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Help with first trip to Costa Rica

Old Jun 11th, 2007, 09:25 AM
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Help with first trip to Costa Rica

I'll be traveling alone with a six-year-old child. We are going over Christmas break (mid-December to Christmas Eve). We've never been to this country so I'd love some suggestions on where to go and how to spend our time. We like wildlife, beaches, water slides ... I'll rent a car in SJO when I arrive. Where to go from there (including hotels) and what to do? Thanks for your help!!!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 09:32 AM
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Hi Mom!! Great time of the year to visit us...hopefully rain will be somewhere else by then!!

Bad news.. you are coming at the beggining of the HIGH season...lets be positive now!!

The best can be a mix between Arenal and Manuel Antonio...the little one will love the hot springs...among many other things, including of course the volcano...and you can just relax...hopefully!!

And Manuel Antonio is the beach you are looking for!!

Hotels...maybe if you can tell us a little bet about budget we can help you better...

R.A Luis

Just buckle up and enjoy the ride in paradise..

100% costarican and proud of it!!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 09:47 AM
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Costa Rica is great with kids and six years old is a great age. For wildlife, Manuel Antonio is good. There is a butterfly garden and tour there as well as a night time frog tour and of course the park itself. I think Si Como No would be good for you in Manuel Antonio. There is also an amusement park in San Jose, Parque de Diversiones. My kids loved it and it was nothing but locals there.
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 11:29 AM
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I'm currently posting a trip report for a recent 17 day trip I took my 10/yo daughter on. Click on my name and maybe there will be some helpful tips for you and your child. Enjoy!
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Old Jun 11th, 2007, 02:51 PM
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It is a busy time, but it is still "the calm before the storm." So you should be able to find some hotel space, but I would not wait too long!

Six years old is a great age for the nature. But I know from experience that they get bored with the long rides. So I would think that Arenal and Monteverde might be out (though Monteverde has some great nature). I also think that the hot springs may be too hot for young kids, but some love them. Use your own judgement.

How long are you staying, and what time of day do you arrive and depart? This will impact if you have to spend first or last nights in the Central Valley.

The airlines don't feed us like they used to, so expect to arrive hungry! If you get in late, you might want to think about the first night at a hotel that offers a restaurant that is open late. You will see many references to Orquideas Inn, this is a good choice for this reason (among others).

I would think that a combination of Manuel Antonio, and La Paz Waterfall gardens would be a good trip. La Paz is a little over an hour drive from the airport area. If the budget allows, you can stay here. But it is a little pricey, so you can drive here and do this as a day trip if you need to.

In Quepos, you need to be aware of the strong currents. If your budget allows it, Tulemar has a private beach with much gentler currents. If not, stay very close to your child when you are at the beach. Manuel Antonio National Park has some great nature, and you are almost guaranteed monkey sightings. The second beach inside the park is a little calmer than the first one.

If you have the time, Tortuguero has some pretty intense nature too. The bus / boat transfer from San Jose is a little long, but most lodges break it up with breakfast along the way. The payoff is the boat rides and great hikes. This won't be turtle season, but this area is worth the trip any time of the year. You can fly back to San Jose when you leave to continue your journey.

Without knowing your timelines and budget, this is the best I can do. But this should give you a good start.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can offer more advice.

Warm Regards,
Pat Hewitt
(Travel professional)
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Old Jun 14th, 2007, 09:36 PM
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I am enjoying reading all about CR and people's thoughts, so thank you every one. My daughter is pretty good about traveling but I'm getting nervous about driving. Better suggestions? We fly into SJO and arrive early in the morning on 12/16. We also leave early on the 24th so we'll need to stay near the airport the night before. I was thinking of spending half the time near Arenal Volcano (4 nights) and 3 nights in MA. As for my budget, would like to keep hotels to under $150/night. We'd need TV to keep the kid happy in the morning and before bed and a nice pool. She loves water slides too. I think she'll want to do a zipline. It all sounds so wonderful I don't know where to start.
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Old Jun 15th, 2007, 08:13 AM
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If your daughter loves water slides you may want to check out Los Lagos in Arenal. It seems to be in a pretty good spot, gets good reviews and is within your budget. She'd probably enjoy the hot springs at Eco-Thermales and the Cano Negro tour was great. My daughter is 10 and she loved the ziplines, however, she did go tandem with one of the guides.

We stayed at Villa Bonita near the airport for about $55/night. It was a $5 taxi ride and a great, clean place with friendly owners.

If you decide you don't want to drive, Interbus offers easy transfers. There isn't one from Villa Bonita, but there is one from Green Tortise Souvenir shop near the airport.

Have fun!
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Old Jun 15th, 2007, 09:18 AM
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Hi, Mom - we stayed at Lost Iguana in Arenal and loved it. I believe their standard rooms are around your price range. They have t.v., an open air restaurant with a view of the volcano, and a nice small pool. It's right next door to the Hanging Bridges. It's a gorgeous, lush property with wonderful volcano views from the balconies of the rooms. It's set a little outside of town, and they offer a free shuttle which goes into town around dinnertime.

If your daughter likes waterslides, the hot springs at Tabacon have one that she would love. I could barely get my husband off of it, so I think a little girl would enjoy it.

Also, virgo's suggestion to go to Cano Negro is a great one. It was the best thing we did on our trip - a comfortable boat ride down a river where you'll see monkeys, sloths, birds, caimans - very fun.

If you're nervous about driving, you can ask your hotels to arrange private drivers for you to take you from city to city. We did that and loved our guides - they added a lot to our stay. Enjoy your trip!
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Old Jun 15th, 2007, 10:52 PM
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My first trip was the typical Arenal/Manuel Antonio split week. We had a driver from San Jose to Tilahari (sp?) hotel, a small drive from Arenal. Then pick up and drive down to Manuel Antonio. We made the mistake of staying at Hotel El Parador, just because that's what the travel agent booked. Avoid it.

Looking back now, I would say, fly into Liberia. Easy, small airport, easy access to the main roads, rental car companies pick you up and shuttle to their offices just outside the airport. Driving out of San Jose is like finding your way out of NYC, but you can't read the signs. Plus, I have heard of many more folks being prey to the 'flat tire scam' coming out of SJ

I don't know the drive time to Arenal from Liberia, I'm guessing 3-4 hours if all goes as planned.

The Pacific beaches are an easy drive from Liberia. We love Nosara, but it has some surfable waves, not ideal for a child. South of Nosara is Samara which is a cute beach village with calm waters.

If you go up to Arenal, do check out the Cano Negro tour. We saw tons of wildlife!

Flying from San Jose to other points may save you lots of time. Look at Sansa and NatureAir for domestic flights.

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Old Jun 16th, 2007, 08:44 AM
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We just got back last week and had our 3 children 8,9,12 with us.We stayed in Manuel Antonio for 8 nights , which was too long for me, 3-4 would have been about right. We were at a private house within walking distance to restaurants and beach. This worked for us but with only 1 child I think Si Como No would probably be a good choice since they have a pool. You are still centrally located. I agree about the beach being a little rough. Even at third beach it got a little rough. Just keep a close watch.
We stayed at Los Lagos in Arenal and absolutely loved it! The pool is great and the waterslide was a hit. It propels you like a bullet but the kids stayed in for hours. There is also a thermal pool so everyone is happy ( ie swim up bar). The grounds are beautiful and the staff friendly. There is a tv with the usual kid shows. horseback riding and other tours available. The best thing is you can zip-line right there. We didn't do it here but if I had known I would have. This one had no repelling! Read my post to understand why this is important to me.
We had a private driver ( Danny) from SJ to MA for 5 and it was $130. I'm sure it is less for fewer people. We also used him to get to Arenal. It is a 6 hour drive. It was $110 from Arenal to SJ with the same driver. Danny was great. He spoke English and was very nice. You can reach him @ [email protected]. For us having someone to drive took some of the anxiety away. You have to get used to the CR way of driving!
Enjoy your trip. The info you get from this site is invaluable so ask questions!!
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Old Jun 16th, 2007, 09:09 AM
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I recommend Interbus for travel on main routes with just 2 people. I think children are half price so a trip would be about $45 vs $100+for a private driver. We did Alajuela to Arenal, and Arenal to MA via Interbus. Then a private driver arranged by the hotel MA to SJO airport for $120 in March of 2006. The Interbus drivers were more friendly and informative.
I would second the Los Lagos recommendation. My son loved it. Lots to do on the grounds, and a short, inexpensive taxi ride into town
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Old Jun 18th, 2007, 07:28 PM
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All of your suggestions are really getting me excited! Thanks

Okay, more questions ... I've seen suggestions for Interbus. What is that and how do you get it? Can you do this the entire route (SJO to MA to Arenal to SJO)? Do they stop? How long is the distance between each stop? If we take a private car, do you have to arrange each leg of the trip before you go and do you have the same driver? Now that I read more about the rental car companies and some scams, I'm thinking no rental car!

You all are great!
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Old Jun 18th, 2007, 07:40 PM
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Hi mom -- We took Interbus and thought it was great! Short answer to your question, yes, it has pick-up's and drop-off's in the areas you are visiting. You just need to go to the Interbus website and select area/hotel of p/u, area/hotel of d/o, and submit. There is usually one p/u time each day, possibly two, each day, so you tend to have to leave early. Depending on when you fly into SJO, you may need to spend the first night near the airport in order to head up to Arenal or MA in the morning. Villa Bonita is about $50/night and includes breakfast, but Interbus doesn't pick up there. You can take a taxi for $5 in the morning to Green Tortise Souvenir shop and get picked up there. Or, you can choose one of the regular SJO hotel stops, but they'll cost more and be less charming

Hope this helps!
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Old Jun 18th, 2007, 07:58 PM
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Hi, Mom - Virgo did a great job of covering Interbus. I think that's a good option for you. Since you also asked about private drivers, I can tell you about our experience.

We called our hotels before our trip and told them where we'd like to go, and they arranged each driver for us. When we landed in SJO, our driver was waiting for us at the airport holding a sign with our name on it. He drove us from SJO to Arenal. After staying there several days, a second driver took us from Arenal to Manuel Antonio. And a third driver drove us from MA back to SJO. We were billed for each driver through our hotels when we checked out. I believe the SJO to Arenal trip was $120 total. If you're nervous about driving, either Interbus or a private driver would be a good option for you.
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Old Jun 19th, 2007, 04:13 AM
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We stayed st Hotel Buena Vista in Alajuela the night after our flight. They have a free shuttle form the airport and then shuttled us into the main interbus pickup near the airport in the AM. (Can't remember the name, American chain, near the Green Turtle shop)

On the trip to Arenal we were in a van with another couple. We had one stop at a combo soda, tourist store. it looked like a major stop for drivers on that route.

On the trip to MA, it was just our family of 3 in the van. We stopped 2x. Once to eat a what seemed like a CR version of a truck stop with a high priced tourist trap store attached. The second time at Tarcoles to see the crocs.

We never needed to but I think they would have made a another pit stop if we requested. They never stopped to pick up more passengers and we never changed vans. I think these are 2 main routes in the country.

Colleen
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Old Jun 19th, 2007, 08:19 AM
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It's hard to determine someones personality and abilities on posts like this, but unless you get lost easily, or are easily intimidated, I would recommend doing what you had originally planned and rent a car. The roads are not that bad and it gives you so much more freedom to do and see what you want, when you want.

As for hotels, stayed at Los Lagos last summer with my 5 and 3 yr olds and we all loved it. The volcano pool with the waterslides and the heated pool with the swim up bar had everything you could need. We had a car and traveled the 5 mins or so into town, La Fortuna, for dinner each night and around to all the different attractions during the day. It was the way to go. I also stayed at Si Como No about 4 years ago when my son was a 1-1/2 old. It was a little pricey, but we really liked it and the staff. No matter what you do, you will have a great time. Costa Ricans, or Ticos, are the nicest people in the world. Also, with children, you can get through customs quicker. Just look for the signs for families/children, which is normally alot shorter, and you should fly straight thru. Good luck, but I would rent a car.
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