Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Arenal December Trip Report

Old Dec 20th, 2019, 12:50 AM
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Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Arenal December Trip Report

We're back from our early December vacation in Costa Rica. This is our second trip. We were in Costa Rica five years ago on a Backroads cycling trip where we spent three days in the Arenal area and then flew for two more days on the Nicoya Peninsula. After the trip ended, we rented a car and drove down to Manuel Antonio.

Five years later, my husband is now semi-retired, and most of December is a slow-down for him anyway. I've donated all of my cycling clothes and equipment now because I have no desire to keep aggravating all my lower "parts" again. So when we thought about escaping our Northeast US city, we thought, "This is our shot to do Costa Rica without any bikes." Our cycling there was NOT lovely; Costa Rica itself certainly was.

Our basic itinerary goal this time was to spend some time in Manuel Antonio, where we had gone without the cycling group, then spend some time in a beach town (we chose Jaco) as we moved north, and then finish in Arenal, where we had spent time with the cycling group. I am a bird watcher (a very unskilled one), so I appreciate the fact that my husband was willing to let me engage two bird guides at two separate locations on the trip.

Our final itinerary worked out this way:
Day/Night One: Fly through ATL to SJO. Stay outside of San Jose at Buena Vista Chic Hotel.
Day Two: Use hotel pre-booked driver to leave hotel at noon for 3-hour trip to Manuel Antonio. Hotel for next five nights: La Mariposa
Day Three: Be lounge lizards.
Day Four: Early AM private Manuel Antonio tour booked through Jade Tours.
Day Five: Afternoon/evening sunset boat tour I booked through Sunset Sails.
Day Six: Afternoon Damas Mangrove tour booked through hotel. Found out it was Tucanes Tours.
Day Seven: Leave hotel at noon with pre-booked driver to Jaco. Hotel for next three nights: Hotel Club del Mar
Day Eight: Be lounge lizards.
Day Nine: Engage birding guide.
Day Ten: Leave at 9:30 AM for trip to Arenal area via hotel booked driver. Hotel for next three nights: Nayara Springs Booked wine pairing dinner through hotel.
Day Eleven: Afternoon Coffee/Chocolate Tour I booked through North Fields Cafe.
Day Twelve: Early birding tour booked through hotel.
Day Thirteen: Leave at 9:30 AM via hotel booked driver for SJO. Flight at 2:25 PM for ATL and then back to home.

And by the way, this time we did not rent a car. More later.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 20th, 2019, 09:17 PM
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Looking forward to your report!
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 06:39 AM
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There is a decent chance I will be shadowing your trip minus the Jaco part! I have nine nights and per VolcanoGirl the other two are great for first timers.

I looked at one lodging mentioned elsewhere (Naraya?) and very very lovely but ouch on the price. I have had a number of friends tell me you can stay in very nice places for much less than the USA, in that instance, not the case.

I love Backroads, too. I've only gone on hiking trips with them.

Thank you for posting!

PS I have my tickets, in and out of DCA (via CLT), arrival before 3 PM on arrival day and departure before 4 PM on departure day. That should give me enough time to get to my preferred lodging when I arrive and depart from my preferred lodging when I go home (not an airport hotel).
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 07:07 AM
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Day/Night One and Day Two: Flying to SJO, Overnight Hotel; Trek to Manual Antonio

Our flight from ATL landed at SJO at 9:15 pm. I purposely sought a hotel near the airport, and I found one that would provide free airport transportation as long as we were out the airport door before 11 pm. The Buena Vista Chic Hotel fit the bill. I got a great price on one of their villas, and it was as wonderful as their online pictures. Even though we were tired (we're old and we now are on infant sleep schedules), we sat outside on the screened-in porch to take in the lights of SJO below us and the sounds of Costa Rica around us. As it is perched next to a hill road, yes, you can hear traffic from time to time; however, the nature sounds claimed their stake.

The next day, we ate the small "breakfast tipico" that was included in our booking: pinto Gallo, eggs, fruit, juice, coffee and toast/pastries. The food was excellent and the service immediate. The food was hot, the pastries fresh, and the eggs were perfectly cooked. After a short walk around the premises to check out the little coffee trail, their herb garden and so on, we went back to the room to resort our packing and take a shower. The desk clerk showed up at our door and apologized that our driver to Manuel Antonio had arrived. We were sort of shocked--he was an hour early. Seeing the look on our faces, she said, "Oh don't worry--he said he knows he's not supposed to be here until noon. He just wanted you to know that whenever you want to leave, you can."

We were ready early, but getting out was a bit of a problem. We needed help schlepping our luggage up the hill (that's the downside of the villa--the trek to and from can be steep) and the person who could do that was schlepping items were other outgoing and some incoming guests. Well before noon, though, we were in our driver's van.

Some of you might be wondering why we did not rent a car. The answer is that we did so on our last trip. The car rental cost, especially the insurance cost, was very high, and the time on the road needed to get from point A to B was like driving in Ireland--much longer than you think--only with Costa Rican drivers. We rarely used the car once we got to our hotel five years ago, so it was a lot of trouble for nothing, especially when you factor in the time to get the car and pick it up.

Our ride to Manuel Antonio would take over three hours because of construction on the Tarcoles bridge (that's the crocodile bridge) but it only took five minutes for my husband and I to fall in love with driver Victor, whose main gig is transporting guests to and from our hotel. Victor lived in Chicago USA for decades, and now he lives a contented life back in Quepos with his son and two dogs. His attitude towards life is not unusual for Costa Ricans: "I had a bad day today, but tomorrow I wake up in this beautiful country."

We arrived at our hotel, La Mariposa, and wonder of wonders, our room was ready. So why did we stay at La Mariposa? It's not a resort, although other Americans we met were under the impression it was because it's hardly cheap. Nope, La Mariposa simply has the best view of every place in Manuel Antonio. Five years ago, I used a panoramic view as my Christmas card, THAT's how good the view is. Last time we stayed, we had a partial ocean view, obtained by sitting in chairs on the balcony at a far edge of the balcony. This time we went for the Premiere Ocean View, and I made sure to ask the Mariposa room salesman to send me actual pictures before I committed to five nights there. The room, thank goodness, matched the pictures (I was geared up to protest if it wasn't). This room was in the section on the hill below pool level, and as such, had been renovated. My husband would later say that he felt ripped off by the stark furnishing. I told him that my view was that there weren't any possibilities of bed bugs in the place--no drawers near the bed, mattress on simple wood platform, white floor and walls, etc. There was a frig and a desk where I could create a make-up area. The bathroom may not have been luxurious, but it was roomy. I was fine!

My only complaint was the lack of protection against mosquito intrusion. Bushes shaded the room entrance, meaning that even in midday, mosquitoes were lingering there. The gorgeous view from the window wall as a trade-off for not being obscured, was not protected with screens. And the room door itself did not form a complete seal. As a result, a great part of our stay would be spent in "catch and kill". But remember the view, the view, the view.

We quickly repaired to the poolside bar, where we made friends with Diego. And then we ventured out to our first evening meal of our stay at the nearby Cuba Libre, which had a lovely view. We had never eaten there. I can affirm that we'd never eat there again. Portions may have been huge, but tons of garlic (I like garlic, but I don't like piles of minced stuff over everything) and excess salt destroyed any food value. Their rating on TripAdvisor is totally undeserved because there are so many other nearby options.

All in all, we were happy to be nestled in at La Mariposa until the aforementioned kamikaze mosquito attack began. I would awake to bites everywhere, and soon would learn to wear DEET perfume each day here.

Day Three and Four: Loafing (kind of) and then Learning in Manuel Antonio
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 21st, 2019, 07:14 AM
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Flygirl--I'm laughing because as soon as I saw your post on my other thread, I thought, "What's she doing in Costa Rica? She's one of my faves on the Europe Forum (mainly because you ALWAYS positively "get" the grumpy people over there--some of those persons actually do have/did have (sniff) a lot to contribute). I hope you have bonded with VolcanoGirl because she is a prime resource.

Oh, as this trip report will tell you, I totally will agree on Nayara. They are going to be shaking in their shoes by the time I'm done. I guess I shall be joining the "grumpies". What the heck, we're now old enough to be In The CLUB (imagine 50cent in the background).
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Old Dec 21st, 2019, 08:35 AM
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Day Three and Four: Loafing (kind of) and then Learning in Manuel Antonio

We had decided that we'd do NOTHING on our first full day. My husband likes to walk constantly, and he just needed to be out and about to be happy. I needed shade, a beer, and a book to be content. In other words, expectation for the day was low.

We had breakfast (NOT included) which consisted of a small but really good little buffet) in an area with a wonderful view. I particularly like that they have halved hard-boiled eggs, because their made-to-order omelettes mean an egg overdose at our ages. The fruit on the buffet was ripe, so I took advantage each day of the great papaya, the passion fruit, and the various other melons.

We took the hotel-provided early shuttle (Victor's "primo" cousin does that job) down to Manuel Antonio just to check out everything down there. We walked all of the level part, had a couple of Imperials, and then headed walking UP the hill. By about 3/4s of the way, my body (and it wasn't my calves) started complaining. Thank goodness, by that time, some of the hillside spots were setting up, and we were able to have beer and more importantly, a bathroom.

After a quick clean-up, we went for lunch to Emilio's Cafe, a fave nearby spot on our last trip. I had their ceviche, which would become my "marker" for the rest of the trip (the best I have ever had and will ever had is on the Nicoya Peninsula, and we were not going there). My husband had their Greek salad, and he was also pleased. Their bread is OUTSTANDING.

We returned to the hotel to meet our new bartender Jose, with whom we would spend hours. This guy is the sweet soul of the hotel.

For dinner, what the heck, we just reported to Emilio's. Why not?

The next day we were taking an early tour at Manuel Antonio with Jade Tours. The total irony about booking with them was that we unknowingly were booking with the brother of our preferred guide, the renowned Juan Brenes. I was so frustrated that my attempts to reach Juan were nil. Out of the blue, I was able to snag another highly rated tour company, Costa Rica Jade Tours. These guys showed up early at La Mariposa in a sparkling van in uniforms (!) and I quickly found out that the business owner in the van, Mario, Juan's brother, who had bought the business. We told him that five years ago, Juan was expecting his first child. Phone apps brought up that kid and the next one. Before we had even reach the end of the road to the turn-off downhill, Mario was pointing out Juan's restaurant.

Parking and line-ups are key at Manuel Antonio. It was obvious that Jade Tours got the "by" in every area, much as Juan had done five years ago. We were handed off to this tall guide, Dylan, referred to as "Rasta" by all the guides on the trip. So here's the deal: when we were with Juan, Juan was the Alpha dog of ALL GUIDES in MA (VolcanoGirl can repeat this). Dylan was really good, was really enthusiastic, the other guides liked him, we bonded, and my husband overtipped him. But he was NOT Juan. Nor was he Edgar. So if booking (and Jade is professional) I'd request Edgar.

I think I'm going to have to review trip receipts to see exactly when and where we had lunches and dinners after this. I suspect this was the night we had dinner at Korolos. It was part of the hotel, and while it was walking distance from our hotel, it was a hike up and down, up and down. But our server was wonderful and our food was great.

I can confirm that our next excursions were via Sunset Sails and Tucanes Tours.

Day Five and Six: Sunsets and Swamps
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 07:15 AM
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Day Five: Sunset

I have to clarify that the aforementioned dinner at Karolos was actually in part of the Los Altos resort across the street from La Mariposa. And I forgot to mention that on the evening of Day Four, we watched a storm come in from our room. It was simply gorgeous to watch, but we were alarmed to see that the parasailing in the little harbor below never stopped, even with lightning strikes in the distance. Where are people's minds? Do they suspend brains on vacation?

Luckily, there was no rain the day we scheduled our catamaran sunset tour through Sunset Sails. We first stopped by our former guide Juan's place, Barba Roje, for a quick bite, and luckily he was on the premises. We caught up and learned that he's opening another restaurants. It's hard to believe he has two kids now--he was expected his first when we were there.

When reserving the tour by email, I asked for the smaller boat, not the party boat. The company has two smaller boats, and I think we snagged the older one. The family that runs this provides transport from the hotel to its office in the Quepos marina. The tour leaves in the afternoon, and I'm sure that timing varies with sunset (sunset was at 5:20 pm for our trip). Basically, the smaller boat--ours could hold 25 people and we had about 16 on it--covers the same ground as the party boat. On our boat, all drinks were free except for beer. Guess what is the only alcohol we drink? Oh well, the beers were still only $3. All these ventures go out to a certain point into the outskirts of Manuel Antonio National Park in search of dolphins (unlikely), then circle back to an inlet so that everyone snorkles around this rock and then comes back to use the slide. I had had a swimsuit malfunction (long story), so I stayed on the boat. In the meantime, a member of the crew was wrestling up dinner, which was a basic Costa Rican fish or chicken, veggies, etc. The meal was just so-so. We would have better on the next day's excursion.

Watching the sunset was indeed worth the price, and I particularly loved watching the Brown Pelicans tuck in for the night in their tree. We had seen many Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Boobies, too. We returned to the marina as darkness descended, and we watched the sky darken in one of the harbor bars. It was really nice. Our hostess called us a taxi to return,and we called it a night.

Day Six: Swamps

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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 11:28 AM
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Somewhere in here, I'm skipping meals at Emilio's Cafe. So let me just say that morning, noon, and night, go to Emilio's and you'll do just fine. Fresh baked bread and pastries, fresh greens, whatever, they do it right. Continuing...

So I decided to do a Damas Mangrove tour, and it was just easier to book it through the hotel. Our Manuel Antonio guide and sunset tour had been booked on our own so I allowed myself an "easy" booking. Victor at the front desk had told me NOT to do the kayak tour (quote: "people think they'll see more and they end up seeing little") So what the heck... What you need to know is that even if you booked the tour through the hotel, you have to pay the balance and get a voucher. That was not made that clear.

Pick-up was around noon (all depends on tides), and when we approached the van, we could not get the driver's attention. He was looking at his cell phone. I actually stood at the driver's side to wave. No reaction. When his fellow leader came down from our office (we were, believe me, early to get to the van), the door opened. For the rest of the trip to the tour meeting place, with one other stop to pick up another couple, the driver and his buddy did nothing but talk to the "hot chick" client in the van. They exchanged numbers, contacts, whatever--all while we were on the road. I was ready to get out at the marina and call it a day. My husband mouthed, "Chill!"

Thank goodness I stayed silent. Once we got to Toucanes Tours headquarters, everything was super organized. Our leader for the day, Raoul, took charge immediately, and we didn't even know he was the guy who would be our tour guide. We were told to sit on these shaded picnic benches, and apparently, other vans had picked up other people so there was quite an assembly. Once allergies were noted, food began. OMG--it was simple Costa Rican food done right. Delicious. Black beans, rice, vegetables, a bit of avocado, fish done perfectly, some wonderful orange/lemon wedge, great lemonade. Raoul plunked down bottle of water next to each of us, instructed us to get to the bathroom, and then said, "Load up on bug repellent."

I want Raoul on ALL my tours. Doesn't matter what country. He's just in charge and smart. No flirting with the hot chic. That's beneath him.

We were lucky enough to get the front seats in the mangrove tour, but Raoul worked the boat. When he didn't see anything, he filled in with facts. All of his facts were superbly educational. He was respectful of the wildlife (no food to attract wildlife) and he could name anything at any time. Raoul quickly read his audience. He saw I was a birder (I am a BAD birder) and quickly noted that my husband, who doesn't know a warbler from a walrus, could spot things (my husband is EXCELLENT at spotting things, especially a curve ball). So when my husband would point, Raoul, who mostly had to face his audience, would follow and immediately decide if the movement was important. Then Raoul would quickly correct my wrong identification. I did get better by the end--mainly because Raoul starting coaching me and a few others. He helped out the true photographers on the group beautifully.

I loved this tour. If I went back, I'd see if I could do a night tour with them (well, only with Raoul). And surprise, surprise...we were on the tour with the parents of the woman who writes the blog, "MyTanFeet". They were so sweet, and they were delighted when I told them I read her blog. Fact is, if SHE likes this tour, it's the right one.

We were dropped off at our hotel, but we did not return to our room. Instead, we headed to Juan Brene's Barba Roje to see if we could snag prime sunset seats. We missed the primo table, but the secondo was darn good. The sunset view was glorious, even by La Mariposa standards. And then there was a power outage. The view became even more gorgeous. There was a problem with checks (um...some people left before they paid), but most of us were mesmerized by the remaining lights and the jungle sounds.

We returned once the lights went back on (we had no desire to be roadkill), fought our nightly death fight with entering mosquitoes, and looked forward to seeing dawn on our balcony. All good.

Victor takes us to Jaco

AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 01:11 PM
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Egads, I'm getting sloppy. I did book the Damas Mangrove BOAT tour upon desk clerk Victors recommendation. We were quite happy we did it over the kayak. We saw a lot of people struggling with their paddles, and their guide was vainly trying to point out things of interest.
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Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 01:30 PM
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This also is the time I should review La Mariposa. I've already explained that it's not a resort. It's a good solid hotel with great views.

People who complain about "cold" reception there have some reason. The desk people, with a few exceptions, are not warm and fuzzy. Most Costa Ricans we met really are.

The management consists of towel tyrants. You get ONE bath towel per person. There are no washclothes (we always bring them anyway). You have a card to get one pool towel per person.

However, for us, this system was easy. If we took two showers, we just used one of the pool towels (same type of towel) and exchanged it at the desk. We are not beach persons anyway, so this exchange was a no-brainer. You can work this.

In terms of personalities, we loved Diego and Jose at the bar. My husband and I are "bar peeps" no matter where we go, and it's easy to suss out "tip scroungers" (hey, if service is great, no problem, we respect people who just do the listen, listen, listen to make things work for their own needs) from people who are doing the job because they actually like people. So if you don't know us from other entries, my husband and I are always interested in how people tick. How do they feel about their country? What is their quality of life? Do they have kiddies? We really do want to know. Who are their best customers? Who are their worst? We do interviews!

We adored bartender Jose the way we adored Victor, our driver. They represent the best of their country, and we know their equivalents back home. My husband and I did those jobs years ago, and we hope we did it as well. It's hard, hard, hard to do jobs nine to 13 hours per day, and when one persists in being just "there", OMG, I so admire that. Kudos.

OMG, I'm tearing up as I write this. Those of you who have been in Costa Rica before understand this. There is such terrific pride in this country. We so admire it.
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 04:58 PM
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Thanks for making the effort to do such a detailed trip report. I don't know if we'll ever get back to Costa Rica, but I still enjoy the reports. They make Fodor's better.
I can relate to: 'My husband likes to walk constantly, and he just needed to be out and about to be happy.' Restless leg(s) syndrome, I think.
baldone is online now  
Old Dec 22nd, 2019, 07:15 PM
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Glad you had a great time in Manuel Antonio, we just left about a week ago. Also ate at Emilios Cafe. Doesn’t sound like we had as cool a place as you in San Jose but it was fine for our in and out at the airport. Great Trip Report.
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Old Dec 27th, 2019, 07:15 AM
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Back from holiday travels and ready to write. Thanks Tdiddy12 and baldone for the kind remarks.

And Tdiddy12, my husband also has a mild version of restless legs. Plus he has borderline high blood pressure that he controls by taking walk breaks, usually up hills. I always refer to him in trip reports as "My husband the shark: if he isn't moving, he dies."

So to resume the trip report...
Victor the Driver Takes Us to Jaco

We had booked driver Victor (not desk manager Victor) through La Mariposa, and as we could have predicted, Victor was an hour early. When my husband went to review the bill (my husband even reviews McDonald's Drive-Through receipts), Byron, the sternest of the desk managers, told him that his driver was ready in a tone that sort of said, "Jump!" My husband said, "Well, Victor already knows we will be ready at the set time. We'll stick to the contracted schedule."

Victor updated us on his two dogs as we headed north. We told him what we had been up to, and again, he was still mysteriously silent as to whatever happened to Fred, who had run a bar on the edge of La Mariposa property. Everyone at La Mariposa had been sort of vague when we queried them. Five years ago, we were always the only people at Fred's. It was scary strange, but we bar peeps were like moths to a flame. With a bar full of art and lots of pet bunnies, hey, Fred was a personal legend for us.

Like many, Victor would only say, "He disappeared." If anyone knows more, please report.

Since I had cut my foot on the Sunset Sails boat, I had exhausted my husband's supply of band-aids as I did my best to stave off infection. And since we were planning to do wash at our next hotel, I needed laundry detergent. And since there was a full-size fridge at our next hotel, we of course needed two six packs of Imperial. Victor happily stopped just outside of town and cheerfully went inside to shop with us. We checked out after Victor had talked to almost every worker in the store. He liked it that we brought our own shopping bags. We loaded ourselves and our supplies into the car. On to Jaco!

Except the car would not start.

Victor sighed, and we knew he was embarrassed. We reassured him that we had no place to be at any time, and we asked how we could help. He told us to vacate the car while he went into the store, and soon three guys came out to push the car onto the road. Then guys from businesses across the road came over to help get the car into a parallel position. One guy revved up his own vehicle while Victor pulled out jumper cables. Traffic had to move around all of this operation, yet there were no honking horns. Everyone was incredibly kind.

Soon the car was started, but Victor worried about using the AC in the battery's current state. My husband and I said, "WE ARE FINE!". I think my husband (age 74 and three quarters) was upset with himself for not pushing the car. So Victor called his cousin, the shuttle driver at La Mariposa, and they chatted about getting a new battery. Victor said his cousin said he could us the AC but he could not turn the car off. My husband and I shouted, "NO AC!" We were terrified that Victor would be stranded on his way home.

We made it to our next hotel, Hotel Club del Mar. We told Victor had already been the highlight of our trip, and we wished him Godspeed to get his new battery.

Days Seven and Eight: Hotel Club del Mar, Tacobar Jaco Beach, Graffiti
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Old Dec 27th, 2019, 11:57 AM
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Days Seven and Eight: Hotel Club del Mar, Tacobar Jaco Beach, Graffiti

No sooner had Victor pulled away, we were soon greeted by the Hotel Club del Mar staff. I had just finished checking in and started saying, "I'm sort of a bird watcher. By any chance could you recommend..." and three staff members said in unison, "Sergio!". Ray was picking up the phone and scheduling me in seconds. I had not wanted to do the next morning (our Day Eight) but was all in for Day Nine. 6:30 am pick-up it would be.

Owner/Manager Tom was originally from Michigan, ventured between Colorado and Florida, and has now settled in Costa Rica. We enjoyed talking to him. He walked us to our condo unit, which had my long-awaited washer and dryer. And two bedrooms and two baths, both with LOTS of towels, a splurge after our time at La Mariposa on towel rations. And a full-size kitchen and lovely living/dining area. But I could see what some property detractors had mentioned: the hotel actually fronts a public beach next to a kid's park and a parking lot. As a result, the hotel has to have a security guy along the walkway to the ocean. Another related problem is that although our unit was oceanfront, we really couldn't open the draperies. We were like fish in a fishbowl.

So I sound as though I was unhappy and would not go back again to this hotel or this unit. Nope, just fine. I also knew that our hotel meticulously picked up this public beach. There is no trash. And again, they have security.

I happily started in on our wash. My husband ( Mr Shark who cannot stop moving) went out to explore. He reported back that the beach strech had a lot of rock breaks that made it tough going, but he was able to walk up into town. We knew it would not be wise to walk as darkness descended, so cleaned up for the evening, we set out for a friend's local recommendation: The Tacobar Jaco Beach. Ray called us a taxi, and away we went.

The Tacobar. Hmm. It's basically an "order in the window" joint with a U bar with swings surrounded by table areas in a rather unsavory section of Jaco. They brag about their salad bar, which was very limited in actual leaves while we were cruising through and was almost decimated by the time some people escaping from some local All-Inclusive showed up. The shrimp taco I ordered was good; my mahi mahi was not good (we'd been eating mahi mahi 24/7 and we KNEW fresh mahi mahi by then). But we liked sitting on the swing seats because our favorite beach bar of all time (a Playa del Carmen thing in the 90s) had had them, and the staff persons were fun and sweet.

We got a taxi home around the corner.

Next day we enjoyed our small included breakfast. But I had made a BIG MISTAKE. I should have booked a Tarcoles boat tour for the next day. I think that once my husband told me there was no way in hell he was taking surfing lessons (our hotel's beach is the perfect beginner surfer beach), I zoned out on planning. And my husband rarely makes plans. So I was a Kindle vegetable while he did his zillion steps of exploration. Now that I know, I'd ask Sergio for the best one Tarcoles tour.

Part of my vegging was sitting on a lounger on the lawn part of the beach, watching the surfers and chatting with their girlfriends. It just so happened that at Juan Brene's place in Manuel Antonio, my husband and I happened to sit next to a local mover-and-shaker who was hosting some LSU fans for fishing. One of his various enterprises was a surfing school near where we were staying in Jaco. I told him I was too old to surf, but I had hopes my husband could learn, even if he was nearing 75. So the mover-shaker starts on this story about his oldest clients, knowing he's on shaky ground with his sales pitch, as my husband is returning to the table and he stops mid tale. "If that is your husband, OMG, he will have no problem. He looks 60, a really good 60." BS or not, I actually agree. As I'd learn by watching all the newbies on our little Jaco beachfront, successful beginning surfers have my husband's build. And he's far more fit than a lot of them.

Hills. Lots of hills.

When we decided to head into town for the late afternoon/evening, I told my husband I'd like to check out local casinos. We read the reviews on all of them. Hmm. So we headed for Croc's, the safest on the north part of town. This all-inclusive was actually a consideration of mine, and I'm so happy we never booked, even for just three nights. The outside and the overall appearance was good; the casino reeked of mold. I played slots for a half hour and we headed to town. Goal: finding Graffiti, one of the blogger MyTanFeet's recommendations. It was inside "Jaco Walk", an open air mall. We had arrived early, and the place did not look open. A guy with a 'Bama accent opened the door, and said, "If you want to eat, we can make you a meal." We started laughing. Danny explained that he and wife Kate were moving their brewpub next door to the south part of the beach, close to our hotel, and would be extending the Graffiti kitchen with their former Puddle Fish brewpub space. He's a surfer enthusiast, and he is planning a surfer paradise on that end of town.

Everyone who worked there was fun. We enjoyed excellent wine, and we ordered the salad version of their famous cocoa/coffee rub filet. It was superb. Our server called us a taxi. As we exited, we got to watch parents and kids using Jaco Walk as driving spaces for their little kids in remote-controlled cars. Great.

Day Nine: Sergio and birds.

AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 28th, 2019, 05:39 AM
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Day Nine: Sergio Takes Us Birdwatching

6:30 am came, and so did Sergio Ulate with pastries in hand, Swarovski scope in car. We stepped into a spotless SUV and off we went. Sergio speaks excellent English and knows everything about his birds and their habitats. His enthusiasm in finding, explaining and sharing his knowledge overwhelmed us. He first took us to see scarlet macaws and turquoise-headed motmots in an area near the Tarcoles river tour ramp, and then we proceeded to the Carara National Park where we spent the next 3 1/2 hours there looking at birds, monkeys, bats, and more. He quickly realized how limited my birding ability was (hey, I warned him I was out of practice) but also understood my curiosity was super high. He appreciated my husband's ability to spot movement, and between the two of them, they helped me see just amazing birds. Sergio knows where every bird is nesting, I swear.

Sergio's fee (I think it was around $99 per person) included transportation and park entrance fees. Contact Sergio directly in Costa Rica at (506) 8838-2507 or you can email him at [email protected]. You can also use the TripAdvisor link.

Sergio does plan to set up shop further south in Uvita in the future, so if you are reading this trip report a year or so later, you should check. Sergio said he wanted to get a bit more biodiversity, and that area will give him the terrain variety he'd like for his photography clients.

Anyway, as my husband said, Sergio was worth our entire stay in Jaco.

Day 10: We Travel to Nayara Springs in Arenal
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Dec 28th, 2019, 09:39 AM
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Day 10: We Travel to Nayara Springs in Arenal
Giovanni, a driver booked through the Nayara Spring concierge desk, showed up at 9:40 am. He was so upset he was not there at 9:30 a.m, and he had called our hotel desk at Club del Mar to warn us. We could have cared less--I was just worried I have booked the wrong date and time. When he showed, I was happy.

It's a long winding drive north. Giovanni, a former truck and bus driver, tried to lighten the mood, and goodness knows, having car wi-fi made it easier. We stopped midway. But it's still a haul. Giovanni is delightful, and he's a wonderful, skilled driver. Well, obviously.

So why in the heck did I book Nayara Springs? You can sort of gather that this Relais and Chateux stuff is not our style. Well, in many ways, R&C had become part of our style by osmosis or chance or what have you. We had booked SO many hiking/biking trips through companies abroad over decades based solely on our kids' schedules that inevitably, we encountered a lot of these types of properties as part of the tours. On our own, we NEVER booked them. As my husband once put it, "On my way to my room, I only want to encounter one obstacle--my door lock." Inevitably, R&C properties build up person upon person, service upon service, that prevent you from enjoying the splendor of whatever great room you book.

Still, I tempted fate. We had stayed on the Nayara Gardens side on our last Backroads trip there five years before, and since I was physically disabled on that trip, I got to stay back and enjoy the property while my husband was fighting potholes cycling in the rain.

I could have booked our same accommodations, but I felt drawn to peek more at "the dark side"--the new adult end of Nayara Springs. Our 40th anniversary (unacknowledged by Nayara) was an excuse. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Big mistake. Little did I know that our 3-night, 2.25 days there would involve a battle with wash clothes.

Night 10 Great Room and Glaring Light Wine Pairing Dinner
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Jan 1st, 2020, 06:43 AM
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Night 10 Great Room and Glaring Light Wine Pairing Dinner

My husband and I find it to be hysterically funny to try to explain to people who only stay at resorts how trapping a 5* hotel can be. I mean, we just try to explain how we travel and watch their amazement in how we're not doing it THEIR way.

So how in the heck did I book Nayara Springs? Egads, I became blinded by the "It's our 40th and we may die tomorrow mentality".

In essence, I was more stupid than any person who makes an automatic stupid decision to "buy up", thinking it will bring more rewarding travel. I'm hitting my forehead as I type.

Backstory: It's been a funny dialogue for so much of our lives. Parents of our children's best friends would think--we could see it!--"How can you afford to go to Paris so often?" And we would think--I'm sure they could see it in our heads--"You need to stay high rent and pay a zillion dollars for golf courses and services we just don't need." It's truly a gift when one grows up with no money. Once one starts valuing experiences over things, life becomes intensely rewarding. Going from shared bathrooms to one of one's own on foreign turf puts a lot in perspective. I remember staying in a swamp of a hotel with U-beds and a stinky bathroom in the Perigord and thinking it was GREAT. I got to see bats coming out over the fading sunset and it was glorious. I might not like that room experience right now, but thank God I loved it then.

Hence why my husband, who was of the same mind, doubted my mind in booking this place. Oh, OK, not quite, but still... I was stupid. I shall repeat that over and over again. My dear husband gladly paid to eat at the Eiffel Jules Verne during the Millennium celebrations. That truly has become a lifelong memory. He gladly paid for cycling trips, etc because of of it involved EXPERIENCES. Being served? No, no, no. And as it ended up, maybe we really were not served.

Back to our arrival:
We ended up with an assigned concierge who expected blow-back because we could not get into our room until 3 pm. My husband and I looked at him with "That's a problem?" We said, "Show us to the nearest bar, and we're fine." Well, I guess these guys are not allowed to let guests be chill. He had to start explaining our schedule for the trip. OK, fair is fair. The concierge desk is EXCELLENT. Immediate responses, very responsive to questions via email. I give this property 10 plus ratings on that. But when reviewing the schedule, he informed us that we were to show up (????) at a manager's reception at 5 pm with tapas and champagne, we both looked at him as though he were crazy. Come on, guys. We are staying 3 nights and only 2 plus-a-few-hours days, we are paying a mortgage for our hotel fee, we have big dinner reservations a few hours after we can get in our room after a long day of travel, and you try to slip in a sales op? Shame, shame, shame. The property want to advertise their new "GLAMPING" stuff at the peak of the property.


To be continued:
Night 10 Great Room and Glaring Light Wine Pairing Dinner (my reservation insanity continued)
AlessandraZoe is offline  
Old Jan 1st, 2020, 01:28 PM
Join Date: Sep 2006
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Please, I am waiting for all the details. Sounds like this WAS an experience, just the kind you would pay not to have.
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Old Jan 2nd, 2020, 04:12 AM
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emmajm--Thanks. I had nightmares last night that readers would not be able to "get" what I was trying to convey. Sounds like you got it. It gives me the will to continue.

Night 10 Great Room and Glaring Light Wine Pairing Dinner cont'd

So we did get into our room, and our assigned concierge started going over the room. You know how you always want to get rid of the bellman at a hotel? You know, you think, "Speed it up--I'm going to tip you anyway." Well, actually, I needed the tour. These villa rooms are lovely. We had a private, hot springs fed, plunge pool plus and inside shower plus an outside shower. On either side of the inside shower were two long vanities, and we each had a big closet. The mini-frig in that area had a Nexpresso and complimentary snacks on top and "free" beers, juices, etc inside. In the bedroom part, there was a sitting area that was more like a small parlor. I could go on and on.

After the concierge left, I immediately took the plunge in the hot springs pool. Oops--it was not as private as I thought. "Well," I thought, "I won't be seeing these people again for quite some time." Once we got showered and changed, we wended our way down to the Nostalgia Wine Bar, located on the Nayara Gardens side of the property. Walking across the bridge that connected the two properties was magical--it overlooks a tropical paradise. So far, wonderful.

We were greeted by our sommelier/server for our reserved wine pairing dinner, which I considered to be our true anniversary dinner. It was at this dinner that the faults of the property started appearing. The setting for this supposed romantic dinner was on the porch of the wine bar, and each table was lit by overhead lighting reminiscent of interrogation rooms. It really set the wrong tone. The wines were superb--out of this world. The food? Meh. It's as though most of the courses had some tweak missing. But we weren't unhappy, and our service truly was wonderful. It was an expensive meal but we've paid more for a less-than-stunning dinner, so we were not upset or anything.

We got to walk across the bridge again. The hotel provides little flashlights, but we always bring our own anyway, and we loved our steep, steep walk back to our room to night sounds. Of course, it took us forever to FIND our room (the numbering isn't logical), but that wasn't a problem. We had been in a car for so much of the day, and we needed the exercise. We knew that if we expected problems, we could have had the restaurant call us a buggy.

Once we got in the room, we saw that turn-down service had been in. You know, the slippers on the towel by the side of the bed, wet towels removed, etc. One funny thing, though. Our wash clothes had been taken away, and had not been replaced. I thought to myself, "This is probably just a one off." Not a problem, like with the flashlights, we always bring wash cloths since most European hotels do not provide them. But it seemed strange to offer a washcloth and then make it disappear.

Day Eleven: Afternoon Coffee/Chocolate Tour North Fields Cafe
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Old Jan 2nd, 2020, 04:27 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,153
I'm lurking! Thank you for continuing. I leave in two weeks. I found two nice places to stay which are under 300 bucks. Yippee!
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