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Thoughts on basing ourselves in Alajuela, Heredia or surrounding area in CR for four nights?

Thoughts on basing ourselves in Alajuela, Heredia or surrounding area in CR for four nights?

Old Mar 15th, 2008, 12:44 PM
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Thoughts on basing ourselves in Alajuela, Heredia or surrounding area in CR for four nights?

My husband and I are headed to CR over Labor Day weekend (late August) for 4 nights. This is our first trip to CR and we are very excited. I posted some itinerary questions and already received some great help, but we are still in the midst of planning and I would love to hear some opinions on perhaps basing ourselves in Alajuela or Heredia.

Here is the scoop. We will only be in Costa Rica for 4 nights. Yes, I admit that its not nearly enough time. This is a product of already having a longer vacation scheduled to Europe next month and lack of vacation time at work to take another long trip. I am 29, DH is 30, and we are looking to do more typical outdoorsy things in CR. We want to tour a rainforest or two, do some hiking, see a volcano, take a canopy tour, perhaps white water raft, things like that. I want to see the lush vegetation and wildlife that Costa Rica is known for. We also like a little more off-the-beaten-path locations.

We are flying into SJO and our original thought was to head immediately to Arenal for 3 nights, then down to the Peace Lodge/La Paz Waterfall Gardens for 1 night before driving the SJO the next day and flying home. However, now I am reading a different guidebook and I must admit that I'm intrigued by the Heredia/Alajuela areas. What appeals to me is that it seems we could do much of the things we want to see and do fairly easily in this region, it sounds beautiful, it's close to the airport so we wouldn't be losing 3-4 hours on our already short vacation driving to Arenal, and it sounds like we could drive to Arenal (we would have a car) as a daytrip if we wanted to.

I'm just curious as to what this area is like from others who have been there, because in my research it seems like most people who visit CR bypass this area for Arenal, Monteverda, Osa, MA, etc. Is there a reason why people choose to skip this region, or only stay a night or two? I'm wondering if maybe I should just stick to our original plan and head to Arenal?

Thanks for any/all advice or opinions!

Tracy
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 01:10 PM
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I like your original plan. There is so much of what you want to do in the Arenal area so it would make sense to base yourself there. It's a pretty short drive from the airport, about 2.5 hours, then from Arenal to PL, about 2 hours, then back to SJO, a drive of 1 hour. I think basing yourslef around Alajuela you'd do far more driving around then just basing yourself in 1-2 places.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 01:13 PM
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I totally agree; your original plan is great, and I'd stick with it.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 01:16 PM
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I like the idea of basing yourself in Alajuela or Heredia and seeing the sights in that area simply because it would allow you to also visit the areas to the southeast of San Jose if you wanted (although you'd have to drive through town--not fun). "If you wanted" being the key words.

But at this point (and if it is points north you are wanting to see) I tend to agree with Tully that you can do most of what you are wanting to do from the Arenal area, stopping at Peace Lodge on the way back. And she is right, you'd end up doing less driving and more of what you are going to do. The drive itself is interesting and you will enjoy the sights along the way, but there isn't any need to do it more than once, trying to see this place one day, that place another.

And it's true, you really don't have much time to see everything in all directions. Arenal is the obvious "base yourself" place.
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Old Mar 15th, 2008, 01:26 PM
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Heredia and Alajuela are more populated, more conjested with traffic and not as nearly as exotic as the Arenal and La Paz regions. Of course, where you choose to stay may be quite the opposite - Trapp Inn was very pretty, for example, as is Orquideas Inn.

I have always thought that the attraction with Heredia and Alajuela were the Spanish Schools and wonderful homestays in those areas and the fact that they are not in San Jose so are safer and friendlier.

If you truly want to get the most out of your holiday, time spent in the car is a bit of a waste... remember the roads in Costa Rica are not freeways and though CR is a small country but it takes a long time to get from place to place.

I really liked Arenal Observatory for the educational feeling it has. There were lots of bird groups and coatis on the property, hiking from the lodge and the spectacular lava flow at night. It's lso very close to Sky Trek zip line. You should reconsider your original plan and stay one night in Peace Lodge. When we stopped there a few weeks ago there were hummingbirds right in the Lodge visiting the feeders at the front desk and it is quite a thrill to see them so close.
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 05:49 AM
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Thank you all so much for your helpful replies. You gave me just the information that I was hoping for. It's hard to get a feel for a place simply by reading a guidebook that makes every region sound wonderful. We will go ahead and plan on 3 nights in Arenal and 1 night in the Peace Lodge.

Thanks again!
Tracy
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Old Mar 16th, 2008, 06:44 AM
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I don't think you'll be sorry. Arenal area is very nice. Have a great time--it will be here before you know it!
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Old May 4th, 2008, 05:46 PM
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i agree with most of what has been said, but let me add one thing. heredia is much more perferable to alujera. freindly, safe town worth spending a few hours exploring whereas alujera is alittle more edgy and hard to get around. i realize its marginally closer to arenal but the rain forest on the road to limon is easier to access from heredia.
if you need a inexpensive place there to stay, try the apart-hotel roma. really nothing special, but it is clean, has good internet and all rooms are two or three bedroom small apartments . tell nedia jeff sent you, she will take care of you!!
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Old May 4th, 2008, 09:43 PM
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Upon rereading this thread, I'm inclined to think that the guidebook that directed you toward Heredia and Alajuela were speaking not of the towns, but of the provinces. All the places you have mentioned are within those 2 provinces. They cover a vast area. Poas, Arenal volcanos, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, coffee plantations, zipline tours, several national parks, etc.
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Old May 5th, 2008, 12:54 PM
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shillmac, I'm pretty sure they were referring to the towns themselves in addition to the region. The guidebook I have is Pauline Frommer's Costa Rica.

Tracy
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Old May 7th, 2008, 10:26 AM
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On my last trip to Costa Rica, I left myself a day to explore a little of the towns of Alajuela and Heredia. Lonely Planet made them all sound very appealing. I remember the word "bohemian" being used to describe Heredia. I HATED them. Congested, charmless, and exhaust-filled is how I would describe both towns, with Heredia being just slightly less horrible than Alajuela. Stick to the countryside.
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Old May 7th, 2008, 04:05 PM
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We've spent time in both, and definitely prefer Heredia (cooler there--a bit higher!). The markets are interesting, some of the parks and churches (particularly in Heredia). But we don't intentionally go there as part of a plan. We spend time there when an hour or two present themselves.

Having studied spanish a few times and lived about 10 min. from Heredia, I've spent some time there in the evening, meeting classmates for dinner at restaurants, etc. It isn't an unpleasant place to hang every now and then.

That said, NEITHER ONE of them should be on your itinerary!
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