16 days Tortuguero, Alajuela, Monteverde, Arenal & Pacific Coats
We organised & booked everything on this trip ourselves having read hundreds of reviews on this forum, read the “ Lonely Planet Guide” (and others) cover to cover and bought the best road map we could find. The trip took about 4-5 months of planning, and the actual confirming of activities & tours etc then made other decisions easier. We arranged a very busy 9 days seeing & doing as much as we could fit into this timescale and then followed by 6 days total relaxation. We wanted to stay in places during the “busy period” as local as possible and for them to recommend restaurants and tours etc and then for our relaxation, we wanted an “All Inclusive” option when we didn’t need to worry about anything. Some lodges wanted payment up front which was generally done either through their own web site or via Paypal, whilst others didn’t even require a deposit. I have not gone into too much detail below regarding the hotels / lodges themselves since there are separate reports on them on the “Hotels” forum.
We arrived in San Jose International at 7pm local having been travelling for 19 hours from Cardiff via Amsterdam & Panama. Our first 2 flights were with KLM and the final short flight from Panama to SJ was with Copa. All flights were on time, with food & drink offered on each flight & a very good choice of films on the main flight to Panama plus ice cream & a regular bar / juice service made that 10 hour flight as comfortable as it could be. Our luggage arrived at SJ swiftly (having been checked through from Cardiff) and we got through our only immigration check in 10 minutes which was a great relief and made our decision not to fly via the US worthwhile.
We’d booked our first night at the Holiday Inn Express, 5 mins from the airport & the next morning, having left our main luggage at the hotel, we were collected at 6am by a tour bus & taken to Tortuguero where we had 2 nights at the Mawamba Lodge. En route, we stopped at a banana plantation run by Del Monte & it was fascinating seeing what is done to get this fruit from the trees and ready for shipping to the supermarkets of the world.
Our stay in this particular national park was filled with activities and thoroughly enjoyable. We managed to see many different birds and animals although it was a pity that the rain forest well & truly lived up to its name, or we probably would have seen many more! We paid extra for an early morning boat tour (6am) which was abandoned after 30 mins due to a torrential downpour which continued until lunch time – no money was refunded since it was “nature”, we did however have another boat trip that afternoon which was included in the cost & the weather this time was dry, sunny & very hot. In addition, the tour included a walk of the grounds where they had their own frog & butterfly gardens plus extensive grounds to wander. On our final day, we left at 9am and 8 hours later, collected our hire car from Adobe Rentals and headed to the Tacacori Eco Lodge at Alajuela.
Our car was a Hyundai Tucson, almost new and in excellent condition, booked through Auto Europe in the UK. A short stop at a supermarket for some essential supplies (wine & beer!) and we arrived at the Tacacori by 6pm. We spent the evening at the Xandari restaurant (approx 800 yards downhill) and had a very good meal to celebrate my husbands birthday. The following day was busy and we visited the Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall and the Doka coffee plantation, having a discounted voucher from the Tacacori for La Paz – which was far more than just a waterfall & included a full 2-3 hour tour around a wildlife refuge including slothes, crocodiles & many birds.
Whilst all 3 were good, we thought the cost of the coffee tour at $20 each was expensive – particularly in the fact nothing was working with it being the off season for coffee. A 2nd night at Tacacori was followed that evening with a meal in a local pizza place (Pizza Ragu) which was OK but not great.
We left at 8am the next morning & drove for 4 hours & 150 km to Monteverde – the last 20km on a very poor road, this taking nearly 90 mins itself! We’d booked the Casa Batsu Lodge and spent the afternoon at the Sky Tours having the full package of walk, hanging bridges, sky tram & zip lines. This cost $180 each but was fantastic – we are mid 50’s and very active & were by a long way, the oldest people there – but they have taken people in their 80’s on the zip lines so no issues! Ate at the Sabon Tica for lunch snack (No. 1 on TA) which was nice & very good value and the Bon Appetite in the evening – quite good with excellent service.
The next day we spent inside the cloud forest itself & we followed nearly all the walks for about 4 hours – again saw lots of wildlife & fortunately the weather was good. When we reached the Continental Divide you could clearly see the different weather extremes either side – amazing spot to sit & take photos. The afternoon was spent relaxing in the lovely Casa Batsu garden followed by a night walk booked through Carlos the owner of the lodge – collected by taxi & taken about 5 miles to another part of the forest - again lots of wildlife and although our individual group was only 6 people, there were many groups and hence people & torches all over the forest so maybe some animals did not come out for us! We came back to the lodge & had a fabulous seafood dinner cooked by Carlos & his wife – thoroughly recommend this if thinking of staying here.
Up at 6am to pack & after an excellent breakfast, headed to the Venado Caves just outside La Fortuna. If you’re a fan of confined spaces, water to your waist, crawling on hands & knees, lots of bugs, spiders, scorpions & bats, whilst being 40m underground in the pitch black, then this is an excellent place to come. You will get very wet & dirty and can’t really take a camera, so we paid extra for the guide to take the photos. They do provide hard hats with lights, boots & showers at the end so take a change of clothes; however there are no facilities for buying any food or drink whatsoever. Brilliant couple of hours – again, by a long way, the oldest people doing this.
We then drove on to La Fortuna to spend 2 nights at the Tree Houses Lodge. There are 6 tree houses set in about 6 acres of forest with loads of animals & birds all around. We had a family of 7 howler monkeys come within 3 feet of our balcony early one morning and then climbing on our roof. The following morning, again up very early for a full day around Arenal – we had a river raft safari, hike to the La Fortuna waterfall, an excellent lunch, hike to the Arenal volcano & 2 hours at the Tabacon Hot Springs with dinner – at $200 each a very expensive day but also very good & one I’d recommend.
Another early start the next morning to make our longest car journey on the worst road we’ve ever driven for over 5 hours to the Pacific Coast region for our final 6 nights of total relaxation at the Riu Palace in Guanacaste. I am aware of the issues on this forum regarding this hotel chain, but for us, after the previous 9 busy days, it was exactly what we wanted.
Finally, we drove back to SJ, taking the “scenic route” stopping at Santa Cruz, Guilles, Nicoya and over the “Friendship Bridge” to Sarchi and spending our last night again at the Holiday Inn Express, returning the rental car and eating our last dinner in the next door Rosti Pollo restaurant. We caught the 10.30am flight home the next morning via Ecuador (huge security issues at Quito so those thinking of travelling to or via this country be aware of this) and Amsterdam arriving back in Cardiff at 4.30pm the following day – total travel time of 23 hours, but again, all flights good & on time.
The full holiday for both of us, excluding flights, for everything stated above, including all meals & tours / trips was £4,300.
Costa Rica is a fabulous country & one which I’m certain to which we shall return. The diverse nature of the country was amazing and the wildlife, flora & fauna together with so many different things to do & see, made this one of our best ever holidays.