Help with Costa Rica trip planning

Old Feb 25th, 2010, 08:03 PM
  #1  
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Help with Costa Rica trip planning

Hi everyone --

I'm in the process of planning a first time trip to Costa Rica and would love some input. My wife and I plan to go for 9 nights toward the middle of April. We will get into San Jose around 4 p.m. on the first day and will be leaving around noon on the last day, so we effectively will have 7 full days.

We are interested in general sightseeing with a particular interest in wildlife. We are not interested in lounging on the beaches nor are we "adventure vacation" types, but we are not sedentary and enjoy easy/moderate hikes, etc. We aren't spa/massages goers either, but we do prefer clean and reasonably comfortable accomodations to go back to after a long day of sight seeing.

We haven't really looked at specific hotels as of yet. As far as itinerary we were considering possibly a split between the Arenal area, Monteverde Cloud Forest and perhaps Tortuguero. Alternatively we were considering Arenal and Oso. We also have heard a good bit about Manuel Antonio, but weren't really sure if we should try to fit that in to some itinerary. We would like to try to optimize our time seeing and doing things (in a reasonably non-rushed manner) and minimize unnecessary travel time.

Is Manuel Antonio something we should try to see?
Is Tortuguero a destination worth a visit in April?

Any advice/thoughts on how best to apportion our time would be appreciated.

Thanks for any help!
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Old Feb 25th, 2010, 08:47 PM
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I think you really only have time for two locations plus a hotel near the airport given your time frame.

If you're interested in hiking and wildlife, the Osa would be great for you. Also wonderful wildlife in Tortuguero, but travel there would be by canal. Turtles are around July-October so you would miss that if you go in April.

Arenal has some great easy hikes like the volcano hike, waterfall hike, and the Hanging Bridges. And the Cano Negro tour is a great way to spot wildlife.

For us, the main reason to go to Manuel Antonio was the beach, so if that's not a big interest for you, I'd probably give it a pass. I think Arenal and the Osa is a great combo.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 06:01 AM
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www.costarica.bookit.com

3 days in Arenal

www.tabacon.com

3 days in www.manuelantoniopark.com

www.arenasdelmar.com or

www.costaverde.com the Penthouse CV2

Amazing wildlife...
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 07:12 AM
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Thanks, volcanogirl. It seems maybe I could have used an extra day or two, but hopefully we will still have a great time and be able to get a good taste of the place.

With so many places in the world to visit, I'm not sure we are likely to get back to Costa Rica any time soon after this visit. This is probably a difficult question and one with a different answer for different people, but
if we were going only this once, are there particular areas/things that just are not to be missed?

Also, with respect to Tortuguero, is it a worthwhile trip even without the turtles?
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 07:49 AM
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Re: Tortuguero without turtles - many people will say it's not worth it, but I disagree. We went in Feb. last year and absolutely loved it. The wildlife was just amazing, the guide we had was excellent (Modesto Watson from Riverboat Francesca Tours), cost was extremely reasonable. Every time we went out in the boats we saw a variety of monkeys, sloths, birds, iguanas, caimans and crocs.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 07:54 AM
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Yes, you can definitely get a good feel for the country in that time frame. Regarding Tortuguero, if you think being sort of off the grid and riding through lush canals and seeing a lot of wildlife would appeal to you, then yes, definitely go. We really loved it. The lodges there are pretty rustic. We stayed at Tortuga Lodge, one of the pricier places and loved it - great food and service, private tours, etc. If you want something a little more basic, Laguna Lodge, Mawamba Lodge, and Turtle Beach are pretty popular. You usually eat all your meals at the lodge since there aren't roads. A lot of the lodges assign you to groups to eat with and do tours with - our lodge didn't, but it seems that most of them do that for convenience. Animals we saw in Tortuguero included crocs, river otters, caimans, toucans, poison dart frogs, trogons, herons, spider/howler/and capuchin monkeys, and blue morphos. We did see the turtles and it was amazing, but even in turtle season there's no guarantee you'll see them. If this is the only time you'll go, and it sounds appealing to you, I'd go for it.

For big wow factor, I think Arenal and the Osa are it for me. Seeing the lava flow on Arenal is amazing, just hearing the volcano is impressive, seeing rocks and boulders roll down is just a once in a lifetime thing. The waterfall is beautiful. Cano Negro has cool wildife, and the natural hot springs are really unique. Lots of good restaurants, and the area is just lush and green. We like the Lost Iguana; check out Silencio del Campo for more affordable. Arenal Observatory Lodge will get you right next to the volcano but down a long bumpy road.


The Osa is wildlife, wildlife, wildlife - from the front porch of our cabin one day I saw an entire troop of howlers, then capuchins, then spider monkeys swing by, punctuated by scarlet macaws flying by - wow, it was jaw dropping. Like nothing I've ever seen. Again due to the isolation, you spend most of your time on the property. There's a cool animal sanctuary you can visit. We like Bosque del Cabo. Lodges in that area can be expensive, but we thought it was definitely worth it.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 10:00 AM
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colibri, thanks for your thoughts about Tortuguero. That's quite helpful.
volcanogirl, thanks again.

I think Arenal is a given. We both really want to see it and it sounds like a great area. We did a good bit of volcano viewing and hiking in Hawaii a number of years ago, including hiking out to see the lava flow at night (amazing!) and it was one of the many highlights of the trip. Cano Negro is on the list as well when we are in that area.

Both Tortuguero and Oso sound terrific too in terms of the wildlife and a different sort of experience. I'm sure we can't go wrong in either place.

I like the idea of private tours and meals more than the group thing so if we go the Tortuguero route it may be worth our checking into Tortuga Lodge as a possibility. I am also a little apprehensive about the rustic accomodations. After a long day hiking and running around in hot humid weather, it really is kind of nice to be able to relax in a cool and comfortable place. But I guess that may be the price we have to pay to see all of that beauty. You described Tortuguero as "off the grid." Is Oso similar? How do the accomodations compare?
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 10:14 AM
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Hmm. I just realized I have 8 nights and 7 full days, not 9 nights -- although I guess that shouldn't make a difference really. If I get in around 4 p.m., will we need to stay in San Jose the first night? What about the last night with a 12-12:30 departure?

qwovadis, I missed your post initially. Thanks for the info/links.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 10:26 AM
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I think they're similar. Both places we stayed have electricity but not air conditioning. Both can be humid. Most of the places have screens for windows instead of glass so that the air can circulate through.

Despite being in a rustic area, our room at Tortuga Lodge looked like it was decorated by Pottery Barn - really cute linens, nice lighting, and window treatments, also had a big ceiling fan. The food was really great and nice to eat by the water.

The rooms at BdC on the Osa are charming as well, but not enough power to run a blow dryer and no locks on the doors. Beautiful views of the ocean from the cabins, and some have outdoor bathtubs which seem like a treat in the jungle.

The biggest different to me is that the Osa offers all the hiking, and Tortuguero offers all the cool canal tours.


http://www.costaricaexpeditions.com/...?firstview=tol shows TL

This one shows BdC
http://www.bosquedelcabo.com/home/index.html
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 11:56 AM
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I really love Tortuguero even without turtles and I'm actually returning this year not expecting to see any turtles. It's just such a beautiful and unique area. I especially love Turtle Beach Lodge and the location on the beach backed by the canals. A good portion of the walls of the rooms are screens so they are very open and airy. You can also kayak on your own right out from the lodge and it's just amazing. There are hiking trails as well. We saw some people taking private tours at TBL so I think you just have to request that option and pay extra for that.

I'm not sure though that I'd choose Tort over Osa...Osa's pretty much my favorite area in Costa Rica. Bosque del Cabo is in a perfect location for hiking and wildlife galore with the added bonus of great food and other optional tours.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 11:57 AM
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colibri mentions Fran and Modesto Watson as guides for Tortuguero above and they've gotten great press here. We're using them upcoming trip as well.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 04:08 PM
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volcanogirl, thank you for the links. The places look beautiful.

hipvirgochick, thank you for your input. I guess we just need to figure out what we most want to do and try to work the timing out. Not being very familiar with the country, it can be a bit overwhelming.
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Old Feb 26th, 2010, 05:04 PM
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You're welcome, trip - check out tripadvisor.com as well, lots of good info. there.

hip, I found out Tortuga Lodge has kayaking which I didn't know before. I think I may have been too chicken to do it since I saw a big croc nearby though!
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 11:18 AM
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So we are still planning/reading, etc. First, am I correct that if we get into San Jose around 4 p.m. that we will need to stay there for the first night and will not be able to get a driver or flight to take us on to our first destination?

Assuming that's right, I was thinking about the first night in San Jose, travel to Monteverde the next day and stay for two nights. Then move on to Arenal (4th day/night). Stay 3 nights in Arenal. Possibly fly to Tortuguero on the 7th day. Spend two nights in Tortuguero and fly back to San Jose on the morning of the final day for a 12:30 flight home (there is a 7 a.m. flight from Tortuguero to San Jose, so I assume we should have enough time?).

Is this reasonably doable. Would we be trying to pack in too much?

Alternatively, we had thought about skipping Tortuguero and going to Selva Verde instead, which I assume won't require as much travel time.

So many things to choose from and it all looks interesting.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 11:28 AM
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You can get a driver for any time you want; you're paying them, so you can set the schedule. We got picked up at 9:00 p.m. on one trip. You can check the flight times on the Sansa and Nature Air websites to see what's available. You can't fly to Monteverde though as far as I know.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 11:35 AM
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Not sure about shorter but definitely cheaper to drive Arenal to Tortuguero to San Jose than to fly.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 11:43 AM
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Personally I would rather skip Monteverde than Tortuguero if you're going to skip something. Tortuguero is just really unique and the wildlife to me is better than Monteverde. Monteverde was cold and rainy when we were there, but we did see quetzals which were really cool. I think what you want to do is doable.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 12:18 PM
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Oops, I meant to say that it's much cheaper but not necessarily shorter to drive to Sarapiqui than to fly to Tortuguero.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 12:32 PM
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Thanks volcanogirl and RAC.

I was under the impression that you shouldn't travel at night because of the roads, but I guess that only applies if we were driving ourselves. If we don't have to stay in San Jose the first night, that would help because the first day is basically lost to travel anyway. I would rather not spend more driving time the next morning also.

Should we consider Sarapiqui instead of Monteverde and then on to Arenal and Tortuguero?
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Old Mar 2nd, 2010, 12:33 PM
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You have plenty of time to fly back from Tortuguero to San Jose on your last day. We took that early morning flight, and it was quick, maybe 30 minutes. The only thing you might have to worry about is if it were storming and the planes couldn't fly out. I think you'd be fine though.
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