guide or not!

Old Apr 20th, 2005, 03:41 PM
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guide or not!

I posted a message earlier today asking about traveling in Costa Rica. I also wanted to ask about driving from one town to another. We speak very very VERY little Spanish! Will reading road signs along the way from one town to another be a problem for us? I have read that some people hire a guide. I thought that we would just be going to very popular spots and that the signs to those would be well marked. I would appreciate anyone's input! Would we be better off hiring a guide to go from Alajuela to Tamarindo and then from Tamarindo to the Arenal volcano area. From there we will go to LaPaz Waterfall Gardens before going back to Alajuela. I will appreciate anyone's advice about this! Thanks!
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Old Apr 20th, 2005, 10:33 PM
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Hello, the roads from Alajuela to Tamarindo is not problem. Take a road map and donīt leave the main roads than its easy to get to Tamarindo. But is itīs worth, you can also take a flight, public or Interbus and rent a car in Tamarindo, to explore the beaches. For Arenal is the same, some roads in the Montains are very bad. Let do the work drivers froms Interbus and rent a car in La Fortuna or explore the area with taxi.
costaklaus -

PS: Avoid to drive by night and by rain

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Old Apr 21st, 2005, 04:45 AM
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To hire a driver or not - We have done everything from driving ourselves, flying and hiring a driver - sometimes all in the same trip and enjoyed all.

It is truly a personal decision based upon what you want to experience and how soon you want to get there.

If you enjoy the freedom of driving and understand that it can be slow going at times, drive with caution, don't mind stopping and asking directions, have a good map and know what the road signs are telling you, then you should be fine driving.

Your guidebook and the Costa Rica Spanish Phrasebook by Lonely Planet have charts of the road signs - certainly get to know these, since road signs are in Spanish.

Not always are the roads well marked, my husband is the driver, I am the navigator, I watch for road signs and distances to the next turnoff, between the two of, we always get there. Yes, we have had to stop many times to ask directions.

The reasons we would hire a driver, would be when we have only a day or two to see a lot of country, or when we know we will be arriving tired and want to get several hours away from SJ that day. Having a driver affords you the opportunity to relax and look at the beautiful countryside, the driver points out interesting things that we may have missed, and we typically don't get lost.

Purchase a good map, we use the Berndtson & Berndtson.

One other thing I have that has helped me, since I too have very little Spanish speaking skills - Barron's sells a language study 2 tape and booklet set - called Getting by in Spanish for tourists.

So now I guess I have completed confused you! Have fun, which ever way your choose!
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Old Apr 21st, 2005, 07:16 AM
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It definitely is a personal decision, based on your comfort levels. You will get many different opinions and there are lots of posts about this on this board. Only you know what will work for you.

That being said, we hired a driver, and we are very happy we did. Here's why:
1) No stress about getting lost. You get to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Also, we didn't have to worry about driving after dark (which is 6pm in CR).
2) He pointed out things and stopped to show us things we never would have noticed on our own.
3) He told us so much about Costa Rican culture, economy, food, etc. during the drives.
4) He knew the good, inexpensive, local "sodas" where we could stop to eat.
5) He knew good places to shop.
6) He stayed with the car to "guard" our belongings when we stopped at certain attractions, like La Paz, Hanging Bridges, Tarcoles River, etc. We didn't have to worry about car break-ins.

These situations were specific to us, but definitely added to the value of our experience:
7) We were 5 people with luggage and may have been cramped in even the largest 4WD rental vehicle. His 9 passenger van was roomy, clean and comfortable.
8) When we left prescription sunglasses at one hotel, he was able to call the hotel, get the glasses and get one of his driver friends to bring them from Arenal to our new hotel 3 hours away.
9) On the day we were scheduled to leave, there was a massive truckers strike blocking all roads going into and out of San Jose. He knew some little-known dirt secondary roads (a 4-hour detour) and got us to our flight on time.
10) Family Harmony. A newlywed couple we met at Tabacon told us that they fought the whole time driving there from the airport, because they got so lost and were so stressed about it.

So, that's our story. Many people like the freedom of driving on their own. The roads aren't as bad as I expected, but the signage was not so great.

Whatever you choose, I'm sure you'll have a great time.
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Old Apr 21st, 2005, 09:09 AM
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Thank you all for your help and advice. Now I have another question! If we decide to get a do we go about that?...who do we contact, etc. The names of good guides or companies would be greatly appreciated.
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Old Apr 22nd, 2005, 07:57 AM
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Ditto what lvk says about driving. Have driven myself on 2 previous occasions and it can get stressfull. Count on making some wrong turns,etc. This time I have hired a driver for all segments, SJ to MA, MA to Arenal & Arenal to Peace Lodge. Taxi from PL to airport. Cost is reasonable compared to renting a car yourself. I say for 1st time get a driver. If you go back, then rent a car if you feel comfortable. Interbus or Fantasy Tours are another option for semi-private transportation(van with maybe 10 people max)

Call or email Ralph at Gaialink Tours. He can fix you up with anything you need ie; drivers, tours, hotels, etc. Excellent company and you can research on this site. Tons of great reviews and they have met my expectations 100%
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Old Apr 22nd, 2005, 06:21 PM
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I am an elderly single woman who has driven all over the mountain areas of CR in a rented car with no problem BUT I WILL NOT DRIVE IN SAN JOSE.It doesent matter how well you speak Spanish because there are No road signs and No street name signs. Use a guide/taxi for in city travel.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2005, 04:47 PM
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Thanks again to everyone who has responded to my original message. You have all been very helpful! For kampingkaren....I really liked your positive response! I have almost worried myself out of this trip because of all the info about bad roads in Costa Rica that I have read about! You said that you had driven all over the mountain you speak Spanish well? I'm sure that would be a big help to anyone! I would love to hear about some of your adventures! Thanks again to all!
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Old Apr 25th, 2005, 11:03 AM
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I also went with a driver - Juan Carlos from Green Tropical Tours- and thought it was great. Liked the fact that he could point out things that we would have missed - new the names of all the birds - we would have missed a lot without him and some of the roads were great but some were full of juge pot holes and boulders and I dont think I would have enjoyed the trip nearly as much if I'd had to drive myself.
we were glad we did it
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