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Just back from 12 Great days in Cr- Sun/Rain/Monkeys/Volcanos/Rice and Beans!

Just back from 12 Great days in Cr- Sun/Rain/Monkeys/Volcanos/Rice and Beans!

Old Jul 17th, 2005, 03:59 PM
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Just back from 12 Great days in Cr- Sun/Rain/Monkeys/Volcanos/Rice and Beans!

Just returned from a terrific 12 days in CR. As we used this site extensively thought we could help out some others with our notes. I included our profile so you have a sense of our perspective.

General notes:

We had a blast. Just my husband and me. No kids. Both in late 40’s but think more like 20 something. Live in New Jersey. Not crunchy at all. Neither in terrific shape. 1st trip to CR. I travel a lot, but husband does not. He was a bit nervous, but we both had a tremendous experience! Neither speaks Spanish, but we learned on the road…..

We rented and drove- and were very glad we did. Would do again. Directions a bit sketchy (!) but there is no such thing as getting hopelessly lost. It is all part of the adventure. Actually my husband did all of the driving (I think he did not trust me!) And while he rated some roads as treacherous, his favorite day was the one spent driving up to Monteverde from Arenal.

Tricolor Car rental- TERRIFIC and well priced. Mitsubishi 4X4, good size, did the job, $643 inclusive for 12 days…highly recommend!

B&B laminated CR map essential. Had a hard time finding but found a sweet little family based website-www.mapsguidesandmore.com
I know this sounds like a commercial but I just love enterprising small, personal family businesses, and they were outstanding.

Buy gas when you find it. Never know where another gas station is.

The people were terrific, can’t say enough good. Absolutely terrific.

The fruit and vegetables were also terrific. Food in general very, very fresh and whole. As a side note I have an intestinal disease and must be very careful, and I never got sick. We ate tons of salads, fruits, vegetables, drank tap water…but we did stay a pretty good hotels. Did not eat any raw seafood- just not worth the potential risk to me.

Learned to love rice and beans.

The best restaurants were little more that huts out doors.

The lighting was beautiful. Get up early. I know- we are not morning people, but it gets light early, and it is the best part of the day. There is no experience in the world like seeing the sunrise reflected on a huge volcano.

Gets light at around 5:00 am. Dark by 6:15-6:30.

Air smells wonderfull. Some days like strawberries. Some days like pineapple, some days like both. Some days fresh rain scent.

Also some days like diesel from all of the tour busses- not to nice.

Weather changes very quickly. Skies were fabulous.

Weather was great. Sunny every day, real nice. Rained almost every night, big rain. Never interfered with any activity, just threw on our Gortex and off we went.

Everything is casual. Wearing socks felt dressed up.

We did not were any special clothes. Never wore the zip offs we purchased. Never wore the quick drying shirts.

Wore sandals and Lands end extreme sports shoes exclusively. Sandals when dry. Lands end shoes when wet or hiking. Dried them with a hair dryer when wet,

Advice from our experience is don’t spend money buying any special clothes.

Never used the Fabreeze. Never needed a suction cup hook. Never needed the laundry detergent.

Zip locks handy.

Small flashlights a MUST. Used them every night.

Only used bug spay once. 21% deet. I am a bug magnet (fair and fleshy) and only got bit twice.

Did use a neat sheet at the beach. It is a great invention, and will be handy at home.

The climate is very diverse. I will address in each segment by geographic area.

We opted to purchase water, soda, rum in supermarkets. Saved a lot of $.

We never converted a cent. Every single place took US dollars. Including farmers in fields. It was extremely easy.

Finally- Zip lines- just do it. I am afraid of ski lifts, but loved the zip lines more than you could imagine. Remember I am 48 and a bit chubby. Details forth coming!

Our itinerary:

Peace Lodge 2 nights- absolutely terrific, loved all but the food. Would do again in a heartbeat. Cool temperatures.

Arenal-Montana de Fuego 2 nights- our least favorite hotel – would not revisit hotel, but loved area. Our warmest weather by far.

Montverde- El Establo 2 nights- Very nice, great service, great room- would do again. Very cool temps. Sweatshirt at night. NOTE BEST LAUNDRY DEAL!

Manual Antonio- SI Como No 5 nights- absolutely terrific, loved everything about it, would do again in a heartbeat! Warm, humid, but not as hot as Arenal.

San Jose Marriott on Firestone 1 night- just to be near airport for early flight, and was able to book for free. Very nice, but a Marriott in CR…felt like a business trip to me. Very chilly, big rain.

Overall the trip was outstanding, but if planning again we would have added a night or 2 in Arenal, and a night in Monteverde, It was a bit tight. We were very pleased with our time in the end at Manual Antonio just to chill. We were very active in the beginning of the trip, and it was nice to really relax at the end.

It will probably take me a few days, but I will add as I have time. Ask any questions- I will do my best to answer.

So here goes !

Arrival at Peace Lodge. Seamless travel. Newark/Houston/San Jose. Landed at 11:30- was out of the airport by noon.

Tricolor picked us up and whisked us off to get our car. They were outstanding. Most nerve-racking moment of the trip was pulling out onto the road for the first time. Road is a bit narrow and was really busy. Combined with a vehicle that we were not familiar with…. but it was fine after a few minutes. Directions in CR are a bit unusual- Chris at Tricolor gave us a real flavor of this…

Off we went to find Peace lodge- about a 45-minute drive. No problem…. but we failed to notice that the 4wd. was not full and all of a sudden we are in the middle of nowhere, and gas gauge was below Empty. Hmmmm…Husband was freaking out! I try my cell phone, but no service. It works in many countries, but not Costa Rica. Anyway, we drove on (turned off AC) and eventually stumbled into a gas station.

Lesson learned- you never know when you will find gas, so get it when you see it!

Arrived at Peace lodge, and were pretty impressed. Went to our room (Papillio) all named after butterflies. They gave a great orientation. Room was spectacular, especially the bathroom. Waterfall, 2 showers, 2 stone hot tubs (one on balcony) fireplace (which we used), hammock. I know there have been negative posts on this sight, but to us they are not warranted. Nothing like the Disney trips we have experienced, just a well done resort with outstanding natural features.

We walked the grounds a bit- Butterflies and hummingbirds everywhere. Very, very beautiful.

We went to dinner, only area that was not real good. It was expensive, and only fair food. Service was terrific, staff so nice, drinks good (sampled many rums) and it did beat driving those roads at night. We ate there both nights, but it was kind of expensive.

FYI it gets dark at 6:15-6:30 every day and night driving in some areas not real good as roads are mountainous and dark.

Next morning we woke and went to Poas Volcano, a short drive. We woke early every day (and we are not morning people at all). It worked out well, as the AM is the best part of the day.

Arrived in bright sunlight, had a good look at the crater (GREAT) and then the clouds rolled in. Then clear, then clouds. Weather changes fast in Costa Rica.
Walked the nature trail to secondary crater. It was posted as a 30-minute trail but more like an hour and 30 minutes. Steep uphill. A bit tough.

Secondary crater was a lake, very pretty, but there was a group of OBNOXIOUS American teenage kids there making a scene. It pretty much ruined the moment. They were very poorly behaved. Shame. Security guard should have thrown them out, but that is not the Costa Rican way, so on we went.

Stopped for fresh picked strawberries on the way back, sold from a big cart on the road. They were outstanding. The air smelled so wonderful, a big fresh strawberry field.

Back to Peace lodge, and hiked the grounds. Absolutely beautiful. Fed the hummingbirds by hand, which we loved, stood in the mist from the beautiful waterfalls, back to the room for a hot tub, then a nap in the hammock after eating the rest of the berries!

Dinner in hotel, then sleep for next day trip to Arenal.

To be continued.
marleyzoemom is offline  
Old Jul 17th, 2005, 06:28 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report! I agree about the whole morning thing. I'm not a morning person either, yet most days in CR, especially at Bosque del Cabo, I was up by 5 and in bed by 930.

btw, what is "Not crunchy at all". lol, I have no idea what that means.
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Old Jul 17th, 2005, 07:16 PM
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Can't wait to hear the rest...sounds great so far! Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jul 18th, 2005, 11:59 AM
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Hi Tully,
Bosque is on the next visit list- we got the cr bug!
Funny, one night we were ready to sleep by 8:50 and forced each other to stay up at least till 9.....
Crunchy= Granola? Must be a jersey term! Got it??? LOL!
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Old Jul 18th, 2005, 06:41 PM
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Part 2- Peace Lodge to Arenal

Left Peace Lodge for drive to Arenal. FYI Peace Lodge has excellent directions pre-printed- a nice touch.

The drive was only 2 ½ hours on perfect roads. The air smelled wonderful as we drove thru farmlands. Pineapples and Strawberries, even the trucks of pineapples smelled great!

Arrived at Montana de Fuego, and the grounds looked lovely. Heavy security at gate- armed guards a little weird.

The scene in the lobby was chaotic. Phones ringing off the hook, all ignored by employees chatting amongst themselves, guests being ignored, people arguing, a real scene.

Eventually got checked in, went to room and it was a shack. I have camped in better lean twos…. back to lobby. Moved to 2nd room, a step up, but not so good. View was great, but there were holes in the walls to the outside. But we decided it would be fine.

Husband went to get stuff from car, and power went out. It had to be 95 to start, and humid, then no a/c. No problem we went to pool.

Grounds were lovely, pool was great. Went back to room for something, power still out. Went to lobby, same chaos scene, they assured me power would be back on in 15 minutes. Noticed that all other rooms had air conditioners humming, but not ours.

Returned to room in another hour- still no power. OK, that was it. On to 3rd room. This was a bit better; at least it had walls and AC, but still not so great.

Went to speak to tour director re volcano hike and Eco-termales reservations. He told me that Ecotermales was a bad place, “Weird” not good at all, and I should not go there. He also told me that they did not have the phone number. He said I would be sorry. I insisted he book for us, and finally he did.

On the Volcano hike he told me about a great sounding trek. Nice hike up the Volcano, interesting educational info on Volcanoes, and lava watching. As my husband was a little volcano nervous I booked the hike with a guide. BAD MOVE.

Went to Ecotermales that night (reservations are an absolute must) and we loved it. Eco termales is a private hot springs, and allows only 100 guests a day. It assures a nice experience, and that it was. Since the night we visited they had a group of young people visiting they cut reservations to only 50 people. They have a nice bar with fruit drinks, adult beverages, etc. all on an honor system. The hot springs are nice, very natural. All surrounded by woods. No Volcano view, but very nice nonetheless.

Spent about 2 hours in the springs, showered and changed then had dinner reservations.

Dinner was great. Like a home cooked meal. Family style- real nice salad home made tortillas, chicken in a nice orange sauce, rice and beans (of course!). Harold, grandson of the property owners, served dinner. He gave us the whole history of the property, his families decision to open it for the public, introduced his Grand Mother (who was the chef) and told us all about their long range plans. Very very nice. It was like a private visit with the family. Dinner in their home.
Harold told us that they do not pay any commission. All word of mouth marketing. Their rates were very reasonable, partially due to the fact that they do not pay commissions. AHA- this is why the hotel spent so much time dissuading me from the reservation.

It was a totally enjoyable evening. No rain. Hot springs, 2 Imperials each, dinner, $60.00. Very highly recommended.

Woke the next day at 4:45 AM…. Volcano totally clear, and spectacular. That was it- no more sleep! Off we went with camera and camcorder. Fabulous photos as the Volcano became bathed in the early morning sun. Glowing red, it was like a religious experience. I cannot explain the beauty…

Anyway breakfast was OK. Service not too good- hard to get a second cup of coffee, just not real nice.

Went to check out Lost Iguana (I had total hotel envy!) and went to hanging bridges. It was fantastic. There was no one else around; it was a clear sunny (but getting hot) day. So there we are, trucking thru the Jungle, loving life, when all of a sudden we heard the most horrifying sounds. I cannot describe how frightening it was…like some animals were going to come out and tear our skin off of our body. We tried to figure out the source (so we could avoid!) but to no avail. On we went, dodging the frightening sounds, till we ran into some souls from Holland. Thrilled to see humans and not man eating jungle creatures, we asked if they saw know what the man eating animals were…Sure they responded- Howling Monkeys!!!! No way, but they lead us back to the area of the sounds, lined us up- pointed up- then the Monkeys started peeing down, and AHA- Monkeys it was. Could not believe it. This sound, this life threatening sound, was coming from a few monkeys…we collapsed in laughter!!! You can lead the kids to the jungle, but…

Anyway, we proceeded to check out the monkeys when all of a sudden we heard another sound, like a jet airplane…. yep- the volcano was blowing off steam. What a terrific experience. You just had to be there.

Saw many other animals, cutter ants, lizards, more Howlers, Birds, you name it we saw it, Volcano belching all along the way. Unbelievably cool.

Spent about 3 hours, stopped at El Novella for lunch (very good) then back to hotel to the pool. It was really, really hot. Had to drag my husband out of pool for the Volcano hike. To add insult to injury he was supposed to wear long pants, but just plain refused. He was the smart one!

Met in lobby for “Volcano” hike. Lead by Mr. No Ecotermales. Boarded a nice cool bus. 10 of us. $55.00 Per Person.
Went to some spot, parked and out of the bus. Started trekking thru the woods. And we trekked, and trekked, up hills, up more hills, up even more hills. Hot as can be. Guide explained a plant or 2 (really that is all) dragged us thru the woods, started pouring (he said OK- it is a rain forest) kept on dragging us. One of the party members was a photographer, and the guide barely stopped long enough for him to take a photo.

It was awful. We were nowhere near the Volcano. At one point we did have a view, but ……

Finally we emerged, hot wet, sweaty, and exhausted from out “tour” of the rain forest, and set off to view lava. We drove to a spot on the road leading up to the observatory, where no less than 200 people were standing, waiting for who know what to happen. Some guy yelling LAVA, LAVA, but we could see nothing. All of a sudden, big light and crash- a tremendous storm sweeps in, and back on the bus we go.

Guide gets me aside and offers to “wait out the storm” as it usually clears and lava is visible. He asks me to get the group to agree. I am over it and refuse. So he just gets in the drivers seat and proceeds to fall asleep! Wakes up in about 25 minutes, tells us that it will clear, assuring us “ he has the experience, and we have the money”. It was a total tip grab, but in vain. We had all agreed no tip…

So finally we left at 7:30- still thunder and lightening all over the place (a pretty net sight I must say) and back to hotel. It was terrible. Absolutely terrible. Live and learn, but an expensive mistake.

We cleaned up and headed to Las Brasitas for dinner. It was outstanding. Had the special chicken, and a few margaritas. We loved it.

Last night in Arenal then on to Monteverde. In spite of some not so good experiences we had a blast. Spent the night laughing about the trek thru the woods (you really just have to laugh) and all of out other experiences.

We loved Arenal, and wanted more time there. I would not recommend Montana; it seemed like a total money grab. Just not nice people I hate to say.

One more note- when we were in the pool some other obvious American sought us out. This resort was full of Americans. She blurted out something about the London terror attacks, something we knew nothing about. It was a real jolt to the system, as we were in NY on 911…Point is it is very easy to totally relax in CR and remove yourself from the world. Ignorance is bliss…

Tomorrow Monteverde…

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Old Jul 19th, 2005, 06:00 PM
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Part 3

Ok, so when checking out of Montana de Fuego I ask if they have clear directions to Monteverde. What was I thinking? They told me to ask Mr. Volcano…. I opted not to. I figured based on the previous days “no tip tour” he would get us completely lost!!!!!!!!

Guess what? We could do that on our own- we needed no help! Simple directions- go to Tilaran, then Monteverde, right. No Problem.
So why was that little Tico woman chasing us down the road with a map in her hand? Simple. The best cottage industry in all of Costa Rica, the help the lost gringos for a contribution industry. It was terrific! So we stop, and the sweet woman whips out a folder, and speaking no English but arm motions and the word straight, with a contribution of a us dollar (her map did state that they were a poor family and they appreciate any contributions and it was a worthy cause) off we went.

Followed her map for a while, end up in Tilaran, went straight, when all of a sudden- there is a Tico running after us holding that all familiar folder bearing maps benefiting the village school. Yep- we missed the turn by the green church (never previously mentioned) so lost we were again. His map was very detailed, showing where to bear right and bear left for many miles, excellent. Gave him the Dollar, and he asked for a second, fine. This was our ticket to Monteverde…
So back to the green church, make a right (there is no sign) and off we go- except something changed big time…. oh yes, it was a rock road. Not dirt, not gravel, but rocks. My husband said it was littered with pineapples- yes pineapple sized rocks. Like nothing you have ever seen it went on for hours, 2 hours. Finally we ran out of map, and low and behold, what do we see but an American man chasing us down (obviously another wrong turn) with, you guessed it, another map!
This gentleman worked for the tourism bureau, and offered discounts on any trips booked, but we passed. When we offered the normal contribution, he downright refused to accept. Only after some urging did we learn that there was a lock box in the office to benefit the village school, which we were pleased to contribute to.

At last, we made it to Santa Elena, and learned that the roads were the same up there- silly us, we thought paving may be at the end of the rainbow, but no way!

Anyway, we arrived at El Establo, and were blown away with their friendly greeting and informative introduction. They were a refreshing group- from the young American at the front desk who introduced his co-workers, to Christian, the activities director who could not have been more personable and informative. Just great people.

Got to our room and liked it very much. 2 stories, outstanding view, nice bathroom, very clean, spacious, and well appointed. Not fancy- we don’t need fancy, but very, very nice with 2 rocking chairs and a great view.

Overall drive is about 4.5 hours, rough drive, but interesting. Sweet little villages, charming farms, milk cans waiting collection, friendly people who all respond to a wave or a smile, and stunning scenery. It was my husband’s favorite day of the vacation, and he did all of the driving.

We did stop at Toad Hall on the way, very nice, a bit pricey, but great brownies. We also stopped for a bano break at a spot with a “clean bano” sign. Bano was spotless, and they graciously took the 1.00 contribution.

Bottom line, drive up to Monteverde with a few singles in your pocket and the angels will sit on your shoulders!

It was at this point late in the day, and we simply chilled out with the view. Maybe took a nap, don’t remember.

Went to see Christian to plan some activities, and once again he is a great guy…also love the practice in speaking English. We booked Selvature for 7:50 Am, and set off to Johnny’s for dinner.

Johnny’s was outstanding. Great pizza, an appetizer, 3 drinks each, and great coffee- $53.00. Very good meal, good service, highly recommend.

Back to room and sleep- wake up call at 5:30. Breakfast at 6:30, very good, then pick up for out AM activities at Selvature. We booked the hanging bridge walk based on a post found on this website, and the zip lines to follow. Bridge tour was good, bridges good, but it was totally sunny and we did not find too many animals- still a nice hike in the jungle.

Zip line time…. OK- I was very nervous. I am afraid of sky lifts, so you can imagine…but, I also very much enjoy a challenge and stepping out of my comfort zone, so I was showing no fear. My husband was very worried about me, but I told him not to worry.

It was a total blast. I enjoyed from the first moment to the last. Only nervous on the platforms, never on the lines. It was the highlight of the trip to me. Looked down, enjoyed the view, thought it was an excellent, safe ride. Well, well worth the $. 15 lines, at took over an hour to complete. Just do it!

Got the 1:30 shuttle back to Santa Elena, had lunch at Morpho’s (EXCELLENT fruit drinks with Leche and yogurt) and burgers with fresh avocado. Note I was not removing my wristband from the zip lines, no way- that was my badge of honor. Well, everyone asked about it, and it obviously was a big think with the locals. They all like Selvature…

Did some shopping, went to supermarket, just a nice few hours.

Walked ½ way back to hotel then flagged a cab. The best 2.00 spent! We were beat. It was very sunny and a bit warm.

Got back to room and needed a nap. Wake up, showered, and headed to Sophia’s for dinner. Once again a great meal (try the black bean soup) and a nice coffee. Very good food, would highly recommend.

Back to hotel, sat up solving the worlds problems, and finally to sleep.

Up early the next day, breakfast, and a drive up to the cloud forest. It was so packed, it was unbelievable. We opted to return at another time, visited the hummingbird gallery and purchased some very nice gifts, stopped at Stella’s foe some road food, Stopped at the coffee company for some fair trade coffee, and on the road we went.

A few notes on Monteverde.
1) 2 nights is not enough- you would want at least 3. It is a hike; make it more worth the trip. We very much enjoyed ourselves, but we would have wanted a longer time in retrospect.
2) A not on coffee- I have seen many posts on where to buy the cheapest coffee. I like to save as well as the next guy- but the Monteverde coffee is a cooperative and all pegged as fair trade. This allows the coffee farmers to earn a living wage, and keeps the business going. Without fair trade they would all be without a livelihood. It may not be the case in other parts of Costa Rica, but support the fair trade if you purchase this coffee. OK, enough said!

So tomorrow (if I can -am traveling for work) we will go to Manual Antonio, a very, very amusing journey.

Stay tuned!

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