SJO-Arenal-MA Planning Suggestions?

Sep 6th, 2007, 09:22 PM
  #1  
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SJO-Arenal-MA Planning Suggestions?

I've been wanting to go to Costa Rica and finally my dream comes true. I just booked a flight for a week in December flying into SJO. I've doing research (mainly from this Forum) and decided to split my time between Arenal & Manuel Antonio. I'm thinking 3 nights each?

I'm going w/ my bf and planning to rent a car. Since a drive from Arenal to MA takes about 5-6 hrs, I'm thinking to spend a night between these two destinations. A lot of Fodorites have mentioned Peace Lodge. It does look great! and I really like the boutique hotel feel, but can anyone suggest a hotel located between San Jose and MA?

Also, once we're in Arenal and MA areas, do we need a car to get around? If not, I'll look into other (better) options, i.e. hire a driver, interbus, or fly. I just started planning the trip and don't have much time, I appreciate all the suggestions. Thanks!
ktny333 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 04:57 AM
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Congrats on planning your first trip! Our hotel in Arenal offered a free shuttle into town, so we did not have a car there, but most people do; things are rather spread out, so if you're comfortable driving then you would probably like to have one. I don't think a car is necessary at all in MA. Things there are clustered fairly close together; we were able to walk to several restaurants from our hotel. We went to a restaurant on the outskirts of town, so we caught a cab for that, and the fare was only five dollars.

I hope you're able to get the hotel choices you like - December can get pretty busy down there. I can vouch for the Peace Lodge - we just went in July and loved it. If you go, do not miss the waterfall hike and the hummingbird garden, and also the nocturnal frog tour. Have fun!
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 05:00 AM
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With a short time, I'd do the drive in one day. But if you do want to stop, Neta's old place is (somewhat) on the way http://www.amatierra.com/index.html If you had the time, staying there you could also visit Turubari Park. I think a car may be useful in Arenal, though it's easy to get around without with taxi's. You can fly from Arenal to Quepos, check Nature Air's site. In MA, I'd forego the car myself, there really isn't much driving around needed, the bus is very handy and taxi's are cheap. Have a great time planning!
tully is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 05:27 AM
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Agree with above that you really don't need a car in MA. Taxis are plentiful and cheap. We had one, but we like to explore a lot on our own.
dfr4848 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 06:05 AM
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There's no question in my mind that you should have a car when you're in the Arenal area. The main highway is in very good condition and nice to drive on, and as others have noted, the various sites and attractions are so spread out that a car will provide the flexibility and freedom you'll want there.
MRand is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 09:05 AM
  #6  
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Thank you for all your help. I'm going to contact hotels for availability later today.

In Arenal, I'm leaning toward Lost Laguna and in MA, I'm thinking either Costa Verde or Buena Vista Villas & Casas. Si como no also looks good, too.

Volcanogirl - how's Mango Moon? Is it rustic?

I actually like Hotel Capitan Suizo alot, too bad it's in Tamarindo. Would anyone of these hotels I mentioned have the look or feel as Capitan Suizo? My budget is in the range of mid-high 100's.
ktny333 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 09:16 AM
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ktyny, do you mean the Lost Iguana in Arenal? I have not heard of Lost Laguna, that's why I ask. If so, we loved Lost Iguana - the rooms with the jacuzzis on the balcony are amazing and have beautiful volcano views.

I wouldn't consider Mango Moon in MA to be rustic; it reminded me of a cute boutique hotel. It has a nice breakfast bar area that overlooks the small pool and has a beautiful view of the sea. Monkeys come by frequently to eat the mangoes that grow around the property. They have a beach at the base of the property that's about a 20-minute hike down. We did not love our first room there, but we got upgraded for free to the King Upper Balcony Suite which was amazing - it had a private balcony and was really amazing. Some of the other rooms share a common balcony, and we were wanting a more romantic private room. The common balconies are right where people walk to go to the pool, etc. So I guess my take is that it depends upon the room you get. We liked the location a lot; we could walk to Barba Roja, Cafe Milagro, Salsipuedes, etc. The hotel booked tours for us and called cabs, etc. - helpful people. One thing that I didn't know before going there was that their toilets don't accept paper - sorry if that's TMI, but we hadn't seen that anywhere else. They just keep a trashcan in there - took some getting used to but turned out to not be a big deal. I think it's fairly common at some of the smaller establishments, but we didn't see it anywhere else in CR. Breakfast was good and was included with our rate.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 09:22 AM
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ktny - FWIW, we spent a week at Si Como No the first week in Aug and would be glad to provide some feedback if you like.
dfr4848 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 10:32 AM
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Your trip sounds a lot ours. We're spending 3 nts in Arenal (Lost Iguana) and then 6 nts in MA(Buena Vista Villa). We're paying for a driver to get us from place to place (cost w/out tip $450). Though I did not really look into, I can't imagine a rental car costing much less.
Pumpy is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 12:44 PM
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Oops, yes I meant Lost Iguana.

dfr4848 - it'd be great if you can share your thoughts about Si Como No.

I read that the Arenal/MA combo is a good for first timer so I decided on these two destinations.
Pumpy - How did you like Arenal & MA? What did you do when you were there? Maybe I can follow your itineraries
ktny333 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 01:11 PM
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Arenal has a lot of great things to do; just seeing the volcano is amazing. Stay somewhere with a great view and hope that the clouds and fog cooperate! Also, we really loved Cano Negro - it's a river boat tour near the Nicaraguan border and is the first spot where we saw monkeys. Also saw sloths and some amazing birds and caimans. The hot springs are really popular - Tabacon is really pretty and heavily landscaped; they keep increasing the price though, so many people are switching and going to Eco Termales. You may also want to check out SkyTrek for ziplining.

In Manuel Antonio, stay somewhere with a great view of the ocean - it's gorgeous. Of course, visit the park; you will see loads of wildlife here, but it can get crowded. We hired a guide, and he spotted a lot of things we wouldn't have on our own. We also went sailing, which was a little rough, but fun, and went snorkeling - thumbs down on that due to low visibility in the water.

Great restaurants we enjoyed in Arenal - El Novillo for steaks and La Choza de Laurel - known for rotisserie chicken, good casados.

In Manuel Antonio, Ronnie's Place/Mi Lugar for fresh seafood, sangria, and sunsets, also Barba Roja for sunsets, and Cafe Milagro if you need a Starbucks fix; we had delicious espresso milkshakes there. Manuel Antonio was really hot - I'd try to stay somewhere with AC. You will have a blast! We didn't get to try the mangrove tour, but if we went back, I'd do it - it gets great reviews, also might want to try the horseback riding.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 02:34 PM
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Volcanogirl - How's the view of Volcano from Lost Iguana?

I'm thinking to say in Arenal 3 nights and MA for 4 nights? or should I do it vice versa?
ktny333 is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 04:15 PM
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ktny, sorry if I wasn't clear....we haven't gone yet. We actually don't leave till May/June. Due to the many airline mile restrictions, we had to book that far in advance. However, here's our list of things we hope to see / do:
Arenal
- Canopy Tour
- Cano Negro Tour
- Probably visit the hot springs
-Volcano watching (weather permitting)
MA
- Lots of beach time at Buena Vista
- White Water Rafting
- Visit MA Park
- Horse back riding
- Snorkel (depending on visibility)
- Maybe do another Zip Line
Pumpy is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 07:05 PM
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ktny,

You should have a beautiful view of Arenal from the Lost Iguana; weather permitting! Be aware that the volcano is frequently obscured by heavy clouds, so getting to see the lava flow is not a guarantee (we never got to see it last year, but still really enjoyed the Arenal area). Also, the lava flow direction does change directions without warning, so its hard to know very far in advance which hotels will have a view and which won't. Even if Lost Iguana does not have a view, you can always drive to a location that does (once again, weather permitting!).

Arenal/MA is a very good first-time visitor itinerary. If you are going to do a 4/3 night split, I would probably donate the extra night to Arenal over MA, but you won't go wrong either way you decide. We had a rental car the whole time and really enjoyed the flexibility it provided, but I agree that MA would be very easy to do car-less. Arenal would be a bit more challenging and less convenient, but do-able.
cmerrell is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 08:01 PM
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Definitely you need a car at Arenal. Taxis are cheap most places, but not there. Well, $8 per ride, which in the course of a day, would pay for a rental car. Typical taxi fare for relatively short distances is about $2-3.

I agree with Tully that, with no more time than you have, it might be a good idea to just do the drive all at once. Even if you stop at Peace Lodge (a wonderful place), you'll still have at least 4 hours the next day. PLUS, you'd want to spend several daylight hours there as well. Ama Tierra (also very nice) will add an hour or so of driving time as well. It won't take much longer than 5 hours Arenal-MA, but since there isn't an obvious place right on the way, anything you choose is going to add a bit extra time to the drive.

That said, you'll go through Atenas (most likely) and there is a really nice little B&B in the country (coffee estate) near there, in the little town of St. Eulalia. El Cafetal. Lovely property and doesn't get much mention of Fodors. It's about 20 min. from the airport. Check it out! This would probably be the least "out of your way" place, and almost exactly half way.

You've chosen a good itinerary--I agree with everyone else. Hard to beat Arenal and Manuel Antonio for a first time visit. I'm assuming your going in early December when it isn't so crowded? If you are traveling at Christmas, whoa!--most places are booked! Have a great time--you're gonna love it!
shillmac is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 08:03 PM
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Sorry, meant to say "doesn't get much mention "on" Fodors.
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Sep 7th, 2007, 09:28 PM
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ktny, our view of the volcano from Lost Iguana was amazing! It's set a little outside of town in the hills, and everything is lush and landscaped, and you can see the entire volcano. When we were there, the clouds miraculously parted for us every night, and we could see the flow since it was going in our direction. They have nice balconies on the rooms that come with 2 rocking chairs, and we just sat out there late every night in awe - it was so cool! I feel so lucky that we got to see it.

Personally, I'd rather have the extra day in Arenal over MA, but really you can't go wrong. Lost Iguana had a free shuttle that went into town around dinnertime, so we took that each night and caught cabs back - the fare was about $15 if that gives you an idea of price. It varied a little depending on drivers - anywhere from $12-17. My husband and I had rented a car, but our driver told us to cancel it because we didn't need it, so that's what we did, but I think you'd enjoy having a car there.
volcanogirl is offline  
Sep 7th, 2007, 11:48 PM
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Sorry Pumpy, I misunderstood you. That's what happened when I was browsing on the net and working at the same time .

After further research, I take you guys' advice to spend 4 nights in Arenal and 3 nights in MA. I'm interested in Sky Walk's Hanging Bridge hike in Monteverde Cloud Forest. What's the best way to get there from La Fontuna?

I'm also considering driving straight from Arenal to MA as suggested. I was skeptical because I don't know if I can handle driving for 5-6 hrs on a bumpy road and I heard how agressive people can be on the road! With amount of time I have, should I fly from Arena to MA instead?

I'm going the first week of Dec. I'm trying to finalize how many nights at each place and going to book hotels next. I'm already stressed out planning this trip. I can't imagine going around the holidays when things are booked up quickly.
ktny333 is offline  
Sep 8th, 2007, 06:04 AM
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ktny - do you mean the Hanging Bridges and the SkyTrek in Arenal? Monteverde is not really a doable daytrip and with your short time I wouldn't add it in addition to Arenal & MA.

Both tours can be arranged thru your hotel and I enjoyed both of them. Hanging Gardens is right by Lost Iguana hotel and SkyTrek is on the bumpy road on the way to Arenal Obervatory.

If you wanted to you could also fly from Arenal to MA (Quepos) but much more expensive, around $100 pp and would still take about 3 hours, mostly due to the long layover in San Jose.
tully is offline  
Sep 8th, 2007, 06:23 AM
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ktny, if you're talking about the Hanging Bridges, like Tully said those are in Arenal right next to the Lost Iguana - if you stay there, they sell discounted admittance tickets at the front desk. Literally you can walk there from the property. It's a pretty hike. We got caught in a huge downpour there - thankfully at the end of the hike, but it started raining so hard that we couldn't even see. We called the Lost Iguana, and they came right away and picked us up on a golf cart, which we thought was so nice. We were grateful. The SkyTrek that you referred to is the zipline in Arenal. I'd agree with Tully that you should skip Monteverde - too time consuming to get there given your short time frame. We skipped it too because we only had 9 days and MA and Arenal took us that long.
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