To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

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To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby suming » Thu Dec 27, 2012 7:25 pm

Hi, my fellow Bogleheads
Back in November, I've had posted 'to go or not to go - family trip to Europe'. Those wonderful suggestions are highly appreciated and well kept in my file for the future references.

During our outing to Chicago at Christmas, we (including the kids) had a thorough discussion and the conclusion is we will go to Costa Rica for this year. (In the future when the youngest one in college or graduates from college, we will take our trip to Europe. Our oldest daughter suggested this based on the reflections among her college friends who have been traveling in Europe during their high school years and wish that they have had postponed their tirp until their college year to appreciate it more.)

I suggested Costa Rica because of some posts here have highly recommended this central American country. And my daughter speaks very fluent Spanish. The two boys (17 yrs and 15) have taken at least 2 or 3 years of Spanish. We will go in the beginning of June because my daughter needs to start her job in the end of June next year. And two boys have their WorkCamp scheduled in the beginning of July.

Now the questions:
1) How many days will be appropriate?
2) Should we join the tour or backpack ourselves?
3) Driving or taking public transportation? (considering my daughter is the only one who has been traveling with a group in Panama before)
4) Any good web site to recommend?
5) My 15 yrs old boy is asking if there is anything to pay attention to prevent getting diseases.

Thanks,
Su Ming
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby Professor Emeritus » Thu Dec 27, 2012 8:19 pm

DW and I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica last spring. Wonderful place. We met many families who would hire a driver and van for the day in San Jose and Arenal. DW is a physician and got sick on our bus tour. Buffet meals on tours are a real problem. How long you stay depends on what you want to see. Long distance travel is slow. Unless you speak Spanish and have the driving skills and attitude of a Miami native I would not drive in Costa Rica. (And I've driven in Cairo and Rome)
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby CrossOverGuy » Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:01 pm

I've been twice and love Costa Rica. Check out the tours given by caravan.com which are all-inclusive and very affordable. Even if you decide you want to do CR on your own, reading the descriptions of where they go and some of the sights will give you some ideas. The second time I went more or less on my own and went to Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos, which is just gorgeous! It's a beautiful country with friendly people. The problem with a tour is you are around English-speaking folks on the bus; your kids will mainly get to talk to tour guides, waiters, hotel personnel, etc. in Spanish, although there are Spanish-speaking guests at the hotels they take you to. If you can arrange time after the tour to take some side trips or stay, that's a possibility too.

Check with you doctor -- mine was a bit cautious and checked the government's website for health risks of various countries, as the first time I went, part of the tour went into the jungle at Tortuguerro for a few nights. I believe he gave me some anti-malaria pills.
Last edited by CrossOverGuy on Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby LadyGeek » Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:06 pm

This thread is now in the Personal Consumer Issues forum (travel).

Here's the OP's first thread: To go or not to go - family trip to Europe, which I also moved to this forum (missed it the first time).
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby reggiesimpson » Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:45 am

Stick with the Pacific coast.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby texasdiver » Fri Dec 28, 2012 11:15 am

My wife and I are veteran Latin American travelers. She is Chilean and our 3 daughters are all dual-citizens so we normally travel to Chile on vacation but last June we decided instead to travel to Costa Rica with my parents. Over the years either or both of us have lived and worked in Guatemala, Argentina, and Brazil in addition to of course Chile where my wife grew up. So our level of comfort with independent travel in Latin America might be higher than most. In any event, after a LOT of research this is the 2-week trip that we did in Costa Rica.

Week 1: Fly direct from DFW to Liberia Costa Rica. Liberia is a smaller city in the NW of the country but with a large modern airport that caters to US and Euro travelers. It's a good alternative to San Jose. From Liberia we rented a 4x4 car from a local car rental company Vamos: http://vamos4x4.com/vamos/ which provided good service and a reliable Mitsubisi diesel 4x4 that was a couple years old but in good shape. I brought my Garmin GPS along and had bought and downloaded the Costa Rica maps from EZFind which is the best Garmin highway maps for Costa Rica: http://www.navsatcr.com/ezfind.php I would strongly advice not even contemplating driving in Costa Rica without new turn-by-turn maps of the country. Highway signs are sporadic and often covered by trees. I would have gotten lost many times trying to drive with a paper map on my lap through rural Costa Rica. The Garmin was flawless. From Liberia we drove to the Pacific Coast town of Puerto Carrillo where we spent a week at this VBRO house owned by a nice couple in Colorado. http://www.vrbo.com/220000 The house was absolutely fabulous and the caretaker is connected to everyone in town and so can arrange any excursion you could want from surfing lessons to kayaking. We did surf lessons, kayaking, visited a sea turtle reserve at night to see them laying eggs, and did lots of hiking around and quality beach time. Monkeys visited our house every day.

Week 2: We drove from Puerto Carrillo to Arenal where we spent 7 days at Leaves and Lizards Resort up high in the mountains overlooking Arenal Volcano. http://leavesandlizards.com/index.htm This is something of an eco-resort run by an American couple from North Carolina (I think). The setting is fabulous. You rent a cabin on their property and meals are provided group style in a main restaurant. They will arrange all manner of excursions but you really need your own 4x4 to get around. We did zip lining, a day-long horse back riding expedition into the forest to a private waterfall and pool (highlight of the trip for the kids), a day on a Costa Rican farm, a day at a rescue zoo, a day-long trip to Rio Negro for a river tour to see birds, monkeys, crocs etc (highlight of the trip for my wife and me) and some poking around Arenal (hanging bridges, shopping etc.). A week might have been slightly long here for me but the kids absolutely loved it.

My general recommendation. With kids I think it is better to pick one or two locations from which to make a base and not try to do the whirlwind tour. Kids get bored driving around. For a 1-week trip just pick one location and for a 2-week trip just pick 2 locations. The country is small enough that you can pretty much do day excursions to anywhere and still get back to your home base at night so there really isn't a lot of reason to keep packing up and changing lodging. I would pick one beach location for one week (probably on the Pacific). June is the rainy season so the NW part of the country in Guanacaste is probably the best bet as it is the least rainy. We went in June and weren't bothered in the least by the rain. It came down for a short time on a few afternoons but didn't affect us. Then for another week pick one mountain location. The Arenal area has the most to offer in terms of mountain and rainforest tourism. People also like Monteverde. Pick one or the other, you don't need to do both. Arenal is probably better for kids as there are more kid friendly options. Monteverde is probably better for hard-core birding and naturalist types. But they are similar.

I will pm you with a link to our photo albums if you are curious. Basically there is nothing I would have done differently. It was a splendid trip.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby arthurdawg » Fri Dec 28, 2012 11:37 am

I went for a month during college, it was a fantastic trip!

We went as a group and flew in and out of San Jose, after landing we spent several weeks in Monte Verde, followed by a trip to Corcovado (definitely go for the Pacific beaches!), and then spent several days in San Jose on the way out.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby suming » Sat Dec 29, 2012 11:09 pm

This is the OP.
Thanks for everybody's contribution. As far as the budget, texasdiver, would you please provide some rough numbers $$ about those activities? I got the basic idea about how much $$ the rental car and the living place cost.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby texasdiver » Sun Dec 30, 2012 11:23 am

suming wrote:This is the OP.
Thanks for everybody's contribution. As far as the budget, texasdiver, would you please provide some rough numbers $$ about those activities? I got the basic idea about how much $$ the rental car and the living place cost.


My 2-week rental of a Mitsubisi 4x4 cost $768 according to my credit card receipt. In Costa Rica you are automatically charged liability insurance by the rental company. This is a national law that all rental companies must follow but it sometimes isn't included in the initial quotes you get on their web sites. If you want collision and comprehensive insurance you have the option to buy that separately. I used the AMEX premium car insurance which you can arrange through AMEX for collision and comprehensive as it is a lot cheaper than getting it locally through the rental company. Renting cars is easy if you reserve from the US. All the rental companies have offices next to the airport. They have someone meet your flight with a sign with your name on it and whisk you over to the office to finalize the rental which is not much different than in the US except all the paperwork is on paper not handheld scanners like in the big US airports. All the tourist-related businesses such as car rentals and resort hotels always have staff that speak pretty fluent English.

Generally speaking there are two levels of prices you will pay for excursions (kayaking, boating, zip lining, horseback riding, etc.) If you arrange for tours and excursions through your hotel you will generally pay more but unless you are certain about who you are dealing with that is usually the best policy on vacation. There are a lot of scam artists and shady tour operators who try to sell bargain tours that are really ripoffs. They hang around the tourist spots and aggressively market themselves and are a constant problem and it is hard to tell the legit operators from the scam artists. So, for example, during our 2nd week when we stayed at the Leaves and Lizards resort we just booked everything through the resort even though I probably could have found cheaper options had I really really tried. For a short vacation with kids I didn't care and appreciated the fact that the resort provided great bilingual guides that got on well with our kids. You can go to the Leaves and Lizards web site and see their actual prices for all their tours and those prices are probably going to be typical of what you will pay for similar activities through any hotel or resort in Costa Rica. Some fancy resorts might skim more off the top but I expect these prices are pretty typical. http://leavesandlizards.com/newsite/tours.htm I just didn't have the energy or interest to try to find cheaper alternatives and all the tours provided by Leaves and Lizards were top quality.

The second situation we encountered was our first week at Playa Carrillo where we rented a private house through VRBO. Turns out the caretaker of the house who lives next door is related to nearly everyone in town and has personal connections to all variety of good tour operators. Pretty much whatever you want to do, he'll ring someone he knows on his cell and they'll show up with a tour van to take you on any kind of adventure you want without the need to pay the percentage cut to some hotel or resort. So everything we did in Carrillo was 25-50% cheaper than it turned out to be at Leaves and Lizards resort because we avoided the middle man (and probably avoided taxes by paying in cash). They are the same guides and excursions that you'd book through some fancy hotel down the road in Samara where most of the resorts are but because you are booking directly you get a big discount. This was a unique situation though made possible by the fact that the property owners have a fabulous caretaker who you then tip well at the end of your stay for doing all those things for you. I think we tipped him about $10/day for our stay...maybe more I don't remember. There were a couple banks with ATMs about 10 minutes down the road in the resort town of Samara so I just kept going back to Samara to get more and more cash out to pay for local stuff in Puerto Carrillo and didn't use the credit cards. At Leaves and Lizards we just ran up a credit card tab with all our meals, tips and activities and paid the whole big bill at the end of our stay with a credit card and didn't need any cash there.

Bottom line? You can probably do the backpacker tourist thing in Costa Rica where you stay in seedy old hotels with shared bathrooms and eat rice and beans every day and travel really cheap. That's how I used to travel all over Latin America back in the day when I was single in my early 20s and working in the Peace Corps. But if you want to do a shorter 1st world type vacation with kids and have a good time with minimum of hassle you'll be paying prices pretty equivalent to what you'd pay in the US for similar stuff. It's just that you are in a tropical paradise. And, of course there are lots of things you can do that don't really cost money. We didn't go off on paid excursions every day. Some days we just chilled at the beach, went hiking on local trails, or just shopping and exploring and didn't pay anyone for that.
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby suming » Fri Jan 11, 2013 1:42 pm

Hi, texasdiver
I'd like to see your pictures. I am pretty new here. How to get to see them? What is PM?
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Re: To go - Family trip to Costa Rica

Postby texasdiver » Fri Jan 11, 2013 5:53 pm

suming wrote:Hi, texasdiver
I'd like to see your pictures. I am pretty new here. How to get to see them? What is PM?


Look at the top left corner of your page. It should say User Control Panel (1 new message) which you can click on to get your PMs (private messages) and see the message that I sent you directly.
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