Trip Report Costa Rica

Old Jan 24th, 2005, 08:25 AM
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Trip Report Costa Rica

Colleen and I had a marvelous time in Costa Rica. We would go back in a flash. The people, the food, the nature. All were excellent.

It would not have been excellent if not for Neta at Finca Que Ama. We had booked tickets to leave on december 28th and naivley thought that we would have no trouble finding accomodation. We soon found out that it is next to impossible to make a booking of any sort during xmas week particularly anything near a beach. I had posted a help message on this board (with help from my friend daveJJ) and Shillmac responded and suggested that we contact Neta which we did. So my first piece of advice is: if you are stuck call Neta at 506-419-0110. This is a delightful lady who found us good accomodation and a great driver and gave us a fantastic vacation when it looked like we were really up the proverbial creek. What is more, she did not charge us a thing and we ended up getting discounts everywhere that we went.

That being said, there were some parts of the trip that we liked a lot better than other parts, as follows.

Our first night was in the Best Western Irazu. this is pretty standard fare but if you come into SJ late in the day as we did, is is a good first stop-over. The restaurant across the streed is excellent, if a bit pricey.

We were picked up the next day by our driver and taken to the Volcano lodge in Aranal. This is a fantastic hotel. Our room was absolutely beautiful (teak throughout, a lovely walkout porch with rocking chairs etc). this is really intersting country with the volcano as a backdrop. We had a great hike in the national park there and also hiked in to a really spectacular waterfall just ourside of la Fortuna. the food at our lodge was some of the best that I have every had and we soon found out that people from all around were coming to our place to eat. The only down side was the weather. We were hanging for sun and it was pretty cloudy there although warm, and we had sprinkles or rain every day. On the the third day however, it cleared and we sat at the pool and spent a great day lounging. There are also really nice hot springs there but we did not visit.

From there we went to the hotel Las Orquideas in Alejulea (sp?). this was not quite so sweet but it was accomodation during the xmas week. To be fair the hotel had some very nice features. They really do have a fantastic breakfast and we went on an absulutely fantastic white water rafting trip there which was organized for us by Wadi who runs a tour agency in the lobby. The white water rafting company is Aguas Bravas and I would recommend it highly. They came and picked us up at the hotel and took us on a great nature drive (very knowledgeable guide) to the river where we just had a great time with the water and with the people that we met. The downside is that this hotel is not in a great area of town and there is barbed wire around the compound. There is a lot of traffic outside and we had to close the window at night to sleep. They had some weary parrots in cages and that was also a little sad. Just not our kind of place. I also was over-charged on the way out the door. Our food bill was doubled by mistake and we ended up paying twice what we should have. I questioned them on it a couple of times but with no success. The hotel cost 142 USD for 2 night and the food bill was 160 USD for the same period! I am kicking myself now that I did not push harder on this. It was an honest mistake on their part I think but it really hurt the pocket book and left a bad taste.

From there, our driver took us to Manuel Antonio. If you only go one place, this is it. Fantastic beach. We got to know some of the locals after a few days with our limited spanish. You can get a casada (great local lunch) there on the beach for 2 USD. fantastic water, surf but not too much surf and fantastic service everywhere.

As many have noted, the hotels here are not on the beach and that was a bit of a pain in the butt but certainly not surmountable. You could take a local bus for about 25 cents or you could take a taxi for about 3 USD. the national park there is also really neat and we had a couple of really good (and exhausting) hikes in the forest. I would not pay for a guide. It was just not that tough to find our way around and the wildlife is everywhere for all to see. Entrance to the park is cheap (7 USD).

While in Manuel Antonio we also went on a really unique trip out to watch dolphins and go snorkling. It was neat because we managed to hook up with a local guy through a reference and he took us out on his boat for a very reasonable cost. There were just the two of us and him and he really knew the area and the people. He, himself comes from Florida so his english was perfect and he was really enthusiastic. We felt very special as we watched the big tour boats go by stuffed with passengers. We topped the day off by watching the sun go down from the vantage point of the boat. A truly magical day which cost each of us 60 USD including beer and sandwiches. YOu can contact these people at [email protected]. I would recommend it highly.

Now the downside. We did not really like the hotel. It is in need of some repairs. the furniture around the pool is mostly broken. the power went out in one of the circuits and we had no power in our unit one night. the big problem again was that we were right beside the main road to MA and, further, we were on a steep hill so every morning we heard the heavy trucks grinding their way through the gears as they downshifted to make the hill. The price of the hotel was quite reasonable and we had a nice suite complete with fridge and stove but I would not go back if I had a choice simply because of the condition and the noise. don't let this experience put you off to MA however. We saw a lot of really nice hotels and if we had booked earlier it would have been spectacular. As it was we had a great time in MA and it is a real jewel not to be missed.

Finally we went and spent a few days with Neta and her husband Arbel. She was clear from the beginning that we were under absolutely no obligation to stay there but we just had to meet this woman after all that she had done for us. Her hotel La Finca Que Ama is a little oasis in the hills east of Jaco beach. She and her husband are just excellent people and they run a very relaxed and intimate inn. The inn has only been open for about a year and everything is spotless. Even though they have only been there for about three years it is obvious that they have become pillars of the community. both of them volunteer time in the local school and they built their hotel in this location both for the beauty and also because they wanted to help the local people. You really feel like you are staying with friends here rather than at a lodge. We gossiped endlessly with both of them. the main meal is served family style with all of the guests at the same table along with the hosts. The food was absolutely fantastic with a nice middle eastern touch and everything was absolutely fresh (orange juice squeezed for you in the morning with fresh guacmole, fruit and eggs for breakfast. And you just could not meet nicer people. We had great converstations around the dinner table and ate like kings. The rooms were absolutely spectacular and blessing of blessings, they were quiet! They also have the best beds in CR (always a problem when travelling. This is more like a county inn than anything. colleen and I agreed that the next time we go to CR we will start there and get our bearings with Neta and then move on. It is really the kind of place that you want to stay at for two or three night rather than a week. I say that only because there is not a lot to do in the immediate area. We did go to Jaco beach which was OK but nowhere near the experience that we had a MA. The surf is really rough and the the the sand is grey. the people just did not look as happy there and for the first time we saw a couple get hassled on the beach by a couple of guys who obviously wanted money for booze. this is generally not a problem at all in CR. In MA, we thought nothing of going for a swim and leaving our stuff on the beach. At Jaco, we had to take turns swimming for fear that our stuff would be gone when we returned.

We also went on a canopy tour while we were there and that turned out to be a real thrill. I am not big on heights so I intially declined but Colleen went and had such a great time that I relented and tried it our. I really ended up enjoying it. The zip lines from one station to the other look scary but after a few minutes with your guide you realize that these people are absolutely professional. for those whos are interested the company is Turu Ba-Ri and the phone is 250-0705.

A few last comments. First, contact Neta for advice even if you have already booked your stay. she is just really knowledgable and there is no cost or obligation. Second stay at her place for a couple of nights for a truly unique and wonderful experience. Third, arrange for a driver. Neta did this for us and this fellow Hilbert picked us up at each hotel and took us to the next one. He was clean and pleasant and took time to make sure that we were enjoying ourselves. I would do this over renting a car for a first timer with little spanish. The roads are not as bad as advertised but it is hard to find your way around and you really need to be able to ask directions. It was awfully nice to be mobile and to see so much of the country without the hassle of being responsible for a vehicle. The driver and car cost us 400 USD for the time that we were there.

That about sums it up. Definitely put CR on your list of places to go. Absolutely fantastic scenery, great food, wonderful people, a great beach at MA, a great ally in Neta and lots and lots of neat things to do. Next time however, we will be sure to do our homework and to avoid the christmas season unless we have done our booking well in advance. It pays to do your homework here but even given our last minute cry for help, we just had a fantastic time.

Pura Vida
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Old Jan 24th, 2005, 08:32 AM
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Perhaps I missed it .... but I do not think you mentioned WHAT hotel in Manuel Antonio..... ??? Great report though ! Faith
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Old Jan 24th, 2005, 09:04 AM
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ursa
So glad you had a great time in CR. You make some valid points! Book early in the high season (more now than ever before). While it may be possible to secure last minute reservations (bless Neta's heart!), you will most likely not get your pick of places--as your Manuel Antonio hotel experience indicates!

Sorry for the bad experience at Las Orquideas--they really are nice people and I feel there must have been a BIG misunderstanding on the food bill! It is necessary, I'm sure, to have the fence for protection since this property is on the outskirts of town. And since it is a fairly large property.

Although you felt safe swimming at MA and leaving your stuff on the beach--make no mistake, eventually someone will take it--even there. And I think it would happen sooner rather than later--especially at someplace as touristy as Manuel Antonio. The "specialists" target those areas! I don't know of anywhere in the entire country where you can feel safe leaving your things while you go do whatever.

I'm glad you enjoyed La Finca Que Ama. People should know that it is someplace they can go if they want to remove themselves from "the beaten path" for a couple of days! It is truly a hidden gem.

Welcome home!
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Old Jan 25th, 2005, 05:04 AM
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The hotel in Manual Antonio was the La Colina. sorry that I forgot to put it in.

shillmac, you make a good point about leaving things around even in MA. We felt secure because after a couple of days we had made good contact with a few of the commercial people on the beach and they made it clear that they would keep an eye out for us.
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Old Jan 25th, 2005, 05:24 AM
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Thanx for the hotel info . We visited La Colina , for the price it is a great little place , good value . Though u r correct , VERY steep hill , the buses have a heck of a time on this hill !! Too bad about the furniture . Thanx , Faith .
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Old Jan 25th, 2005, 06:49 AM
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Great Report!

I have a couple of questions...

1. As for the lunch on the beach, where was that?

2. The boat tour in MA sounds interesting. Was this an all day tour?

Thanks!
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Old Jan 25th, 2005, 05:51 PM
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Good deal, Ursa. . .that helps. And sometimes, you just know: this person can be trusted.
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Old Jan 25th, 2005, 06:56 PM
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ursa
Sounds like you had a wonderful time. We are going for to CR for 10 days in February staying in the same areas that you traveled.

We are also interested in arranging for a driver and your Hilbert sounds like just the guy we need. Was he willing to stop 'along the way'? I'm assuming that he spoke english? Our spanish is more than just limited..LOL.

I'm also very interested in your boat tour at Manuel Antonio. Did you see many dolphins? Haven't seen much on this board about the dolphin tours except for fluffy tails excellent adventure near Drake Bay last winter. We are a family of four with a teen son and daughter and this boat tour sounds so much more reasonably priced than many other tours we've seen. thanks!
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Old Jan 26th, 2005, 05:58 AM
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Sorry to hear about the problem at Orquideas. I am sure it was a misunderstanding. When I was there they even gave me a break on the price of my room when I came back after being away for a week. And, they stored my splurges from a shopping trip to Sarchi while I was there the first time.
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