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trip report!

San Francisco...
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291 posts
24 reviews
12 helpful votes
trip report!

Trip report!

So, flew to San Jose in early June, family of 4, two kids, one in kindergarten, one in middle school. Arrived late in evening, people with signs everywhere offering rides, daughter was a bit freaked out, but Hampton Inn Alajuela was waiting for us. Super convenient airport hotel, shuttle available 24 hours, 1 km from hotel. We arrived, checked in and were in bed less than an hour later. Nice to wake up first morning to a hot buffet breakfast, although we were looking forward to a more Costa Rican experience.

Rented car from Vamos – super nice guys, easy to talk with, understood English, great deal, took time with us, provided us with pre-programmed cell phone with Waze for directions and off we drove. About 45 minute drive through Alajuela (crazy driving, but Waze was easy and got us through) and we landed at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. PERFECT introduction to Costa Rica. Gorgeous gardens, hummingbirds, animals, butterflies, kids had a super time. Enjoyed the Tica house, sipped sugar can tea, enjoyed lunch at the restaurant overlooking the cloud forest, one of the best meals I had in Costa Rica (ordered lunch, we’re not a big fan of buffets). Back to the hotel for one more night, swam, end of day.

Next morning, checked out, ready for adventure! First, I’ll say that driving in Costa Rica takes a bit of getting used to, but it was totally manageable and became fun. I drove the whole way (my husband only took the wheel for a short while) and never ran into any problems. Lots of potholes, speed bumps in every town, and the occasional dog hanging out on the road, so can’t zone out, but if you pay attention, it’s really not very difficult. Roads are very windy through most of the country, so if you get carsick (we don’t), might want to prepare. Other than that, highly, highly recommend driving. We saw amazing towns, lots of sodas, met incredible people everywhere. We used common sense, but never felt unsafe at all. Of course, didn’t have jewels all over us, so if you’re that kind of person, well…….Oh, and don’t drive in the dark. Too easy to get swallowed up by a pothole and never heard from again.

Anyway, 2.5 hour drive to Guapiles, then kept going, drove through banana plantations, farms, beautiful country. Road ended and onto dirt and rocks road. Felt like a few hours (that’s when my husband took over), but really probably only 30 minutes. Parked at La Pavona dock, made sure security was 24 hours (it was), and boarded reserved boat to La Manatus Hotel in Tortuguero. ABSOLUTE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR TRIP. Hour-long boat ride was fun for kids, informative for adults, staff was so nice, food was all included and amazing. Staff would grab my kindergarten son from meals to show him bats, hummingbird nests, things they had found. My kids relaxed, never asked for screen time (ok, that made the whole trip worth it), and explored, explored, explored. Took the boat to the tiny little village and walked along the Caribbean shore. Went on a creepy yet fascinating night hike through the rainforest (with a guide) and saw and heard lots of animals. Then back to our air-conditioned bungalow for a good nights’ sleep – well, until the howler monkeys woke us up the next morning. An experience we’ll never forget! Stayed 2 nights.

More updates to come tomorrow!

10 replies to this topic
Slovenia
Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
Level Contributor
20,795 posts
62 reviews
51 helpful votes
1. Re: trip report!

Fantastic start! Excellent descriptions of Costa Rica. Glad your kids have had excellent time, every kid should have such in Costa Rica. Looking forward to next instalment.

Chicago, Illinois
Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
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11,340 posts
23 reviews
50 helpful votes
2. Re: trip report!

Yes, keep it coming. Sounds like you all had a blast.

San Francisco...
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291 posts
24 reviews
12 helpful votes
3. Re: trip report!

Trip report, part 2

Boat back to car, drove to Guapiles, lunch at Suerre Hotel (pretty good), very nice staff, then 2-hour drive to Arenal. Checked in to Hotel Kioro, beautiful rooms, hot tub in the room, pool and hot springs onsite, and the kids changed into their swimsuits before we even figured out how to use the room key (well, I might be exaggerating a bit). Hot springs, dinner at the hotel, met other nice kids and families, good nights’ sleep.

Next morning, drove to the middle of nowhere to go to Don Olivo’s chocolate tour. Boy, I thought we’d made a serious mistake in judgment and was ready to turn back to town. We’d driven for a while and ended at some house in some guys’ driveway. Guy playing with his dog said to us, “You here for the tour?” in Spanish, and once we realized we were at the right place, another couple also showed up, his relative came of the house and the tour began. I was sure my kids would be totally bored……

Turned out this was another one of the best things on our trip! The tour guide was super smart, super friendly and really funny and showed us amazing things, most of which we got to taste – papaya, soursop, pineapple, banana, coffee, sugar cane, medicinal plants, and of course, chocolate, which we got to eat right off the tree. Then WE roasted and ground the chocolate, tasted it at every step, made it into fudge and hot cocoa and the kids experimented with flavors. Any tour that can hold my kids’ attention (and doesn’t involve princesses and pirates) is one I’d highly recommend!

After tour, grabbed lunch and headed to Mistico Hanging Bridges. Beautiful hike, short enough for our kids, great views, bridges were not spectacular. Probably wouldn’t do it again, but it was a nice way to end the day.

Next day, woke up and headed to Proyecto Asis, rescue center to tour and volunteer. Again, totally age-appropriate for both kids. Tour was a bit long, but tour guide was engaging and funny. Volunteer time was awesome – we all got to cut fruit and go into cages or hand-feed the animals. Kids loved it. My daughter, the pre-teen, was especially interested in the ecological perspective and the information about animal behavior. She’s planning on telling her science teacher all about what she learned when she returns to school in the fall.

After Proyecto, lunch, then hiked the 1968 trail (lava fields). A bit strenuous, and hiking over rocks is none too good for the ankles, but the hike was beautiful. Rained for 10 minutes (as it did every day), used rain ponchos and went on our way.

Ended the day at Tabacon Hot Springs, 2 km from our hotel. Only thing on the trip that I just can’t recommend. Facilities were not very clean, dinner was okay, but not great, place was very loud, river rocks were extremely slippery. Just not a great experience. Hot springs at our hotel were far better in every way.

Next morning, checked out and began the long, long drive to Manuel Antonio (Quepos). Long, long, long drive. Went through towns, mountains, stopped for random views. In between car games and sibling fights, kids viewed the outside and the lovely towns. Drove behind lots of trucks, which DON’T pull over if there’s a backlog behind them. Learned to skillfully (frightfully?) navigate our way around them. Stopped at Tarcoles Bridge. Crocs not scary, but the bridge was. Parked nearby, took turns walking to the bridge, so one of us stayed with the car and our luggage at all times. Cool to see the crocs, but almost hit by all the folks speeding by. Once-in-a-lifetime experience, I guess, but once in my lifetime was enough!

Drove through Jaco, stopped at a cute roadside café for snacks – turns out run by a couple of people from Colorado (expats). Saw the diversity between Costa Rican homes and the big homes of the American expats, a bit strange. Arrived at Tulemar in MA, gorgeous bungalow, monkeys within reaching distance, beach on property, grabbed a quick bite and off to bed to sleep off the long drive.

Awoke the next morning, got personal guide through hotel to MA Nat’l Park. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EXPLORE THIS PARK ON YOUR OWN – YOU WILL SEE NOTHING. Must have a guide! Saw tons of animals, mostly hiding in places that we would never have thought to look. On the way out, bypass all the people selling momentos and you’ll be fine. Went to lunch at an open air restaurant (all of the restaurants in CR are open air, I mean, ALL of them), Agua Azul, amazing views, good food. Out to dinner that night.

Woke up next morning, picked up by Vacation Buggy, drove way out in an off-roading decked Jeep to an ecolodge, with a waterfall, swimming holes, more waterfalls, even more waterfalls, crazy suspension bridge. Everyone had a blast. Had an authentic country Costa Rican lunch, back to hotel. Spent afternoon at the beach.

Next morning, after 3 nights at Tulemar, checked out and drove 3 hours to Xandari Resort, 20 minutes from San Jose Airport. Xandari had a beautiful hike, waterfall, and great views from the restaurant, and I am glad we stayed, but probably wouldn’t stay again. Rooms were clean, but offered very little privacy and my kids couldn’t really “act like kids”. Probably more appropriate hotel for adults/newlyweds. Still, last night in CR after an AMAZING trip.

Next day, flew home. Not much to say about that. Airlines, flight delays, TSA, missed connections, annoying, but forgettable. The trip to CR totally made up for it.

Thanks to the TA community (you) for all your guidance and for answering my silly questions. Glad we did this on our own and wouldn’t have been possible without all the research. Next year, I’ll bother folks on another forum!

Ontario, Canada
Level Contributor
10,819 posts
72 reviews
187 helpful votes
4. Re: trip report!

Thanks for the interesting trip reports!

Amy
Madison, Wisconsin
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170 posts
15 reviews
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5. Re: trip report!

Great report! Thanks for sharing your trip with us :)

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
291 posts
24 reviews
12 helpful votes
6. Re: trip report!

My pleasure! Please feel free to ask me anything. I'm sure I left out a lot!

Slovenia
Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
Level Contributor
20,795 posts
62 reviews
51 helpful votes
7. Re: trip report!

And the second part was as funny and interesting as the first part! Thanks for sharing with us, and giving to other families with kids an reassurance that their kids will surely not be bored in Costa Rica!

London, United...
Level Contributor
216 posts
13 reviews
7 helpful votes
8. Re: trip report!

Brilliant, and very helpful, thank you!

London, United...
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216 posts
13 reviews
7 helpful votes
9. Re: trip report!

With your car hire, how much was it and what kind of car?

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
291 posts
24 reviews
12 helpful votes
10. Re: trip report!

It was a Korean SUV (can't remember the name) and it cost approximately $600 for 11 rental days.

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