LATE Costa Rica Trip Report

Old Jan 17th, 2002, 08:48 AM
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LATE Costa Rica Trip Report

I've been asked to submit a report from my last trip to Costa Rica in May. (I told you this was late!) Here it is:

As usual, Adobe Rent A Car met us at the airport gate. After getting through customs, they drove us to their office, (only 2 minutes from the airport), we picked up our car and off we went. A note about Adobe. We have rented from them 5 times and never had any problems. We think it convenient, as it's so close to the airport, however, I've heard Dollar may have better rates.

Our first and last nights were to be spent at the Orquideas Inn, in Alejuela. We love this hotel, and have stayed there on our last 5 trips as well. The owners, Fred and Darlys are very nice, as is the whole staff. They have large clean rooms, some with great views, lovely gardens, a nice pool, and a very fun bar for meeting other travelers. They have also added a restaurant on property, which is very good, but we still enjoy eating 'family style' at the bar area. Fred will decide what HE wants for dinner, and will make enough for everyone who wants to partake, for a fair price, and the food is always great. The room rate also includes a very nice, FULL breakfast buffet!

As we were late getting in, (after midnight due to flight delays) Fred and Darlys had already retired for the evening, so we grabbed a drink at the bar (it was closed but they opened long enough to pour us a drink) and we were off to sleep in no time.
After getting caught up with everyone at breakfast, we were off to our first destination, Nosara.
This is one place we've been to time and time again. In our 7 trips to CR, we've been to Tamarindo, Nosara, Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Dominical, Povones, Osa area and Mal Pais.

On our first visit to CR, back in '93, we stayed at Nosara Beach Hotel. It was very nice back then, but has had problems since then. There is always construction going on, but nothing seems to get done. It's strange. This time when we went by, it appeared to be closed. Nobody could be found on property at all!
Later visits we stayed at Ville Taype. This
was a good hotel for several trips, but on our last one, the rooms were certainly in need of some fixing. Our shower was broken and we had to request a different room. I do love their pool though. Always clean and refreshing. But, don't let the web site fool you...there has never been anyone serving drinks at the swim up bar!

This time we decided to try a new place, so we checked into the Harbor Reef. The room we had there was great! Two double beds, a small but decent bath, and best of all, a refridgerator for chilling the wine we had bought in Alejuela. This room was was $50, same as Villa Taype, but does not include breakfast ...whereas Villa Taype did. Our room also had a nice patio in front, with a couple a chairs and a table, plus a couple of hammocks just steps away. Another thing we like about this place is that they too have an on site restaurant, and serves very good meals.
Being a 'pool' person, I was not impressed with theirs. It's very, very small. Really no larger than some hot tubs I've seen, and the palapa from their bar hangs over the pool, so when it rained, the pool became very cloudy, very fast.
Other than this, it's a nice place and we would stay there again.

Part two to follow.....

Old Jan 17th, 2002, 09:11 AM
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Part Two, Nosara Beach:

We love this beach, and will go back again. It's a long, almost empty beach, with clean sand and lots of shells. While my husband is out surfing on very consistant waves in the area, I take long walks and collect shells. There are many here to be found, so if that's what you like, visit Nosara! It's the best I've found in CR for shell collecting!
The town of Nosara is a typical small town in CR, with a nice supermacardo, and good restaurants, and of course, the always present soccer field in the middle. It's still a small place though, so if you want gas, they will still fill up your car from large jugs. No pumps here! (at least not as of last May).
One of our favorite restaurants here is Cafe Paris. It's outside of 'town', as is Ville Taype and Harbor Reef and all other hotels, but on the main road so its' easy to find. Service is generally slow, but food is very good and inexpensive. They have an excellent bakery too! Another place we like (can't remember the name)is just across the street from Cafe Paris, up on the hill. It's a bit more expensive, and was only opened for dinner, but it's excellent. We both had steak, and found they even has horseradish! There is also a pizza place down the street, which has okay pizza, but excellent salads!
A little further from town, is Dolce Vida. This place is also a bit expensive, (for Costa Rica standards anyway) but very nice, romantic, and has the best fresh fish and italian food. We never go to this area without eating here at least once! As for things to do in the area, there does not seem to be much, although there are some tours available, if you look. I wanted to do some horseback riding once, so I was told where to go (within walking distance from Nosara Beach Hotel) and when I got there I was suprised to find out there was really no 'tour' at all. The handed me the reins of the horse, and pointed down the road towards the beach. Good thing I'm not afraid of horses, as I was sent off on my own! I thought it was fantastic, that they would just let me go off alone like that. I just told them I'd be back in a couple hours and off I went!

Next, off to Mal Pais. See Part Three..
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 09:56 AM
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Part Three:
The road to Mal Pais.
Well, for the most part, this drive was the usual bump and grind, but the stretch from just pass Nicoya almost to Tambor was some of the worse I've encountered! We had rented a 4X4 and were glad we did as a regular car would not have had the ground clearance we needed in some spots. We were very glad to get off the washboard road in Tambor, although the scenery along this drive is also some of the best, in my opinion. We stopped for a bite to eat at the big resort in the area, I think it's called Dos Dolphins, or something like that. This place is HUGH, and not our style at all, but would probably be very nice if you wanted golf and some pampering. Food seemed very 'American' but was good, and a lot less expensive then we would have thought for being such a large resort. After sandwiches, we were on the road again, and a bit later, arrived at Mal Pais.
We checked into our hotel, Tropical Latino. It was $40 a night and great. The room was VERY large, with a King size bed (first we've seen in CR) and a twin, lots of closet space and a fair size bath with shower. There is no a/c here and it was hot! The web site says good fans, but the one over our bed was a joke. It only had one speed...SLOW. However, there was also a stand up fan which worked so well that I had to double up my sheet at night to sleep. I tell you, it was almost chilly! (HA!) I should also add we had a spider as big as my fist one day, and a 5" centipede on the bathroom wall one night. Ah, the joys of the jungle!
Again, being a 'pool' person, I loved this place as it's got a nice pool on the beach. I could watch my hubby surf from the relative cool comfort of the pool! Good resaurant, and nice management. We stayed here three nights, then had to move as they had other guest coming in, and we had only reserved two nights anyway, so we were lucky to get the third. We then moved to the Surf Camp. Here, for $50 a night, we got a 2 bedroom cabin, with VERY large bathroom (big enough to store surfboards!), a little seating area with fridge, and ceiling fans that worked very well. What I thought strange about this cabin, was that although the windows were all screened in, the doors were made of wooden slats with 1/4 to 1/2 inch gaps that would allow all the bugs to come in. And it was not just the front door, but also the doors in both bedrooms that let outside. I just told Rick we could not turn on any lights but the bathroom lights, so as not to attract bugs, and it worked out fine and was very comfortable. Let me just say, this "Surf Camp" is a happening place! It was packed with young surfers. Rick and I made jokes about being at least 20 years older than most of the guest there. HA! The "Kids" were watching videos, playing pool and ping pong, riding skate boards, playing cards, etc. It was great fun watching all this excitement after having several quiet nights on our own! And as far as the pool, it was the biggest in the area, BY FAR> You'd NEED a pool that big for all those kids! Food here was very, very good with large portions, I guess to feed all the hungry growing young surfers. Service was VERY slow though, as it was so crowded they cooks could hardly keep up!

More on Mal Pais in Part Four....
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 10:28 AM
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Part Four: More of Mal Pais.

This town (Mal Pais/Santa Teresa) is even more 'laid back' and smaller than Nosara. It does have a couple of small grocery/sundry stores, and while they don't have a large selection, they do have a little of almost everything you'd need. I did not see a gas station of any kind here. I'm not sure you can even get gas here, so if you want to be safe, stop in Montezuma or Tambor to fill up before heading here. There did seem to be quite a few places to stay, but we were happy with Tropical Latino and the Surf Camp. As you come to the main road into town, you can go left for Mal Pais or right for Santa Teresa. If you turn left and go to the end of the road, there is one hotel that has a/c, if you have to have it. The hotel is built on a point, up a little from the beach and has nice views of the ocean from the pool. Rooms and restaurant looked good too. The price here was $85 a night at the time. There seemed to be plenty of options for food up and down the road. One good one is 'The Place', which served excellent pasta and salads. There is also a little dive, and I do mean LITTLE, right across from Tropical Latino, called something like 'Shambala'? that served some of the best food we've had in CR. The chef was a guy who left a resort in South Beach Miami to 'chuck it all' for this small town in CR.
Rick and I were the only ones there, and could have been the only ones that arrived all night, and the chef was very happy to see us. We spent the entire evening eating, drinking wine and chatting with him. Rick had steak smothered in peppers, and I had Mahi-Mahi in an incredible orange sauce and both plated came with sides...potatoes with onions and a red bell pepper mixture, some kind of rice dish (and I'm not talking about your typical Tico rice and beans) and a salad. If you go here, don't let the small appearance with plastic table and chairs turn you away. If the Argentina chef is there, you'll get a fabulous meal. Last, if your a surfer, Santa Teresa had some of the best surf my husband has had in CR, and that's saying alot!

Coming in Part Five: Back to the Orquideas and to Sarchi for shopping!
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 10:54 AM
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Part Five:
Only two more days before going back to the States. We checked out of the 'Surf Camp' and headed for the ferry in Paquera. We've taken the ferry a bit further north to Nosara, and we're expecting something similar, but this ferry was huge. Whereas the ferry to Nosara leaves every hour or so and only takes 20 minutes to get across, this ferry at Paquera was much larger, only leaves maybe 3 or 4 times a day? and took about 1 1/2 hours to cross. But, again, the scenery is beautiful. And if you like, you can sit inside where there is a snack bar and a TV to watch the soccer games.
We had a fun night at the Orquideas and the following day we went up to Sarchi (apx 30-40 minutes from Alejuela) and did some shopping. Prices are very reasonable here and I came home with coffee, some kind of strange game a friend back home had asked for, a beautiful beach towel, a hand carved wooded Tucan, a beautiful Blue Morpho in a glass case, and of course a bottle of Lazano Salsa. Then, one more night at the Inn, great meal, fantastic company, best breakfast and back to the airport for our return. It was a great trip.

Feel free to ask questions and if I don't know the answer, see the post "Living and guiding in Costa Rica" from Scott Gauvin. He lives in Costa Rica (I think?) In any case, he's an excellent resourse for all areas of CR. Hope you enjoyed my report and forgive me for the mis-spelled words, as I was in a hurry. Happy Travels.
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 12:08 PM
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Hi Alison,

Great trip report! It's so refreshing to hear about the smaller places. I posted a trip report last year and it didn't seem to get much interest since we hadn't stayed any of the big resorts or more expensive hotels that always get mentioned on this board. We also began and ended our trip at Orquideas. The other day I mentioned to my husband that I had a dream about the open-air steakhouse there and he admitted that he had been thinking about going back, too! I'm already planning our next trip, even though it probably won't be until 2003.

I realize from your report that you've been to CR several times; did you research your hotels in guidebooks, internet or word of mouth? I had good results with picking out hotels from frommer's and fodor's guidebooks, but was curious about what other people do. We're planning on heading south to the Osa peninsula next time; any advice for mid-priced hotels?

Old Jan 17th, 2002, 01:07 PM
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Howdy Sandy!
Glad you liked the Orquideas too!
I remember my first trip to Costa Rica. My husband (then my boyfriend) wanted to take me there after a house fire I had in which I lost 98% of all my belongings. I did not know anything about Costa Rica, but I needed a break, so I went. Rick had not made any reservations for that first night in San Jose. We drove around in a taxi for over an hour trying to find a hotel with a vacancy. We were stopped on a side street, talking to the taxi driver and trying to decide where to try next, or if we should just sleep at the airport for our early morning flight to Nosara, when a young American guy wanders up and ask what's going on. We told him our problem, and he promptly invited us to sleep on the floor of his den. Rick looked at me, sure that I would protest about sleeping on the floor at a strangers house whom we had just met on the street, but I was so tired by this time I told him "let's do it". Of course I don't think I'd ever do that again, but in any case, Rick tells me he knew he was in love with me from that second on, and now we're married.
Anyway, I have never used a guidebook for hotels, only internet. Fodors, Frommers and any I could find. We found out about the Orquideas from a friend of ours who lives in Costa Rica.

Regarding Osa hotels, we stayed at a VERY small place I happened upon on the internet, called Rancho Almendros. It's in Cabo Matapalo, near where the very expensive Lapa Rios is. We could not afford Lapa Rios, and other places I was looking at all seemed to be quite a hike to get down to the beach. I wanted to be close to the beach, but near hiking as well, so I booked the Rancho. It's got a main house with two bedrooms, and a seperate building with lots of privacy called the "Honeymoon Cabina". It was fabulous! The sleeping area, closet and toilet (the shower is a natural spring fed shower and is located outside) were all screened in, and there was a large daybed/couch, rocker, table and hammock on the deck outside. They always had fresh flowers inside and out. The price was $75 per person, per day, and included 3 meals, which I might add were excellent. There are really no restaurants in the area, so most everything you find for accommodations will include meals.
The beach was only 50 yards away, and there were hiking trails all over. We even hiked up to Lapa Rios for a look and refreshment. They do have a heavenly view! We saw the usual suspects of wildlife, but the best thing about this area were the Scarlett Macaws which were abundant, and the Blue Morpho Butterfly that came by every morning for breakfast! Since our stay there in Sept. 2000, the on-site managers have left for a job on the Greenpeace Ship, so I don't know about the management now, but if you want peace and quiet, Rancho Almendros is the place for you! (By the way, if you look at their web site, you see it mentions the 'spring fed pool'. This so called pool, is really just a very, very large bathtub, only about 1 1/2' deep, but large enough for several people to sit in, and it's VERY refreshing after a long hike. It's located at the bottom of the stairs to the honeymoon cabina, so it's also very private.
I've also heard good things about Bosque Del Cabo (Now that I type it that doesn't look right, but it's something like that) but I have no first hand knowledge of the place. I do know it's up on a hill, like Lapa Rios, so no easy beach access. A friend of mine is going at the end of Feb. so feel free to write back later and I'll tell you what she says about it.
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 02:10 PM
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Hi Alison,

I read your report on Costa Rica and it seems that you know a lot about the area. My husban and I are planning a trip to CR at the end of February. I was looking into an all inclusive resort call the Barcelo Palaya Tambor located on Tambor beach. I was wondering if you know anything about this area of CR. I'm mainly concerned about this place being in total seclusion. We are going for 1 week and I don't think I would enjoy it if we will have to go on a 2 hour trip every time we want to leave the resort. We are interested in doing alot of site seeing (valcano, rainforest, shopping). If you can give me any feedback about this area I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you.
Old Jan 17th, 2002, 05:39 PM
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I am beginning to research a trip to CR and enjoyed your account of your experiences there. My husband,
daughters(young adults)and I want to go in June of this year. I want to stay away from too "commercially" places but would like to be close to areas where we can also do a bit of shopping. Your account had no mention of being careful with the local food (like in Mexico). Is this something to consider?
Old Jan 18th, 2002, 06:55 AM
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While Tambor is a pretty area, I'm afraid your concern may be legitimate. Besides the usual toys that the resort would supply for fun and recreation, I'm not sure they even offer a lot of tours, if any. There is golf nearby, you can horseback ride, but does not seem to be alot of tours. Most all excursions/tours would be over two hours away. There is a National Park near Mal Pais, but that's probably a couple hours away, and there's a waterfall near Montezuma, but that's an hour or so away as well. Barcelo Tambor is not really going to give you a 'Costa Rica'
experience, but IMHO, no All-Inclusive will, especially if they can't offer alot of tours. Perhaps you should email the resort and ask what they offer as far as excursions outside of the resort. Please email Scott Gauvin at [email protected] as he may be able to help more, as my impressions are only based on driving through the area on my way to Mal Pais. Good luck!
Old Jan 18th, 2002, 07:11 AM
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Hi Maria,
You've got a bit of a delima, because if you want to stay away from areas that are too 'commercial', there won't be any 'shopping'. There is some shopping in Jaco, Quepos, some vendors along the beach in Manuel Antonio, a few small places in Tamarindo, and other 'tourist' areas, but those areas will be more crowded, and, there is not alot to buy anyway! It might be better to find the area you want to visit, and save the shopping for San Jose, Alejuela, or better yet, I think the best is in Sarchi, just outside of Alejuela.
As for food and water, no problem there. It's not like mexico, and I have drank water from the taps everywhere I've been. You'd want to use caution if stopping at the little 'stands' along the road, but would be good advise in any country! Be careful with fruit...not because there will be anything wrong with it, but if you're not used to eating a lot of fruit, you may have some little problems, but this is standard anywhere you'd go.
Happy eating!
Old Jan 19th, 2002, 07:58 AM
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Alison, thanks for a great report. We went to CR twice in the last 2 years and really fell in love with that country. Your report makes me want to go back again...
This year we're off to Hawaii though. Maybe next year...

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