lots of Costa Rica questions

Old Feb 6th, 2005, 07:33 PM
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lots of Costa Rica questions

First time trip to CR in late Feb., plan to rent a 2WD car and we'll have our 16-month old son. Would appreciate info on how to string these together or which ones to leave out, especially looking for insight on correct order and which roads to use or to avoid. Trip length of 10-12 days; return date is flexible and we won't make reservations so we have some cushion. Poas-La-Selva-Arenal-Monteverde-Carara-Manuel Antonio-Cerro de la Muerte. Main questions: (1) I initially assumed Monterverde would be a must-see, but between the roads and crowds I am re-thinking that. I don't care as much about the touristy stuff; but does the forest itself make it must-do or are there recommended alternatives easier to get to? (2) For Quepos-Cerro d.l. Muerte, with a 2WD, do we have to return to San Jose or is there some way to cut inland from Quepos? (3) Has anyone ever been to Volcan Tenorio? Moon Handbook makes it sound like it is uncrowded and good chance of seeing tapirs. The tapir would make it worth it, I have seen lots of the S. American species but none of the CA kind. (4) advice on best budget or mid-range hotel for Arenal night-time viewing? I gather the NW side is best. (5) has anyone ever tried to buy an auto liability insurance policy directly from the INS, rather than paying the hefty rental co. charges?

I am pretty experienced with foreign driving difficulties; the bigger concern for me with the bad roads is losing too much time in the car. Thanks.
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Old Feb 6th, 2005, 08:26 PM
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Sorry to reply to my own post, but one more question: given the prospect of wsting too much time in the car, I have been tempted to bag some of these places and fly to Osa instead. Corcovado Tented Camp sounds great but I originally wrote it off because I thought the 3 hr bumpy ride to Carate would be too much for my son. But sounds like lots of places will be 3 hr bumpy rides and with me driving. Anyway, would you trade Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio for Osa? And at Arenal around March 1, what are the odds that we might never see any action? I'd love to see it, but I've had lava practically at my feet in Hawaii (although with no power).
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Old Feb 6th, 2005, 10:06 PM
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Arenal--most consider it a don't miss. You'll have a better chance of seeing action in March than in July, for example, but still no guarantees. If you get lucky, it is quite amazing!

Can't comment on Monteverde. We've been to CR 9 times and still have not been. We definitely will. We've been in other cloud forests and will see Monteverde when we see it--and I know it will be wonderful when that time comes!

The Osa is, of course, a special place. I can totally see you going there rather than Manuel Antonio for 3-4 nights at least. Manuel Antonio is wonderful--the Osa just seems bigger and better! I'm a little concerned about your getting reservations at the places you'd prefer to stay at this late date. Or are you thinking February of 2006?

Poas/La Selva can be done in one day.

Arenal 2-3 days

Monteverde 2-3 days

Manuel Antonio (and Carrera) 3-4 days

You will spend considerable time driving. For us, it's part of the fun, but we haven't traveled with a 16 month old! I guess we'll find out as we are taking a 6 month old this summer!

One way to avoid so much driving on your own is to set aside the first day for the Highlights Tour, which will take you to Poas, a coffee plantation for breakfast, La Selva for lunch, the Sarapiqui River for a jungle cruise, through Braulio Carillo Parque Nacional, and more. It is an excellent tour (Ecoscape Tours), but again, with a little one, you may need to travel at your own pace!

From Quepos, you can drive down to Dominical (1.5 hour or so), then drive inland to San Isidro and the Cerro de la Muerte back into San Jose. If you do this, you should probably spend a night in Dominical in order to get as early a start as possible. The highway will cloud over fairly early in the day--very early afternoon perhaps. I believe it will take you about 1.5 hour to get from Dominical to San Isidro. As far as I know, this is the only way to get inland from this part of the coast.

If you go to the Osa, you could spend the first week seeing Poas, La Selva, Arenal, Cerro de la Muerte based out of San Jose or near the airport. Then you could fly down to the Osa to finish up your trip. Good luck and happy planning!

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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 08:54 AM
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If you do decide to go to Monteverde, I strongly recommend a 4WD vehicle with the highest ground clearance you can find.
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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 09:26 AM
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I only have input on #4: We stayed at Arenal Paraiso, and the view from the rooms is awesome! We were lucky to see the volcano unobstructed during the day and saw mini-eruptions at night.
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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 11:24 AM
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Thanks for the comments so far. In response to RufusTFirefly, I think I am looking at this question in the other direction. If I have decided not to get a 4WD (the 2WD seems expensive enough), does that mean I should skip Monteverde? And even if not, without a 4WD, what would be the best route from Arenal to Monteverde? It sounds like the roads from Arenal to Tiliran and Tiliran to Monteverde are even worse than the others -- does this mean with a 2WD I would be better off going all the way around down to San Ramon and back up?
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Old Feb 7th, 2005, 05:58 PM
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I would not drive a 2WD to and in the Monteverde area. We saw two cars that had broken down on our way in from San Jose. You could get lucky and arrive just after the roads had been regraded, then it wouldn't be terrible--but I wouldn't count on it.
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Old Feb 8th, 2005, 08:02 AM
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I was surprised to see Shillmac has not done Monteverde yet, considering all your experience. It makes me wonder about my June 2week itinerary for my husband and I and 13 and 15 yr olds. Comments would be appreciated: 3 days at Arenal(LosLagos ok?) , 2 days Monteverde, drive via San Isidro for 3 days Dominical/Uvita area to surf, see MA, drive to PJ to stay Bosque on OSA for 4 nights, fly to SJ 1 nite, home. QUESTION: I am worried we have too many stops and too many similar activities. Only Arenal, OSA, a canopy zip somewhere, and some beginner surfing, are MUST DOs. So Monteverde verses MA are my questionables as far as getting diverse experiences. We don't like too much touristy stuff and we love to hike without too many crowds. I heard the trails at MA are paved - could that be possible? Monteverde does complicate the drive considerably but I don't know if we will return anytime soon so it could be a one time deal.
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Old Feb 8th, 2005, 09:41 AM
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Don't worry about your itinerary just because someone hasn't been some place. I have been going to Costa Rica for many many more years than Shillmac and still haven't been everywhere. More by choice than anything on my part. I'm sure she'll get to Monteverde eventually. I have stayed in at least 40 different lodges/hotels/homes all over Costa Rica and feel like I have just touched the surface. I go for at least a month every year and will be starting my 13th year tomorrow when my plane lands in Alajuela. I don't think she has mentioned ever going rafting or flying in one of those little planes either but that doesn't stop plenty of other people from doing it. Just like people aren't going to stop surfing because I don't.

If you were going down to Dominical through Manuel Antonio I would say go ahead and stop there for a night. It is touristy but so are most places down there these days. The route you are taking will take you through some very interesting areas but will be quite long. I am concerned about the length of time it will take you to get to Dominical from monteverde. You will have about a 1 1/2-2hr ride down the mountain, another 2hrs to get to San Jose plus whatever it takes to get through it, close to 3hrs to San Isidro, and finally 1 1/2hr to Dominical. Times are approx of course and depend a lot on circumstances and your driving. It could be more or less. I am conservative on my times.

Monteverde is touristy but I really like the small town feel of it. Hidden up there on the mountain with horrible roads to it and in it makes me feel like I am in another world. The reserves are very nice and very special. There have been a lot of new hotels and restaurants added over the last few years which is making it a little more crowded unfortunately. There is an outer loop at Monteverde which is not hiked nearly as much by tourists. It has some beautiful views and is very peaceful and pretty. As far as a zip line...Sky Trek would probably be just as good in Arenal. Only difference might be the amount of clouds you would go through and the scenery that would be whizzing by. The kids will love Los Lagos and any one of the possible zip lines in that area. .

If you went to San Isidro from Arenal you would take about 1 1/2hrs off what it would take from Monteverde.

You could drive to Manuel Antonio in about 5-6hrs from either place, spend a night, do a tour of MA park in the am and then head down to Dominical from there. For that matter, if you have a car, you could just do some day trips to Dominical. It will be a lot of rough driving back and forth but it isn't that far and you could then leave your car in Quepos and fly down to Puerto Jimenez from there rather than drive. Leaving your car in Puerto Jimenez would be quite expensive to have the car company pick it up. Much less so than from Manuel Antonio.

Bosque fills up quickly I would decide on that asap.

To Paulkath....if you don't have reservations for Feb at Bosque already, you probably won't get in. Last time I talked to Kim she said they were pretty well booked up for the whole month.
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Old Feb 8th, 2005, 08:01 PM
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By Bosque, I assume you are referring to a place on Osa mentioned by someone else. That wasn't on my plan, but does return me to my more general question of whether I should bag part of my plan and go to Osa instead. Much as I want to go to Osa, I'm leaning toward saving it for another time (a violation of one of my cardinal rules) because the limitation on weight with all our baby stuff and the idea of the ride from PJ to Carate with the baby, that drive sounds even worse than Monteverde at least in terms of time. I'm quite sure I'd like Osa more than MA so I still keep second-guessing my plan.

As to the reservations issue, I have one for La Selva and will go ahead and so Arenal since we want to choose a view carefully. But I have talked to people who have reported no problem in high season with no reservations, and I'm attracted to the flexibility, as long as I'm not risking being completely shut out in a pinch at all levels of quality, something like New England in a summer weekend. Is that a particular risk in other locations on my list?
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Old Feb 8th, 2005, 08:46 PM
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I absolutely would skip Monteverde in your situation. I've been to Costa Rica twice, went the first time and there was no way I was going on that road with my kids when I went back two years ago. The road is just too rough and the drive too long to justify it, especially with a young child. I much prefered the jungle at Manuel Antonio anyway.
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Old Feb 12th, 2005, 09:55 AM
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Hi Paulkath,
Just some small bits of feedback from my trip in Nov. 2003:
I'd recommend a 4WD car anywhere in CR.
I loved the Osa and would not want to miss it. I would rec. flying vs. driving there.
We visited Arenal but we were clouded in with limited visibility.
We also visited Monteverde, and enjoyed it, but it does take a large chunk of time to visit - and IMO - you will see lots of rain forest throughout CR. Hope this helps.
Enjoy,
Leslee
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Old Feb 12th, 2005, 08:25 PM
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Paulkath, although you will see a few main sites for the Arenal area that supposedly include most of the hotels, I was shocked to see so many new and smaller hotels around the volcano that are no where on the Internet. I would be comfortable showing up next time without a reservation and picking one that has a view. Many of them are smaller, but very quaint, clean, with lots of character. We stayed at Los Lagos, www.hotelloslagos.com, which has a 2km trail to a hill opposite the volcano, where you can drive to and watch the flow at night. The rooms were big and reasonable (and include a buffet breakfast). There are pools for kids to swim in, as well as extensive grounds for walking and relaxing. Tabacon has views of the volcano too, but it is very pricey and I thought it was crowded and a bit touristy for my taste. Good luck.
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Old Feb 12th, 2005, 09:08 PM
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>>> The road is just too rough and the drive too long to justify it >>

This viewpoint is welcome, by many who benefit from it... up in Monteverde.

I love the whole adventure, poor roads and all. And with a fast driver, the ride is actually less bumpy. But yeah, a 15 mo. old is definitely a big consideration.


>>I much prefered the jungle at Manuel Antonio anyway.>>

over Monteverde reserves???! ... wow
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