I wondered if we should have a driver pick us up to take us to the Arenal area but it sounds as if driving will be easy. I was told the Echo Lodge would be a great place to stay but when I look on the web I can't find it, wonder if I was given a wrong name.
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Old Sep 12th, 2006, 04:50 PM
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suze1,
Try www.ecolodgecostarica.com
Also, you might plan on that drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio taking closer to 6, even 7 hours, depending on stops. I mention this not to be nitpicking, but because you want to be sure and arrive MA before dark--and you'll want to stop for a meal, a restroom break, perhaps to view the crocs at the Rio Tarcoles. Just before you get to Manuel Antonio, there are a couple of "oh-no" bridges. Best traversed in daylight!

A good Manuel Antonio expert (because she lives there) is Lisa, whose e-mail address is:

[email protected]
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