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How can we avoid crowds but still feel like we saw Costa Rica?

How can we avoid crowds but still feel like we saw Costa Rica?

Old Jan 27th, 2011, 09:01 AM
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How can we avoid crowds but still feel like we saw Costa Rica?

My husband and I are planning a trip (approx 7 days) to Costa Rica in March. We love nature travel and are interested mostly in rain and cloud forests as well as wetlands (hopefully with some small guided tours), but would also like to see a volcano. However, our biggest priority is avoiding large crowds.

I have heard great things about Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio, but I have heard they are very crowded. I am very tempted by the descriptions of the remoteness of the Osa Penninsula, but without flying (it's hard just to get my husband on a large aircraft to Costa Rica!) I don't think we'd have time to see anything else. We have never been to Costa Rica before and would hate to miss out on amazing sites. Any suggestions about maximizing the stuff we see but still feeling like we're away from it all?
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 09:10 AM
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I've never felt like Arenal has big crowds. We stay at the Lost Iguana - great quiet beautiful property out by the lake. It's set on the edge of town which I really like. To me, that's the place to go if you want to see a volcano. Maybe you could pair it with Tortuguero - lots of wildlife there. If you wanted to do the Osa, some people do drive it, but you'd eat up a lot of travel time that way. Based on wanting to be away from it all, the Osa is the perfect place for that.
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 10:35 AM
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Additional things to look into based on own research not experience:
yourtravelmap.com
using a private driver so you can cover ground after dark. Cano Negro
Volcanoes other than Arenal
San Gerardo de Dota
Sierpe river lodges combined with Drake Bay and a day trip to Corcovado
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 10:42 AM
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Like vgirl, I don't really consider those areas "crowded" in terms of American tourism, but certainly March is a busier time than some so there will be more people there that time of year. Plenty of places to visit though that are less touristed, for example you could spend some time in Manuel Antonio then drive to Dominical/Uvita and spend a few days there then down to the Osa. It would obviously save you some time if you could at least fly one way. Another wonderful area is Tortuguero and you could combine that to the less touristed area of Puerto Viejo (one of my faves).
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 11:21 AM
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We had Wilson Rojas drive us from MA to Osa Peninsula and it took 3.5 hrs. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again and I'm not a fan of car rides. Here's a cut/paste from an earlier post....

We just had Wilson Rojas drive us (May 2010) from Manuel Antonio to Puerto Jimenez and I wanted to report that with the new roads, the drive was only around 3.5 hrs.

We were pretty shocked with how easy it was and Wilson said that roads had just been improved the prior week -- he was very pleased and thought more groups may want to drive now. The flight from Quepos-PJ was scheduled as 1:50 min (goes back to San Jose first) and so with check-in time, we felt that flying would eat up 2.5 hrs anyway. The last part of our drive was very scenic with amazing valley and ocean views -- I was asleep for the first couple hours so have no idea what that was like. We had a very nice lunch stop at a cute little roadside restaurant (with a few cabinas) once we reached the Osa. Low prices, good food, beautiful view, new and clean bathrooms.

I was stressed that this was gonna be a 5 hr+ drive so I wanted to pass this info along. Can't give a price quote for just this route as we had Wilson pick us up from SJO and drive us to MA, drive us around MA when needed, and drive us to Puerto Jimenez -- it was $400 for these 3 days of driving, not including a much deserved tip. ([email protected])
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 12:13 PM
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Based on my experience earlier this month, of the 5 places we stayed in our 14-day trip I most enjoyed Monteverde and the Osa Peninsula (we had a rental car the whole time). I'm hoping to post my trip report in the next few days with some details. Manuel Antonio was quite crowded with tourists--much more so than Monteverde, which had people but wasn't swamped. Osa was definitely NOT crowded! If you didn't want to fly, you could drive there from San Jose in about 6.5-7 hours--you pass through some wonderful countryside with fantastic scenery. We drove the coast route (through Manuel Antonio, Dominical, Uvita) one way and the central mountain route on our return. With the exception of one fairly brief stretch between Uvita and Rincon, the roads were all great. No volcanoes, but then again, there wasn't much volcano to see in Arenal when we were there (caught in clouds), and our plans to see Irazu went awry because of the weather as well. If I had just a week, I think I would go straight to the Osa and visit the rest of Costa Rica on a future trip.
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 02:17 PM
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Wish I'd seen fishee's earlier post earlier and am looking forward to aprillilac's TR, since I've been trying to nail down a decent driving time estimate for the mountain route from SJO to PJ. I think the source of confusion is that everyone recommends yourtravelmap.com (as I repeated above in the context of suggesting Drake Bay), but it's way off on the Palmar Sur-PJ leg due to failing to account for recent improvements.

I had pencilled in the following estimates for our own itinerary. Planning to stay at or under the speed limit even if traffic is faster. The preceding posts suggest it's a little on the conservatively-slow side. Is that about what y'all would say (recognizing that it's an estimate and actual times will vary)?

SJO to IA km 80 (leaving appx. noon on a Friday): 2.75 hours
IA km 80 to Dominical (leaving appx. 8 a.m. on a Sunday): 2 hours
Dominical to Palmar Sur/Norte: 1.5 hours
Palmar Norte to Puerto Jimenez: 1.75 hours (significantly reduced by recent road improvements)
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 02:28 PM
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Cloud forest..San Gerardo de Dota and Los Quetzales Park!

Manuel Antonio does feel crowded inside the park and a bit "Disneyesque", Hacienda Baru feels more rustic with lots of trails and pretty much the same wildlife, and has an onsite zipline (not squirrel monkeys though), much easier to get to than the Osa.
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 03:00 PM
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The drive from Uvita to PJ took exactly 3 hours on the nose, no stops; that was 1.5 years ago and the road was maybe 1/3 done at that point.

If you can't get your husband down to the Osa by plane, you could look into driving, the drive, especially from Dominical to Palmar Sur is stunning. That said, there are lovely places to stay that aren't crowded in the Dominical/Uvita area.

I didn't find Arenal crowded but did find MA just a little too much, for me personally.
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 04:48 PM
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Thanks so much for the advice so far! We'll definitely avoid Manuel Antonio and maybe will try to drive down to the Osa Peninsula and stop along the way. Aprillilacs, I'm interested in reading your trip report if you post it.

Any suggestions for lodges or other accomodations outside of Corcovado that are reasonably priced and maybe offer some guided tours?
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Old Jan 27th, 2011, 08:26 PM
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The Sarapiqui area has some of the best ecotourism and wildlife opportunities in the country, never feels crowded, yet is only two hours outside of San Jose.
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Old Jan 28th, 2011, 03:57 AM
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Don't bypass Arenal--the Cano Negro day tour would be awesome for your wetlands experience. Not MA--too hot in March, and crowded.

I am a big fan of Tortuguero, but getting there and back in fairly time consuming, especially if you don't want to fly domestic.

Definitely San Gerardo de Dota, Savegre Lodge, would be a great spot to enjoy Costa Rica. Excellent trails, fabulous birding, and a couple of the best birding guides in the country--seeing the quetzal would be a really unique and fun experience for you. I think you would fall in love with this area! Very unique.
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Old Jan 28th, 2011, 05:52 AM
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IA km 80 = turnoff to San Gerardo de Dota in above pre-estimated driving times, FYI. Savegre Lodge is 7? km downmountain from there.

I know the OP nixed domestic flights, but especially if you do want to include Arenal and/or Cano Negro, that might be worth revisiting -- maybe fly to PJ at the outset, start a rental from Solid there (not necessarily starting upon arrival in PJ), and drive north one-way; drop-off fee with a long rental may be low or waived.
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Old Jan 28th, 2011, 09:47 AM
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San Gerardo de Dota would be a perfect stop for a night or two on the way to the Osa. We wanted to stay there on our way back, at the well-regarded Savegre Lodge, but it was full so we decided to go to Orosi Valley instead. That was fine (put us close enough to San Jose to drive to the airport for an afternoon flight), but after driving through the gorgeous mountains and stopping for lunch at a little restaurant at the turnoff to San Gerardo de Dota, we really regretted not having tried to find a place there. It was beautiful!

In the Osa we stayed 4 nights in Puerto Jimenez at Cabinas Jimenez, a sweet, simple set of cabinas and rooms on the edge of town, right on the Golfo Dulce. Our room was a bargain at $80 a night and included air conditioning, a small patio overlooking the bay, and a refrigerator, which was handy. The friendly staff was very helpful in setting us up with guides for daytrips, including a boat tour on the gulf where we were surrounded by pods of jumping dolphins and a wonderful full-day hike in Corcovado Park, out of the inland Los Patos ranger station. On our own we arranged a kayak tour of the mangroves and drove the incredibly bumpy but scenic road to Cabo Matapalo for a great afternoon at the beach. We bought fruit, beer, and wine from the local supermarket for evenings on the patio, and hung out in the hammocks on the lawn as well. Puerto Jimenez is a lively little town with an authentic local vibe, good, inexpensive restaurants, a soccer field in constant use...we really enjoyed our 4 days there. If I were to go again, I would probably stay a couple nights at Cabinas Jimenez and 2-3 nights at Lookout Inn, which is close enough to Corcovado's La Sirena ranger station to a trip out of there. We didn't see the lodge in person but hung out with a couple we met at the cabinas who really loved their time there.
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