Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Mexico & Central America
Reload this Page >

Partial review of some hotels from my trip: Finca Que Ama, Tango Mar, Makanda

Partial review of some hotels from my trip: Finca Que Ama, Tango Mar, Makanda

Old Jul 15th, 2004, 05:56 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 163
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Partial review of some hotels from my trip: Finca Que Ama, Tango Mar, Makanda

GREAT NEW HOTEL NOT YET IN THE BOOKS
I would like to bring everyone's attention!to a relatively new hotel that my husband and I had the pleasure of discovering. It is called La Finca Que Ama, located near the small town of San Pablo de Turrubares. The hotel, which consists of several cabinas perched on a steep slope, is located high up in the central mountain range.

The views from this place are beyond spectacular. Although it is further out from San Jose than other, more popular "just outside of San Jose" hotels (like Vista del Valle and Xandari, both of which we stayed at), the views from the balcony of the main building (in which is located the dining area) and from the infinity pool, rival the very best of them! Had we known of these stunning mountain vistas, we definitely and gladly would have driven out a little further after our arrival to start our holiday there.

Guests are in for a special treat if they happen to book on a night when Arbel takes over the kitchen and prepares a gourmet spread of traditional Israeli dishes infused with fresh, local ingredients. Dinner is enhanced tenfold if Neta and Arbel join the dinner table. Conversation with them is intelligent, entertaining and always thought-provoking.

The pool, though small, was the cleanest of all that we had seen throughout the trip. The cabins were perfect. The beds were probably the most comfortable and the decor was the perfect blend of homey, artsy and 'just-right'. And for those in need of a little creature comfort, each room is equipped with satellite TV and a DVD player. Neta and Arbel told us they keep a library of over 200 movies on hand for guests. There's no cabin fever here!

With little or no background in the tourism industry, Neta and Arbel have put together a totally charming, beautiful and well appointed inn. Neta proudly told me that only one tree was removed in the entire construction of the finca. Not only is the staff from the nearby town, by her lawyer, accountant, architect are also all ticos.

Neta is firm believer in empowering the Costa Rican woman through education and employment and she is also an avid contributor to community life in the town.

Though the location is a little remote (we didn't see any other hotels nearby), this place is perfect for anyone looking for the quietude and beauty of a mountain retreat.

(It should be noted that the hotel is located near to Turu-Ba-Ri park. We didn't visit it, but three women who stayed at La Finca at the same time we did spent the day in the park and had a blast. The hotel is near to Jaco and a good stop on the road to Manuel Antonio, which is how we ended up there.)

www.costaricafinca.com


AN OLD HOTEL IN NEED OF SOME UPDATING
We had two splurges on our holiday. One was five nights at Tango Mar on the Nicoya Peninsula. This place looks great on the outside, but it doesn't take much scratching beneath the surface to figure out that it is badly in need of a facelift and a full body workup.

We were booked into a Tiki Suite, the most expensive and private room on offer. The guy at the front desk showed us in and at first glance the room was great. Not totally luxurious, but certainly unique and interesting.

The first thing that caught my eye was the colony of small insects crawling around the bar counter. I know insects are unavoidable in the tropics, but even the host seemed suprised at the level of insect activity inside the room. We also noticed plenty of ants on the bedspread (this room had no mosquito net). The host sent for someone to spray inside the room almost immediately. This took care of the insects for a bit, but in no time they were back, in force and en masse.

There were cracks in the floors and walls, through which columns of ants were coming in. At $200 a night, I'd expect that holes like that would be sealed up and the room would be a little more bug-proofed.

The bathroom was okay, but definitely not luxury. In fact, I was suprised by the old shower curtain that still hung. Which luxury hotel still uses grimy shower curtains?

We ended up moving into a standard room on the third-floor of the main building, thinking we'd have less insects there. Wrong again. At a few minutes to six every night, the room filled, this time with giant ants, also coming in through a crack in the ceiling. Some of these were fire ants; some got into the bed.

The toilet seat was really old, scratched up and not even the right size for the toilet. The bathroom counter was made of wood--which would have been more interesting if it, too, hadn't been scratched, battered and cracked.

The pool was tiny and not well maintained at all.

The food at the restaurant was pricey, and although it tasted alright, it was totally uninspired. Silly me, I kept ordering different salads from the menu thinking the next one would be better. But, despite great descriptions and a price tag of $5 or more, no salad consisted of anything more than just a mound of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrotts, a few tomatoes and cucumbers, along with perhaps a couple of overcooked asparagus or a piece of two of avocado.

Also, it was very difficult to communicate special requests to the waiters like "no butter, please" or "salad instead of french fries" even when we spoke to them in Spanish!

Future guests would do well to know that despite Tango Mar's seeming proximity to the town of Tambor and its nearby resorts, as well as to Montezuma, only the bravest of drivers would venture out on the roads at night in search of other meal options (which remain few and far between). Guests are pretty much relegated to dining in for three meals a day.

Tango Mar, on the other hand, would do very well to vary its menu. We were bored with the same six options by day two and we were unsure why the waiters insisted on starting us off each time--lunch and dinner-with the drink menu when we ordered the same thing at every meals.

We also found it strange that our mini-bar was never replenished in the five days that we were there.

Tango Mar needs an exercise room, though the tennis courts did offer some much needed physical activity.

At least the beach was nice. Very nice, in fact: long, quiet, secluded and clean.

If future guests are looking for a luxury experience on par with other Caribbean seaside resorts, Tango Mar is not the place. Not now, anyway.

ONE THAT AS GOOD, BUT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
Our second splurge was at Makanda in Manuel Antonio. We stayed in Villa #1, which is supposedly the best one they have and the favourite of all the staff. At $265 a night, we thought we'd at least have good plumbing. Nope.

After clogging the toilet and calling for a plunger (which never came), we told the front desk about the problem in our bathroom. "Oh," they said, "you're not supposed to put toilet paper in the toilet." No sign, no notice, no mention when we checked in. And not even a garbage can with a lid. My husband and I are comfortable with each, but that's taking it to the limits! It made no sense. We understand that in rural locations, toilet paper goes into the bins. But we also stayed in places far less touristed than Manuel Antonio, far less popular than Makanda, where the owners were able to put in strong flushing toilets. We just thought that was laziness on the part of management.

Also, we had heard so much about the friendly staff at Makanda. We thought they were very standoffish, and borderline rude.

Each morning when I'd call to order breakfast (breakfast is delivered every morning--a sit down restaurant is not an option), I was greeted by a grunting voice on the other end. Instead of "pardon me", he'd say "whuh?" and instead of "yes" it was "yeah." Once, when I asked what kind of muffins they had, he barked right into the phone at the chef to find out. I'm not the Queen of England and don't expect to be treated like royalty, but a little respect and deference is always appreciated at a high-priced luxury inn.

Guests should also know that the private beach at Makanda disappears hours before the tide actually hits its highest point. It's a long and steep trek down to the beach and there are no chairs, no umbrellas, nada when you get there.

Another thing we noticed about the staff at Makanda was that they won't volunteer important or pertinent information unless you ask a specific question. One evening we asked them to call for a taxi to Karola's restaurant (which is good but very pricey, by the way). It cost as much to get to Karola's as it does to get to the beach. They gladly phoned for the taxi, but they didn't tell us that the restaurant was right next door to the hotel! It would have been just a short--and free--walk to get there.

One morning we asked the reception desk where the trail was to the private beach. We embarked on it immediately and after trekking all the way down, we found there to be no beach at all. It was still hours before the tide was supposed to hit its highest level, but the beach had already disappeared. We came back up, annoyed at this and went to tell the reception desk. Yes, they knew there would be no beach at that time and asked us if we hadn't consulted with the tide chart in the room.

Makanda needs to tweak its customer service to become the resort it is supposed to be.

-end-
MonaManuel is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2004, 06:46 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 60
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ditto on your comments re: Neta and Arbel. Both are delightful and very funny! They are a perfect couple! I'm very glad we went to the extra effort to find La Finca Que Ama and stay there. They are wonderful hosts and certainly made us feel like we were old friends. They have done a wonderful job.
I'm sorry your experience with Makanda was not wonderful. We stayed there a year and a half ago, and had an absolutely wonderful experience! Staff was friendly, room was wonderful (villa 5) (toilet worked fine!). We loved the remoteness of the beach. The kitchen will pack a picnic for you to take down with you... We would stay there again in a second!
We have not stayed at Tango Mar, but we LOVE the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula - the beaches are great!
kimschulze is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2004, 07:01 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 144
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Mona,

Great report! There have been so many wonderful trip and hotel reports lately. I only wish they'd been available when we were planning our trip. Oh well, I guess we'll have to go back one of these days and try some more places.

I thought the whole toilet paper thing was strange. I knew from reading this board that you weren't supposed to flush tp in many places in CR. However, I did find it strange that only a very few places posted notices to that effect. We stayed and stopped at places that are frequented by tourists, and I was surprised not to see more signs. Not everyone reads the relevant posts on the Fodors boards! How would one know? When I saw a trash basket near the toilet, I just assumed it was a place where I couldn't flush the paper. To be honest, though, I had a really hard time remembering. I flushed more than my share of paper! And, I, too, was surprised that more of the waste baskets for this purpose weren't covered. "When in Rome. . ," but I, too, found the whole thing rather distasteful. I'm actually curious as to why paper can't be flushed in CR. Are their toilets different? Or is it the septic system? It seems as though a septic system in CR would have to be similar to ours. Why would it be different when it comes to tp?

Sorry--didn't mean to hijack your thread!

Thanks again for your report. If I had stayed at Makanda and experienced what you experienced, I would be in complete agreement. You paid for better service than you received. Hope you still had a great time overall!
JoBurritt is offline  
Old Jul 15th, 2004, 10:57 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 1,183
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hey Mona!
Thanks for the reports! How is that web site coming? I really wish we had made time for La Finca que Ama on this trip, but I don't think it'll happen this time. I guess we'll just have to plan another trip! I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip.
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2004, 12:18 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 293
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I realize you are busy...thanks for the info...can't wait to meet Neta! Just a quick question, what did you do activity-wise in Arenal? We will be there 2 nights (1 1/2 days) and feel like we "have" to see Tabacon??? The waterfalls?? Welcome back to our hurried world, Joyce
trevorjoyce is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2004, 02:36 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 163
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Joyce,

We actually skipped the waterfalls there, having numerous waterfalls prior to and post Arenal.

We went on the "Safari River Float" tour (or something like that) on one day and whitewater rafting on the Sarapiqui the next.

River float tour is done in the same time of raft as the rafting, but the river (Penas Blancas) is much slower. We happened to book on a day on which there was a torrential downpour--we had water up to our shins in the boat! But it was just the two of us that braved the ride that day and it was totally romantic and well worth it. The scenery, though we could hardly see given the biblical-style storm we were caught in, was amazing. As our guide Jaime lead us down the river, I felt like I was on a Venetian gondola riding through the jungles of Africa.

The whitewater rafting was great fun, too. Much less scenic since the boat goes so fast, but thrilling and a good opportunity to meet other couples.

You can book both tours from your hotel but you'll pay less if you do it in La Fortuna.

As for the hot springs, we opted to save money and go to a place right in La Fortuna called Baldi Spa. AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE.

It was horrendous, filled with oversexed American backpackers and a few geezers hoping to score with the ladies thrown in for good measure.

And all for what? A few giant, heated swimming pools. That's what the fuss is all about.

Tabacon may get a better clientele than Baldi (since it costs twice as much), but if it's just about a few pools with a swim up bar, I'd spend my money somewhere else. Arenal Paraiso, where I assume you're staying, had, both, a good enough cold and sulfur pool for me.

If you're looking for restaurant suggestions:

Vagabondo had really great pizza and La Choza del Laurel was the favourite "restaurante tipica" of all the locals with whom we had spoken. Both are right in the town.
MonaManuel is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2004, 04:05 PM
  #7  
lvk
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 3,265
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great info Mona,

Do you remember the name of the tour company for the Penas Blancas float trip? Are there several? Some better than others? Also, do you remember about how much you saved by booking your tours in Fortuna?

Thanks for the heads up re: Baldi. Have you heard of a family-owned place called Ecotermales del Bosque in the Arenal area?

I know you're busy, but we really appreciate the info.
lvk is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2004, 06:07 PM
  #8  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 163
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ivk-

I don't remember the name of the company that took us to Penas Blancas. We booked them straight from the hotel tours desk (later on, other guests from the hotel told us about the discount in town, which amount to $5 or $10 per person.)

I thought that all the tour guides we met were totally professional. The all seem to have studied tourism in college there and try in earnest to do well by their clients. And amazingly, their English is superb; they have very detailed and expansive vocabularies. Most were young guys working to support their whole families so it's in their interest to do a great job. I was so impressed with them all and I wouldn't worry about finding the "right" company with whom to book.

I don't know anything about the other hot springs you mentioned. Sorry.
MonaManuel is offline  
Old Jul 16th, 2004, 06:52 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 1,183
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks again for all the good info!
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Old Jul 17th, 2004, 05:20 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 611
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ivk, the name of the tour company we used for the Penas Blancas safari float was Sunset Tours. They were great, and we loved the tour. They also have various other activities to choose from... we also used them for a guided hike to the base of the volcano, which was wonderful (try to go at sunset for a stunning view). We booked in their office in town (La Fortuna).

And to throw in my two cents on La Choza del Laurel, it was great. We really enjoyed eating in the "locals" places in La Fortuna, getting away from lots of tourists. The casados make for a fantastic meal (and very inexpensive). La Fortuna is also a great place to stock up on coffee (in the grocery store) to bring home.
CarolM is offline  
Old Jul 17th, 2004, 05:34 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 10,212
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
MonaManuel,
I've been trying to catch up a bit with Fodor's and have enjoyed your reviews. We, too, enjoyed an evening dining and talking with Neta and Arbel and La Finca Que Ama. They said they had a great time with both of you and it was fun to chat with them about Fodorite visits to their lovely hotel. Thanks for sharing!
shillmac is offline  
Old Jul 18th, 2004, 06:32 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 2,220
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
MonaManuel-- Thanks for your wonderfully specific report. We're scheduled to stay at Makanda for 3 nights in January. First trip to Costa Rica-- 35th anniversary vacation. I'm thinking now of absolutely cancelling our Makanda reservation. I would be totally appalled to encounter the things you found there-- especially at the high rates. (We're booked in Villa #5-- also quite expensive.) We've also booked Villa Caletas for 2 nights. Because I'd heard that Costa Rica hotels weren't all that great, we decided to splurge for this trip, hoping that the extra money would at least assure us of very comfortable if not luxurious accommodations. Now I'm starting to wonder whether the whole idea of Costa Rica might be a mistake. We definitely don't need "luxury," but we're in our late 60's and have done the "budget" type thing for enough years: are ready for comfort and cleanliness! Did you write to Makanda? Speak with them forcefully about all the problems? I'd be interested to know their response. Any place that takes themselves seriously-- that genuinely cares about their reputation-- would (should) be grateful for such feed-back. Thanks again for your report.
poss is offline  
Old Jul 18th, 2004, 04:48 PM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 60
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We stayed in Villa 5 Feb.'03 and LOVED it! We had none of the previously mentioned problems and would stay there again.
kimschulze is offline  
Old Jul 19th, 2004, 09:36 AM
  #14  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 163
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Poss,

About Makanda: Kimshulze, the previous poster, is not alone. I hadn't heard any negative reports about Makanda before I left and I've heard very few since returning. Makanda is, hands-down, the favourite in Manuel Antonio--at least on this message board.

But, with all the rave reviews, I think I was expecting Shangri-La. You hit it on the nose, though. The term luxury is very relative and 'luxury' in Costa Rica doesn't meant the same as 'luxury' in America.

You asked if I spoke with the hotel about my concerns. I didn't, but I did send some reviews to Chris Baker, who authors the Moon Handbook to Costa Rica. This is what he had to say:

"I stayed at Makanda exactly a year ago, and loved the place. Although I experienced no similar negatives, I'll duly note them. Meanwhile, as for the poor information, you ran up against that old Costa Rican bugbear of being given only replies to the explicit question, with no thought for the courtesy of conditional information. I come across this frequently with regard to directions."

I've been fortunate to stay at a few luxury hotels, mostly in Canada, and mostly in Montreal or Toronto, at that. The North American tourism industry has set the bar very high for customer service and hospitality. I don't know if even the best hotels in Europe can match the levels of service at the big name hotels in N.A.

In Costa Rica, though, we specifically chose to avoid anything resembling a chain hotel, American-owned or otherwise. And, we headed to Central America because it was NOT North America and nothing like North America. The bottom line is we just couldn't have it both ways.

Did it ruin our trip? Not at all. There was just too much beauty and splendour OUTSIDE our hotel rooms, and we realized that was why we were visiting Costa Rica. That is why the country has such an enormous legion of diehard fans.

So, we didn't have a nightly turn down service or a bottle of champagne waiting in our rooms upon arrival, like our friends did on their Hawaiian or Polynesian honeymoons.

They didn't have toucans visit them in a tree outside their cabin; they didn't have monkeys playing in their backyard; they didn't play charity bingo for an elementary school in a tiny town in the mountains where the locals had only ever seen two or three foreigners before in their lives (AND they certainly didn't win a microwave, AND re-donate it, AND have the bingo caller thank them by name for their generosity, in Spanish, in front of all the town's people!) like I did.

They didn't go from mountain to sea to moutain to sea to mountain with a congenial Tico driver who was all too eager to make sure we saw the very best of his country; they didn't exerience the frenzy of payday at a supermarket in the fruit capital of the country; they never experienced the kind of torrential rain that actually gives the rainforest its name. I've been home for almost two months now and every night, after dinner, I pull out my photo album and pour over our hundred-plus postcard-worthy memories. And every time, I am amazed.

Having said all that, do I think we paid too much for some of our hotel rooms? Absolutely. I could only say this in retrospect, but I wish we had paid less for hotel rooms and spent more on activities, meals or gifts. (Note: we actually did spend a lot on meals, but maybe I would have felt less bad about it if we could have saved on rooms.) Paying more didn't equate to less bugs or better entertainment, and I don't think the level of comfort would have dropped substantially or at all if we had gone a notch down.

My parting words are these: if you're looking for Hawaii, go to Hawaii,m because they are great at what they do there (so I'm told). But if you're looking for breath-taking scenery, pure mountain air, good--but not great--food (including really healthy meat--I'm a vegetarian, but from the look of the cattle we saw, there were no antibiotics, hormones or contaminated feed going into those things. The cattle there graze on pasture all day long, which probably makes them a hell of a lot better for you than what we get here--and delicious, delicious, delicious freshly picked fruit), and if you want to meet a wonderful, self-sufficient, proud, warm and friendly people, get yourselves to Costa Rica.

Even if you're disappointed in your accomodations, you won't be let down by the endless buffet of natural wonders that is Costa Rica.
MonaManuel is offline  
Old Jul 19th, 2004, 01:48 PM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 2,220
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
MonaManuel-- WOW!!!!!!! GRACIAS!!!!

You're such an amazing detailer and explicator that if you're ever inclined to do a report of the activities/sights you most liked (and didn't care for), I'd be all ears. What's wonderful about your reports is that you not only give both pros and cons, but also give the specifics that help another traveler understand your reactions. You've been incredibly helpful and generous-- thank you so much!
poss is offline  
Old Jul 23rd, 2004, 11:47 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 10,212
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
MonaManuel,
I loved reading your rendition of the Charity Bingo Game in San Pablo! Neta had shared this wonderful story with us, and we got as much enjoyment in hearing it as she did in telling it! THIS is what traveling to Costa Rica and taking the time to interact with the wonderful people is all about. This has got to be one of the highlights of your honeymoon!
shillmac is offline  
Old Jul 23rd, 2004, 01:36 PM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 293
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Just curious...who did you use to get from place to place? We will be using Oscar and I chose to do this more to learn about CR than to avoid renting a car. Sounds like you had a private driver as well. Thanks for all your help, Joyce
trevorjoyce is offline  
Old Jul 24th, 2004, 02:54 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 293
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
ttt
trevorjoyce is offline  
Old Jul 29th, 2004, 12:09 PM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 163
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Trevorjoyce:

We used a wonderful driver named Juan Carlos, with whom we connected by way of Neta from Finca Que Ama.

He was wonderful. He really wanted us to see the best of his country and would take the time to show us out of the way places.

We also spent a day with Oscar, organized through Vista Del Valle. He was really great, too. Oscar speaks much more English than Juan Carlos, if that's a concern of yours. But between my broken Spanish, Juan Carlos' English and a little bit of Quebecois French thrown in, we got by just great.

To give you an idea of price: I think we did six rather long and arduous drives over a two week period with Juan Carlos for a total of $600, plus we paid for his meals whenever he was with us and we tipped him well at the end.

This may seem like a lot, but it was less expensive than renting an automatic transmission automobile for two weeks, like we would have needed.

Let me know if you'd like his contact info. We promised we'd pass along the good word about him when we returned.
MonaManuel is offline  
Old Jul 30th, 2004, 03:12 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 293
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks and we are off tonight....Oscar is doing the driving and can't wait to meet all these folks we have been hearing about...Joyce
trevorjoyce is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information