Just returned - Costa Rica trip report

Dec 18th, 2005, 05:56 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 513
Just returned - Costa Rica trip report

First of all, a HUGE thank you to all of you who helped me make my semi-last-minute plans to head to Costa Rica for my first trip to Centro America!!!

I will start my report by saying that I cannot wait to return - and next time, my trip will be much longer than 4 short days!

We left very early on Tuesday morning. We arrived in San Jose about 2pm, and went straight to Alamo to retrieve our 4x4 vehicle. The car was great, however Alamo charged the debit card we gave them $1000 deposit in addition to the weekly fee we signed up for. We have reserved cars in every country and state we've flown to, and NEVER has this happened to us. We've never had to put any amount of money on hold, no matter what level of insurance we chose. Unfortunately, we did not have enough funds in our debit card for this, so it was a bit of a setback upon our arrival. But, we did not let that get us down! Just keep that in mind, Fodorites, apparently all CR rental agencies do this, even though we were never forewarned.

So, after getting all maps and directions, we set off for our 2.5hr drive to Puero Viejo de Sarapiqui. It poured the entire way, which didn't do much to help our long and weary day. We drove by Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfalls, but we knew we had to hurry to get to Sarapiqui before dark, so we could not stop to check them out.

We arrived at our hotel, El Bambu, around dinnertime. El Bambu is a great little hotel. We were lucky to get one of the largest rooms, with a private balcony. It was a lovely hotel, and the staff was very pleasant and accommodating. After settling in, we ended up having a quick dinner right at the hotel, complete with the first of many Imperials! We walked a bit around the "town", but there wasn't much to see, and our exhaustion from waking up at 330am was getting to us. We had a very early bedtime that night, and fell asleep with the sliding doors open, to the sounds of frogs all night long.

Awoke on Wednesday to a glorious morning. Humid as can be, but at least it wasn't raining. We must have been travel exhausted still, because we forgot that breakfast was included with the room rate and just had a quick American meal, which consisted of a drink and toast with jam.

First, we went to La Selva Biological Reserve. We arrived just as the normal scheduled tours departed, so we actually got a private tour by one of the residents. It was a very slow-moving walking tour through the rainforest, with our guide stopping every few feet to educate us on the history of the wildlife and fauna surrounding us. I am very happy we did this first, so we were able to spot things ourselves over the course of our vacation. We saw many blue jeans frogs, tons of leaf cutter ants, some large rodent, lots of tucans and other birds that I can't remember, and HUGE iguanas perched on top of the trees as we exited out of the rainforest- I could not get over the size of them!!

After La Selva, it was almost lunchtime, so we drove to the highly marketed adventure company Pozo Azul for lunch. We dined on the deck by the river, with Hummingbirds swarming by us every few minutes. I was starting to get used to the delicious Costa Rican food! After lunch, we decided we didn't want to partake in any of Pozo Azul's activities, but we were welcomed to take a walk on our own. We stopped at the small but beautiful butterfly garden, and then took a short hike through the rainforest to the water and back.

Then, off to Tirimbina. I had heard so much about La Selva and hardly anything about Tirimbina that I didn't know what to expect. We were blown away! From the minute we paid our entrance fee, we decided it was light years better than La Selva. We crossed the longest suspension bridge (so far, anyway) in Costa Rica to enter the jungle. We saw so many different kinds of wildlife - much of what we saw in La Selva, plus a sloth, tons of lizards and 6 monkeys!! I was SO EXCITED to see monkeys. I think they were spider monkeys - they didn't make a peep, we just noticed them by chance. We stopped for about 20minutes of our 3+hour hike through the jungle and watched about 6 monkeys hop along the treetops. Then, 3 of them noticed we were there, and they sat there watching us watching them, it was great! On our way back over the suspension bridge to exit, we went down the stairs to Tirimbina Island where many people stop to go swimming. We rested, grabbed a snack, snapped even more pictures, and then left just before closing time.

Sticky and sweaty from the bug spray and high humidity, we immediately hopped into the pool at El Bambu before showering up for dinner. Again, we ate at the hotel, just because of lack of options, then sat at the bar for a bit before retiring for the evening. Again, we slept to the sounds of frogs and some very loud and cranky cows!

Thursday we woke up very early to set off for Arenal. We learned from our mistake and enjoyed a huge breakfast to start the day. And what an absolutely gorgeous day it was! Bright sunshine and low humidity made for a terrific drive from Sarapiqui to Arenal. There were no exaggerations - bring your patience when driving around this country! The lack of roadsigns questioned our directions, but luckily we were in fact on the right trail all along. And the potholes were definitely there, though not as bad as what we were prepared for.

We arrived at Hotel Arenal Paraiso late morning, and we were lucky to be able to check in right away. I loved this hotel! Tons of private cabins scattered around the grounds, and we had both a front and back balcony, with our cabin in one of many cul de sacs overlooking Arenal Volcano in the front and the vast jungle in the back.

Knowing we had a lot to pack into 2 days at Arenal, we immediately set off for the Arenal Volcano hike. Once again, I was blown away - it seemed like every thing we did was better than the last! We took our time, and we did the hike through the jungle, over the lava rocks of the 1992 explosion and to the stream and back in about 1.5-2hrs. I think the lava rocks were my favorite. I can't possibly imagine what it must have been like when it happened - or the 1968 one for that matter! It was sunny, and it was HOT. I was much more concerned with the bug spray, as I am the world's #1 tastiest mosquito meal and already had tons of bites that I forgot about sunscreen, and I paid for it. We stopped to watch many of the eruptions, the rocks forming steam and dust as they tumbled down the sides of the volcano.

Afterwards, we raced back to the hotel to change and get ready for Tabacon. We had reservations where we could arrive anytime after 11am, and had to depart by 10pm. We arrived around 330pm, and since we hadn't had time for lunch, grabbed a snack at the wetbar before exploring the grounds. Tabacon is one of the coolest places I've ever been to. I feel like so many places try to replicate this, and this was the real thing. Some of the pools were way too hot for me, but I think we sampled every one of them - many of them twice! What a way to spend the afternoon in luxury - I can only imagine how lovely it is to stay at the hotel there. We ended up signing up for the buffet dinner as well, because we wanted to stay there as long as possible. I was pretty impressed at the quality and amount of food at the buffet - it was delicious! Went straight home to bed after this - I feel like all that time in the water tired me out.

Friday we awoke to another fabulous day. We made a very early start, as I was very anxious for canopy reservations, and wanted to have plenty of time to digest before our 8am timeslot. All my worrying was for nothing! The zipline was exhilirating, exciting, amazing, incredible and all out FUN. It took me a while to let myself relax - I kept causing friction on the line with my right hand, slowing myself down and then I had to give myself an extra workout by climbing the rest of the way to the platform. But by the end, I felt like a pro! We shot some great video, and the pictures are wonderful as well, but of course do no justice. I don't know if it was the harness gear, the way I positioned myself, or the fact that I held myself so tight with anxiety, but my ribs are still bruised and my abs still feel like I gave them the biggest workout! I'd do it again in a heartbeat - and this is coming from someone who has a serious phobia of adrenaline and heights!

After the zipline, we went into La Fortuna for lunch. Stopped at some place on the main road for a quick bite of pizza. Not the best, kind of tasted like Boboli, but it did the trick! AND they had Pepsi, so I was very pleased. Next stop, La Fortuna Waterfalls.

Once again, VERY cool place. The hike down the steps was a challenge for my knees, but it was worth it. The huge waterfall greeted us, and then we stripped down to our bathing suits and dove into the pool at the bottom. It was very cold at first, but was so wonderful and refreshing once we were in there for a little while. We got some more great shots. One of us always had at least one eye on all our stuff - there were a lot of people, and we took all of our camera equipment, and I was a bit nervous leaving it out in the open. But nothing to fear at all, everyone was so nice and respectful of one anothers' belongings. We stayed there for a bit before hiking out. We stopped at a small souvenier shop on the way back into town, but unfortunately, despite the sign saying they did, they did not accept our credit card and we did not have enough colones.

Got back to the hotel with enough time to sample the hot springs and pools there. Sat at the wetbar with a couple cocktails, and then got ready for dinner.

We drove into town and had dinner at Don Rufino. OH MY - I will say it was one of the best meals I've ever had, and I absolutely loved being in the center of town with all the locals as well as tourists surrounding us - it was such a lovely change from the resort feel of the hotel meals we had before.

After dinner, I practically rolled myself out of there back into the car. We went back to the volcano road to check out the night action. I couldn't believe the difference! We couldn't see anything with the clouds from our hotel, but that other side of the volcano, we were able to see the red lava and rocks so clear. We got some amazing shots - we got there around 9 and left around 1015. It was chilly, so I'm glad I brought a longsleeved shirt. I had no idea we'd see the red lava, we were ecstatic!

After many pictures and oohing and aahing, we went back to the hotel to turn in for the night.

Jay got up for sunrise on Saturday to see if he could get more shots from the volcano road, but he was a bit too late and didn't get anything spectacular. I stayed in bed, listening to the howler monkeys in the distance yappering away to each other. Had an early breakfast - which was a huge buffet - at the hotel, and then we set off for our journey back to San Jose to catch our flight.

We took a different road than the way on Tuesday, and it was gorgeous. The scenery, and the houses and the culture that we saw were breathtaking. We found a souvenier shop in La Fortuna on our way out and got ourselves a vase and a necklace for me.

It took us about 3hours to get back to San Jose to return the car. We didn't need to get to the airport so early (about 2.5hrs early), but I'm glad we did. I saw many people that were very close to missing their plane, so I'd recommend arriving 2-3hrs in advance as well.

The flights to and from San Jose were very rough with a lot of turbulence, I certainly needed my Dramamine. Once again, we had a layover in Atlanta before our last flight home to Boston.

We arrived last night a little after midnight, greasy, smelly and exhausted, and collapsed into bed by 2am.

The trip was amazing, the food was phenominal, I cannot wait to go back. Although, I have no idea when that will be. We have so many other trips in the works, but I MUST return to Costa Rica. I need to visit Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, Tortuguero and Corcovedo!!!!

Thanks again to all those who helped me plan the trip. Thanks for making it this far, I know it's a long report, and please don't hesitate to ask me any questions. I'd love to repay the favor!

Pura Vida!!!!

BostonGal is offline  
Dec 18th, 2005, 06:18 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 513
Oops, I forgot to add one more thing.

In between the canopy and La Fortuna Waterfalls, we did the Arenal Hanging Bridges.

This was well worth it, and very similar to Tirimbina in Sarapiqui. One could skip Sarapiqui altogether and see most of the same things in the Hanging Bridges - you just miss out on the extra historical and educational aspect that the biological reserves of Sarapiqui offer.
BostonGal is offline  
Dec 18th, 2005, 07:13 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 10,212
Gee, BostonGal, you guys must be exhausted! You did pack a LOT into a few days! May have set some kind of record. . .!! Amazing, isn't it? So glad you enjoyed the Costa Rican food, AND had great luck with the lava flow and viewing Arenal. Hope you can get rested up in the next few days! Thanks for such an informative report.
Happy holidays!
shillmac is offline  
Dec 19th, 2005, 03:19 AM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 953

Thanks for posting such a great, detailed report!!! We are flying out of Boston on Delta next Monday at 7 AM! Can't wait!

We are also staying at Arenal Paraiso for a few days and after reading your report, are more excited than ever. We are doing many of the things you did including canopy tour, volcano hike, Tabacon hot springs and waterfall hike!!

Which canopy tour did you do??
How far away is the waterfall from the hotel?
Do you know if they have a place to store luggage since we plan to do the waterfall after we check out?
Can you wear sneakers to do the volcano hike?
Was it easy to find Don Rufino?

Thanks in advance! Bet your lovin' this cold NE weather after being in warm CR! (yeah, right!!!)
Jayneann is offline  
Dec 19th, 2005, 06:53 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 513
You must be so excited for your trip, as you should be!

To answer your questions..
1) the canopy tour - there's only one in Arenal that I know of, and it's right on the grounds of the Arenal Paraiso.
2) La Fortuna Waterfall - very easy, just go back out of Arenal towards La Fortuna. On your way back through town, at one point it turns into a one-way road and you have to turn either right or left, you can't go straight. At that point, turn right. Go to the end of the street, and you'll see a sign up ahead for the waterfall. Go over the small bridge and it's down about 1/2mile on the right.
2) Don Rufino is also very easy to get to. To get there, you'd go the same way towards the waterfall, except when you see the sign for the waterfall and go straight, turn left and go 2 blocks (I think) and you take a left. There is a hotel La Fortuna on that street as well, and it's on the corner on the main road.

Another restaurant suggestion I would make is La Chorza something-or-other. If you search La Chorza, you'll find it here on the boards. I wish we went there as well, but we didn't have time. It looked like a great place to dine, and the menu was just as appealing as the others.

3) Volcano hike - yes, sneakers on the volcano hike, just watch your ankles as you're climbing over the rocks, it could get tricky at some points, but you'll be fine, as long as you're not wearing flip flops!

4) luggage - we didn't need to check our luggage or anything with the hotel, but I would imagine you could do it no problem.

Have a great time, can't wait to hear your report!
BostonGal is offline  
Dec 19th, 2005, 08:40 AM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 953
Thanks BostonGal!!! It's almost hard to believe we are actually going.......been talking about visiting CR for years!!!!!

I will definitely post when I get back. Don't think I could have planned as much as I have without all the info and feedback I received from this awesome forum!!
Jayneann is offline  
Dec 19th, 2005, 11:56 AM
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Posts: 513
No kidding!
BostonGal is offline  
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