Cost Rica - August 2011

This trip was our first vacation in a while, and our longest in a quite some time. We decided on Costa Rica because it seemed to be a good adventure destination, it did not require too much travel time, and it was not too expensive. Initially we had some fears about our lack of spanish langueage skills and the fact that August is in the rainy season here, but after some research we decided to risk it. Turned out to be a good risk. We only had minor issues with language and weather, and because we were in the rainy season, the country was less crowded and cheaper.


Where Where We Stayed The Area
San Jose - Aug 2 Casa 69 - Clean and decent. Chosen because it was not too expensive and it got good reviews. San Jose is the capital and a large city that is not particularly pretty or clean. Although it did not seem unsafe, it looked like a war zone with lots of walls topped with razor wire.
Puerta Vieja - Aug 3-6 Blue Conga - Again, this was one of the cheaper options in this location. However, it turned out to be a really nice place for us. The location was pretty ideal. It was a pretty easy walk into the heart of town, but it was far enough out to avoid the noise and activity. While we were there, the hotel was being managed by 2 young girls from Quebec. They were very sweet and took good care of us. They cooked us a delicious and hearty breakfest every morning. They got up early on a couple of mornings to make us breakfast before the normal serving hours. When we left they made us some banana bread to take with us. This was our favorite town in Costa Rica. It is on the Caribean coast. There are a ton of things to do here, and there is enough tourist infrastructure to take advantage of the opportunies, but there are no big hotels or other signs of overt commercialization. The town has a Caribean vibe, and while the people seem a little poor, everyone seemed happy. We felt pretty safe.
Tortuguero - Aug 7 I did not catch the name of the hotel that we stayed in here. It was included in our Tortuguera tour. It was very nice. We stayed in a sort of bungalow rather than a hotel room. There was a very nice pool. We ate all our meals here, and everything they served was good. Tortuguero is a national park that is only accessable by boat. It reminds me of the swamp parks in Florida and Georgia, except that it is more tropical and less intruded on by man. There is wildlife everywhere you look when you are out on the waterways.
Arenal - Aug 8-11 San Bosco - This is probably the most conventaional hotel that we stayed in. It was also probably the nicest of the hotels that we stayed in. The property and rooms were immaculate and in great shape. It was also the first hotel that we stayed in that had air conditioning. That felt really good because it was really hot throughout the trip. There was a very mice pool. Breakfasts were nice, but not exceptional. The hotel was 2 blocks from the town square in La Fortuna and it had a great view of the volcano. La Fortuna is a bustling town that has not quite grown into a city. It is big enough to have nice restaurants to choose from, but small enough to be friendly. There is a large town square in the middle of town that would be at home in a midwestern town in the US. The landsape is dominated by the Arenal Volcano, which is currently dormant but has been active in the last 10 years. We had several of our best meals while we were here.
Monteverde - Aug 12-13 Las Orquideas - This hotel was OK, but not as nice as the other hotels on our trip. It was acceptably clean, the rooms were not bad, the breakfasts were OK, but nothing really stood out as great. The two nicest things about this hotel were the owner and the animals. The owner was a very friendly lady who had grown up in Costa Rica, then moved to Mississippi, then moved back to Costa Rica and started the hotel. She really enjoyed talking to Dana. The other nice thing about the hotel was that they had a coati that came around every morning to eat the breakfast leftovers. Dana had seen a coati at the Jaguar Rescue Center and they became her favorite animals. So to be able to feed one cookies in the morning was special. Santa Elena is a very small town that has swollen with tourists. You got the feeling that there was not much town there, and everything had grown up to serve the tourist industry. Nothing felt authentic. However, it was interesting to come up to the high mountains. Arenal was about a third of the elevation of Monteverde. The climate, enironment, and crops were different up here. The primary crop was coffee, which we had not seen at any of our other stops. The restaurants were kind of expensive and seemed to be geared to tourists rather than locals. Walking around town was kind of scary because there were WAY to many cars for the size of the streets. Overall, I am glad we went but I am glad this was one of our shortest stops.
Playa Samara - Aug 14-16 Samara Palm - I would rate this hotel as the second best place that we stayed. Behind the BLue Conga, but above the San Bosco. We paid extra for a room with air conditioning. The pool was really nice, and the proprietors were friendly and helpful. The breakfasts were good, but not great. I would rate it as less friendly/homey than the Blue Conga, but more so than the San Bosco. I think it was a little posher than Blue Conga, but not as posh as San Bosco. Samara is on the Pacific coast and had a very different feel from Puerta Viejo. It had none of the Carribean flavor, and fealt more like a surf town. Things fealt more run-down and dirtier. I felt slightly less safe here than any place besides San Jose. It did not feel dangerous enough to hinder our activities, but I was not completely comfortable. There were less choices of places that we wanted to eat dinner. However, we found a wonderful soda next to our hotel that was fun and served good cheap food. Overall, this was not a bad place, we probably would have really enjoyed it much more if we had not loved Puerta Viejo so much.
San Jose - Aug 17 Casa 69 - Clean and decent. Chosen because it was not too expensive and it got good reviews. San Jose is the capital and a large city that is not particularly pretty or clean. Although it did not seem unsafe, it looked like a war zone with lots of walls topped with razor wire.


August 2 - Arrival

Debbie Simons picked us up on the evening of the 1st. She drove us to San Francisco airport and we flew out just after midnight. We had a 3 hour layover in Dallas after flying 3 hours. We got some expensive but decent airport food for breakfast. We then flew 3 more hours to arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. We went through Costa Rican customs, picked up our luggage, then had two people waiting to greet us. One was our friend, Karen Hinojosa. She and her husband Tony had moved from Santa Cruz to Mexico before finally landing in Costa Rica. We only had a few minutes to say hello and have a hug before we had to address the other person who was there to greet us: our driver to take us to our hotel. The airport is actually a ways outside of town, so we got to spend some time with him on the way to our hotel. Nice guy, who pointed out several sights on the way into town. I have to make a comment about the driving in Costa Rica. After just a few minutes on the road, Dana and I decided that there was no way I could drive here. It was just too chaotic. Drivers seem to totally ignore the lane markers and drive all over the road. I am sure that there are conventions or rules of the road, but I could not figure them out from riding in the van.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we checked in and proceeded to take a nap, since we had flown through the night before. We got up in time for dinner. We got a recommendation from our hotel, but the restaurant around the corner that they recommended was closed. So we walked about 10 blocks into the downtown area, and ate at a kind of touristy place, that had kind of expensive, but decent food. We walked back to the hotel and proceeded to fall right back asleep, since we had to get up early the next morning to check out and head to our first adventure.

August 3 - Rafting

August 4 - Jaguar Rescue Center

August 5 - Snorkeling

August 6 - Jungle Adventure

August 7 - Afternoon in Tortuguero + Turtles

August 8 - Morning in Tortuguero, travel to Arenal

August 9 - Hanging Bridges

August 10 - Canyoning

August 11 - Waterfall Hike + Volcano Hike + Hot Spring

August 12 - Horseback Riding + transport to Monteverde

August 13 - Zip Lines + Night Hike

August 14 - Travel from Monteverde to Samara

August 15 - Kayak to Island + Turtles

August 16 - Barra Honda Caves

August 17 - Transport to San Jose

August 18 - Flight Home