hip's 17 day Costa Rica trip with 10/yo daughter

Jun 10th, 2007, 07:08 PM
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hip's 17 day Costa Rica trip with 10/yo daughter

Hello everyone

Sorry for the delay in posting a trip report, but it takes a while to get back to reality (and a 2' high yard) after such a nice long vacation!

Thanks to all Fodorites who gave me advice, our trip was a great success! More than I even imagined! We saw so much wildlife, combined with our daily mini-adventures, we're planning a trip back in the next few months!

Here's the rundown on where and for how long we stayed in each area, followed be a description of our wonderful experiences.

1 night - Don Carlos, San Jose
4 nights - Banana Azul, Puerto Viejo
3 nights - Hotel Campo del Silencio, Arenal
2 nights - Peace Lodge, Central Valley (Varablanca)
5 nights - Bosque del Cabo, Osa
1 night - Villa Bonita, Alejuela

Day 1 - Depart Seattle mid-morn, plane change in Dallas and arrive SJO 8:30pm. As we exited the airport I took a look around for the Don Carlos sign, but didn't see it right away so went to the orange taxi's as I was instructed, and just told them I had a voucher. We arrived at 9:20pm and were to meet my best friend from high school and her hubby. They left a note at 9:23pm saying they went to bed! What!?!?!? We promptly checked in and gave them a wake up call We caught up on things in the pretty sitting room by the piano while sipping a couple of vanilla vodka's. Don Carlos was really pretty inside with high ceilings and open concept. Our room had a/c, theirs did not, but it wasn't really necessary. The rooms had louvered vents above the entry doors which wasn't really condusive to screen out noise, but the rooms were basic and nice otherwise. In the morning, there was a simple breakfast of rice & beans, fruit, toast, juice, coffee and we were on our way!

Day 2 - We were picked up at 8:15am to transfer to Puerto Viejo. The driver brought along his wife and 11 year old daughter, presumably to stay and enjoy the beach for the day since we were the only passengers. We had a nice drive along the beautiful highway, stopping once for food and bathroom. Our driver spoke very good english and we had pleasant conversation as he pointed out different areas. The drive was about 4 hours and it zoomed by. When we arrived at Banana Azul we were delighted! We were greeted by the 4 dogs who would soon become our companions on the beach walks and into our rooms if allowed The larger, main building (a two story teak structure with approx 7 units top and bottom) had been finished 3 weeks prior. They're also finishing up a stone coy and turtle pond that runs the entire length of the building. The upstairs, east facing room, has a jacuzzi tub looking out over the ocean and grounds. The patio encompasses wood tables and bar style eating area along with the kitchen area where they make and serve a daily breakfast. It's hard to describe the beauty and attention to detail Collin and Roberto are putting into this newly expanded B & B. They have incorporated natural wood, stone and mosaic in a rustic, inviting and gorgeous setting. The hotel itself sits about 100 meters from the beach. A place we spent a few hours each day. My daughter and I shared the "Red Frog" room, which is the lower level of Collin and Roberto's house. The patio is entirely mosaiced and has a hearty wood table and chairs, hammock and coy and turtle pond. There is also a large sink and counter area, and you can store things in the shared refrigerator. The bedroom has personal touches with splashed of color and books, and I think the only T.V., which we never used. The bathroom wall was antirely mosaiced with the highlight being a large red frog on a leaf. Beautiful! In the bedroom, you have the option to close the room entirely by locking the wood doors from the inside. We chose to sleep with these wide open, the windows had artistically designed wrought iron bars over them, and we wanted to breath in the jungle air at night. My friends had one of the rooms in the "Sloth cabina". These are 2 rooms on the 2nd level of the laundry and storage building. They have a shared deck running the length of the building, hammocks, a primitive stove set up and a fridge, sink, etc. The rooms are fairly small, but adequate and comfortable and in my opinion, have the best views of the grounds and ocean.

I see this is going to be a long-winded trip report. Sorry if this is going to be boring for any of you. My daughter just informed me she wants to wash my car, so I'll be back after getting her set up!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 10th, 2007, 09:27 PM
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I'll be waiting for your Bosque del Cabo post, to see if I should push to go there next.
emmajm is offline  
Jun 10th, 2007, 09:39 PM
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So after taking a look around and getting settled in, we headed into town for food. We decided to walk along the beach, which is a 20-30 min of dipping feet in the warm Caribbean waters The dogs walked us about 1/2 way then we sent them back home. Puerto Viejo is a small town and it was low tourist season so we were pretty free to wander without having to weave around people, which was nice. We decided on a place to eat, Jammin' Jerk Chicken, I think it was. My friends had vegetable curry, which was decent, I had the jerk chicken, which was dry and tasteless. Also, I was in need of an Imperial to quench my thirst, but sadly they don't serve alcohol. A cat sat at our table with us, and I was happy to share my chicken. We picked up a few snacks and stopped at the liquor store and headed back to BA. It was high season for terrestrial (ground) crabs, which means blue, yellow, orange, red, purple, and blue crabs scurried everywhere, but no harm done. However, we did have a rather large one living in our bathroom for a day and watched an entertaining face-off between another and one of the house cats. Another made it into "my" coy pond, but was promptly removed the next morning. Our first night we relaxed, hung out and watched the firebugs in the trees. Sigh. My daughter got quite bitten by the no-see-um's the first couple of nights, so we up'ed the Deet and that solved the problem (for the most part). As a general rule, we began our cycle of "up at 5:30 and to bed by 10:00".

Day 3 - Up early and coffee available at 6:30 or so and breakfast at 7:00. Breakfast usually consisted of granola, yogurt, fruit and a selection such as french toast, pancakes, or eggs, etc. The staff was super friendly and there was quite a bit of planting and working around the grounds to finish up construction, but nothing too intruding.

SLOTH CROSSING - My friend Christina, my daughter and I decided to visit the Buttercup Foundation (sloth rescue center) this day. Our taxi driver, Rene, was great and we conversed in bits and pieces of Spanish and English. As we made our way down a paved road on our way to Cahuita, what should we find but a sloth crossing the road! At first we were so worried it was hurt or dead, and we pulled over to the side of the road and hurried over to it. To our delight, it was in perfect shape and simply trying to get to the other side. The sloth was a 3-toed, full grown male, with moss growing from it's forearms up to the back of his shoulder blades. This was our first of 6 sloth sightings in the wild during our trip! He was the coolest looking creature, so I ran back to get my camera from the car, and ended up with one of the most clear and awesome pic's of the trip. After gawking for a few minutes, we urged Rene to help it across the road, so after finding a large stick, the sloth grabbed ahold and he moved it safely a few yards into the jungle on the other side of the road.

We arrived at the Sloth Rescue Center and entered the area where you are able to touch and take pictures of the sloths while the guide tells you about a variety of reasons for hurt or abandoned sloths. Some are electrocuted while crossing power lines after they climb a power pole thinking it's a tree. In some of these cases, limbs must be amputated. There was one that had all limbs in casts from being hit by a car. There were several infants, one as young as 2 months old. If babies fall from trees, unfortunately, the mother won't go to retrieve them. In fact they only come down the tree once every 5 days to dig a hole, poop, and back up again. If I remember correctly, they can't release them back into the rainforest if they are less than 1-1/2 years old because they aren't able to learn to live on their own. This leaves the rescue center to find other alternatives for them. I have to say though, puppies and kitties don't have nothin' over those baby sloths! They are the cutest things ever! During our walk around the surroundings, we came across a pack stray pups and a momma dog (a pretty common sighting) and promptly let the staff know so they could round them up. Overall, we thought it was a well run and organized rescue center and enjoyed our visit there.

On our way back home, we just decided to pick up some food and take it back home. I had my first experience of an ATM. Waiting in line, using the card as a passkey, entering one at a time, etc. There was always a guard in front of this particular machine. I assume due to the higher crime rate in PV than in other areas.

We made new friends at BA and it was nice to socialize in a beautiful setting, eat, drink and gab
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 10th, 2007, 10:31 PM
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Welcome home, Hip! I've been wondering about you and am enjoying every word--so glad you and your daughter had a great time. Amazing, isn't it?
shillmac is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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emmajm -- Just so you don't have to wait until the end, I will suggest to you now to start pushing for BDC!

shillmac -- Thanks for the welcome home Yes, amazing and more amazing!
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 12:44 PM
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So looking forward to reading the rest of your report!
coolbluewater is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 12:49 PM
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DAY 4 - Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

On shillmac's advice I contacted her guide, Abel Bustamante, several weeks before our trip. We decided to go for a 4 hour, little bit of everything, guided hike through primary and secondary rainforest. Rene took us to meet Abel, who is talkative and speaks excellent English. He was also very good at keeping my daughter entertained The hike was not strenuous and we learned a lot about how things make the forest work from leaf-cutter ants, to the birds and animals and indigenous people and how they utilize the resources. We spotted monkeys, toucans and various birds, but I will say it wasn't a wildlife filled hike, but more of a learning experience. About halfway through the hike it started pouring down rain, so I gave Abel some things to put in his waterproof pack (this will come up again later). We really enjoyed our time with Abel, even though 4 hours turned out to be a little long for my daughter. After our walk down the road back to his house, we exchanged $ and I paid him $40 for the 4 hours, plus a tip. At that time I realize my debit card didn't appear from his waterproof bag. We both dumped our bags out completely and I was in a slight panic as it was my main source of cash and we had many days left! Abel quickly suggested he must go back into the jungle and find it. What!?!?! I asked? Surely he could not find a debit card in the middle of the rainforest after pouring down rain. He headed off after making sure we had enough $ to have lunch (a yummy lunch that included rice & beans, scrambled eggs, tomato slices and carmelized plaintains). As we sat, and I pondered the situation, I soon saw Able rounding the corner on his bike with debit card in hand. My saviour! He wouldn't accept a dollar more for his time or trouble. What a great guy! I highly recommend Abel to anyone as he's super nice, and he will work with you to choose what best suits your needs.

After that the sky cleared up quickly and got hot by the time we were back in PV so we hit the beach for a couple of hours before dinnertime. I grabbed onto a crab in the water by accident, which pinched me and my daughter thought amusing (after making sure I was ok, of course). No blood was drawn

That night we walked into town and ate a restaurant called "Ms. Elena Brown's", a place run by several generations and a recommendation of Collin at BA. It turned out to be delicious as our new friend Priscilla had curry shrimp, I had Caribbean shrimp, and daughter had something like "chicken fingers". I came to love Cuba Libre's Since it was dark, we hit the ice cream store and taxi'd back to BA where we spent the rest of the evening talking until we were ready to fall into bed...oh, our friends Sonny and Christina spent "quality time" alone on this day so didn't see much of them.
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 06:18 PM
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Great to finally hear about your travels, no worry about keeping it short. Sounds like Abel went above & beyond, glad he founf your card.

Looking forward to the rest, especially your impressions on BdC!
tully is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 07:41 PM
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hvc, is Rene the taxi driver I e-mailed you about? Young guy? I was hoping you'd be able to reach him as I thought he was very reliable and safe in his driving. Let me know--just curious!

So glad you enjoyed your time with Abel. He is truly a great guy--loves his family so much.
shillmac is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 08:48 PM
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tully -- I told myself I was going to try not to jump ahead, but that was before I realized I was writing a book! All I will say about BDC right now is WHEN CAN I GO BACK?!?!?! Seriously though, I put all the names with faces and will write about them soon.

I literally visited a sloth and her juvenile 3 times a day near the entrance to the Titi trail until the 2nd to last day when they were both hanging and eating. AWESOME! I tried to show others, but sometimes they weren't so visible. I can't wait to post my pics, you will be excited to see them! I really can't take the credit for finding them though. Word got around and Jose (not the bartender) came to find me one day to show me where they were

shillmac -- You may have e-mailed me about Rene, or maybe someone else...? I can't remember. Actually, Colin at BA has 3 or 4 regulars he recommends and he called Rene up for us the first time. After that we used him 3-4 times. He was young, cute and very fun and friendly. His wife teaches Spanish at the immersion school in PV, I believe.
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 09:32 PM
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Day 5 - This was to be the last full day for us at Banana Azul. We came to love this guesthouse. I also have a special place in my heart for Benji, who looks something like a boxer/golden lab mix with his soft brown eyes. He would run over to the low railing around my deck and stare intently at the cats or watch the coy in the pond. With the gate open he'd just come in and sit, particularly interested in the calico. The cats gave us a scare a couple of times in the middle of the night when they jumped in on top of us, stalking moths or the like. The Rottie will have a new run soon around the perimeter of the property. He was rescued by Colin and Roberto, but Rottie's are assumed to be aggressive so he won't be allowed to run the beach for fear he'll be killed.

We decided to play all day. This was the hottest day yet, so perfect for random visits to the water. We hung out with new friends Priscilla and Marsha. We had to give several pep talks to Marsha, who was travelling alone, and happened to sit next to English speaking men on the bus from San Jose, who scared the pants off of her about crime. We gave her the lowdown on getting to town, not to be out after dark, etc., etc. and shared her first day by showing her around town. We wanted to try Loco Naturales, but it was closed until June, so we had lunch at a somewhat overpriced and touristy, but tasty, open air restaurant. We picked up some delicious pollo empanadas for whoppping .60 cents each to save for dinner later, knowing we were going to have a farewell cocktail party. As it turns out, my highschool friend isn't much of a late nighter, which was ok because my daughter was able to sleep with her until I was ready for bed. I don't sleep much on vacation...too much fun to be had! So ends our last night in Puerto Viejo. Priscilla, Marsha and I gabbing away and drinking vino, while Christina and Alex crashed, and Sonny wandered around one last time. Oh yeah, a group of students from the Waldorf school joined us that day too. They were going to join students from Puerto Viejo and play for the Bri-Bri. Cool
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 11th, 2007, 09:33 PM
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Yes, he is the same one. We found him by chance and used him twice. He was great. I found his phone number and sent it to someone--just can't remember who! He took me to Abel's one morning and the next morning drove us to to wharf in Moin for our boatride to Tortuguero.

I'm excited to hear about the sloth at the entrance to the Titi Trail--of course, she probably won't be there a month from now! Wonder how far she could travel in a month?
shillmac is offline  
Jun 12th, 2007, 09:15 PM
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shillmac -- I know, a momma and a juvenile together! I'm e-mailing you a pic right now

Oh, and I forgot to mention my new found love for Lizano!!!! How did I ever get by without this stuff? I sure hope my HUGE bottle holds out, otherwise I'll have to find some locally

Day 6 - We sent our friends off for their final night at Peace Lodge. It was really nice getting to spend some quality time with them and share some neat experiences.

My daughter and I took a last swim in the ocean and were picked up by Interbus at 10:30am for x-fer to Arenal and Hotel Campo del Silencio. We made a stop at La Quinta Country Inn, and it looked quite nice so I made a mental note to look it up when we got home. The location of CDC is approximately halfway between the town of Fortuna, and the opposite side of the volcano. We arrived around 4:30pm. The architecture of the bungalows is really cool and they are made of teak, with slanted roofs and have a rather spacious interior. There are pathways intertwining through the bungalows and leading to the pool, restaurant, etc. Yes, the hotel is just slightly of the road, but the grounds were perfectly manicured and attracted all sorts of birds including many hummingbirds. All the paths and bungalows were lined with flowers, plants and foliage, really pretty. We stayed in #2, and our patio didn't seem like it could be any closer to the base of the volcano! What a site! We were able to see the volcano it full glory every day, including "some red glow" at night. What impressed us even more was the staff. Some were family members, but even those who were not were the sweetest people. With my limited Spanish, they went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable and help us with whatever our needs. The restaurant was very nice and open air, we ended up eating dinner there each night because the food was excellent and the host (I'm very bad with names) was such a great conversationalist. I fear not too many people were staying there only because of the monstrosity being built next door. I sincerely hope it doesn't effect them permanently. There is a nice pool, but even better, free private hot springs 20 minutes walking. We only learned this on our last day there, so didn't have a chance to check it out. There are some bunnies and ducks and a tiny waterfall pond, so overall even though probably more adult oriented, a good hotel choice for kids too. We spent our first evening wandering around the area in our rain ponchos and then relaxing. It's really beautiful there and a lot different from Puerto Viejo. I could just sit outside and breathe and be happy in Costa Rica My daughter, on the other hand, decided she would need to watch a Lindsay Lohan movie dubbed in Spanish for a while...
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 13th, 2007, 01:46 PM
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Great report; can't wait to hear more. I love reading reports of single mom's traveling with their kids (er, assuming you're a single mom). Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one

shillmac: Just so you don't go crazy... I'm the one you gave Rene's number to. Thanks!
spookysee is offline  
Jun 13th, 2007, 02:48 PM
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coolblue - Aren't you heading off to CR yourself soon?

spookysee- Thanks for the kudos Yep, single mom, but we (my daughter and I) still have a great relationship with the ex. This was some great bonding time for us, for sure
hipvirgochick is offline  
Jun 13th, 2007, 05:55 PM
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I WISH it were soon. No, I'm just a really early planner so I have something to look forward to. NOT TILL NOVEMBER.

I feel like a crazy person.
coolbluewater is offline  
Jun 13th, 2007, 08:45 PM
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Excellent report, hipvirgochick! I would love to see your photos when you get them organized, so I hope you'll post a link here. Puerto Viejo sounds like a great destination. I know its a favorite of shillmac's ;-) ! Someday, I hope to get down there.

I'm looking forward to the rest of your BdC details. I'll be down there for my first visit this December.
cmerrell is offline  
Jun 13th, 2007, 08:53 PM
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Ah, now I remember, Spookysee! Thanks for bailing me out of my memory failure. . .

And thanks, hvc, for the pics--loved them!

cbw--November will be here before you know it! I'd love to go in Nov. sometime; isn't that when the coffee bean picking season begins?
shillmac is offline  
Jun 14th, 2007, 11:40 AM
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Really enjoying your report! Keep going! Bunnies? I love bunnies, I will make a mental note to stay there next time

Wondering, did your daughter find watching the LL movie less painful when it was dubbed in Spanish?
tully is offline  
Jun 14th, 2007, 11:54 AM
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cbw -- No worries...I'm starting to plan for NEXT November LOL!

cmerrel -- I will definitely post pics soon. I only have dial-up at home so I need to get to a wireless for dl. Otherwise, it would take a week! I do hope you get to PV, we loved it there! I'm glad you're making it to BDC, you'll be in heaven!

tully -- I'll be continuing the report tonight! And yes, bunnies

LOL -- I think my daughter has "The Parent Trap" with LL memorized! Now, if I can just keep her away from "the grown up" LL!
hipvirgochick is offline  

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