Trip itinerary - please help?

Old May 12th, 2004, 11:34 AM
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Trip itinerary - please help?

My husband & I are planning a 8day/7night trip to Costa Rica in Mid Aug. I've picked out some of the places we would like to go, but I want to find out if it's feasible (time wise). We want to rent a car and drive ourselves. We are in our early 30's and love adventure trips with maybe a day or two of relaxing by the beach.

Day 1: Arrive in San Jose and stay in Alajuela at the Vista del Valle Plantation Inn

Day 2: White water rafting trip that would include La Paz waterfall, Poas Volcano and Waterfall Gardens. Stay at the Vista del Valle Plantation Inn or should we stay somewhere else?

Day 3 & 4: Arenal Volcano - hot springs & hikes through the rain forest. Monteverde-exploring the Cloud Forest. Want to stay at the Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa. It seems that we have to stay in Arenal one night and another night in Monteverde. Can we stay in one area and do day trips from there? What's a good place to stay in Monteverde? Moderately price $50-100.

Day 5: Rincon de la Vioja National Park
How far is it from Monteverde or Arenal?
Where should we stay?

Day 6 & 7: Manuel Antonio National Park
Staying at Villa Nicolas.

One of my concerns is that it will be long drives between the places we want to visit and not enough time to explore the area once we get there.

We are flexible in the order flow of this itinerary. Any comments would be greatly
appreciated. Thx!
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Old May 12th, 2004, 05:25 PM
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Oh dear, you are so right. You will spend a tremendous amount of time traveling. Your itinerary looks great for 2 weeks, really more!

This is what we all tend to do when wanting to explore Costa Rica. It just can't be done enjoyably! Looking at it, I don't think it's even possible!

For one week, your best bet (sad though it may be!) is to choose 2 places you most want to visit. Arenal and Manuel Antonio are the two best choices to give you a feel for the country in one week. The area around Arenal in all directions is full of things to do (choose from) and would give you a really good taste of Costa Rica. For the beach (and more things to do) you can't choose a better location than Manuel Antonio. What I am saying is that, with these two places, you are going to experience a great deal of what you are hoping to experience without hopping around so much. Remember, travel time aside, it takes time to pack up, check out, check in, etc. Time moves at a much slower pace in CR than in the states, and we "Americans" just have to adjust our pace in order to enjoy ourselves here in this little piece of paradise!

Another thought, the area you mentioned around La Paz, Poas, etc. is also a great area. There is the Sarapiqui River, Poas (as you mentioned) is fantastic. Plenty to do here for 3 days. You could do this part in addition to Manuel Antonio. It will take the better part of one day to get from either Arenal or Vista del Valle to Manuel Antonio.

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Old May 12th, 2004, 05:46 PM
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Thanks, I was afraid we were trying to do too much in so little time. So, it sounds like we need to get rid of Rincon de la Vioja National Park and we need to choose between Arenal & Monteverde. Which one should we choose? We definitely want to do one of the Canopy tours in Cloud Forest. I read somewhere that it's one of the best places to do that.

What else would be good trips from Vista Del Valle?

Would it be possible if we do 2 days at Arenal, 2 days at Monteverde, 2 days at Manuel Antonio and 1 day at Vista del Valle?
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Old May 12th, 2004, 06:01 PM
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Many people do an Arenal/Montezuma combo--4 nights. If you really want to do both, you would need to drop Vista del Valle and area, but then you only have 2 nights at Manuel Antonio--which is okay except that from A/M it will take the better part of one day to get there. Remember, unless you have a very late afternoon flight, you shouldn't, under any circumstances, wait until the day of to return to San Jose. Nearly everyone spends their last night near the airport. Travel is simply too unpredictable!

My suggestion would be:

3 nights Arenal (hot springs, hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfalls, and many other things!)

3 nights Manuel Antonio

1 night San Jose

I know it really bugs you to give up so much of what you planned to do, but I promise you a better, more relaxed vacation. There is a tremendous amount of activities in these 2 areas! You are just going to have to do what we did and return every year (sometimes 2-3 times a year). We will be making our 8th trip this summer for 4 weeks and we STILL haven't seen/done it all. And we'll just manage to check off a few more things this time--there is still much more to return to see! Of course, I've gotta admit, we liked some areas so much, we've returned there 2-3 times when we could've been exploring new terrain!
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Old May 12th, 2004, 06:03 PM
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As to your question, there are canopy tours near Arenal and also Manuel Antonio--they are all over the place! All are through the forest!
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Old May 12th, 2004, 09:13 PM
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Do I have these driving times correct?

San Jose to Arenal - 4 hours
Arenal to Alajuela - 3 hrs
Alajuela to Manuel Antonio - 3 hrs
Manuel Antonio to San Jose - 2.5 hr

If I'm landing @12:30PM, do you think it's reasonable to say we could get to Arenal by 6:30pm by car?
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Old May 12th, 2004, 09:33 PM
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Hi cdnelli,
Yes, you are very close on almost all of them. If you are picking your car up at the airport, it is very near Alajuela, several miles west of San Jose. Airport to Arenal about 3 hours.
Returning to airport from MA, I'd allow more time. 4 hours just in case!
If your flight is on time, it can take as long as one and a half to two hours to come through immigration, pick up luggage, be shuttled to off-airport car rental agency, and do paperwork. If you get on your way by 2:30, you should be at Arenal by 5:30, depending on any stops you might make. So yes, you have plenty of time for this drive. This is good because you won't want to drive this route after dark which comes quite suddenly about 5:45. Your times look good.
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Old May 12th, 2004, 09:47 PM
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cdnelli -

I am having some of the same questions you are. My husband & I (early 30s also) are trying to do an 8 night trip in early July. I had too many things included at the start & am having to limit my choices of where we go. If you get any other ideas - let me know! Right now I am looking at Arenal, maybe Peace Lodge for 1 nt, Tamarindo & last night in SJO. This planning shouldn't be so much work!
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Old May 13th, 2004, 06:24 AM
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Planning (and cutting down) your itinerary is the hardest part of travelling to Costa Rica. Rest assured though that visiting 2 places maximum will still constitute a great vacation. Many people return to Costa Rica after their first trip to see and experience more (just like we did).

I think your plan of spending 2 nights at Arenal, 2 nights at Monteverde and 2 nights at Manuel Antonio with the last night at Vista del Valle is workable, although it still involves a lot of driving for such a short trip. Monteverde is a fairly popular destinations but a lot of people comment that there is just not that much there to do. The drive from Arenal to Monteverde is 4 hours on really bad roads. And I think Monteverde to Manuel Antonio would be 6 hours or so.

I think you should follow Shillmac's suggestion of spending 2-3 nights at Arenal (be aware that in the rainy season it is hit or miss as to seeing the volcano but there are plenty of other activities around) then 3-4 nights at Manuel Antonio, then 1-2 nights in Central Valley (Vista del Valle is a beautiful hotel and convenient for most day trips in that area).

To sclub: your plan is a good one as well. If I were you I would probably spend the first night at Peace Lodge, then drive to Arenal for a couple of nights then Tamarindo for a few nights and then last night near the airport (Xandari is great for that last night).
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Old May 13th, 2004, 06:34 AM
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Iza - thanks for the suggestions. I have started questioning why I chose Tamarindo over Manuel Antonio. I've seen on other posts you have been to Tamarindo. We definitely like to just lay on the beach - but is there enough of other things to do from there as well like it seems there is from MA? I can obviously get a much better hotel price in Tam than MA and we can easily walk to the beach - so I like that - but just want to make sure we're choosing the right place.

Have you stayed at Peace Lodge? It sounds so intriguing but I have read reviews of being "stuck" there for meals. We will have a 4WD but is there anything even in the area for us to dine elsewhere? Do you know the driving time to Peace Lodge & then to Arenal?
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Old May 13th, 2004, 07:05 AM
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Shillmac & Iza: Thanks for working this out for me. I really do appreciate it. I have to keep telling myself that I will come back. It's so hard b/c I want to do it all.

I think I've come up with another itinerary. I've tried to keep the driving time to no more than 4 hours each time and spend at least 2 days in each place. I believe it incorporates the beach, hikes, whitewater rafting, volcanoes, waterfalls & rainforest.

What do you think?
Day 1: Arrive at 12:30pm and drive straight to Arenal before it gets dark (s/b @ 3 hours). Hopefully will get a view of the volcano. If not, I settle for the hotsprings
Day 2: Rain Forest hikes & waterfalls.
Day 3: Drive back to Alajuela (3hrs) and stay at Vista del Valle.
Day 4: White water rafting trip (day trip)
Day 5: Drive down to MA.
Day 6: Canopy Tour, Nat'l park & beach
Day 7: drive back to San Jose and stay there for our last night.

Thanks again.

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Old May 13th, 2004, 08:26 AM
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Sounds good. Please note: Manuel Antonio park is closed on Monday.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 08:29 AM
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cdnelli - sounds like a good plan - just too bad that you can't do 3 nights at Manuel Antonio since there is so much to do there. A variation on your plan would be: 2 nights at Arenal, drive to MA and stay 3 nights, drive back to SJ and stay 2 nights at Vista del Valle (do your rafting trip on your full day at Vista del Valle). The advantages: less packing and unpacking since you are staying at 3 places instead of 4, and you are in transit 3 days instead of 4. Disadvantage: you will have a longish drive from Arenal to MA one day.

sclubb: We visited Tamarindo 3 times and Manuel Antonio once. Tamarindo has become a bustling town in the last couple of years (still very small by US standards but much busier and built up than it used to be). The advantage of Tamarindo is that there are plenty of places on the beach or within walking distance to a beach and there are plenty of restaurants, shops etc. within walking distance of most hotels. Manuel Antonio hotels are more spread out and away from the beach (but most have stunning views). As to activities, there is probably as much available now in Tamarindo as there is in Manuel Antonio. One big difference is the vegetation. Tamarindo is in the area of dry tropical forest (very green during the rainy season but brown and leafless during the dry season) while Manuel Antonio has rain forest which is lush and green all year round. In Manuel Antonio you will see a greater variety of wildlife, Tamarindo is a bit more limited in that respect.

We have not stayed at Peace Lodge, but spoke to a couple last year who did. They enjoyed it very much but my impression is that there aren't too many choices around for food.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 08:59 AM
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Thanks Iza -

We will probably stick with Tamarindo as I like to be able to walk to the beach, restaurants, etc and sounds like we can easily do a day trip up to Rincon if we want. We will be there July 3-7 so I hope there has been enough rain before us to make Tamarindo nice & green. I love the pictures of the Manuel Antonio views - but I think it will be nice to be closer to the beach.

One other question....I read that the Tamarindo beaches are white sand but the pictures don't seem to reflect that. Is it white in comparison to different Caribbean islands? With our 4WD with it be easy enough to explore other beaches along the coast there - up to Papagayo, etc or is the road not right along the coast?
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Old May 13th, 2004, 09:49 AM
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Yes, you can do a day trip to Rincon from Tamarindo. Just be aware that it will be about 3 hours each way. It is only about a 2 hour trip from Papagayo.

None of the beaches in Costa Rica are "white" sand like you see in the Caribbean. No one goes to Costa Rica for the beaches--there are better elsewhere. But there are some nice beaches--as mentioned previously, the ones at MA, Flamingo, and Conchal are especially nice. Tamarindo is so-so, but most are gray or tan.

Costa Rica is not a country where you can drive for miles along the coast. The jungle runs down to the coast and the beaches are separated by the vegetation. To get from Tamarindo to Papagayo, you drive inland, then north, then back to the coast. About 1 or 1.5 hours to Papagayo beaches. But from Tamarindo, you can drive up the coast as far as Flamingo and a little beyond to Portrero and Sugar Beach.

You really won't need a 4 wheel drive for these roads. Yes, in July the Tamarindo area will be nice and green.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 01:09 PM
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Shillmac, we did a day trip to Rincon from Tamarindo (admittedly a few years ago) and I think it was only about 1.5 hours.

sclubb, as to white sand in Costa Rica, you really will not get that. Playa Tamarindo has gray sand (someone compared it to Pacfic beaches in CA). Playa Conchal has light colored sand and lots of crushed shells. Playa Flamingo has light colored sand. There are a couple of beaches south of Tamarindo (Avellana and Negra) that have golden sand and dark volcanic rocks, not unlike Hawaii. Most beaches have strong surf and the water clarity is not great.

Actually, we have a couple of pictures taken at Playa Conchal and the Hideaways Beach on Kauai and they look so alike it is amazing!
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Old May 13th, 2004, 01:57 PM
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Iza, are you sure? When we stayed in the Papagayo area 3 years ago, we took two day tours to the Rincon. Both times, we were on the bus 2 hours each way. It takes an hour or a little more to get to Liberia from Tamarindo, then the Rincon is another 1.5 north, isn't it--depending on how far north one goes--one of our trips was to Los Inocentes and it is pretty far north. Maybe it was the tour bus traveling that slowed us down! We were with Swiss Tours and they stopped at a gift shop for a few minutes on the way. We left Allegro Papagayo both days about 8:00 a.m. and returned around 5:00 p.m.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 02:24 PM
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Shillmac, I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that it is about 50 minutes to Liberia and then another 40 or so to Rincon de la Vieja Lodge where the canopy tour is.

I think we did the same day trip as you did with Swiss Tours: canopy tour in the morning, lunch at Rincon de la Vieja Lodge and afternoon at Hotel Borinquen getting a volcanic mud treatment and soaking in their pools.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 04:45 PM
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Iza: I'm considering your suggestion of staying 2 nights in Arenal, 3 nights in MA, and then are final 2 nightts in Alajuela. I'm a little concerned about the drive from Arenal to MA (would you say it's about 6 hours). Would we be able to stop along the way to see things (just to break up the drive a little bit).

I believe it's only a 3 hour drive from MA back to Alajuela. Would it be doable on our way to Alajuela to go to Mt. Cerro? Once we got into Alajuela could we also go to Irazu Volcan? I guess what I'm asking is it possible to do the 3 hour drive plus get those 2 sights in in one day.
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Old May 13th, 2004, 07:33 PM
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On the way to Manuel Antonio, there are lots of roadside fruit stands and sodas (little restaurants). These make interesting little stops. Also, you will cross the Rio Tarcoles about 2.5 hours north of MA. Stop and check out the crocodiles (cocodrilos). Pretty cool! If you want to really put in a full day on the way, stop at the Carara Reserve and tour a couple of hours. Near the Rio Tarcoles, it is a very neat area. There is also a new park nearby--Turubari. As I said, this makes for a long day, but you could really pack in some neat activites en route if you're up to it! Say you start out about 7:00, you could do the reserve and still arrive about 3:00 or 4:00 at MA. Something to think about. . .

As for your return to the airport area, I don't know about Mt. Cerro! I'll have to check that out! You could possibly work in Irazu, but you would have to continue on to San Jose and through it (not really pleasant!). Since you will be coming into town on the west side, your better bet would be one of these activities right in the west side area:

Poas Volcano--beautiful if it is clear at the top (best bet is to arrive before 9:00 a.m.). It is just a short drive from Alajuela and also offers interesting trails.

Sarchi--about an hour from Alajuela--great for shopping! Cool little town.

Spend a little time in Heredia and go through the market and a couple of the parks. There is a very good little restaurant here called (I think) Cafe Parisienne.

The small (some not so small) towns just west and north of San Jose (all near the airport) would be great ways to spend your time. The true Costa Rica!
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