Costa Rica travel

Questions on how we spend our money and our time - consumer goods and services, home and vehicle, leisure and recreational activities
Post Reply
User avatar
Topic Author
cruzbay
Posts: 53
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:47 pm

Costa Rica travel

Post by cruzbay » Tue Jul 30, 2019 3:24 pm

I see from reading past posts that many of you have experience with Costa Rica travel. I am planning a trip for DH and me in December. So far, we are thinking that we will stay at Tabacon ( www.tabacon.com ) in Arenal area for 3 nights, at Aguti Lodge & Reserve ( www.agutimonteverde.com ) in Monteverde for 3 nights and then at Tulemar ( www.tulemarresort.com )in Manuel Antonio for 4 nights. We will have a driver/pre-arranged transport between these points and the airport. Plan to do the usual excursions and spend some time relaxing, hiking and hopefully enjoying some quality food and drinks. The arrangements have been made by the travel agency Anywhere.com based on my selections and they seem to be doing a great job. Any reviews or advice on these choices?

garzjoh
Posts: 36
Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:48 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by garzjoh » Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:26 pm

Vulcan Arenal is dead and hasn't really been active for many years. Most of the resorts around arenal/fortuna area pump the hot water in from the springs, so you are just swimming in man made hot tubs. It's free to swim in the actual hot River, but not easy to get to if you don't have a car.

Monteverde has the best zip lines I have done so far. The longest one was almost 2km long. All the equipment was modern and safe. This is definitely a must do. The canopy tours here were also pretty awesome.

The Capuchin monkeys in Manuel Antonio will steal your stuff and hold it hostage for junk food. The raccoons are almost as bad for stealing stuff, but the monkeys will actually take a backpack or purse. They look cute as heck, but will turn vicious as soon as they realize you aren't giving them junk food. Video record everything here and you will get some hilarious footage. You should also be able to see cool crabs, insects, birds, spiders, sloths, etc... You don't really need a tour guide here, but many feel intimidated into paying one by all the tour guides outside the entrance.

One thing that drove me crazy was the lack of culture and local life in Costa Rica. Most everything is owned/run by foreigners and they don't reinvest in the Costa Rican infrastructure. This is most noticable in the poor quality of roads and lack of hospitals (don't get sick or injured). Most tourist destinations are disproportionately expensive and can make you feel like a walking wallet. The employees cannot afford to live near there and often commute up to two hours to work in hotels and restaurants. Most of the towns you see will be ones that cater to expats who have pensions or other sources of income.

We rented an All Terrain SUV and struggled to get off the beaten path, but did find it very rewarding to do so. Places like playa naranja in santa rosa (Northwest corner of Costa Rica) were very rewarding unique ecosystems found no where else in the world. Santa Rosa is a dry tropical region with plants/animals having characteristics typical of both a desert and of a rain forest. Was definitely worth the drive. We also found local hangouts such as waterfalls, but most are not in the map and no where near the resorts/tourist towns.

Many restaurant owners don't share the tips with the employees. We just tipped the staff discreetly in cash. Locally owned restaurants didn't have this issue as much and it showed in the attitudes of the staff (much happier to serve and seemed to want to be there). We also found the food quality to be better at locally owned restaurants, but this is a generalization and not a hard fast rule. If you speak Spanish, should be fairly easy to ask which restaurants are locally owned.

I would be very careful about any tours on the water as there really isn't a coast guard or oversight for the boats. Our "whale tour" almost sank and we had to argue to get our money back. After googling, we found it could have been much worse. There was a catamaran that sank four years ago with 109 on board, killing 3. The people were rescued by local fishermen and the investigation was performed by the US Coast Guard. Not sure how there was no negligence when the boat rolled over and sank in less than a minute giving no one a chance to get the life preservers. Our boat almost sank after being hit by a very tall wave and turned out to not have a bilge pump. This was a pretty large 25 foot boat. The wave caused people to be thrown around and a few got injured. One had a serious concussion and possible broken cheek bone (she had a blank stare and couldn't answer any questions). Took over fifteen minutes to get to shore with blood everywhere and the boat very low on the water (less than a foot from the back edge). After we got to shore, it took almost two hours for an ambulance to show up.

crazygrow
Posts: 144
Joined: Sun Apr 24, 2016 8:56 am

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by crazygrow » Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:42 pm

Wow - sorry to hear about your boat tour issue. While not on a boat, we had some a friend's son break his leg in Arenal and according to them the medical care was quick and "just as good" as the US. Our son also took a dive coming out of a pool and open up right under his chin about an inch wide. The closest hospital was 3 hours away so we glued it shut and it is basically invisible two years later (if it had been directly on his face, we may have braved the crappy road for the three hours).

Yes, Vulcan Arenal is dead, but we stayed there for about a week (Arenal Springs resort) and then a week at the Hyatt Andaz on the coast. We also spent three days up at the Blue River resort (not recommended) in between the two resorts. The Andaz was amazing from a service perspective and had an amazing amount of wildlife, but the beach was only really good for putting out into the water or watching wildlife - it was very shady and had a lot of mosquitos.

Wish we had made it down to Manuel Antonio.

Starfish
Posts: 1543
Joined: Wed Aug 15, 2018 6:33 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by Starfish » Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:55 pm

It is not that much to do in Manuel Antonio (way to commercial for my taste) for 4 nights but there is plenty to see and do if you drive a car down beyond Dominical.
CR is a easy country to drive in, especially around the west coast. It is preferable to have a higher car (an SUV) to take unpaved roads but you can get around with anything.

User avatar
Watty
Posts: 18076
Joined: Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:55 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by Watty » Tue Jul 30, 2019 5:23 pm

garzjoh wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:26 pm
I would be very careful about any tours on the water as there really isn't a coast guard or oversight for the boats.
+1

One being very careful on around the water.

We had gone on a kayak tour of the mangrove swamps and had a great day. A few days later we did a sea kayak tour and the weather turned mildly bad when a small rainstorm came in. The mildly rough water made it impossible for me to get back on the kayak when I fell off it. The tour guide was a 19 year old that was clueless and should have gotten us back to shore before the rain came in since we could see it a long time before it got to us. We were maybe a quarter mile from shore and I managed to make it in to shore by holding on to the kayak while the guilde and my wife towed it in. The situation could have easily turned out a lot worse.

There are lots of drownings in Costa Rica of both tourists and locals.
garzjoh wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:26 pm
Manuel Antonio ...

You should also be able to see cool crabs, insects, birds, spiders, sloths, etc... You don't really need a tour guide here, but many feel intimidated into paying one by all the tour guides outside the entrance.
I would disagree with that. Our guide pointed out a lot of wildlife that we would have missed. The guides are in contact with each other through text messages and when they see something they will text the other guides to let them know where it is at.

User avatar
White Coat Investor
Posts: 14334
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 9:11 pm
Location: Greatest Snow On Earth

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by White Coat Investor » Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:13 pm

Watty wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 5:23 pm

One being very careful on around the water.

We had gone on a kayak tour of the mangrove swamps and had a great day. A few days later we did a sea kayak tour and the weather turned mildly bad when a small rainstorm came in. The mildly rough water made it impossible for me to get back on the kayak when I fell off it. The tour guide was a 19 year old that was clueless and should have gotten us back to shore before the rain came in since we could see it a long time before it got to us. We were maybe a quarter mile from shore and I managed to make it in to shore by holding on to the kayak while the guilde and my wife towed it in. The situation could have easily turned out a lot worse.

There are lots of drownings in Costa Rica of both tourists and locals.

You went on a kayak tour on the OCEAN when you were not physically able to climb back into a kayak?

If I were going to fault the operator for that it would not be for not heading back sooner but for taking you out in the first place.

I did the Napali coast in a kayak years ago. I think the swells were 6-8 feet. I lost track of how many times I fell out of the kayak. But at least my seasickness felt better in the water than in the kayak!

But I agree that the standards away from the US are different, mostly because the liability is way lower.
1) Invest you must 2) Time is your friend 3) Impulse is your enemy | 4) Basic arithmetic works 5) Stick to simplicity 6) Stay the course

User avatar
Watty
Posts: 18076
Joined: Wed Oct 10, 2007 3:55 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by Watty » Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:38 pm

White Coat Investor wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:13 pm
You went on a kayak tour on the OCEAN when you were not physically able to climb back into a kayak?

If I were going to fault the operator for that it would not be for not heading back sooner but for taking you out in the first place.
One part of the problem was that it was tandem kayak so when one person was getting in they would knock the other person out. I agree that I was in way over my head and should not have been out there.

WhyNotUs
Posts: 1605
Joined: Sun Apr 14, 2013 11:38 am

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by WhyNotUs » Tue Jul 30, 2019 9:52 pm

Well they are three very popular places and will have organized activities that will be interesting and fun. I am guessing that you are flying into San Jose? I ask because the leg to Manuel Antonio will take a fair bit of travel time from Monteverde. Seemingly short distances can take a while. I did not visit the reserve that you are staying at in Monteverde so cannot comment on it. The ecosystem is fascinating and naturalist guides with scopes are well worth the money, so are night hikes.

It has been a long time since I went to Arenal, since I live in the mountains of CO and hike in Haleakala national park every year, I may have been a bit underwhelmed.I have not stayed at Tabacon but the website looks lovely.

Based on the accommodations that you selected, I think that you will like Manuel Antonio more than someone who might have been there 20 years ago, pre-development or who likes to be off the beaten path so take comments in that light. It is likely to be a highlight of your trip.

Everyone has their own style of travel. I am more of a pesca casado at a shack by the beach with a luke warm Imperial guy. My wife would probably prefer to travel with you :D


cruzbay wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 3:24 pm
I see from reading past posts that many of you have experience with Costa Rica travel. I am planning a trip for DH and me in December. So far, we are thinking that we will stay at Tabacon ( www.tabacon.com ) in Arenal area for 3 nights, at Aguti Lodge & Reserve ( www.agutimonteverde.com ) in Monteverde for 3 nights and then at Tulemar ( www.tulemarresort.com )in Manuel Antonio for 4 nights. We will have a driver/pre-arranged transport between these points and the airport. Plan to do the usual excursions and spend some time relaxing, hiking and hopefully enjoying some quality food and drinks. The arrangements have been made by the travel agency Anywhere.com based on my selections and they seem to be doing a great job. Any reviews or advice on these choices?
I own the next hot stock- VTSAX

User avatar
Topic Author
cruzbay
Posts: 53
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:47 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by cruzbay » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:16 am

Thanks to all who took time to respond and provide valuable info! I am thinking that we will be back in Costa Rica again some time and will do a more 'beach shack' or 'eco lodge' type of trip then. We have had some great trips traveling with just a backpack each and mixing in with the local life. Our trip in December is a celebration trip so we are going a bit upscale. We are flying in/out of San Jose.

Not being a huge fan of snakes, bats nor spiders I am hoping for a good sloth to snake ratio! :)

User avatar
banhbao
Posts: 103
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:54 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by banhbao » Wed Jul 31, 2019 8:19 pm

If you enjoy nature and natural places, Costa Rica is really an amazing place to visit!

First, I would highly recommend getting a recent guidebook like this one from Lonely Planet:
https://shop.lonelyplanet.com/products/ ... l-guide-13

Second, if you are comfortable driving in an unusual place, you might consider renting a small SUV. There is so much to see in CR and you could regret not having the freedom to explore whenever and wherever you want to go. Just don't get really adventurous and try to cross a river with your car, this unfortunately happens and people drown doing it, especially during the "green" (rainy) season.

Note: You are going in December which is the start of the rainy season. We visited in late November and it was just perfect. I wouldn't worry about it too much but just remember that you could have a few days of rain during your visit. Make sure you take some rain jackets.

We visited the Quepos area and I can offer a little advice to you:
As others have mentioned, Manuel Antonio is really, really touristy. You will find solidly average food at a restaurant for tourists for $30/pp, or you can drive 5 minutes into Quepos and have a good meal at a local "soda" for $5/pp... your choice.
With this in mind, I would still absolutely take the opportunity to spend a day at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. It is truly a special place. (As others have mentioned, just watch out for monkeys who know very well how to operate zippers...!) You can swim here at the beaches, be sure to pack swimwear if you plan to do so. Just don't leave anything on the beach! Seriously, the monkeys and raccoons will go through your bags looking for food! We saw some people "hiding" their stuff in trees but that certainly didn't work, the monkeys live in trees... If you go with two people it would be best to just take turns swimming/guarding your stuff!
A little north of Quepos is a very interesting private park with many ropebridges in the jungle (http://www.rainmakercostarica.org/). We really enjoyed this place, but be warned, we did see a very large snake here.
South of Quepos and near Dominical you will find Nauyaca waterfalls (http://nauyacawaterfallscostarica.com/). Yes, plural, there are two great waterfalls here that are really amazing. It may have been my favorite part of our visit. If you are really adventurous, just outside of the town of Uvita is "Catarata uvita", which you can slide down. And here you also have Marino Ballena National Park (https://parque-nacional-marino-ballena.business.site). The further south you go from Quepos, the less and less tourists you will find and it becomes very, very remote. We didn't make it to Ojochal, but that is one of the last major towns before you get into Corcovado, which is like pristine wilderness. I read you could hike for 2 days without seeing anyone here!
As others have said, be careful about distances. The roads are basically 2 lane roads with occassional passing lanes. You can't really cover a lot of distance in a short time. Just take your time and remember their motto is "Pura Vida" which kind of loosely translates to "take it easy and enjoy life"!

Good luck planning, I am sure you will enjoy this trip! If you like ceviche, try some of the roadside stands! It's really great with fried plantain chips!

User avatar
Topic Author
cruzbay
Posts: 53
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:47 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by cruzbay » Thu Aug 01, 2019 11:04 am

Thanks Banhbao! We will look into venturing south from Manuel Antonio and seeking out the good meals that you mention! December is actually in the 'dry season' which starts mid-Nov, but we will be prepared for rain for sure.

User avatar
banhbao
Posts: 103
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:54 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by banhbao » Thu Aug 01, 2019 3:14 pm

cruzbay wrote:
Thu Aug 01, 2019 11:04 am
Thanks Banhbao! We will look into venturing south from Manuel Antonio and seeking out the good meals that you mention! December is actually in the 'dry season' which starts mid-Nov, but we will be prepared for rain for sure.
Yes, you are correct, I had the seasons mixed up. We went during Thanksgiving, at the end of the "green" season. It was perfect; just one or two days of rain and each time only for a few hours. So I think you will be going at the ideal time!

Oh one more thing to mention: we found that you can get a decent exchange rate USD/CRC just by visiting the national bank (Banco de Costa Rica or Banco National de Costa Rica, both are state owned and have a fixed exchange rate). It can be a good idea to have local currency. Some vendors will be more than happy to take your USD and then give you CRC in change, but they will give you something like 10,000 CRC per 20 USD, when in fact you should get 11,500 CRC. So to avoid that, just take a few minutes to exchange USD at the bank and make cash purchases in CRC.

User avatar
Topic Author
cruzbay
Posts: 53
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:47 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by cruzbay » Fri Aug 02, 2019 12:10 pm

Oh one more thing to mention: we found that you can get a decent exchange rate USD/CRC just by visiting the national bank (Banco de Costa Rica or Banco National de Costa Rica, both are state owned and have a fixed exchange rate). It can be a good idea to have local currency. Some vendors will be more than happy to take your USD and then give you CRC in change, but they will give you something like 10,000 CRC per 20 USD, when in fact you should get 11,500 CRC. So to avoid that, just take a few minutes to exchange USD at the bank and make cash purchases in CRC.
[/quote]

Thanks for this. If we use our Schwab ATM card, will we get a favorable exchange rate taking the money in CRC? Maybe it depends on the ATM network/bank? We generally use the Schwab card as they will reimburse any ATM fees.

Nowizard
Posts: 2430
Joined: Tue Oct 23, 2007 5:33 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by Nowizard » Fri Aug 02, 2019 12:49 pm

We stayed in the Arenal area and engaged a person from the airport to take us there for a very reasonable fee. We stayed at Si Como No, and loved it as much as Jimmy Buffet who reportedly stays (Stayed?) there several times. We had some concern about the travel since the same person was to return and pick us up about a week later with no contact in the interim. When the appointed time came, a person was standing at the motel desk. He said the person originally scheduled had engine problems, and he had come. That level of responsibility was very impressive and reflective of the people we met in CR. They devote 4% (I believe that is correct) of GNP to education and have a much higher literacy rate than in the U.S., though it is a relatively poor country. Highly recommend CR, the people, Si Como No and the surrounding area. Obviously, we had a very different reaction to that of another poster.

Tim

User avatar
banhbao
Posts: 103
Joined: Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:54 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by banhbao » Fri Aug 02, 2019 1:53 pm

cruzbay wrote:
Fri Aug 02, 2019 12:10 pm
Thanks for this. If we use our Schwab ATM card, will we get a favorable exchange rate taking the money in CRC? Maybe it depends on the ATM network/bank? We generally use the Schwab card as they will reimburse any ATM fees.
I don't know specifically about the Schwab card, but you typically get a competitive conversion rate using an ATM. However, be sure to select the option to be charged in local currency. Some ATMs will offer to do the exchange in your home currency, but that "service" is likely to cost a lot more than if you just let your card company handle the conversion:
https://transferwise.com/us/blog/choose ... oreign-atm

I made this mistake the last time I traveled to Europe. Normally my bank charges a flat fee per transaction with the daily exchange rate. So I withdrawal 200 euros and pay a $5 fee for that service. But last time, I accidentially selected the option for the ATM to do the conversion. Not only did my bank still charge the $5 fee, but the ATM gave me a terrible conversion rate, essentially tacking on an additional 5% just to provide the currency conversion service... :oops:

Just be careful and make sure you take the time to read the fine print!

User avatar
Peter Foley
Posts: 5006
Joined: Fri Nov 23, 2007 10:34 am
Location: Lake Wobegon

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by Peter Foley » Fri Aug 02, 2019 3:32 pm

I would agree with others regarding Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It is worth a couple days, but not 4. Hope you are planning day trips of fishing expeditions.

garzjoh
Posts: 36
Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:48 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by garzjoh » Fri Aug 02, 2019 3:49 pm

I have never been able to beat the exchange rate I get from the atm using the Schwab Investor Checking (free, unlimited ATM fee reimbursement worldwide).

Chase Sapphire Reserve was very close and preferred for security reasons (safer than carrying a pile of cash).

If a merchant attempts to charge you a currency conversion fee (goes by many names), you have the right to decline it. If the merchant refuses to process the charge in the local currency, then do the following:
1. Line out the currency conversion fee.
2. Write "refused" next to the lineout. If possible, write it in the local language too.
3. Circle the local currency amount.
4. Circle the disclaimer the states you were provided an opportunity to decline the currency conversion fee (required per VISA/MC rules).
5. Sign the charge slip.
6. Take a photo with your cellphone (very, very, very important, Do not rely on your copy).

When you get home, dispute the entire transaction amount for "incorrect currency". Do not dispute just the fee. VISA/MC consider incorrect currency transactions to be invalid and reverse them completely. With your photo of the merchant's copy of the charge slip, the merchant will not be able to dispute a properly processed charge back for incorrect currency. Rather, Visa/MC require the merchant to resubmit the charge in the correct currency.

There are very long threads out there on flyertalk addressing the issue and how to get the bank to properly process an incorrect currency charge back. There are even those that wait nearly the full 60 days to initiate the charge back so that the merchant can't resubmit after the charge is reversed (they feel it's three only way to convince merchants to train their employees right).

I personally don't wait to dispute, but don't have much sympathy for a merchant that ignored my request to pay in the local currency. Merchants get a cut of the fee and dishonest ones train their employees to lie about the fee. I have won every dispute I have submitted.

User avatar
Topic Author
cruzbay
Posts: 53
Joined: Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:47 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by cruzbay » Sat Aug 03, 2019 5:10 pm

Thanks once again for the info you all have added to the discussion! Very helpful!

User avatar
White Coat Investor
Posts: 14334
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2007 9:11 pm
Location: Greatest Snow On Earth

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by White Coat Investor » Sun Aug 04, 2019 1:13 pm

Watty wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:38 pm
White Coat Investor wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 7:13 pm
You went on a kayak tour on the OCEAN when you were not physically able to climb back into a kayak?

If I were going to fault the operator for that it would not be for not heading back sooner but for taking you out in the first place.
One part of the problem was that it was tandem kayak so when one person was getting in they would knock the other person out. I agree that I was in way over my head and should not have been out there.
Glad it turned out okay in the end of course! We all do things we shouldn't have. Luckily we get away with it most of the time.
1) Invest you must 2) Time is your friend 3) Impulse is your enemy | 4) Basic arithmetic works 5) Stick to simplicity 6) Stay the course

mnnice
Posts: 449
Joined: Sat Aug 11, 2012 5:48 pm

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by mnnice » Sun Aug 04, 2019 5:52 pm

We went to CR in 2018 we spent four days in the Arenal/LaFortuna area and six on the Beach in Tamarindo. I really enjoyed the experience. If I had it to do over I would find cheaper accommodation in LaFortuna and stay in a hostel on the Pacific coast.

I dislike driving in general, the roads are often poorly marked, and I would strive to stay in places with sodas, groceries within walking distance. I prefer eating gas station ceviche with maids from my hotel vs eating in the actual resort. I would not rent a car. I saw lots of North Americans driving rental cars that were stick shifts and It I disliked being in a resort and being captive to the food choices especially since there is good food at nearly every price point everywhere we went.

Tabacon looked very swell. It was right by the place all the locals swam in for free. It can be done as a day trip and would be close if you stayed in La Fortunate.

cherijoh
Posts: 6379
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 4:49 pm
Location: Charlotte NC

Re: Costa Rica travel

Post by cherijoh » Sun Aug 04, 2019 6:09 pm

cruzbay wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 3:24 pm
I see from reading past posts that many of you have experience with Costa Rica travel. I am planning a trip for DH and me in December. So far, we are thinking that we will stay at Tabacon ( www.tabacon.com ) in Arenal area for 3 nights, at Aguti Lodge & Reserve ( www.agutimonteverde.com ) in Monteverde for 3 nights and then at Tulemar ( www.tulemarresort.com )in Manuel Antonio for 4 nights. We will have a driver/pre-arranged transport between these points and the airport. Plan to do the usual excursions and spend some time relaxing, hiking and hopefully enjoying some quality food and drinks. The arrangements have been made by the travel agency Anywhere.com based on my selections and they seem to be doing a great job. Any reviews or advice on these choices?
I really enjoyed Tabacon althought we didn't stay at the resort. If you want any spa treatments, book them in advance.

Our travel agent booked a naturalist guide for our canopy tour at Monteverde and it was really fascinating. I think she added a lot of value to the visit. I didn't do the zip line but one of the ladies in our group did and she said it was a blast.

We stopped in small restaurants for lunch where my travel companions overpaid for a hamburger and fries. I went with what I would categorize as the "blue plate" special and got to experience the local food for a very reasonable price.

One treat was to try out all the different varieties of fruit and fresh-squeezed juices on the breakfast buffet. Monteverde also has some excellent cheeses.

Post Reply