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Help- Confused Costa Rica Newbie

Old Mar 25th, 2007, 02:52 PM
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Help- Confused Costa Rica Newbie

I'm hoping to get some itinerary help. My husband & I (early 30s) are planning an April trip. I've read most posts back to '04 but I'm confused about the lay of the land & getting from point A to point B. Where would you go if you had only 6 days? What would you skip? We don't want to do too much moving around in that short of a time, but don't want to miss any highlights either. I'm assuming we should fly into and out of San Juan? Any help is appreciated! Thanks.
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Old Mar 25th, 2007, 04:51 PM
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First off, if you want to see Costa Rica, don't fly in to San Juan - but San Jose! (My husband also kept referring to San Jose as San Juan from trip planning until the day we left.)

I recently returned from a 10 day trip to CR. It was kind of our first trip there and we covered a lot of ground: Manuel Antonio, Arenal, Monteverde and Samara. A lot of driving around but it worked for us. Some days were activity days and some were do nothing but relax days. It depends on your interests, but with 6 days I think you can easily cover 2 different places as long as it is not more than a 4-5 hour drive between them or if flying works to your advantage.
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Old Mar 26th, 2007, 04:00 AM
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I assume you are talking THIS April. If you are going before Easter, you will probably have a very hard time getting rooms. The areas that you would go is going to be dependent on room availability. After Easter you might have a slightly better chance - but book ASAP.

For people to give you good advice, having some more information will be helpful. Do you want beach or mountains? Active (like hiking) or relaxing? Are you comfortable driving in a foreign country? What kind of $ range are you thinking for lodging per night.

You are not even going to come close to see all the highlights of Costa Rica in 6 days (you will definitely miss some of the highlights - you will need to choose). Each day you transfer to a new place you loose most of the day (by the time you pack up, drive and/or fly, check-in, get settled - it's the afternoon).

Personally, I would pick one place to go and explore for 4 days - get to know an area - Arenal or Manuel Antonio or Nicoya or Osa and then 2 days in the Central Valley at the end. The 2 days could be a rafting trip down the Pacaure (a true "pura vida" experience) if you are the adventurous type or seeing the typical sights in Central Valley.

Good Luck!
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Old Mar 26th, 2007, 04:41 PM
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locolowe makes some good points; if you provide a little more info on what sort of activities and budget you are interested in, you'll probably get some good feedback.

My first trip to CR was 7 nights in duration. We visited Arenal, Manuel Antonio and managed to fit a little side trip in to La Paz Waterfall Gardens and the Peace Lodge. There is a bit of driving between each destination, but we enjoyed seeing the countryside and considered that as part of the adventure. We absolutely loved each place we visit. Each was beautiful and special in its own way. I thought it was a terrific 'first timer's' itinerary.

There is a fairly dizzying array of destinations to choose from, so look at the things that make CR an attractive destination to you and then share your interests on the board for more specific suggestions from the fodors community.

Happy travels!

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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 11:56 AM
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Thank you all. Yes, there is a dizzying array of choices. We're planning for late April. I was in contact with the Heart of Costarica package owner (Neta), but she hasn't gotten back to me as of yet with an itinerary as she said she would, so I'm getting a bit nervous b/c we're getting so close to departure. I don't have any hotels booked yet. I think I should explore other tour packages/guides in case the Heart of Costa Rica one doesn't pan out. Any references that others on the board have used? Thanks!
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 01:36 PM
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If you are a somewhat seasoned traveler, I don't think you need to book a package for CR. You can do it all on your own. If it makes you feel better, I planned our 10 day trip in about 1 months time and was able to book great accommodations in advance. My feeling is you will usually find someplace to stay, it might not be your first choice, but unless it's a holiday or something major in a town, it's rare to be totally stranded without a bed.

First thing is you just have to figure out where you want to go and then you have a starting point... but it seems you don't have tickets yet to have dates to work from.
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 02:09 PM
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Making your own arrangements for that short of a trip will be very easy. Two places should be the max for that amount of time. I am assuming that you have a travel day on either end of those 6 days? Don't despair about not being able to see it all, it will just mean you have to come back! By the end of April school breaks and Easter will be over and there will be more places with rooms available.

Check out Arenal.net for a good idea of many of the hotels offered in the La Fortuna area. Contact the hotels yourself. Plenty to keep you busy for a couple of days there. Manuel Antonio isn't my favorite place but it is a good place for a first timer. Plenty to see and do there as well. Plenty of wildlife if seeing monkeys is on your list. There are plenty of private drivers and taxis to get you where you need to go. In country flights make things even quicker If you can get a good schedule without having to stay in San Jose or near the airport coming or going, all the better. How do your arrival and departure times work out? Those times will make a huge difference. You could take Interbus between Arenal and Manuel Antonio to save a little money.

If scheduling around some tough arrival and departure times you could just plan on a couple of days near the aiport when you arrive at one of the nicer places like vista del Valle Plantation or even a fun place like Orquideas Inn. Both of those places have drivers on the grounds that can pick you up at the airport and also take you on tours during the couple of days you might be there and then take you to either Arenal or Manuel Antonio.

Just say the word and you will have a whole list of drivers to choose from if you want to go that way. If you get in by 1:30-2pm you can get someplace like Arenal or Manuel Antonio and get the vacation going. You can just take a taxi from the airport to Arenal if there is some daylight left. I know of several people that have done that. It is about a 2 1/2-3 hr trip depending on traffic. Going to Manuel Antonio would be about the same. Set up a price at the taxi stand if possible or at the very least with the driver before getting in the taxi. Some of the higher end places will help set up drivers for you.

Don't get nervous, we are all here to help and Costa Rica is a pretty user friendly place.

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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 05:28 PM
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Thanks for everyone's tips. We'll be arriving on 4/17 at 8pm (we can change it so we arrive at 1pm- it would just require some rushing around on our part the day before and a bit less sleep since we will be out of town and just arriving home on 4/16 but we can do it if you all think it will make a huge difference to get there at 1pm). We fly out on 4/24 around noon. Can someone please recommend some good tour companies to work with? We tried the Heart of Costa Rica package which is mentioned on this board, but they don't seem to be responding. Thank you!
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 05:31 PM
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I just re-read all of the replies and see that many of you are suggesting we do it without a tour group. I guess I will look into that more seriously. I always thought CR was one of those places where it was better to go with a tour package. Ok, thanks. Any more info is always welcome!
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 05:53 PM
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You can do it that way, sure. There are some good packages. You can hire someone like Pat Hewitt to put together an itinerary for you and make the arrangements.

www.lovecostarica.com

You can purchase a prepared package, and there are some good ones. One that I know is outstanding (because I know the care and integrity of the ladies who manage the package) is Heart of Costa Rica.


www.costaricapackage.com

It is one of the best deals I've come across for those who want something planned for them. You can customize it a bit if you'd like. Check out the website. It's like "the best of Costa Rica". The price makes it a good value.

That said, you can certainly put your own itinerary together and make your own reservations. Lot of us do it all the time, and it really is no big deal. Just plan your route (with a little Fodor advice perhaps) and e-mail your contacts! Keep a folder for print outs and pieces of in that you gather along the way. It's fun to do it yourself, if that appeals to you!

Good luck!

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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 05:54 PM
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Sorry, meant to say "pieces of info". . .
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 06:37 PM
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Hi shillmac,

Reading back through the thread, it looks like kiki1 has tried to get info on the Heart of Costa Rica tour, but hasn't had much luck getting a response. Any insight on Neta's typical turnaround time with responses? You always speak highly of her on the boards, and I don't doubt she does a great job putting itineraries together.

Kiki,

I just started working with Pat Hewitt to see if he could help me take care of details for my trip later this year. He's been very nice and responsive. Shillmac included a link to his site above. I'm not doing a 'formal' package tour. I picked locations and even hotels that I was interested in and he's making the arrangements (which is great for me because my life is a bit hectic at the moment!).

Last year I used Tico Travel for the same sort of assistance.

http://www.ticotravel.com/

They did a nice job for me and responded promptly to my requests and questions. I would use them again.

Pat seems to work with a larger selection of hotels which is one of the reasons I decided to give him a try this year (that, and I had also read the positive recommendations of his services by other posters here).

I agree with other posters that it's no big deal to make your own arrangements; just takes a bit more investment of time for research and locking in the details. Just depends on what you are most comfortable with!

Good luck finalizing your plans and have a wonderful time on your trip!
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Old Mar 27th, 2007, 08:25 PM
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I have been acquainted with Pat Hewitt for many many years on the Costa Rica travel forums. There are at least 4 or 5 of us here on Fodors that were on another board with him for several years before coming over here.

He started out in 1992 so comes with years of experience. Here is another web site of his. The information is more current than the love costa rica and costa rica travel exchange sites. None of his sites seem to have any update dates. Don't know if he still has the concierge service or not. Pat????
http://www.truecostarica.com/meet.html

He specializes in custom trips not package trips so you do get it your way.
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 01:03 AM
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Thanks, cmerrell, I had overlooked that part of the thread. And kiki1--don't worry--she'll get back to you.

She has been in the process of moving from Israel to Canada. They have just gotten settled in. She's been doing some bookings for me as well and I know that she has just started back up with that after having me on hold for about 3 weeks.

Working with her is Liseth from Las Orquideas. Together they make a great team, and you don't have to worry about whether the package "will happen" or not--it will. It's just the two of them operating it.

Don't give up, drop her another e-mail and let her know you are concerned. She'll get right back to you, I think. She did me.

The thing about Heart of Costa Rica package is the value. It definitely is a lot of bang for the buck. Good lcoations, good hotels. You can upgrade if you'd like (that is, customize it to fit your needs). I've compared what it would cost us to go to CR, stay at similar hotels, do the car rental, transfers, whatever is on the package and it really does offer a good value and someone else doing the leg work. All hotels are excellent choices, a nice variety, and a good round up of the country in general. At that website (www.costaricapackage.com), they offer more than one package now, I believe.

Thanks for the heads-up, cmerrell. I stay in touch with Neta constantly (every week or so) as she is a good friend. Hoping to visit them in Canada in October (after the birth of their first child).
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 04:19 AM
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kiki - you said that you are arriving into San Jose at 8pm or you could be rushing around and get in at 1pm. I personally would vote for not being rushed starting your vacation because you will probably want to cram alot in on your week.

I vote for you to keep with the 8pm arrival and stay at Orquideas Inn your first night (www.orquideasinn.com) - you are about 10min from the airport and they have a hot tub by the pool that you can soak your travel stresses away. Have a great full breakfast in the morning and then go to Arenal stopping by La Paz for a bit. Work with the tour company associated with Orquideas Inn (www.emotionguaranteed.com) and they will drive you to your next location (and stay with your luggage at LaPaz). Ask for Luis - he was absolutely fabulous, about your age (just got married), speaks excellent English and very friendly.

Then go to Manuel Antonio for a couple of days.

With a noon departure, you are going to want to get there around 9:30am which means you could drive from MA leaving like 6am. Or on your next to last day drive from MA to Orquideas Inn and stop by Mahongany Park for a canopy zipline tour (www.canopytour.com) or TuruBari Tropical Park (www.turubari.com).

Orquideas Inn has a shuttle for $10 (1-4 people) to/from the airport.

If you have the time, you can easily build your own trip.
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 04:59 AM
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kiki - You have already gotten good advice, so I am just chiming in on a few of the points.

First - don't stress over missing highlights - it is totally impossible to hit all the highlights in 6 days. It is totally impossible to hit all the highlights in 4 different trips of 6 days! Thus the reason that you constantly read that so many of us continue to go back again and again. It seems the list of highlights grows and grows!

The MA/Arenal split is a very good choice for a first visit to CR. It is yes the most popular choice, but has good reason. Active volcanoes, rainforest hiking, river trips, waterfalls, ocean adventures, horseback riding, etc. etc. These two destinations will afford you tremendous opportunities to be as active or as relaxed as you please.

About Pat Hewitt - the major difference between using someone like Pat and a package deal-----Pat actually asks you "what you want" and taylors the trip to your needs, wishes, schedule and budget. Whereas a package trip is all preplanned with little to no opportunity to be flexible or choosey. We have done both and I must say the trips that were planned by Pat or own our own were the most enjoyable.

Emotions Guaranteed (Wady Tours as I know them) has excellent drivers. We used Carlos a couple years back and was thrilled!

I vote - try to get in in time to get to Arenal - stay 3 nights. Then over to MA for another 3 nights. Then your final night at Orchideas Inn.

If you do not want to research all the hotels and do the contact - then call Pat and ask him to do it. There is no additional charge from Pat for his services.
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 05:41 AM
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dfarmer is correct the name of the company is known as "Wady Tours" and as "Aventuras Turisticas Zamar" same people out of Orquideas Inn and the www.emotionguaranteed.com is their independent website.
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 08:43 AM
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I can't believe all of the helpful advice I have received from this question. Thank you all so much. I've posted questions on here before and received good tips, but you guys are the best!

I emailed Neta again and am still awaiting a response. I'm a bit worried b/c our trip is right around the corner and as far as I know, nothing is booked. I'm hoping to hear from her soon b/c she does sound wonderful. I'll give her another day (Shillmac sounds so confident in her I don't want to give up just yet!) before I contact Pat, who also sounds great. I feel much more confident now in planning this trip, thanks to all of you!
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 09:04 AM
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Ok, I heard back from Neta. Seems that she sent me an email yesterday, which I never received. She has 2 possible itineraries for us. Option 2 will allow us 3 nights in Manuel Antonio, but only one in AmaTierra, and Option 1 will allow us 2 nights in each location. Thoughts? Thank you (again) for all this invaluable advice!
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Old Mar 28th, 2007, 01:23 PM
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Are you also going to get to go to Arenal somehow? Arenal is a huge highlight in CR as is Manuel Antonio for many people. Those two places are usually on the top of the list for first timers and Arenal is an enjoyable repeat place for me because of all of the things to do. I see that Arenal Paraiso is one of three hotels offered in this package. It is a nice enough place to stay.

To really be able to make a good decision on where you want to go you need to really find out what is available to do in each place and pick some priorities.

Arenal...hiking on a lava bed and seeing a live volcano, white water rafting, Cano Negro, hiking down to the base of a waterfall, hanging bridges, hot springs, waterfall rapelling, horseback riding, zip lines, tram ride. Enough to keep you busy for several days even if the volcano is clouded over.

Manuel Antonio, kayaking, hiking in the park to see anteaters, monkeys, iguanas, coatis and much more, sunset cruise, pretty beach, white water rafting, horseback riding, surfing, deep sea fishing.

Ama Tierra sounds like a very peaceful place to stop and relax. You can go to Turubari park (haven't seen much in the way of reviews lately. It seems to have fallen off the radar) and see some pretty rainforest and do a zip line, Carara nature reserve isn't too far. You can do a day trip to Arenal but the amount of driving involved will limit what you can see and do while there. I would look at their web site to find out what else is available.

Once you have seen all of your options it should be easy to pick the two places you really want to stay in.
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