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Itinerary for week in Costa Rica

Old Mar 28th, 2010, 09:04 PM
  #1  
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Itinerary for week in Costa Rica

Please help me check my tentative plans for our trip to Costa Rica.

We are flying in early on a Sunday morning.
We'll stay two nights in Arenal, two nights in Manuel Antonio, two nights north of Jaco for a wedding, and our last night in San Jose.

Here is the first section:

Tentative plans:

Day 1 (Sunday) – San Jose to Arenal:

Arrive in San Jose approximately 9:30 AM. Pick up rental car (Budget).
Drive to Arenal via Naranjo and Zarcero.
Stop at fruit/cheese/restaurants just before Zarcero for lunch.
In Zarcero, visit topiary gardens. (take turns staying with car)
Check in to hotel – Arenal Observatory Lodge (2 nights).
(estimate leaving airport at 10:30 – 4 hour driving time – plus an hour for stops = ETA 3:30)
Explore lodge grounds – Waterfall trail (1 hour)

Day 2 (Monday) – only full day at Arenal

Choices:

Arenal Pariso Canopy Tour (zip lines – can leave after first two) – 2 hours – 8 AM, 10:30 AM 1 PM or 3 PM - $45.

Arenal Hanging Bridges – 3 hours
open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; admission $22,
guided natural history walk, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., $34
early bird watching - 6 am $34

“El Silencio” Nature Hike -3:30 PM - 3 hour evening hike from hotel (not sure if there's a charge)

Day 3 (Tuesday) – Arenal to Manual Antonio

Morning walk at Arenal Observatory Lodge – 8:30 AM - 2 ½ hours
Check out at 11 AM -
Drive to Manuel Antonio – VRBO – check in by 5 PM – driving time 5 hours


I need to decide between our choices of things to do at Arenal on Tuesday. In retrospect, I wish we had another day there.

On Wednesday, I'm not sure if we'll have time to do the morning hike and still arrive at Manuel Antonio by 5 PM.

Thanks for your help.
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 05:34 AM
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At Arenal I would suggest going to Hanging Bridges first for your best wildlife sightings.

With the zipline at Arenal Paraiso you won't see much wildlife so you can do that in the afternoon. We saw a toucan while waiting on one of the platforms and there was a monkey down by the river but we zipped by so quickly we missed it. The photographer got its photo, so it was there!

We bought the CD, really had fun going over the photos - maybe $30 or $40 with zipline pictures and 200 of Costa Rican birds and wildlife.
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 07:31 AM
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Thanks colibri. Good idea on going to the bridges first because of the wildlife.

Do you know if the two and three hour time estimates are pretty accurate? I'd like to do all three things, but am afraid they'd conflict with each other.

If we do the Hanging Bridges first and it takes three hours, the first Canopy Tour we could make would be 1 PM. If that's two hours, I don't know if we could get back to the hotel in time for the 3:30 tour.

Hmm. I guess we could do the 6 am bridges and then the 10:30 zip line. I don't know how realistic getting up that early is though after the overnight flight from Saturday to Sunday.
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 08:58 AM
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I'd throw in a night at Eco Termales hot springs if you can fit it into your schedule. The springs are great; they serve a nice chicken dinner there. It took us about two hours to hike the Hanging Bridges - we didn't see any wildlife at all there though.
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 09:10 AM
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That is a beautiful drive through Zarcero up to Arenal. Are you planning on eating at El Mirador, just short of Zarcero? Good food! But driving in the mountains in Costa Rica is not like driving at home, and we are really tired after a day of driving. There are no "no mind" stretches. It is like one of those video games where things are coming at you all the time, and you really have to pay attention. If it were me, when I got there, I would plan on sitting on the main deck at Arenal Observatory lodge watching the birds and wildlife with binoculars (and maybe beer) in hand. There is lots to see right there from the deck. Then do the Waterfall hike one of the mornings you're there. Sky Trek zipline is right near the AOL. You might want to go to that one to save some time. I don't think I'd do the hanging bridges. There's not that much more there that you won't see at AOL. If you want to see a different set of wildlife, you can stop at Carara National Park on the way to Manuel Antonio. But I don't know how much you'll see if you are there mid-day. You have a good chance of seeing Scarlett Macaws in the morning, or just before sunset (5:30). That's a good place to visit from Villa Caletas, if that's where the wedding is. Have a great trip!
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 09:19 AM
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I tend to agree with Shooie. Our experience is that a 3:30 planned ETA often turns into 5:00, depending on traffic, road conditions, airport, rental, etc. You've allowed some cushion for sure, but arriving at 9:30 and being on the road by 10:30 sounds an hour short of real time.

That first night, take it easy. You'll be SO pooped from air and car travel. Get good rest to best enjoy your time the next day.

Safe travels--enjoy!
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 10:10 AM
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You can easily do the hanging bridges in three hours - we saw white-faced capuchins, howler monkeys, trogons while there. It's a beautiful hike, but I haven't ever been to AOL so I can't compare it as others can.

The zipline at Paraiso will take 2-3 hours - 11 lines, but total length will depend on how many people sign up. I think a total of 22 were going when I did it. They split us into 2 groups of 11. Your entire group goes platform to platform with one guide going first, the other last. So there is a lot of waiting around on the platforms! I loved the last one as you skim over the river for a long time.
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Old Mar 29th, 2010, 10:14 AM
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It took us probably close to 2 hours to get our bags, get through customs and pick up our rental car and get on the road to Arenal. I think with a lunch stop and sightseeing stop you may be underestimating your arrival time to Arenal (think more 5pm).

In terms of deciding on activites for Arenal, you just need to decide on your priorities....
Is it most important to you to see wildlife, get into the jungle or have a thrilling adventure.

We did not hire a guide at Hanging Bridges and consequently did not see much wildlife. We made up for this by hiring a guide at Manuel Antonio Park where we saw a lot! so hanging bridges for us, was just a very pretty and interesting walk in the woods, and even at a slow pace only took about 2 hours.

My husband did ziplining with SkyTram and thought it was quite an experience. You again don't see any wildlife, but it is a memorable and thrilling adventure.

It sounds like you're planning some really busy days. There are lots of great activities in Arenal and Manuel Antonio... just remember to take some time to relax and enjoy them. Some of our best times involved sitting on our deck watching the sunset or volcano, sipping a drink and talking about our day.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 09:09 AM
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volcanogirl - Thanks for the tip about Eco Termales hot springs. It looks like we need to plan another trip to CR to fit everything in. Also thanks for the time estimate on the hanging bridges.

shooie - We hadn't any idea yet about where to eat near Zarcero. Is El Mirador fairly quick and not too much of a splurge? I know we won't want to spend too long, but it's good to go somewhere that we know is good.

I was wondering whether Carara might be a good place to go the morning of the wedding. It doesn't look like it is too far.

shillmac - I think you are right - we should just veg out that first night. After the overnight flight and the drive, we'll probably be exhausted.

colibri - Thanks for the tips on both the hanging bridges and the zip line. I sure would like to be able to do both, but I think it might be too much in one day. Maybe we could do something similar at Manuel Antonio.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 09:10 AM
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steviegene - How did you find a guide at Manuel Antonio? Are there people near the entrance or is there an office of some sort? The information on Manuel Antonio that I've found has been kind of vague.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 09:11 AM
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Here is our tentative plans for the second half of the week.

Day 4 (Wednesday) – Manual Antonio –

AM – visit Manual Antonio National Park - not sure if this will take the entire day or not

Day 5 (Thursday) – drive to Villa Caletas – north of Jaco – driving time 2 ½ hours
Rehearsal dinner – 5 PM

Day 6 (Friday) – wedding – 4 PM

Day 7 (Saturday) – drive to San Jose – driving time 2 hours – Clarion Hotel Amon Plaza

Day 8 (Sunday) – AM - walking tour downtown San Jose
Check-out by noon - Flight in evening.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 09:13 AM
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Does anyone have a good estimate of how long it will take to drive from Manuel Antonio to Villa Caletas? Somewhere I found some information and wrote down 2 1/2 hours. However, information sent with the wedding invitation said they were going to take a group there the morning of the rehearsal dinner and it was 1 hour away.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 10:26 AM
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Yes, if you're anything like us, you'll end up going back over and over again. Regarding the guide in Manuel Antonio, we just asked our hotel to recommend someone and that worked out great for us; he picked us up and dropped us back off. There were also guides available at the park entrance but can't vouch for how good they are. Juan Brenes is a guide that gets consistently good reviews and is popular so you might check him out too.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 12:02 PM
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Thanks for the tip volcanogirl. When we found out about the wedding and started looking into details, I was pleasantly surprised at the airfares.

Earlier this week, I happened upon the Showdown Showcase on Price is Right. Part of one of the packages was a stay at the Lost Iguana Lodge near Arenal. I'd heard so much about it here, that I felt like I knew the place.
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Old Mar 30th, 2010, 12:05 PM
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No way - really? That's awesome. I could have put in a pretty good bid!
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Old Mar 31st, 2010, 09:05 AM
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Traveler, El Mirador has very reasonable Costa Rican food, and it's fairly quick. Nothing fancy. It is on the right side of the road after you drive up into the mountain. You park right in front.
It's about an hour from Manuel Antonio to Villa Caletas. Our son got married at Villa Caletas. It was beautiful.
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Old Mar 31st, 2010, 03:04 PM
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Our hotel offered private guides for around $80 pp or a group tour for $45 a person. We went with the group - which we didn't regret (although many many people on Fodors have highly recommended hiring a private guide). The group makes the tour slower because each person has to look through the telescope, take a photo, etc. But its just so much cheaper - and we still got to see everything! Besides, I kindof enjoyed the slow pace because it was hot and I am pregnant!

Your hotel will be able to set up you on all kind of tours -- each of our hotels handed us a list at check in of all the tours available that they recommended.
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Old Apr 1st, 2010, 09:30 PM
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I'm trying to figure out what we can actually fit in at Arenal. In retrospect, I wish that we were spending a third night at Arenal, a third night at Villa Caletas and then just went to Manuel Antonio as a day trip from Villa Caletas. However, I checked and it's too late to cancel the room.

I think we need to eliminate either the canopy tour or the zip line tour. Also, I see there's a second choice of zip lines. Shooie mentioned that Sky Trek was closer to our hotel. Is there any disadvantage to taking it rather than Arenal Pariso? Any ideas on how long it would take to drive from the Observatory Lodge to Pariso? The tour book says that Sky Trek has a line that's 650 feet in the air. That sounds scary. I suppose we could just take the tram if we wimp out.
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Old Apr 1st, 2010, 09:35 PM
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Another thought. I hope to try a zip line, but am not wed to doing it near Arenal. Could we do that at Manuel Antonio or Jaco? I would be happy just doing one or two zip lines to try it out - I wouldn't need to do it for a couple of hours if there is anywhere that has a briefer option.
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Old Apr 1st, 2010, 09:53 PM
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Here is a revised itinerary.

Tentative plans – revision 2:

Day 1 (Sunday) – San Jose to Arenal:

Arrive in San Jose approximately 9:30 AM. Pick up rental car (Budget). (allow 2 hours to get on the road)

Drive to Arenal via Naranjo and Zarcero.

Stop before Zarcero for lunch at El Mirador (right side of road, park in front)

In Zarcero, visit topiary gardens. (take turns staying with car) (allow 5 hours for drive plus stops)

Check in to hotel – Arenal Observatory Lodge (2 nights). (ETA 4:30)

Relax and explore lodge grounds. If not too tired or too dark, possibly take the Waterfall trail (1 hour)

Day 2 (Monday) – only full day at Arenal Observatory Lodge

8:30 AM - Morning walk at Arenal Observatory Lodge - 2 ½ hours

Try to do a zip line: two choices:
11:30 or 12:30 Sky Tram/Trek zipline - $66– 2 ½ hours - $66 - many time choices from 7:30 to 3
or
1 PM - Arenal Pariso Canopy Tour (zip lines – can leave after first two) – 2 hours – 8 AM, 10:30 AM 1 PM or 3 PM - $45. (not sure if we’d make it back for the 3:30 hike)

3:30 PM - “El Silencio” Nature Hike - 3 hour evening hike from hotel

Day 3 (Tuesday) – Arenal to Manual Antonio

Check out at 11 AM –

Drive to Manuel Antonio – VRBO – official check-in is 2 – but can check in by 5 PM –
driving time 5 hours

Day 4 (Wednesday) – Manuel Antonio –

Visit Manuel Antonio National Park – Get there at approx. 6:30 AM

Day 5 (Thursday) – drive to Villa Caletas – north of Jaco –
check out is 12 noon.
driving time 1 - 2 ½ hours

Rehearsal dinner – 5 PM

Day 6 (Friday) –possibly go to Carara National Park during the morning
Wedding – 4 PM

Day 7 (Saturday) – drive to San Jose – driving time 2 hours – Clarion Hotel Amon Plaza

We have free time before we need to leave for San Jose.

Day 8 (Sunday) – AM - walking tour downtown San Jose
Check-out by noon
Airport for 5:30 PM flight


Eliminated:
Arenal Hanging Bridges – 3 hours - open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; admission $22,
early bird watching - 6 am $34 - guided natural history walk, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., $34

Could we fit in a canopy tour at Manuel Antonio or Jaco? How about doing the zip line there too? It seems like there are too many things that I want to do at Arenal and quite a bit of open time at the other spots.
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