Help -- some basic questions about Costa Rica

Old Feb 4th, 2007, 08:18 AM
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Help -- some basic questions about Costa Rica

People in the Europe forum get really annoyed by these types of basic questions but I'm going to give it a shot... I've never traveled S. of the U.S. border but due to a fare sale, I'm going to Costa Rica with my sister and her family.

1. I thougnt the airport SJO was in San Jose but it appears to be at the Northern tip of the country?

2. We're going in mid-May which I've learned is rainy season -- do I still have time to book popular accomodations since it's low season? Do I need to rush to book something in the next week?

3. Are there excellent snorkeling opportunities in CR -- or is it better to focus on other activities like hiking and seeing what's unique to CR?

4. Staying in the volcano sounds kind of neat although sister's family just got back from the big island and i think they saw a lot of flowing lava. What else is in that area?

5. We only have 9 nights -- if possible I'd like to fit in whitewater rafting, easier hiking/touring of CR's rain forests, snorkeling or beach time. Is there a particular area I should head to for these activities? Or are they possible in most coastal areas? I'm confused by all the different sections that people refer to in their posts.

6. I obviously need to buy a guidebook since I'm still unclear about even the basic layout of the country -- any favorites?
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Old Feb 4th, 2007, 10:24 AM
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Hi Fishee,

There are two airports I'm aware of that receive international flights into the country: SJO which is just a short distance NW of San Jose in the city of Alajuela, and Liberia airport which is located in the NW part of the country in the province of Guanacaste (which I think is what you are referring to in your 1st question). I saw your post the other day about the great airfare you were able to purchase. Surely, you must be flying into SJO, rather than into Liberia?

I've only recently returned from my first trip to CR, so can't help you with questions about pre-booking stuff for May. Hopefully, others will offer input.

CR is not considered a top snorkeling destination although there are places where you can snorkel. By all accounts its not as exciting as you would find in Belize or the caribbean islands. What CR does have is stunningly beautiful scenery, amazing and plentiful wildlife (sloths, monkeys, coatis, iguanas, and numerous bird species...just to name a few), and really nice people.

If you are thinking of visiting the Arenal volcano area, there are lots of things to do there: Cano Negro wildlife refuge tour, soak in the hot springs, hike down to the waterfall, do a canopy zipline tour, visit the hanging bridges, explore a cave...probably more to do than you can possibly have time for.

I have not gone white water rafting there, but do a search on rio pacuare, rio sarapiqui and rio reventazon, and you should find all sorts of info.

A good itinerary for first time visitors includes Arenal (about 3-ish hours north of San Jose) and Manuel Antonio (about 3-ish hours SW of San Jose on the Pacific coast; about 6-ish hours from Arenal). This provides a nice mix of mountains, volcano and beach. This was the itinerary we selected and we loved it!

Sounds like you really do need to start reading and look at some maps to familiarize yourself with the country a little bit. I primarily used the Lonely Planet Guidebook and this site for my research. I also visited Frommers' site and read a lot of reviews of hotels I was interested in on Trip Advisor.

Hope this helps. Happy trip planning!
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Old Feb 4th, 2007, 11:16 AM
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fishebee:We are just starting to plan our trip too..but we are going in
Dec. for 14 nights.
Try arenal.net for tour ideas in Arenal that is 3 hours drive from SJO(San Jose airport) BUT we also have been cautionned to book DIRECTLY with tour companies. Also, this website gives a great map to understand the location of hotels AND activities. We are booking a bilingual, private Drive/guide to ease any stress as the roads are perhaps out of our comfort zone(we do not speak a word of spanish!!!) If you are interested in drivers...I can share our results.
We are also booking a 3 Day river rafting with Rio Tropicales(it's cheaper than the Aventure Naturales by $100 each!!)..booking again DIRECTLY. We get picked up and dropped off in San Jose!

This forum is great for info.

Happy Trails!
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Old Feb 4th, 2007, 11:30 AM
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fishee,
I second cmerrell's suggestions for the Arenal and Manuel Antonio areas for 1st time visitors. This would be just perfect for the length of time you have. Try 2-3 days near the airport (or in San Jose) at the start or finish of your trip--during this time you can see part of the central valley (full of hidden treasures!) as well as raft the Pacuare (one day OR overnight options).

After that, head to Arenal for 3 nights. It's about 2-5-3 hour drive from the airport area. From there on to Manuel Antonio (about 6 hours) for 3 nights. Then back to the airport the night before or the morning of your departure. 3 hours on the return to SJO area.

The airport is located about 20 minutes west of the city in the town of Alajuela (capital city of Alajuela province). If you do the rafting, the outfitters will want to pick you up at a SJO hotel, such as the Hotel Don Carlos or Grano de Oro (both good choices, the Don Carlos a little more economical).

You do need to get a guide book; however, those of us who have been frequently CR for years (or even just once) can be a lot of help as well. The reason you hear about so many areas is because there are like 12 different life zones down there. It is very diverse. There's rainforest, cloud forest (very different), beach areas, the canals of Tortuguero, the grasslands of Guanacaste. And every area is distinctly different. Those who travel there frequently (and post on this forum) have been to a lot of different areas--and every one of them is exciting and unique. But for first times, the probably 2 biggest WOW areas (and offering the most of what you'd like to see and do) are Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Lots of wildlife both areas. THAT makes it different from Hawaii--or just about anyplace else.

Additionally, you'll find the people to be genuine, warm, friendly, hospitable, etc. Very gracious. They are the most wonderful natural resource, of course. But the flora and fauna--everywhere you look--is simply breathtaking! Good luck and enjoy!
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Old Feb 4th, 2007, 02:24 PM
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Great, this is exactly the kind of info I was hoping for -- thanks so much everyone, this is really helpful.

I'll definitely stick with Arenal and Manuel Antonio as our 2 main areas. I'll check to see if the Peace Lodge and Almond Coral are in those areas. We may forego snorkeling if it's not one of CR's more spectacular offerings. The ocean will be warm enough to swim in during mid-May? Sorry, I'm totally clueless about Central America/Latin America.

Thanks again! I'm excited about the trip, sounds like a beautiful and amazing country. My sister is an enviormental scientist so she'll really appreciate the eco-friendly ethos.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 02:17 AM
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Neither Peace Lodge nor Almonds and Corals are in the MA/ Arenal areas, but Peace Lodge is just over an hours drive from San Jose airport.



cheers

Jerry
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 07:52 AM
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I posted this for someone else who asked about rafting. This company was great and I can't say enough good things about the experience I had (as well as my friends).


Author: kdlcosta
Date: 01/25/2007, 05:59 pm
Went white water rafting today - absolutely one of the best days I've had in CR - and I've lived here 5 years. The company we used is Rios Tropicales - 506-777-4092 and the brochure says they have a web site at www.h2ocr.com. The guide we had is Arturo - which is part owner. 7 of us went, 4 women 3 men. Each of the guides were great, 3 rafts flipped and the guides were just great at recovering quickly. Absolutely georgous canyons / falls / river. I don't know the others as this was my first experience, but I'm addicted!

Have fun with whomever you choose - just do it!



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 08:40 AM
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thanks for the heads up about location.

I looked into Si Como No which appears to be in the Arenal and MA area and a Deluxe room is available for our dates.

I have a question about "feel" -- Si Como No looks very "resort-ish" as opposed to the tent lodging style of Almond Coral. I like interesting accomodations but don't like places that feel too insular in a high-end resort sort of way. Does that make sense?

For instance, in Jamaica, I really like Catch a Falling Star on the Negril cliffs, and in Maui we always rent a birdhouse looking duplex in Hana. The lodging ends up being fairly expensive yet the places don't have pretensions -- does that make sense?

Any insights into the "feel" or vibe of Si Como No?

Also, I don't have kids but doe anyone know if it's safe to take a 7 yr old boy white water rafting? He's been swimming since he was 2 years old and swims better than I do. Is this unsafe -- should I drop this idea?
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 09:40 AM
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fishbee:
From all the research on rafting, I can only find one operation for 7 year olds.RIO REVENTAZON EL CARMEN SECTION (CLASS II) with Rio Tropicales sounds gentle and the requirement is 7 yrs. old..says it's for beginners.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 09:53 AM
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Just looked at Buena Vista Villas and the views from the 1 BR villa look amazing -- love the way the whole wall is windows! But I can't tell whether the views are better than Si Como No's Deluxe Rooms or if BVV just has a superior website?

Misha wasn't crazy about BVV last year (read her trip report) but I'm thinking the construction might be over. Damn, all these places are incredibly expensive!

Villas Mymosa is a third of the price of BVV or SCN but we'd lose the views. I'm considering maybe we should save a bit on lodging so we can pay for tours/activities everyday.

With 3 adults and a kid, we might not spend as much time in the room anyway (since it's not a romantic trip).

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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 09:54 AM
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Shadow-- thank you so much! I will check this place out -- is it in the MA area?
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 11:36 AM
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fishbee:
I believe the Reventazon River Tour picks up and drops off from San Jose.There are other tours from MA but I am not sure the age requirements.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 03:24 PM
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Personaly, since it's not a 'romantic trip', save the money from the room to spend on playing. The rafting company I posted earlier said they also do class I / III which by the way they described would be fine for a 7 year old. The one I went on was great fun, but don't think I would take a 7 year old down that one. Also, consider sea kyaking. All the places you mentioned in Manuel Antonio are nice, Si Como No is a neat place - different. There's several hotels there that have amazing views. But then, you can always go to the beach (which is very nice there).
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 03:56 PM
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kdlcosta: Your rafting exhuberance is contagious! We can't wait! Tell me, which river did you do? how long?(1,2 or 3 days?)We have yet to check this as a "first", so are most excited to share this with our 4 teenagers!!

I agree with kdlcosta in spending $ for the experiences..unless the lodging is rustic/eco,or "memory built".
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 04:09 PM
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kdlcosta --

thanks for your input! It was actually your post about the raft turning over that got me thinking, "Hmmm, maybe I'm not thinking through all the angles of this..." I will definitely try to sign up for a level I rafting adventure, however.

So you'd save money on the lodging?

Can I ask your opinion on this Mymosa "Deluxe Villa" for $175 + tax:

http://tinyurl.com/2zx8rp

Buena Vista is $305 + tax, but it's so dramatic looking!

http://tinyurl.com/23drap

The Deluxe Room at Si Como No is $280 + tax:

http://www.sicomono.com/rooms.htm


I'm splitting the cost with my sister and her husband. I'm thinking the cheapest Mymosa option might make sense for a group of four -- it's so much larger. Would we have to drive everyday to get to sights and activities and restaurants from that location?

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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 04:31 PM
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Hi Fishee,

You might also want to look into Costa Verde. It's considered a good value and has some gorgeous views of the ocean and nat'l park depending on what building/room you stay in. We didn't stay there, but stopped in to see the views from their grounds.

We stayed at Hotel California on our trip in December. We had a deluxe room that had nice ocean views (not as spectacular as Costa Verde's, but nice nonetheless). California is closer to the Quepos end of the MA road, but it was on a little side drive off the main drag, and was nice and quiet. It was also only about 115$/night during the green season for 3 of us.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 04:40 PM
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The Studio Plus rooms at Costa Verde are indeed fantastic, incredible views and a small kitchenette. I think they are running around $120 or so a night in green season now. I vaguely remember passing a sign for Mymosa but can't recall exactly where it was. I cannot believe the pricing of Buena Vista. Yes they're beautiful but that is just outrageous IMO.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 05:57 PM
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Wow, Costa Verde looks great -- thanks for the great tip.

I love the Studio Plus rooms (great deal) but since we'll have my little nephew with us, I don't think we can stay in this section.

Do you think the nicest view for Costa Verde I is Casa Quinta A-9? It makes me nervous that there aren't pictures of the interior. It's only $150/night.

http://www.costaverde.com/house.htm

Do you think this is a better option over Mymosa due to the great views?

Thanks so much -- I'm not even going to consider Buena Vista Villas anymore.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 06:06 PM
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There are the Studio Plus II rooms which are adult only, thos have same views, no tv no a/c.

The regular Studio Plus rooms have 2 beds & a/c, tv. These are in Bldg B and do allow kids.
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Old Feb 5th, 2007, 09:32 PM
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You were all totally correct -- Costa Verde said we could stay in a Studio Plus as well as the larger bungalow, Casa Quinta A-9.

The price difference ($25/night)isn't significant -- I find this very odd since the bungalow is so much bigger. Does that mean the Studio Plus units are acutaly nicer in terms of views, etc? Which one would you choose?
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