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Trip Report Our Adventures in Montezuma and Ylang Ylang Beach Resort

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Recently returned from another wonderful trip to Costa Rica with our “Fodorites” friends. A little background: In 2007, I “met” mixter603 and lhgreenacres online before our trip to Bosque del Cabo. We hit it off so well while at Bosque, we all reunited there in 2009. We planned to meet up again in Honduras in 2011. Unfortunately, my husband and I had to cancel due to a family illness, so we missed that reunion. Last fall, my hubby and I decided we really needed a getaway without kids, so booked a short trip to Costa Rica. I had been itching to go to Ylang Ylang Beach Resort since I first read about it, so that’s where we decided to go. We threw out the invitation to mixter603 and lhgreenacres, and it worked for mixter. Sadly, lhgreenacres, being the globetrotter that she is, had another trip scheduled for close to the same time.

Day 1

After leaving our house at 3:00am for our early flight out of Minneapolis, we arrived at SJO on time at 2:00pm. As we were weaving our way through the immigration line, I heard my name, turned around, and there was mixter603 and her hubby in the other line – talk about perfect timing! Our driver from Casa Bella Rita was there to greet us. He was so friendly; it was like having a family member driving us. Casa Bella Rita doesn’t look like anything special on the outside, but it is beautiful on the inside. I highly recommend this place, especially for first time visitors or solo travelers. Steve and Rita are perfect hosts. Rita knew our group wanted to chat and catch up, so she gave us space to do so, but she was also right there with anything we needed. She has done a great job of decorating the house – it’s colorful but peaceful. Steve cooked us and two other guests a fantastic meal that evening. We called it a night early, and crashed into the heavenly beds. Ahhh, it was great to be back in Costa Rica.

Day 2

Another early morning, since we were taking a 7:40am flight to Tambor. Rita gave us a breakfast to go, and our Nature Air flight left on time. After landing at what was the coolest air strip I’ve ever seen (right off the beach), we were greeted by our driver from Ylang Ylang. The road to Montezuma was winding and twisty. Even though there was evidence of the dry season along the roadside (all vegetation covered in thick dust), the rolling hills were green, and most of the trees lush. We caught a glimpse of the ocean from high above, and then wound our way down a very steep hill to the cute, colorful town of Montezuma. We timed it just right, because we were able to get an immediate ride in Ylang Ylang’s Land Rover down the beach to the resort.

Ylang Ylang is a gorgeous oasis. The vegetation on the grounds is thick, and the place really does smell like the ylang ylang flower. We were greeted with a welcome drink. Our rooms weren’t going to be ready until noon, so we left our bags and ate the first of many excellent breakfasts while staying there. We walked back to town to check things out. The people watching in Montezuma is great; there are lots of colorful, interesting characters there. Some are residents, many are tourists, some are dudes with dreadlocks, and some are hippies. We picked up some snacks, Power Aids, Imperials and wine to bring back to the resort.

When we got back, our rooms were ready, so we settled into our domes. We choose a garden dome, and mixter and hubby took a beach dome. You can’t go wrong with either one. We loved having a mini-fridge, coffeemaker, air conditioning, hair dryer, the beach right there, and a town within walking distance (keep in mind that my husband and I have spent the bulk of our time in Costa Rica at Bosque on the Osa, where you have none of those).

The rest of the day we took it easy – relaxing by the pool and walking along the beach, swimming in a little cove along the beach, and then enjoying a tasty, candle lit dinner while listening to the waves crashing along the shore. The food at Ylang Ylang is so flavorful and fresh. At the end of another wonderful day in Costa Rica, even with the a/c on in our dome, we were lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves.

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    Day 3

    We received a howler monkey wake up call at 5:30am – love those. After a great breakfast, we decided to head out to hike to the Montezuma waterfall. When we got to the sign leading from the road, there was a Tico setting up a stand with fresh coconuts. We asked another Tico who was drinking one if they were good. He said, “For me, yes, because they are free, because I just got back from the waterfall.” “Oh, that’s where we’re going.” “Do you want me to show you where to go?” “Yes, that would be great.” So we started to follow him. His name was Carlos, and after we had walked a few minutes, I told my husband, “I think we just hired him as our guide.” Not sure that was really necessary, as I don’t think it was going to be too hard to find the waterfall, but what could we do? Well, Carlos was not only a knowledgeable guide, but he was a hoot. He had us laughing while we walked. We didn’t see any wildlife, but saw several blue morphos. We got to the first waterfall with a pool for swimming at the bottom. It was quite tall, and we looked up and saw a man walk just a little ways down the side of the fall, then jump! Yikes! Carlos told us about how many people have gotten killed jumping from those falls.

    We decided not to swim there, but to climb up to the top of the falls. We would have never figured out where to go to get up there if we hadn’t had Carlos with us. It was a steep climb, not marked at all, and the trail was sometimes indiscernible. At the top, there were three smaller falls. Here, we jumped in the water to cool off (not a high jump). It was so refreshing. We also got a hydro massage in one of the falls. When we were ready, Carlos took us out of the forest on an easier path, where we got a great view of the beach and Ylang Ylang in the distance. We also noticed something else – red tide was moving into the area. We took the steep road down rather than walking through the forest. Carlos had mentioned that he could walk us to a soda for lunch. At this point, we had been hiking and talking and laughing for three hours, and we were ready to part ways with Carlos. I think he would have spent the whole day with us! So we thanked him and handed him what we felt was a nice fee for his services. We were so glad we accidently hired him. He was such a happy guy.

    We had lunch in town at the Bakery Café, which was good, even if overpriced. We stopped at the ice cream shop for dessert. After recharging ourselves, my husband and I decided to walk to Playa Grande and go for a swim. Once we got there, the red tide was really noticeable. There were some surfers on the beach, and they said to be careful not to swallow any water. We decided to pass on swimming.

    We saw our first capuchin monkeys of the trip on the resort grounds. They were chasing each other around on the roof of the front desk building. Finished the day with a glass of wine on the beach before dinner, fun conversation and another great meal.

    One note about Ylang Ylang and comparing it to Bosque del Cabo; one of the things I missed while at Ylang Ylang is the camaraderie of the guests, and people talking about their daily adventures. If we hadn’t gone with friends, I think my husband and I would have missed having other people to chat and laugh with, although maybe we would have made more of an effort. Being isolated at Bosque brings people together. The other thing we noticed is that there are not nearly as many birds around (or monkeys, but there are still daily capuchin and howler sightings). Otherwise, we thought Ylang Ylang was delightful.

    Next up, Tortuga Island, Cabo Blanco and the mother of all hikes, ATV's in Santa Theresa and the wicked waves.

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    That's so cool you got to meet up again with another fodorite; it sure has led to some great friendships! Very cool about your accidental guide :) Looking forward to the rest.

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    Thanks, tully and Cattail!

    Day 4

    We booked a trip to Tortuga Island with Zuma Tours in Montezuma our first day in town. We knew not to have high expectations about the snorkeling, but we thought it might be a fun day on the water, and it was only $50 per person, lunch included. There were about 20 people on the boat, and it was fun to look at the scenery along the shore while we headed to the island. Once there, we hopped into the water, and discovered that there were a lot of jelly fish floating around. I got a couple of stings, but then I moved to an area away from the boat, and there were less. Surprisingly, there were a lot of colorful fish swimming around, and the clarity was decent. There was very little colorful coral. After about 45 minutes, more boats moved into the area, and it was getting crowded. Our boat moved to a different area with a lot less people, and less jellyfish.

    Lunch on the beach was very good. The island itself was pretty, but you have to pay for anything extra that you do – including using the bathroom, which was not a pleasant one. There are several other tour operators that have tents and picnic tables set up, so there are plenty of people on the beach. Once you’ve eaten lunch, you have about 2 hours to kill. You can’t hike around the island, and there is a very short beach to walk along. We bobbed around in the water to pass the time. We didn’t feel like renting kayaks or paddle boats.

    We rated the Tortuga trip as average. It was probably the most commercial/touristy thing we’ve done in Costa Rica – even SkyTrek in Arenal didn’t seem as commercial. It was a nice day on the water. If you are only going to be in the area for a short time, I would recommend skipping it. We later spoke with a couple that went on the trip two days after us, and they couldn’t snorkel because of the red tide, which would really make it not worthwhile.

    Since we had such a lazy day, after dinner we decided to head into town to see what it was like in the evening. It was fairly quiet, but it was only around 8:30. We had a drink at an outside table in the back of a bar, since it was so hot inside, but there was a terrible sewer smell, so we cut the evening short. I think we stayed up the latest we had the whole week – a crazy 9:30! I told my husband our body clocks were made for Costa Rica, since we are early to bed, early to rise people.

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    Ah Janenicole, you certainly have a way with words. How I wish we were all back there again. You forgot to mention that adorable little pecary on the island of Tortuga. As soon as he saw your hubby, he laid down and gave up his tummy for some belly rubs! Adorable. Then a local cat came over and groomed the pecary. First I've ever seen that happen.

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    Mixter, I write just as much as I talk, huh? Had to cut it somewhere, so left off the little piggy story.

    ShellD, I think you would enjoy Ylang Ylang. Guess it depends upon what you're after in a trip.

    Ylang Ylang is very nice, without being over the top or being so luxurious that it doesn't feel "real." Another thing I appreciated about Ylang Ylang was that they had a computer available for use. I'm not a techy, so don't haul along a laptop on vacation. But it was nice to have internet for checking in with my daughters.

    Day 5

    We were ready for some hiking, so arranged for a taxi to the Cabo Blanco Reserve. The front desk clerk at Ylang Ylang said it is a four hour hike. So we set up a time for the taxi to pick us up (we paid for the roundtrip at Ylang Ylang). We reiterated with our driver that he was to return at 2:00. It was 9:00, so we had five hours. The park ranger gave us a map, and marked off the spots on the trail with how long of a hike it was. He indicated that walking to the beach and back was a five hour hike. I was thinking that generally people overestimate how long a hike will take, so didn’t think it would be a problem.

    We wanted to see wildlife and appreciate all of the different species of plants and trees, so we started off hiking slowly. We heard howlers, and stopped to watch them high up in the trees. We heard an interesting bird song, which ended with what sounded like keys being plunked on an out of tune piano, so we were looking around trying to find it. Basically, we were taking our sweet time. My husband noticed a marker number, and said, “Uh, we’re way behind schedule if we want to make it to the beach.” Well, we wanted to get to this beach I had heard is so nice, so we picked up the pace. Did I mention that this isn’t a flat hike?

    The entire time we were walking, I kept thinking about how we have to come back the same way, and it’s only going to get hotter. When we made it to the beach, the breeze felt wonderful – too bad we had so little time to enjoy it. The tide was out, so the beach in my opinion wasn’t any prettier than what we had already seen in the area, although the Cabo Blanco Island offshore was very scenic. We quickly scarfed in some crackers and cheese and chips we had brought along, and after 25 minutes, had to start the trek back. We made the return hike in good time, well ahead of our 2:00 scheduled pick up. My feet were on fire, and I felt like we should have all received a certificate for completing that hike. It was going to feel so great getting back to the resort and taking a cool shower.

    We anxiously watched the parking lot for our driver. At 2:30 there was no sign of him. We weren’t too happy, but told ourselves that if that was the worst thing that happened to us on our vacation, it wasn’t such a big deal. The park ranger spoke no English, and we speak no Spanish, but somehow we were able to communicate to him what happened, and he called another taxi for us. When we arrived back in Montezuma, the driver told us that there would be no charge, since we had already paid. Our first driver must have communicated with someone to let them know he couldn’t make our pick up time, for whatever reason.

    I think if we hadn’t been so rushed for time, we could have appreciated the reserve so much more. There were very few people there, and it would have been nice to rest on the beach for a longer period. I’ll remember that IF I ever decide to do that hike again. One bonus we received while waiting for the taxi is that a man who spoke no English somehow excitedly relayed to us that he saw a whale surfacing. We followed him to the lookout and sure enough, in the distance was a humpback whale heading out to sea. What a neat sight.

    After all of that hiking, we were happy to spend the rest of the day on the deck of our dome, watching the capuchins jumping through the trees, and a howler munching on leaves, and then enjoying another fabulous dinner by the beach.

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    Very interesting reading about your time at Cabo Blanco. Seems that one 'gets' many people in one way or another. My memories are of the beautiful beach and of almost passing out about 10 minutes after starting the hike back. Looking forward to the rest!

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    Thanks, Percy. I'm like you...usually around...quietly reading. :)

    Tully - I think we saw a lot of similar scenery around Tortuga Island, so maybe my exhaustion jaded me on the view. The heat is unbelievable on that hike.

    VG - you should head that direction on one of your next CR visits. I'm sure you would love it.

    Day 6

    We wanted to check out the Malpais/Santa Theresa, and in spite of the dusting we knew we would get, rented two ATV’s for six hours. It was such a great way to see the countryside. There were lots of hills, and the roads twisted and turned. The views were beautiful.

    We stopped first at Playa Carmen, where there was a women’s beach volleyball tournament taking place. Someone said it was Olympic team tryouts. Since it was fairly busy, we didn’t stay there, but drove south to Malpais, just to check it out, then turned around and headed north to Santa Theresa. We found a spot to park the ATV’s and walked out onto an incredible beach. The tide was out, and the beach was really long and flat, with big waves and surfers to watch. It was an amazing beach – not the white sand, Caribbean type, but just wild and natural and it stretched on and on.

    We noticed that the area didn’t seem to be as affected by the red tide as Montezuma, but it might have been because it was early in the day. It felt so good to rinse some of the dust off of ourselves, and my husband was having fun getting tossed around by the waves. In fact, I thought, “I might have to chide him for having too much fun, these are powerful waves, he should cool it.” About 30 seconds after I didn’t say anything, he decided to catch one to body surf. I could tell as soon as the wave hit him that he was going to get flipped. I was relieved when he surfaced, but he looked a bit dazed, and immediately grabbed the back of his neck. Oh great, was he going to keel over? Thankfully he didn’t, but his head hit the bottom, and snapped his neck backwards. So, he spent the remainder of the day and the next couple of days not turning his head to the side, and taking ibuprofen.

    After that, we ate lunch at pizza café that wasn’t serving pizza that day. We took a different route back to Montezuma, passing through part of the Cabo Blanco Reserve. I noticed a lot of houses up on the hilltops - something I wouldn't have seen from a car.

    I’m really glad we checked out the Santa Theresa area. There wasn’t really a town (unless we missed something), but it was more like a long strip set quite a ways back from the beach. I’m not sure I would have liked it as well as Montezuma, simply because it was so dusty, very spread out, and the beaches more populated. I noticed that some of the nicer places to stay were up on the hillside, a long hike from the beach, so I think it would be hard to stay there without a car.

    After we returned to Ylang Ylang, mixter603 had a spa appointment, and said it was the best massage she’s ever received. Her hubby went back into town to do some souvenier shopping, and my husband and I enjoyed our last late afternoon on our deck watching the monkeys. Dinner, as always, was a treat.

    Day 7

    After our final breakfast next to the crashing surf, we decided to walk down the beach to Playa Grande, and see what it looked like at low tide. It was just as long and flat and wildly beautiful as Santa Theresa. We soaked up the scenery on our last morning.

    We had to leave our bags at the front desk by 10:30 and check out of our domes by 11:00. We took a swim and hung out at the pool until around 1:00. Sadly, we had to leave the lush, tropical garden of Ylang Ylang. We ate a yummy lunch at Sano Banano. Our driver picked us up at 3:00 for our 4:40 flight out of Tambor.

    While waiting at the airstrip, we saw (and heard!) a flock of scarlet macaws. The red tide was really noticeable when we were flying over the water – it looked like blood in the water.

    We stayed at Hotel Villa Dolce in Alajuela. My husband and I had such an early flight out of SJO the next day that we wanted something inexpensive and really close to the airport. The manager was warm and welcoming, the rooms were very basic but large and clean, and they served homemade pizza. We arrived after dark, so didn’t get to see the grounds of the hotel. The only thing missing was a hairdryer, but I have a feeling that if I had asked for one, the manager would have found one for me.

    We said our goodbyes to mixter603 and her hubby, agreeing that we have to meet again, soon.

    Day 8

    Woke up at 5:15, and took the taxi the hotel arranged for us the night before. They gave us some fruit, juice boxes, and some cookies to take with us since we left before breakfast was served. The trip to the airport took seven minutes. The airport was not terribly busy at that time of the day, so made it to the gate with more than 90 minutes to spare. The trip home went smoothly. Arrived in Minneapolis with light snow falling and sloppy roads…welcome back to reality!

    Once again, we had a great trip to Costa Rica. I’m hoping to get back there soon. It IS Pura Vida!

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    I enjoyed your posts especially since we will be traveling to CR at the end of the month. We will have 4 days in Malpais, a week in Tamarindo, 3 nights at BdC and our final night at Casa Bella Rita. This will be our third trip to CR but all of these places will be new to us. I have a few questions.

    We want to do the Cabo Blanco hike to the beach. We do tend to dawdle so would 5 hours be enough to plan? Is there any place near the entrance to buy snack foods?

    We may rent an ATV to travel to Montezuma. How long did the drive take? Did you double up on the ATVs?
    Any other tips would be appreciated. Thanks!

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    JaneNicole and Mixter603- we are actually sitting by the pool in Sri Lanka as I am reading your trip report. We really miss all of you and it sounds like you have a really fun trip and we were sorry that we could not work out being there. Next time we will definitely join as I am sure that you had tons of laughs and we really miss that. I will say that the monkeys in Sri Lanka are among the most I have seen in any country we have traveled. We even saw them jumping in the water and playing and swimming together. It was quite a sight. Glad you had a safe and fun trip!!

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    Lh! So good to hear from you. We missed you! Happy to hear you are in monkey heaven in Sri Lanka - how fun. I'll be looking forward to hearing more when you get back. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    rpowell - Regarding Cabo Blanco - if you want to dawdle as well as relax a bit on the beach, I would allow 5 1/2 to 6 hours. They do not sell snacks at the entrance. You can refill water bottles on the beach. Start as early as possible, since it gets hot.

    It took about 45 minutes on ATV's to get from Montezuma to Malpais. We went fairly slow because of the dust, and there were two ATV's. The guys drove and mixter and I were passengers. I had packed a couple of bandanas to tie around our noses and mouths, and a few plastic grocery bags, so I stuck my backpack inside one to keep it from getting so dirty. It's a dusty excursion, but really fun!

    Sounds like a great trip you have planned - loved BdC and Casa Bella Rita - have a good time!

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    vg - I was in Mal Pais/St Teresa in mid-May and I had to cover with a bandana as well. That said, it was very dry the whole 6 days I was there, actually only rained the day I was leaving.

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    Hard to say, vg. The roads around Malpais/Santa Theresa are not paved (except for one small patch), and had a fair amount of traffic. Unless they never dry out even when there is more rain, there's bound to be dust stirred up. The central part of Montezuma has paved roads, so the dust was much less noticeable there, which was nice even when not on ATVs.

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