Just finished our second trip to Costa Rica and this one was the better of the two. Flew into LIR, arriving mid day. At the airport, I was happy to see the Dollar rental rep. holding a paper with my name on it. Short shuttle ride to the rental site and within 15 minutes we were on our way to El Castillo. Our 15 day rental car was a large suv at the rate of $1300. this included the maximum insurance you can buy. Why haggle over a few dollars in insurance when your on a muli thousand dollar trip. One broken window will change your mind. The drive to El Castillo was about 3.5 hours, with the last 10 to 15 miles over dirt roads. El Castillo is on the lake side of Arenal, past the Arenal Observation Lodge and Sky Trek. We rented a private home for $950. for 7 days in the hills above El Castillo. Three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, laundry room, WiFi, Flat screen TV w/Sky. You can't rent a comparable rooms at this price anywhere, great for a family. Although a 4x4 isn't a necessity, I would really recommend one, as the roads here are poor and very heavily pot holed. We did two tours with Desafio, the canyoneering/repelling was a blast, even though I was scared to death (hate heights). It was very prefessional and quite a thrill, going down a 220 foot cliff. The second tour was Cano Negro which takes most of the day, but is well worth the effort if you enjoy wildlife. We saw an abundance of birds, camans, howlers ect...and our guide Edwin was super. We ventured across the border of Nicuagua for a photo op standing on the wrong side of the barbed wire.
Sky Trek was close to our rental and was thrilling as well. Up over 600 feet in the air traveling at up to 50 mph. Half way through it began to rain, which only enhanced the effect. You can rent a helmet cam and film your entire family. ($40.) This is a very well run tour, very safe and professional.
Took a horseback ride at the Los Lagos Resort. The animals were in great shape and well cared for, no signs of any abuse. The ride went far up into the hills and through various types of terrain. These are not barn horses that want to run back to the barn when close to home, they behaved very well...no bits in their mouths.
The Arenal volcano isn't really dormant as I have read, but just not as active as in the past. You won't see any lava or glowing rocks at night, but there is planty of steam and the occasional puff of smoke. Regardless, it is a spectacular site. As for weather, the mornings thru about 3:00 was always nice, with showers building in towards evening. You must remember that it gets dark about 6:00, so it distorts your time preception. It almost always rained overnight.
The drive to La Fortuna could be done in about 30 minutes, but watch for the one way street in town. I was the dummy who went the wrong way...tourists! You have two large super markets to choose from, one right before town and the Super Moto in town. Alot of great resturants in town, so I won't single them out, you can find them elsewhere in this forum.
Ingeneral, this area is very temperate and was not as hot as it was back in the states. It was lush and green and just a beautiful area.
Our second week was spent in Playa Pelada near Nosara on the pacific coast. the drive to ther from El Castillo was a little over 4 hours, with a noticable difference in the temperture and terrain. It seems like you go all downhill to the ocean. Again, the last 20 miles was on the worst dirt roads one can imagine, so the 4x4 once again proved its worth. Our rental here was the Casa Memphis house in Pelada, only about 200 meters to the beach...direct access. We paid the same rate for this home, which was also well appointed. There was alot more emphisis on security here than in El Castillo, with gates, window bars, door gates ect..... With that being said, I must say that at NO TIME on this trip did anyone feel the least unsafe. The Tico's were warm, friendly, and always offered a smile and a wave. Our first order of business was to rent four ATV's from I Quad near the Guiled Iguana resturant. Owned by a nice Aussie named Alex, who gave us a map of places to see. The rate was fair and contrary to what others have posted, he does not take your passport, unlike his competitors.
We put over 150 miles on those quads riding on every road and trail we could find. It was the most fun I have had in years, just roaming the Costa Rican countryside without a care in the world. We visited the most beautiful beach ever at San Juanillo..like right out of a movie set...truely amazing. This last week was just a fun time to hit the beach, ride ATV's, walk in the small downtown, and in general relax. We did no tours from here, even though many are available..we got that out of our system the first week. Again, I won't spend alot of time on eating places, only to say the Rosie's Soda and Rancho Tico are special and you should not miss going to them. It was a sad ride to the airport (2.5 hrs) as each visit makes me want to stay more than the last.
Just a few things that most people ask. Most ATM's offer colones or dollars. Dollars are accepted most everywhere, and with the exchange rate of 500 to 1 its real easy to understand the pricing of items. The water everywhere we went was drinkable from the tap with no problems at all. Noone in our party of four ever had any discomfort from food or water.
Big super markets will give you the best pricing, as many small store didn't have the prices on item. When you have to request the price, its probably not the best. At super markets, everyone pays the same, as prices are marked.
When leaving LIR and heading south, the police have a network of speed traps and control points set up..so watch that speed.
The new LIR airport is quite expensive, but very nice and we encountered no problems..customs and check-in were smooth. We saw no snakes, scorpions, or bad spiders. Very few bug bites.
Hope this helps the next family.....Pura Vida !!!