Trip Report, Dec. 2002, Part 1

Old Jan 6th, 2003, 07:44 PM
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Trip Report, Dec. 2002, Part 1

Hi everyone,

As so many of you have done in the past, it's now my turn to "give back" a little something to this forum, which was so helpful in planning my trip. I just got back from CR last week, and had a blast. Everything I read was true, from the stunning beauty of the land, the abundance of wildlife, and the incredible friendliness of the Costa Rican people.

I used Costa Rica Experts to book the trip ( I did my research first, and presented them with a basic itinerary idea which they tweaked and customized for me. Everything went incredibly smooth and all of my dealings with this agency were great. I highly recommend them.

I live in South Florida, so flying was really easy (2 hrs. 45 mins... sorry all you west coasters!) One of the best tips I got from this forum was to arrive at the Miami airport 3 hrs early because of flying on Christmas weekend; suffice it to say, we needed most of those 3 hours!

SAN JOSE: In San Jose we checked out the National Museum which was really enjoyable (you'll need only about an hour or two at most). That was all I needed to see of San Jose We stayed at the Hotel Grano de Oro which surpassed all of my expectations. I recommend getting a deluxe room (worth it for the space and not too much more in cost). The hotel is gorgeous, the restaurant was spectacular, the staff was great, the beds were comfortable, and I even got to watch HBO ("ahchay-bey-oh") on my first insomniac night there.

TRANSPORTATION: We visited Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, and Arenal and decided not to drive. The travel agency arranged ground transfers between all of our destinations (including to and from the airport) and it worked out beautifully. All of our drivers arrived on time, were knowledgeable about the country (giving us a bit of a private tour as we traveled) and all but one spoke English very well.

MANUEL ANTONIO: In Manuel Antonio, we stayed at the Costa Verde hotel, and we loved it. I would recommend getting a room with A/C for sure. We stayed in a Studio Plus with A/C, which are only found in the so-called "family building." Even if you're not traveling with kids (we weren't) this building is the most convenient to stay in, and very close to their Anaconda restaurant, which we enjoyed very much. At around 5pm everyday, a whole troop of tiny squirrel monkeys moves through the hotel grounds (this made for great video).

***By the way: I can't stress enough how great it was to have my videocamera along everywhere. Lighting conditions are poor in many outdoor situations when you want to shoot wildlife, but my videocamera got great shots of everything. When taking guided hikes, the guides shot footage right through their telescopic lens... now I've got my own private National Geographic documentary of CR!
Old Jan 6th, 2003, 07:59 PM
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Just for the future ** you can add your reports to the original thread as a reply, then you won't have your trip reports scattered all over.
Old Jan 6th, 2003, 08:05 PM
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Thanks! (Didn't think of that... )
Following are parts 2, 3 & 4 posted as replies.


Activities in Manuel Antonio: did the Rainmaker Reserve tour and it was great. The highlight was a 300 ft., narrow hanging bridge; not for the acrophobic. It was fantastic! The reserve was beautiful with lots of waterfalls. We arranged to go there on a Monday, since the national park is closed that day. We also took a guided hike in Manuel Antonio National Park, which was the smartest thing we did. Our guide, Leo (booked through our hotel the day before) was exceptional in locating wildlife. (You really won't see much if you try to hike the parks on your own.) We saw so many animals in one 3-hour hike: howler monkeys, dozens of hermit crabs, 8 iguanas, 2 Jesus Christ lizards, 5 bats, a two-toed sloth, 5 three-toed sloths (including two babies), a colony of leaf-cutter ants, land crabs, and three gorgeous, colorful Fiery-billed Aracaris (a small toucan). Later in the afternoon we took a boat ride through the Damas Island mangrove estuary. We saw some wildlife (lots of birds, white-faced capuchin monkeys, a boa) but mostly it was a beautiful, relaxing ride coming back at sunset (and having a couple Imperial beers provided by our guide).

MONTEVERDE: Four and a half hours from Manuel Antonio up to Monteverde, two hours on terrible mountain roads. What I didn't realize was how terrible the roads are even IN Monteverde (not real walkable). I did miss having a car here since things were pretty spread-out, but we managed. Stayed at the Monteverde Lodge which was beautiful. They have a huge jacuzzi, great food, and an internet room with "decent" access. There's also a beautiful trail to hike that leads from the hotel to the Finca Ecologica.

Monteverde Activities: We did 2 night hikes (both were good... one at Hidden Valley, the other at the Finca Ecologica) and I definitely recommend the experience of hiking by flashlight (they provide flashlights, but I brought my own which was a little better).It's a little harder to hike at night since you really have to watch your feet. My mom is 65 and in great shape and even though she kept up and enjoyed these hikes, she found them manageable but a little bit more strenuous (harder to maintain your equilibrium). On these night hikes we saw tarantulas, bats, hummingbirds and toucanets curled-up sleeping in the trees, agoutis, sloths, and lots of interesting insects.

We were lucky enough to get a fantastic guide, Adrian Mendez, for our hike of the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Adding to our luck, only 15 minutes into the hike we got to see 2 quetzals (a male and a female). Adrian got a wonderful close-up view in his telescope (and I got some great video to take home!) We also saw a family of howler monkeys, coatis, poison arrow frogs and many birds (and lots of hummingbirds and an olingo at the Hummingbird Gallery).
Old Jan 6th, 2003, 08:07 PM
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We also did the Original Canopy Tour (thanks to those of you who encouraged me to do it!) and it was a blast. Along with all the zip lines, you also get to climb up inside a giant strangler fig and do 2 rappels.

Our guide from the Monteverde Cloud Forest (Adrian) had suggested that instead of going to Sky Walk (like we had planned) we should check out a new place called Selvatura. It's only been open 4 months, and it was fantastic (and apparently less crowded than Sky Walk). We walked a beautiful trail that had 8 hanging bridges and it was an incredible experience. Selvatura (like the Santa Elena Cloud Forest and surrounding areas) is at an even higher elevation than the Monteverde forest. It had that "eerie," misty feeling that we didn't happen to experience at the Monteverde forest. Some of those bridges are really high, and a cloud blew right through us. I really had that feeling of being in a Central American jungle at this place (it was so perfect I was afraid I would wake up and Disney engineers would suddenly turn off the CD of exotic bird calls and running water). They also have a zip-line tour here, as well as hummingbird and butterfly gardens. By the way: friends of ours hiked the Santa Elena Cloud Forest and said the trails were fine, and they enjoyed it even more than the Monteverde Cloud Foerst... way less crowded.

ARENAL / LA FORTUNA: The drive from Monteverde to Arenal wasn't at all as bad as I had heard. (Basically only the first hour out of Monteverde was bad.) I couldn't manage to book a room around the volcano, so I had to settle for accomodations in La Fortuna. We stayed at the Arenal Country Inn, which was very nice. Not right in the heart of La Fortuna, but a 10 min. walk south of the main street. The grounds were beautifully planted and maintained and there was a nice, big swimming pool. The rooms were very comfortable. The only thing I didn't like was that you had to give an hour's notice in order to eat lunch or dinner (this wasn't a full running kitchen) and since we didn't have a car, it was inconvenient at times. But this "forced" us to venture into La Fortuna which we thought was great... being around lots of "locals" was a nice change of pace (after staying at the Monteverde Lodge). La Fortuna is small and walkable. We shopped in the supermarket (bought tons of coffee to take home; WAY cheaper here than in gift shops) and ate in the sodas. We booked our tours here at the Sunset Tours office.
Old Jan 6th, 2003, 08:09 PM
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Part 4

Arenal Activities: We got lucky with the weather; the first day was raining and we couldn't see the volcano at all. The second day we saw the entire cone (briefly) and for most of the day about 3/4 of the volcano was visible. We did the Safari Float tour on the Penas Blancas river and it was very enjoyable. You sit on the side of an inflatable raft, but there's no white water...just a gentle glide and lots of wildlife on the way. Halfway, we stopped at a local farm house where they served us great coffee, cheese, fried plantains and flan. We also did a guided hike of the volcano, which picked us up around 3pm. This was INCREDIBLE. After a short hike through the rainforest, we emerged into a huge field of volcanic boulders (make sure you have good sneakers or hiking boots for this hike). It was fun scrambling over the rocks. The view was incredible, with the late afternoon sun on the volcano (only 1 1/2 miles away), the surrounding rainforest, and the sun setting over Lake Arenal. As it got darker, we were able to see lots of glowing red rocks tumbling down the side of the volcano... a fantastic sight! Afterwards, we had a great dinner at a local Tico restaurant, Choza de Laurel. (I know I'm going to get berated for skipping Tabacon, but I just couldn't talk my "crunchy" mother into going!) Next trip!

PACKING: The best thing I brought was a pair of Columbia quick-dry , lightweight hiking pants (that zip off to become shorts). I wore them every day. Stay away from the cheaper Old Navy versions... they make you sweat. I took lots of T-shirts, two pairs of sneakers, and wore a pair of jeans on the plane (good for nights). Since I was up in Monteverde, I took a few layers (2 long-sleeved shirts and a light fleece pullover). Also good was a thin, nylon windbreaker (good for drizzly days). I brought a large "fanny pack" for day hikes, as well as a Nalgene water bottle (attached to my pack with a karibeener). This worked out really well. And of course take binoculars and a videocamera. I brought Deep Woods Off for Sportsmen (95% DEET) and although it worked great (I'm a mosquito magnet) the pump bottles leaked and started to melt the containers they were sealed in. I'm really thankful that I packed a thin, nylon duffel bag in my suitcase. As we went, I filled my suitcase with gifts, and put dirty laundry in the duffel. (Then I simply checked the small duffel bag for the flight home). We brought home lots of coffee for gifts (Cafe Milagro from Man. Ant., and Cafe Monteverde, as well as Britt), some guaro, and Lizano sauce. But I thought the best deal was on wood... boxes, bowls, etc. Beautiful rosewood and CHEAP!

We ate all fruits and vegetables and drank the water everywhere and were fine. So, if you haven't gone yet, relax and enjoy yourselves. You'll have a wonderful time. Thank you for reading my trip report!

Old Jan 7th, 2003, 08:06 AM
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Carol, great report, it brought back fond memories. Thanks for taking the time to give us lots of helpful details. And while Tabacon was fun, I would definitely not berate you for skipping it. Your volcano hike sounds like it was a perfect alternative to it ;-)
Old Jan 7th, 2003, 04:40 PM
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Thanks for the report~great info
We are leaving next week visitng the same areas !
Old Jan 10th, 2003, 06:47 AM
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Hi Carol,

thanks for the great trip report. i'm headed back to CR and, on your suggestion, this time i'm going to go for a night nike for sure. Also, Selvatura sounds good (I'd love to be away from the throng of tourists at Skywalk). Good idea; hopefully thousands of people won't have discovered it yet.

It sounds like you got really lucky between spotting Quetzals AND seeing Arenal erupt... good for you! Good travel karma or something

Thanks again for sharing your trip,
Old Jan 12th, 2003, 05:53 PM
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Thank you for the report. I am considering a similar itinerary to yours for a trip in November.

Could you tell me how many nights you stayed in each place? I'm unsure of driving times between and want to figure that into my planning. Thanks!
Old Jan 13th, 2003, 09:59 AM
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Hi Linda,

We flew into San Jose in the afternoon, stayed one night, then drove to Manuel Antonio the next morning (about a 3 hr. drive) We stayed there for 3 nights. Then we went to Monteverde (about 4 1/2 hours drive) and stayed there for 3 nights. Then to Arenal (about 3 1/2 hours) and spent 2 nights there. We had a half-day in Arenal and then drove back to San Jose in the afternoon (about 3 hours) and spent the last night there (flew out the next morning).

Hope this helps! Enjoy your trip!
Old Jan 20th, 2003, 02:41 PM
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Hi Carol,
Thanks for the great update! We are using Costa Rica Experts to book our trip as well, and so far they have been very helpful. I'm definitely going to take your advice when we're in Monteverde and Arenal. Thanks again for all the details!
Old Feb 5th, 2003, 03:29 PM
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Carol, where did you find the great wooden items for gifts?
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Old Feb 5th, 2003, 06:13 PM
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Hi Carol, wonderful trip report. I am going alone to CR in March. Any advice for a woman travelling alone. I pretty much want to do the things you've described but I want to White water raft and got to Tabacon. I would appreciate any advice or contact information. I can be reacehed at my e-mail [email protected].
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Old Feb 7th, 2003, 04:10 PM
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To judyrose:

If you're going to be in the Arenal area, I found great wood in a couple souvenir shops in La Fortuna; just walk around the main street, the area's small). Also there was another great souvenir shop / soda on the road from Tilaran into the Arenal area but I can't remember the name... sorry! If you will be in Manuel Antonio / Quepos, I also found some at Cafe Milagro (in MA). The Regalame gift shop next to the hotel Si Como No has nice pieces, but many pieces were expensive. The hotel I stayed at in San Jose, the Hotel Grano de Oro, has a very nice small gift shop with some more upper-end pieces. There is a local artist named Barry Biesanz who has incredible bowls... basically pieces of art that are beautiful. Check out I think he has a studio in Quepos. The real deals can be found in the smaller souvenir shops, but if you find yourself at the airport on the way home without enough gifts, the gift shop there has a lot of nice wood pieces (but obviously not at the bargain prices you can find elsewhere).
CarolM is offline  
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