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Trip Report Costa Rica trip report

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My husband and I, mid 50s, went to Costa Rica for the first time at the beginning of March. We had a great time, despite some pretty awful weather the last four days of the trip. We thought it was a beautiful country and the people are truly lovely.

We landed in San Jose about 3 pm after connecting from Chicago through Miami. We barely made our connection, it was only an hour, and I realized I should have allowed more time between flights. Weather was good in Chicago but there was a mechanical problem at the gate in Miami so we sat on plane for a long time before running through that gigantic Miami airport. Unfortunately our luggage didn't make the connection but it was delivered to our hotel in Alajuela about 11 pm that night.

We were picked up at the airport by our free shuttle arranged by Xandari Resort, where we spent our first two nights. We loved Xandari, it's really beautiful and peaceful, with a great staff and good restaurant. It is also convenient to the airport (about 20 minutes) but up in the hills with a great view of the city below, especially at night when the lights are twinkling.

Our first full day we picked up our rental car and then drove to La Paz Waterfall Gardens in time for lunch and walking the grounds. Very pretty, especially liked the butterfly house. We had wanted to see Poas Volcano also but by the time we got the car we felt it was too late to try to do both and it was drizzling and cloudy once we left Alajuela.

The next day we drove to Manuel Antonio and stayed at Buena Vista Luxury Villas. This was also a really nice property and there is a lot of wildlife on the grounds that you can view up close. While staying there we saw Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, and Squirrel Monkeys, as well as Coati and iguanas. It was very hot (upper 90s) and sunny and they have a nice beach we could walk down to from our villa. You can also walk to several good restaurants from there so we didn't use our car much. (It is steep so I really earned my meals because my husband never wanted to use the free shuttle service offered). We got to MA on a Sunday and I was disappointed to learn the park is closed on Mondays. I planned this trip only a month before we left and wasn't thorough enough in my research. So we spent Monday relaxing and swimming and picked up some groceries in Quepos so we could eat breakfast and lunch at our villa.

On Tuesday, we went to the park at 7am with a guide we arranged through our hotel. Our guide was very nice and knowledgeable but I have to admit we felt it was a waste of money. Our group was too large--12 people-- and although he stopped frequently to point out the wildlife and tell us interesting facts, we saw more wildlife up close from our balcony at Buena Vista. The trail we walked on was quite crowded with other guides and tourists, and it was kind of comical to wait in line to view iguanas, monkeys, etc through the viewing scope when we could see them up close with the naked eye where we were staying. Maybe this isn't true of other resorts in the area and we were just lucky? When they dropped us off in front of our villa, the trees were rustling so I looked up and there must have been two dozen squirrel monkeys swinging through the trees right above us crossing from one side of the driveway to the other. Five of them were mothers with darling babies clinging to their backs. The howler monkeys also made quite a racket every day and we saw them up quite close too. I realize these guides provide a valuable service and have to make a living, but in this instance we regretted spending the time and money.

The next day we left for Arenal. We hit the road by about 10 am and drove almost straight through. We did stop for about 30 minutes to buy a Pipa Fria from a roadside stand and chat with the nice farmer and his daughter. Traffic and the road itself were good and the GPS worked great as it did the entire trip. However, after we passed the San Jose area and began to get into higher elevations, the sun disappeared and we entered thick fog. It was a terrifying experience for me although my husband, the driver, was ok (he is fearless). The road was smooth but with no striping and very curvy. There were steep drop offs on my side with no guard rails or arrows warning which way the road was curving. It was raining also. We've driven on some pretty difficult roads in St John, where you drive on the left, and this road was in much better condition but the lack of visibility with no stripes showing the curves in the road made for a very difficult drive. It took us 6 hours to get to La Fortuna including the stop for the coconut and one quick bathroom break. I was so glad to get there. We had a late lunch at La Choza de Laurel in town and then headed to the Lost Iguana.

We loved the Lost Iguana. The grounds are beautiful, right in the jungle. They have a good restaurant and our room was spacious with a nice deck that overlooked the volcano. At least we think it did, we stayed 3 nights and never saw the volcano because it was raining and cloudy every day. We were surprised at the amount of rain during the "dry season." We were told it had been continuosly raining for almost two weeks when we got there and I felt sorry for the people we met who were spending their whole vacation in Arenal. It was not just a drizzle or mist but a steady downpour that lasted all day and all night. My husband had been planning to zip line but didn't after talking to people who described what it was like with the rain lashing their faces and no visibility. We did have one morning where it eased up a bit and we headed over to the Hanging Bridges right by Lost Iguana. We enjoyed walking on the bridges and got a sense of what it's like viewing the jungle from the tree tops. We saw a few birds but no wildlife, and the people with guides didn't seem to be seeing much either. Funnily enough, when we got back to the parking lot we heard this interesting bird call and walked around until we found the bird--an Oropendula, which was quite interesting and amusing to watch. We joked about how all our best wildlife sitings seemed to be those that took the least effort! After that we headed back to the Lost Iguana for lunch at their open air pavilion and saw two beautiful Toucans at the bird feeder right by the restaurant. We also saw this pair sitting in the trees right by our balcony every morning.

Our last night we decided to head over to Tabacon since all our clothes were wet anyway and all the young waiters had told us night time was the best time to go to the hot springs. It turns out when you're 50 something maybe not :) Because it is a natural spring, there is no lighting in the water (duh) and it was very hard to get in and walk around some of the pools because you couldn't see the underwater boulders until you walked into them. Not all the stairs had handrails either (I joked that the insurance companies would never allow this in the US). The whole place was very dimly lit, even the signage, so we wandered around in circles shivering in the pouring rain with our wet towels trying to make sure we sampled each of the pools. The pools themselves were nice and I'm sure the landscaping is pretty during the day when you can see it. We lasted about two hours and then drove back to LI for a late dinner and packing.

We got an early start back to Xandari the next day because we had read the fog was usually less in the morning. It was definitely better than the previous drive, but still very thick and hard to navigate. I was a little less freaked out because now we were driving on the mountain side instead of along the cliffs. From the occasional glimpses of scenery through the mist, it looked like it would be a beautiful drive in better conditions.

We'd definitely go back but I think I would actually choose the rainy "green" season next time. The staff at the Lost Iguana told us the weather we experienced was very unusual this time of year and several speculated it was due to climate change. They said the weather we had was "September weather" and that in the summer they get some isolated afternoon rain but not all day like we had. It was a shame because it's a beautiful area and I do enjoy the cooler temperatures for hiking around (I found MA too hot to be active by midday).

On our flight home, the pilot announced that Poas Volcano was visible, which is a rare treat. So he circled around right above the steaming crater and lake-- our last view of Costa Rica!

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