Trip Report: Arenal, MA, Alajuela (Xandari)

Old Aug 28th, 2007, 02:59 PM
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Trip Report: Arenal, MA, Alajuela (Xandari)

Thank you to everyone who posts here. I felt like I knew almost everything I needed to know when I was in Costa Rica thanks to all of the information I gathered on this board.

We spent 9 nights in Costa Rica from July 28-August6. 3 in Arenal, 4 in Manuel Antonio, and 2 at Xandari in Alajuela. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon...a very busy time at the San Jose Airport. Per recommendations from many of you on fodors, we hired Leonardo Rodriguez (Leo) as our private driver. Being a first timer to Costa Rica and only having limited Spanish skills, Leo was a blessing! The streets are very poorly labeled if labeled at all so it's kind of a guessing game trying to find your way around the country. Plus Leo was like our own little tour guide...told us all about the country, their history, etc, took us to eat, to shops, recommended excursions, etc etc. He really helped us acclimate ourselves to the culture so that we were ready to have our own car for the last part of our trip.
If you are interested in hiring Leo (which we do recommend), you can contact him at

[email protected]
506-378-0001

We also met a cab driver in Arenal that we highly recommend (I’ll tell you more about him later). You can have your hotel call you a cab. They can reach Erik Salas at
388 2332

We started off at Arenal and stayed at Arenal Paraiso. A travel agent set us up with this room and must have told them we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary because they had a bottle of red wine and a fruit plate waiting for us in the room. It was such a nice touch. We were happy with our stay at Arenal Paraiso. Our room was spacious and comfortable. It has the feel of a cabin.

On our first full day in Arenal we hiked the trail on the grounds of Arenal Paraiso. Definitely not for the week of heart. It was slippery and quite steep at times. Once we got onto flat land we were very excited, but then came to realize that the next leg of the trail was completely muddy. At one point my feet were covered in mud all the way up to my ankles. Thank god for Keens! When we got to the waterfall we were hiking too we were able to wash off. After all was said and done, we really enjoyed the challenge of the hike. When we got back to our room, the maid service still had not been there. We had 2 full sized beds and had taken the top comforter off of the extra bed the night before. It was crumpled up on the bed so I went to move it. When I did this I discovered a bat in our bed!! It was small and, thank goodness, too scared to fly around. This made it a little less freaky. My husband was able to scoop it up in a glass and take it outside.

While in Arenal we also took a guided tour of the hanging bridges through Pura Vida Tours. We really enjoyed our tour guide, Javier. We also did a canopy tour through Sky Tram Sky Trek. The volcano was covered a lot of the time by clouds, but it did peak out from time to time for us to take pictures. One night we went to dinner at a restaurant on the side of the volcano where the lava flow was. I believe it is part of the Observatory Lodge. The restaurant is called Linda Vista. This was amazing! Everything was pitch black and then all of a sudden you see lava gurgling out the top of the volcano and running down the side. We could have sat there all night long. The food was very good also. We highly recommend this restaurant and view!

That night we had an awesome cab driver. I don't think we met one cabby who spoke English so that was always interesting, but we loved Erik that night. He was so funny even though we could barely understand each other. On our drive to the restaurant we saw a tourist driving an SUV. He got too close to the edge of the road and started tipping over the cliff's edge. We all started screaming! The car stopped ½ way so it was balancing on 2 wheels (on the passenger side). Our taxi driver jumped out of the car and him and about 10 other men who were around jumped on the side of the car trying to lower it to the ground. They were eventually able to hook up the car to our taxi and our driver sort of pulled it back onto the road. It was terrifying!! I guess it was sort of a bonding experience with our cab driver. He came and picked us up after our meal and waited very patiently while we finished our last glass of wine. If you are in Arenal and looking for a cab driver to take you into town etc. ask your hotel to call Erik Salas ( I have his information at the start of this post).

While in Arenal we ate at
La Choza: I didn’t like my garlic fish, but my husbands stuffed chicken was very good
El Rufino (I believe this is what it’s called). This place seemed to be the “fancy” place in La Fortuna. Once again I didn’t really like my mahi mahi...and I”m not a very picky eater. But my husbands filet was good. I should have been ordering everything my husband was.
As mentioned early, Linda Vista, which we both enjoyed a lot. I had a steak and my husband had ahi tuna. We shared the cream of asparagus soup.

I will write about Manuel Antonio hopefully tomorrow.
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Old Aug 28th, 2007, 03:01 PM
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ooh, I just looked at someone elses post. I guess Linda Vista is a restaurant at Linda Vista Hotel. I didn't realize where we were after driving at night up a really bumpy off the beaten path road
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 03:58 AM
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lol I've hiked that trail twice at Arenal Paraiso and still never made it all the way to the bottom. It just seemed to keep going on with no end in sight and I could never figure out how close I was to the end (could often hear the water though). Since it was very muddy and steep (and I was alone) I always ended up turning back.

Looking forward to the rest of your report.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 05:29 AM
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lutherkins - we were in Arnenal and Xandari just about the same time. Interested to hear your perspective on Xandari.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 06:41 AM
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Tully, I would not have made it on my own either. My husband took the lead and would get his footing before turning around and letting me hold his hand while very slowly making it down the slopes.
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 08:47 AM
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THE MANUEL ANTONIO SECTION:

On Tuesday, Leo picked us up and drove us to Manuel Antonio. We made a couple of stops along the way to break up the trip. He took us to a real cute soda called La Casita for some coffee b/c it is supposed to have an amazing view, but there was heavy cloud coverage. Then we stopped at a small fruit market where he taught us about some local fruits (that we got to try for free). We then did the famous stop at the Tarcoles River and looked over the bridge at the crocodiles below. That was neat, but what was even better was the tour of the Tarcoles River that we took that afternoon. Instead of doing the Cano Negro tour we had decided to tour the Tarcoles to see the crocodiles. Leonardo had recommended this. There were two guides on the boat; one who narrated and one who drove the boat and put on a “show”. He parked the boat up along the edge of the river and got out with a whole raw chicken in hand. After slapping it in the water a few times, a humongous crocodile swam up next to the boat, walked partially out of the water, and ate the chicken right out of his hands. It was crazy to see! He had crocs right up next to our boat...so close that my husband actually touched its tail. We got to listen to some monkeys...still have not seen any at this point which we were very upset about, and saw lots of tropical birds. Back on the road Leo took us to this spot on a small beach, West Esterio I believe it was called, that he knew attracted a lot of scarlet Macaws. There were at least 20 of them sitting the trees and flying around. They were gorgeous, especially when they flew.

We eventually made it into Manuel Antonio where we checked into Villas Nicolas. This hotel/condos are right next to Si Como No, if that gives you an idea of where it is located. We loved our room! It was huge. We had a living room area with a full kitchen then you walk up 2 stairs that there is an area with our bed, bathroom, and closet. We had a big balcony overlooking the ocean with a table and chairs and a hammock. We spent every evening and morning out on that balcony. It was wonderful. We highly recommend this place. It had a very friendly staff, a small but nice pool, nice rooms, and a good location. We were able to walk to many restaurants and the bus stop to take you to the National Park was just a minute walk if that down the street. They have a security guard stay at the front of the hotel from 7 at night until 6 in the morning. Oh my goodness, this guy was so friendly and funny. We looked forward to seeing him every night that we came home from dinner.

In Manual Antonio we took a tour of the national park, which I recommend even if it is so that you get some awesome pictures of wildlife. For free, we were taking pictures through the guides telescope and have extremely close up shots of sloths, monkeys, iguanas, etc. We also hiked Cathedral Point, which is a trail inside the national park. This we did on our own, it is not part of the tour. Then we spent one day hanging out on the public beach, and another day on the beaches inside the park. Personally we liked the first beach the best because nobody was at this beach. It was quiet and long and this is where we finally saw our white faced monkeys. They were running around right next to us, eating, swinging, wrestling, etc. It was so much fun! I think this was the highlight of our trip. We have a good ½ hour on our camcorder of the monkeys playing.

We were lucky and had sun everyday we were there, but it also rained every day around 3:30 or 4:00. This didn’t bother us at all though because we were up so early in the morning that by that time of the day we were ready to go home, chill out, and get ready for dinner.

Meals:
We ate breakfast basically every morning at Café Milagro (the small café in Manuel Antonio, not the bigger restaurant in Quepos). Sometimes we would just get a latte and a croissant, but we really liked the atmosphere and it was close and convenient for us.

Had lunch at Marlins one day. They get busy, but they have a large menu to choose from and pretty good food.

Rico Tico at Si Como No: ate dinner here the first night. I wasn’t feeling the best so I’m not a good judge of the food, but from what I remember it was pretty good.

Barba Rojas: We really liked this place. We were able to walk here from our hotel. We ordered the ceviche. I then had shrimp quesadillas and my husband had mahi mahi I believe. The food here was good. We recommend it.

Ronnie’s Place: We enjoyed ourselves here also. You have to take a taxi, unless you have your own car, because it is up a long bumpy dark road. But this allows for an amazing view of the ocean and from what we hear a spectacular sunset. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see that because it rained and was very cloudy that evening. It is a small place with a small menu, but the food was good. No seafood tonight. I had chicken kabobs that were really good and the tropical sangria. I recommend this drink!
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Old Aug 29th, 2007, 06:35 PM
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Hi lutherkins,

Fun report! Sounds like you had some good adventures. I'm glad you got to see the lava flow in Arenal. What a story about your cab driver helping to rescue the tourist SUV! That must have been a freaky sight to see it almost leave the road!

The Rio Tarcoles tour sounds interesting. I loved looking at the big crocs from the bridge. They fascinate me!

How was the hike to Cathedral Point in MA nat'l park? If I ever get back to MA, I would love to check more of the trails. Gotta love those cappuchin monkeys! We saw a bunch of them in the trees lining the 1rst beach as well. That was the first place we saw that species, and we were thrilled!
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 07:45 AM
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The hike to Cathedral Point was a pretty easy one. It may have taken about an hour. There really wasn't much of a look out point, but that was okay with us because we just like hiking in and of itself. We did see more monkeys along this trail so that was fun. On our trip we heard lots of howler monkeys, but never saw one. We were a little disappointed about that.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 06:35 PM
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Shame about the howlers, lutherkins! It really is just luck of the draw. I was fairly obsessed with seeing all 4 monkey species last year. We got to see howlers and spiders on the Cano Negro tour. We saw more howlers and cappuchins in MA park. I thought we were going to miss out on the squirrel monkeys, but our MA guide hooked us up by meeting up with us one afternoon for the express purpose of tracking down some of the little guys. He was able to find a whole troop of them in the vicinity of Costa Verde. We were thrilled!

On the downside, we never got to see the lava flow at Arenal. It was completely socked in by clouds each night we were there. I was really disappointed about that! Such is life! I hope to get another shot at the volcano at some point...

Thanks for the info on Cathedral Point!
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 07:18 PM
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There are 2 long trails in MA, one I liked better than the other - I think the one I liked was called mirador, not sure. I never saw other people on either one, it was nice after the crowds at the beach.
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Old Aug 30th, 2007, 08:37 PM
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My brother and I checked out one trail at MA, tully.

It was one that branched off to the right from the main trail, shortly after leaving the 2nd beach behind. I'm not sure how long that one was because we had left mom at the trail head and didn't want to abandon her for too long. Portions of the trail were very steep, climbing among tree roots and small bolders up the hill. Once things leveled off a bit, we could catch glimpses of a bay and the blue Pacific. Was that maybe your Mirador trail? I bet it probably offered some really nice water views a bit further along than we went...
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 05:36 AM
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OK. The last part of my trip report!!

Before leaving MA, we had Tricolor drop off a car for us. We decided to try driving ourselves the last leg of our trip because we wanted a car while in the Central Valley area. Thank god we basically had to head back the same way we came and Leo told us some tricks on how to take the right roads otherwise we would have been so lost. On our way to Xandari we stopped again at La Casita (the soda Leo had taken us to). The driving and directions went smoothly until we got closer to San Jose and Alajuela. We were kind of guessing and thank goodness guessing correctly. We got a little turned around at one point because all of a sudden the signs for Xandari stopped. After turning around, we noticed that the signs for the resort were only facing one direction (not the direction we were coming from). We finally made it and were shocked when we got out of the car at how much colder it was than in MA or even Arenal. We were so excited when we saw our room. This was our splurge for our trip because we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary that night. The room was huge with a beautiful view from our large balcony. My husband, who has a degree in architecture, was in heaven. The owner is an architect from California. Before leaving for our trip I had booked us a jalapa (basically a hot tub) at the spa. I didn’t want to do any massage services b/c I knew my husband wasn’t really into that. We had our own private little villa with the jalapa overlooking the city lights. They gave us some candies and a glass of wine. It was a wonderful hour spent. Dinner was really nothing special. We found ourselves consistently disappointed in their food, which is too bad because we really liked everything else about the resort.

The next day we got up bright and early and visited the Poas Volcano. We were very lucky b/c there was no cloud coverage. It was spectacular. We then visited the La Paz waterfall gardens. You walk and see 5 beautiful waterfalls then they also have a butterfly and hummingbird observatory where they are literally flying around and landing on you. They also had an aviary with beautiful macaws and toucans that are just hopping around at your feet. They also had marmosets (the little funny guys from the movie Madagascar). They were hilarious. This was one of my husband’s favorite things from our trip. We grabbed a bite to eat at their Trout Pond restaurant and then started our real adventure. We wanted to see Sarchi and maybe buy some souvenirs, but we had really awful directions. We basically had a hand drawn map with a line saying “turn here for sarchi”. We got very lost, but somehow eventually found Sarchi with an hour to spare before all the stores closed. We bought a beautiful bowl, cutting board, and mini oxcart. The only problem was by the time we left it was starting to get dark and we had no clue how to get back to our hotel. This was very scary. I was almost in tears trying to figure out where we were. We finally found a hotel and stopped there to ask for directions. We figured there is always someone who speaks English working at the hotels. They were able to help and we made it home safely.

We had to leave our hotel around 10am to catch our flight home so we didn’t have time to walk the many trails on Xandari’s property. I was really disappointed about that. However, they have a program where you can plant on tree on their property so we did that and they took our pictures. In a year they will send us more pix of our tree that will have our name by it. I thought it was such a cool idea.

We really enjoyed our trip to Costa Rica. It was such a unique experience that I think everyone should have.
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 06:53 AM
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lutherkins - we had a similar experience at Xandari: the property and the service were fantastic but the dinners were disappointing. Of 3 dinners there, I had 1 great one and 2 mediocre ones, but maybe that's because I ordered the fish special twice and it was overcooked both times. Maybe they just don't do fish well, because our other dinner and breakfast were really good. Glad you got to see Poas too. I know people here rave about TriColor, but it sure sounds like you could have used a GPS !
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 07:01 AM
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yeah, I didn't even think of asking for a GPS or if the car comapanies in costa rica offer them, but it would have been useful.
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 07:15 AM
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Excellent report, lutherkins. We are in the midst of planning a January trip to Osa and Arenal including a night or two at Xandari so your experience is very helpful. Especially the idea of hiring a driver to Arenal and return instead of a car rental. Curious as to what he charged you?
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 08:33 AM
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I believe he charged 150.00 to pick us up at the airport and go to Arenal.
Then 170.00 from Arenal to Manuel Antonio.
He drives a van so that is a flat fee whether it is 2 people or a family of 5.
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 09:02 AM
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Great trip report, lutherkins!

Tully and cmerrell, I believe that IS the Mirador trail you're talking about. The views from there are absolutely breathtaking! It's quite a trek to the top, but worth it. I have some photos from CR posted on the website below... the last picture is the view from the Mirador trail (maybe a substitute for anyone who didn't make it to the top):

http://community.webshots.com/user/carma223

Just click on the Costa Rica album, then click on the first thumbnail to see the large size pictures.
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 09:16 AM
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Lutherkins....how long did it take for you to get from Arenal to Manuel Antonio? Also, is it a pretty / scenic drive? We'll be traveling w/ 2 kids
( 9 & 14) and thus would like to hear more about drive. Thanks!
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 11:27 AM
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The drive should take about 5 hours, but we broke it up alot so it took us a lot longer. Leo stopped at a soda to get drinks, took us to a fruit stand and let us try some tropical costa rican fruit, looked at the crocs over the bridge and had lunch at the soda right by the bridge, and then took the boat tour of the Tarcoles (the one where we were right next to the crocodiles), then we stopped at esterillo beach to see the scarlet macaws. I believe he picked us up from Arenal at 8am and we got to our hotel at 6pm. It didn't feel nearly that long b/c we did so much during the trip. Parts of the drive are more scenic than others, but I liked looking around during the drives and getting a feel for the country and how the Ticos live.
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Old Aug 31st, 2007, 01:55 PM
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Beautiful photos, CarolM! Thanks for sharing them. Mirador must have been the trail we hiked. Now I wish we would have gone a bit further along on it!
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