Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (
-   Mexico & Central America (
-   -   Please help us plan a Costa Rican itinerary (

rfrank1031 Sep 14th, 2019 09:23 AM

Please help us plan a Costa Rican itinerary
We are a family of 5 (kids 15, 13, 9) planning 8-9 days in CR in April. We know we would like to spend 3-4 nights in La Fortuna, 3 nights in Manuel National Forest and are not sure where to spend the other 3 nights. Likely we would end in La Fortuna because the hotel we want only has end of trip availability. So, not sure where to fly in and out of (could do San Jose and Liberia) and what other area is driveable and shouldnt be missed on this first trip. Ive heard about Monteverde, The Peace Lodge but not sure best way to make it all come together! Any advice you have would be so appreciated. Thanks!

volcanogirl Sep 14th, 2019 03:57 PM

If you're going to Manuel Antonio then you'll want to use SJO; Liberia is for people who want to go to the northern Guanacaste beaches. Manuel Antonio is a beach, not a forest. It's a great place for families - Tulemar Bungalows is a good place to stay if it's in your budget, lots of wildlife on site, and they have their own beach. Which hotel are you interested in in La Fortuna? With only 8 or 9 days, most people just do two locations so they don't eat up a lot of vacation with travel time. You could do a split between the Arenal area and Manuel Antonio and maybe a night or two at the Peace Lodge. The Peace Lodge is great for kids; they have a beautiful waterfall hike, an aviary, frogs, a butterfly house, and you can hand feed hummingbirds there. Monteverde is good if you enjoy hiking and birding. It can get very chilly at night there. It's kind of a pain to get to though with a long, bumpy road.

rfrank1031 Sep 14th, 2019 04:46 PM

Thanks volcanogirl , in La Fortuna we are hoping to stay at Tabacon but seems very booked. We could split our time but feel like we might miss some other must-see spots. Is Santa Teresa beach an option or too far? Also if splitting our time would you recommend renting a vehicle or just paying for transport everywhere? Is Peace Lodge worth the extra move or just another resort? Sounds like maybe we could skip Monteverde though then we would miss out on the cloud forest correct?

volcanogirl Sep 14th, 2019 05:04 PM

Tabacon has beautiful hot springs - the original and the most elaborate. If you can't get a room there, you can still enjoy the natural hot springs. We've stayed at Nayara, the Lost Iguana, the Arenal Observatory Lodge, and the Springs Resort and Spa (pricey, but we had a Groupon deal) and enjoyed all of those. Silencio del Campo is also really popular. If you're comfortable driving then rent a vehicle; it's easier since things are spread out. If you aren't comfortable, there are other options like hiring a private driver to take you between cities, using the Interbus shuttle, flying on Sansa, etc. You can use taxis in town, but they'll add up in places like La Fortuna that are spread out. If you take tours, they'll usually pick you up and drop you back off at your hotel. The Peace Lodge is in a cloud forest, same misty effect that you get in Monteverde. I like the Peace Lodge; it's elaborate and over the top with waterfall showers, jacuzzi, fireplaces that come on with the push of a button, and the gorgeous waterfalls. Take a look at photos and reviews and see what you think. It's good at the end of a trip when you've been hiking and getting sweaty elsewhere, nice spot to relax.

rfrank1031 Sep 14th, 2019 09:39 PM

Fabulous! Thank you so much for the info!

rfrank1031 Sep 15th, 2019 07:27 PM

OK, actually could use a bit more advice. Just booked our flights (yay!) and we essentially have 8 nights in CR. Booked Tabacon for last 3 nights and now have to decide if we should have just done 4 nights and 4 nights OR if we should do 3, 3 in Manuel Antonio and 2 somewhere else. It's the somewhere else for 2 nights thats stumping me! Any thoughts out there? We love adventure but also love beach living.

volcanogirl Sep 15th, 2019 08:36 PM

Do you have to spend a first or last night near the airport due to your flight times? They recommend getting to the airport three hours before your flight. Both MA and La Fortuna are about a three hour drive from the airport. You won't want to drive between cities in the dark. Hopefully you arrive early and leave late.

I'd recommend doing the Bogarin Trail when you're in La Fortuna; it's owned by a local family who act as guides - great place to see sloths, poison dart and red-eyed tree frogs, and nice birds.

What did you think about the Peace Lodge? You could do your two nights there. Friends of ours recently went, and that was their favorite place.

rfrank1031 Sep 16th, 2019 03:53 AM

Yes we land at 10am local time so could feasibly drive to MA. Doing La Fortuna/Tabacon last because rates were much less expensive end of trip. There for 3 nights and return flight is at 4:40pm. Peace Lodge looks amazing but is 700/night!!! Not really interested in staying in San Jose. Anywhere else maybe mid way between airport and MA or even totally different? Wondering if we should have flown into Liberia and driven down but too late now. Flights booked. :(

volcanogirl Sep 16th, 2019 05:28 AM

Whoa, they've really raised their rates since we stayed there. I think that's more than double what we paid. SJO was a good choice if you're interested in Manuel Antonio. The areas around Liberia can be dry and dusty before the rainy season starts; MA stays pretty lush and green and has lots of wildlife. We did a nine day trip for our first trip and just did a split between Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna; there's plenty to keep you busy. You could still tack on Monteverde if you really wanted a third location.

Xandari is really nice if it's in your budget; it's fairly close to SJO, and they have gorgeous views and some trails and small waterfalls. You could also consider adding another hotel in La Fortuna, somewhere like the Arenal Observatory Lodge that has trails and lots of wildlife; they have a free guided hike every morning.

Don't forget to stop at the Rio Tarcoles between MA and the Arenal area to see the huge crocs that hang out below the bridge. There are boat tours like Jose's Crocodile Tour you can do if you're interested, but if not you can just look down and see them.

rfrank1031 Sep 16th, 2019 12:25 PM

I am finding that ALL of the locations everyone suggests (Tulemar, Arenas Del Mar, Peace Lodge) are very expensive. Especially for a family of 5. They all want us to get double rooms which is just not in our budget. Accommodations are way higher than we expected! My little guy usually hops in bed with us, but I don't want them to check the room and get in trouble or anything if say 4 instead of 5!!!!

volcanogirl Sep 17th, 2019 01:33 AM

Those are all very high end properties; you can check places like Costa Verde, Mango Moon, Villas Nicolas, etc. to see if they might have better rates. Si Como No is also popular but may be expensive. VRBO is another option.

MichelleY Sep 18th, 2019 03:16 PM

Costa Verde may have rooms to accommodate the five of you. We stayed there and liked it a lot. Handy for walking to restaurants.

cndlla Sep 24th, 2019 05:24 PM

Volcano Girl, you seem to be a CR expert. Any suggestions on how to hire a private driver? I really don't want to drive and my child is young enough that I need a car seat...

volcanogirl Sep 25th, 2019 02:59 AM

You can book a private driver through your hotels when you reserve them; that's what we usually do, and it's worked out well for us.

familyvac Oct 2nd, 2019 01:05 PM

Hi, I'm planning a similar trip in March for our family, but just began working out details. Would you mind sharing what you decided on resorts and how you'll travel between places (renting car? etc). Thank you

kimberlympenn Oct 12th, 2019 05:02 PM

I am working on our 10 day trip in March with my family (11 year old twins). We are flying in and out of Liberia. Still exploring where we are going to stay the first 2 nights :-) After that we are staying in a VRBO in Tamarindo with some friends on the beach then going to Arenal Volcano area and staying at the Treehouse lodge. Our thinking is that the first part of the trip we will do the beach and relax a bit then get adventurous in the Arenal Volcano area. Volcano Girl's suggestions of the Bogarin Trail is on our list as well as zip lining, hot springs and sloth hunting.

Our thought is stick to 2 areas so we are not driving everywhere and we can actually relax and soak in the area...we don't want to feel rushed. Honestly, I don't feel like you can go all sounds wonderful!

rfrank1031 Nov 7th, 2019 10:18 AM

So we have adjusted our itinerary and are actually spending 4 nights at The Paradar (Manuel Antonio) and then traveling on and doing another 4 nights at Tabacon Springs (Arenal). We will be renting a car right out of SJO and will have it for the remainder of the trip.

Could use some help with expedition planning:
  • In MA I would like to spend a half day exploring the Park. Manuel Antonio Expeditions seems to be a favorite but I can't seem to find a website for them. Any contact info? What about
  • Thinking about a Catamaran sunset snorkeling cruise. Any recs for this?
  • In Arenal, I am having a hard time deciding on a zipline and hanging bridges tour. Kids are 15, 13, and 9 and pretty adventurous so they would probably love a ziplining experience with great views and long rides. Recs for that?
  • What about the La Fortuna Waterfall hike or Catarata del Toro?
  • Anything else you would add that I've missed?

Thank you!!!

volcanogirl Nov 7th, 2019 10:22 AM

Manuel Antonio Expeditions is the website for Manuel Antonio Expeditions. They're wonderful. For one of our tours, they even invited us back to their house for lunch. Juan Brenes and Paul are who we've used.

volcanogirl Nov 7th, 2019 10:28 AM

I'd recommend Sky Trek in the Arenal area for ziplining; that's who we've used. They have some of the longest, highest, fastest lines in the country. We also really love the Fortuna Waterfall hike; it's not really a hike per se, mostly lots of steps down and back up. The waterfall is beautiful. There's a little set of steps at the bottom off to the left that leads down to a spot where you can swim in the river away from the force of the falls. The water was very clear when we did it, and there's a small sandy area like a tiny beach.

rfrank1031 Nov 7th, 2019 01:08 PM

Thanks volcanogirl for your great advice again. Definitely going to use those two recs for those expeditions. What about Mistico Hanging Bridges or the Spider Monkey/canyon repelling tour?

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 04:27 AM.