Costa Rica

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dekecarver
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Joined: Mon Feb 22, 2010 10:24 am

Costa Rica

Post by dekecarver » Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:27 am

Hi,
DW and I are thinking of taking our 12 year old son to Costa Rica in March. I'd appreciate any feedback from those of you who have vacationed in Costa Rica regarding things like nicest beach, best tours, vacation package..that you have found to be enjoyable and anything else that you learned along the way.

Thanks in advance.

BW1985
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by BW1985 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:46 am

We're planning CR once we get the SW companion pass this year. We're going to stay at the Hyatt Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort. From what I've heard the roads are not great there so it's hard to get around, but that could just be near this hotel I'm not sure. Are you planning on renting a car?
"Squirrels figured out how to save eons ago. They buried acorns. Some, they dug up, for food. Others, they let to sprout, in new oak trees. We could learn from squirrels." -john94549

dekecarver
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by dekecarver » Sun Dec 31, 2017 11:27 am

We haven't decided on a rental car yet. My initial thinking is accommodations with everything nearby or shuttle if possible. DW wants a beach, son goes with the flow, so I'm thinking beach and zip lines.

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Watty
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by Watty » Sun Dec 31, 2017 11:50 am

dekecarver wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:27 am
and anything else that you learned along the way.
Be very careful with the ocean especially with beaches on the Pacific side.

The currents and surf can be dangerous and there are a surprising number of drownings in Costa Rica each year. You need to research the beaches you will be at not only for how safe they are in general but you need to also check to see how they are on the day you are there. I got into some trouble when I was taking a sea kayak tour there and got out just fine but things were real dicy for a while.

I don't recall the specifics but as I recall the cost of things like groceries there was pretty comparable to the US so don't expect a lot of inexpensive stuff like in Mexico.

We did not get a rental car because we were concerned about the road conditions. There are lots of shared vans, buses, and other ways to get around so we didn't have any problems getting around but it took a bit of preplanning. Because of the heavy rains many of the roads have huge paved drainage gullies on the side of the road that are about two feet deep so you do not want to go off the edge of the road. Even if you do not normally get rental car full damage coverage I would get it there. American Express has a plan where for about $25 per rental they will cover everything and I use that when I am traveling internationally.

When planning on travel be sure to allow lots of time since it can take a lot longer than you might expect to go 75 miles because of the roads.

There are virtually no street signs except for the major highways. They are just now, in theory, starting to actually give streets names and assign street numbers but when you see an address it will usually be something like 2.5 KM from Qeupos, or 300 meters north of the bank. Get very good directions for wherever you are going to.

We did not have any trouble since we did not have a rental car but it sounded like car break ins are common there. Google "Costa Rica flat tire scam" to find out how to avoid that.

You will hear that the water is generally safe to drink but I would still use bottled water. I picked up some low grade intestinal bug or parasite that I suspect was from a water fountain in one of the parks since I drank the water from it when I ran out of bottled water. I had to have it treated about a month after I got back when it did not clear up on its own. They never tested to see which it was since the easiest thing to do was to give me pills for both and that took care of it. My doctor seemed familiar with people having similar problems when they had been to Costa Rica.

I don't want to sound too negative since we still had a really good trip.

Nate79
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by Nate79 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:21 pm

We've been to Costa Rica a couple of times and just love it. First time we booked a package that had us going to the beach and the Arenal volcano. That was an experience but the distance between the two are up too much of the trip. This last time we booked the Westin Playa Conchal in Guanacaste. It was absolutely wonderful all inclusive resort.

Both trips we went in August so I can't comment about the time of year you are going.

CrossOverGuy
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by CrossOverGuy » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:44 pm

I love Costa Rica -- beautiful country with friendly people on the whole and lots to see. First time I went I was with Caravan Tours which used to go into the jungle to see where the turtles lay their eggs. I think that area (Tortuguerro) became less safe because of poachers, so they no longer go there. However, they still offer an extensive tour which goes to volcanoes, rain and cloud forests, a beach resort, national parks including the wonderful Manuel Antonio, included boat trips and include all meals and bottled water along the way with your hotels and transportation. I encourage you to check out their trip -- caravan.com and also other tour companies that go there. Even if you don't go with them, their itineraries will give you an idea of what they think tourists would enjoy seeing there. I do know from being on the bus (and also hiring a driver in a small group on my second visit) that they roads aren't that good for long stretches even on some main roads. But there's plenty to do -- I went white-water rafting, horseback riding (the horse went through a puddle and hundreds of colorful butterflies took flight!), saw a folklore dancing show, went to some great museums in San Jose, and saw wonderful animals at Zoo Ave, a place where they rehabilitate injured animals, including gorgeous birds likes scarlet macaws and quetzals. I would avoid the regular zoo itself, which was kind of depressing. You can also visit and wade in the hot springs which are warmed by Arenal Volcano, which was a fun outing. Otherwise, lots of great bird-watching, monkey sightings and large turtles, crocodiles and other animals to see, as well as gorgeous forests.

aristotelian
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by aristotelian » Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:58 pm

We did a big loops around the country. First stop was southwest down to a jungle resort called Rafiki Safari Lodge. Amazing experience although not for the faint of heart! Slept in a tent-cabin, then went white water rafting on the Savegre River.

Went from there to Uvita for 3-4 days, a little beach town on the Ballena Coast. Activities there included tour of a chocolate micro-farm and a guided night-hike through the rainforest.

Hit Poas Volcano on the way back. The park was closed due to volcanic activity but we went to a somewhat touristy animal sanctuary in the cloud forest.

Stayed at Xandari resort close to the airport on arrival and for our last night before departing.

Great experience. I don't think you can go wrong in Costa Rica.

dekecarver
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by dekecarver » Sun Dec 31, 2017 2:21 pm

aristotelian wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 1:58 pm
We did a big loops around the country. First stop was southwest down to a jungle resort called Rafiki Safari Lodge. Amazing experience although not for the faint of heart! Slept in a tent-cabin, then went white water rafting on the Savegre River.

Went from there to Uvita for 3-4 days, a little beach town on the Ballena Coast. Activities there included tour of a chocolate micro-farm and a guided night-hike through the rainforest.

Hit Poas Volcano on the way back. The park was closed due to volcanic activity but we went to a somewhat touristy animal sanctuary in the cloud forest.

Stayed at Xandari resort close to the airport on arrival and for our last night before departing.

Great experience. I don't think you can go wrong in Costa Rica.
That sounds like a very interesting trip.

Nate79
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by Nate79 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 5:25 pm

Nate79 wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 12:21 pm
We've been to Costa Rica a couple of times and just love it. First time we booked a package that had us going to the beach and the Arenal volcano. That was an experience but the distance between the two are up too much of the trip. This last time we booked the Westin Playa Conchal in Guanacaste. It was absolutely wonderful all inclusive resort.

Both trips we went in August so I can't comment about the time of year you are going.
To add the resort near the volcano was Arenal Kioro Suites. It was amazing. Lots of hot spring pools to soak in and beautiful area.

Life Is Good
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by Life Is Good » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:23 am

We love Costa Rica. We were last there about 2 years ago, with kids age 5 and 7 at the time. It was wonderful.

We rented a car (SUV) and also paid for full coverage including towing. Not frugal, BUT it paid for itself while on our trip when we were stuck on a dirt road (thanks Google maps!) and couldn't get ourselves out. (Sounds terrible but it was one of the greatest experiences of our lives.) Traveling with kids, I would highly recommend renting a car vs the buses as you can set your own schedule. We modified our itinerary many times as we found more fun things to do so definitely be flexible. We booked hotels as we went along and it was a non-issue. Tripadvisor recommended hotels were spot on. No vacation packages, we did it entirely on our own.

Our itinerary was: flew into SJO and spent the first night right by the airport in Alejuela. Taxi ($2) to the Walmart down the road to stock up on supplies for the week - toilet paper, snacks, etc.

Rented a car from Adobe and were very pleased (automatic transmission, thank you.) Drove up to Volcan Poas, then around the east side of the volcano on a scenic route to La Fortuna where we spent three nights at Lomas del Volcan which was outstanding. Waterfall, Hanging Bridges and plenty of wildlife. (Note that some hotels in this area are down MILES of dirt road so use caution where you stay. You won't venture out too often if it takes 20 minutes just to get to the main road.)

Then we drove all the way to Manuel Antonio National Park (getting stuck along the way!) and stayed at Hotel La Posada. Spent the entire next day in the Park which includes a beautiful beach and great food nearby. Monkeys everywhere. Then a drive back to SJO, spent a night at some nearby cute hotel I can't recall the name of (La Rose?) and flew home! Spent a week in Costa Rica total.

Hablamos espanol muy poco but we got by just fine. Everyone is insanely friendly and they love American dollars. Some rental car companies are sketchy so do research into the good ones. GPS is an absolute must, and download maps onto a phone or tablet in case you venture away from any cellular networks. And a good tour book from Lonely Planet or one of those was essential and money well spent.

Driving was much easier than many made us think it would be, though it takes a long time to get anywhere. Stop signs seem optional, and I never figured out who has the right of way on the one lane bridges, but we never felt unsafe. Being able to make our own schedule and side trips was worth spending the money on the car. The sun sets every day around 5pm and driving at night is very difficult (very few markings and no road signs), so plan on getting to your destination before then.

My kids are younger so obviously we were slowed down by that, but I would go back in an instant! We're also the type of family that likes to experience the people, culture and scenery vs just sitting at a resort, but some people are the opposite! And we try to be "budget" travelers! To each their own! My only regret is that I planned to do about 3x what we actually did, but so be it! We had a blast.
Last edited by Life Is Good on Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:19 am, edited 2 times in total.

TigerNest
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by TigerNest » Mon Jan 01, 2018 10:57 am

Enjoy! Costa Rica is a wonderful vacation spot.

Flamingo Beach Resort in Guanacaste province is a hidden gem. It has one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen, and it is so relaxing.

Manuel Antonio is also 'can't-miss.' The wildlife is stunning and plentiful. Lots of monkeys and sloths. We stayed at the Arenas Del Mar Beachfront Resort. It's on the expensive side, but it's a fabulous place to stay. I'd splurge.

The zip lines are lots of fun, as are some of the agricultural tours. Ah, you're making me want to go back. :)

cpumechanic
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by cpumechanic » Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:36 am

We have been to costa rica 2x times in the last few years. First visit we flew into SJO and stayed in SJO a few days. Interesting..but the razor wire all over the city was a turn off to me...., we rented a 4 whl drive vehicle from Hertz or Avis and paid the price we had expected. (Note that some car rental agencies quote one fee, the hit you with extras after you arrive so be careful and double check this). Stopped at local grocery store for provisions for a week, then drove from SJO to Punta Arenas and took the Naviera Tambor ferry ride across to the peninsula , then drove to Santa Terasa Beach. Left Sjo early AM, and arrived Santa Teresa Beach late afternoon. No issue driving just be respectful and take it slow, never felt dangerous at all, but we took online advice and avoided driving at night.

About 10 miles out of San Jose, I noted that the L F disk brake was metal on metal.. since I was on vacation, I just kept driving. Let them know it was bad when I returned... crazy for a rental car.. but no issue.

Gift shop in San Jose hacked my CC so that CC got canceled on day 2 (Someone was using the number in Spain LOL)..backup CC and ATM card worked fine. ATMs had some outages, but most of the time we could get cash when we needed it. If you are high strung... you might freak out when strange things happen in a strange place..but go slow and enjoy the visit... you will be fine.

Stayed in a very nice VRBO place in Santa Teresa Beach for <$100 per night overlooking the pacific ocean and spend a week exploring area. Beach is magnificent and Howler Monkey's wake you up in the AM. Toucans visit in the afternoon. Went fishing in 20 foot boat with 40HP motor just off the coast, and caught several nice Tuna.. Sushi anyone? Captain of boat pointed out the homes of Tom Brady and Mel Gibson up on top of the MT, overlooking the Pacific.
Nice place.

Road along Santa Teresa beach was horrible, part patched, mostly big potholes and dirt, and lots of youngsters zooming up and down on ATV's with huge dust clouds trailing behind.. cute beach side restaurants had to wipe dust off table prior to food order. Gorgeous place.. perhaps in the last 5 years they have paved the road? Who knows... well worth the drive and visit, and we plan on going back.

We stopped for a couple of nights on the trip back to San Jose near the Volcano.. and tried a hot tub filled with hot volcano water that was unbelievably HOT... only the overflow tub was barely tolerable. Nice area, beautiful scenery. Then back to San Jose for one more night and trip home.

Second trip we flew into the airport in Liberia and drove to another very nice VRBO north of Tamirindo.. house was within walking distance of beach, and very quiet and peaceful, you could open doors on both sides of house and hummingbirds came to visit. Monkey's also.

We drove to the more touristy areas of Tamarindo and had lunch and checked things out.. but too touristy for my tastes.... I want to see the country not other tourists. But if you want "night life" and noise and traffic and cheap T-shirts... and trinkets go for it.

So.. two trips, rented cars both times, drove all over, never felt any risk very friendly folks, every small town on the highway has a small school and kids running around.. so you need to go slow.

Be sure and acquire a recent GPS map, and research a cheap cell phone plan and buy some minutes for emergencies.. we had that for peace of mind but did not use it much. Internet was available and slow on both trips at both houses we rented. Google voice worked for free phone calls to US.

Investigate sites that share recommendations on travel and don't hesitate to rent a car, just be sure you know up front the total price including the mandatory insurance you must purchase.

Go and enjoy it, you won't regret it

CPU
Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for Lunch. | Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

rvflyer
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by rvflyer » Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:07 pm

Just returned from our very first week long trip to CR over Christmas. Had a great time and even my skeptical wife was impressed. Rented a house through VRBO on the hills overlooking Coco Beach with 6 other family members and had 2 rental cars to get around. Suggest fly into Liberia if staying on the northern Pacific coast--20 minute drive to Coco/Hermosa Beaches. It is a 3 hour flight from Houston. Your scheme of camping out at a resort on the beach and doing day trips from there sounds good.

Lots of good information on Trip Advisor forums to assist. We did a catamaran for snorkeling and sunset cruise. If you are an experienced snorkeler you might be disappointed at what you see around the coastal rocks compared with Honduras or US keys etc.

We also did a driving trip from Coco to Montverde to see the Cloud Forest. This trip is not for the delicate if driving yourself. There are unpaved roads with ruts and switchbacks enroute in the hills between highway 1 and Monteverde. If making it a day trip do it by bus tour unless adventurous. It was a 12 hour day with eating stops. Not a lot of wildlife to see in the Cloud Forest-- howler monkeys in the trees here and there as well as 2 Kotumundis on the trail. Great hikes however and waterfalls/ majestic scenery. In the gateway town of Santa Elena there are restaurants and some exhibits like the Butterfly Habitat. Get the return trip unpaved road driving done before sunset. Many would make this a 2 day overnight trip but not us! 7am to 8pm. Interesting sights along the way part of the experience!

Lastly excursion was an organized small tour bus/group to zip line and and experience the thermal hot springs spa at the the Hotel Borinquen which is located northeast of Liberia near the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. 13 stage zip line tour in the forest across a gorge/valley and waterfall. It was spectacular. Lunch was included and the afternoon hot springs spa session was therapeutic-- hot mud bath included! They have other experiences available like horseback riding then zip line/spa.

The rest of our time was on the beach/pool side with one small side trip to Tamarindo Beach for surfing lessons for a few of our 20 somethings. Drive time to Tamarindo from Coco Beach was about 1.5 hours.

It is the tropics so be prepared to see healthy large bugs, scorpions etc. Petty theft the biggest threat--just be aware. There is a Walmart in Liberia as well near the airport for supplies. Don't be alarmed by the big fences around the parking lots and extra security-- petty theft deterrent. Don't leave valuables in rental cars which are easy to spot. Bring your bug repellent/sunscreen/Handsoap in your checked bags. People friendly and the pace of life is relaxed in the sleepy Pacific beach towns. Concur with many of the comments above. Don't be afraid to drive on the rougher roads but best to have an SUV type rental.

My wife is gluten sensitive and although we brought a few things in checked bags, the menus in restaurants had plenty of fish and gluten free alternatives--not an issue.

Customs inbound rarely opens/inspects baggage. Just do not bring any fresh fruit/veggies into country. Have fun and enjoy this resource rich republic!

garzjoh
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by garzjoh » Thu Jan 04, 2018 12:02 am

I'm probably in the minority with some of my opinions, but here goes.

Went there for 2 weeks with family a couple years ago. Rented an SUV and had no hotel reservations. We enjoyed our trip, had some real fun, met many interesting people, saw many unique wild animals, saw rare eco systems, and would never go back.

We rented an All Terrain SUV. Had to jump through hoops to decline insurance so we can use the Chase Sapphire coverage. Plenty of Rental Places gave dishonest answers to questions and plenty of stories online about rental agencies aiding scam artists. Ended up going with Vamos as there were very few 'stories' and they consistently gave the same answers to the same questions after calling on multiple days to speak to different people. They had no issue meeting the conditions of Chase Sapphire to use the Credit Card Coverage. There vehicles were 'interesting' in that they could best be described as older and well maintained. Our SUV was pretty banged up and no one would guess that it was a rental. Ended up being a great thing for us. We drove off road without a care in the world. Allowed us to fully enjoy parquet nacional santa rosa (a rare dry tropical forest) and drive right up to the ranger station by playa naranjo.

Tmobile free international roaming and Google Maps worked throughout most of the country and was more than adequate. Be careful if you rent a small car as 'major' roads may still be unpaved and go through shallow river beds. In the wet season, river crossing can be dangerous even for an all terrain SUV. Asking locals for directions doesn't help because they can't afford to travel around and asking tour guides will result in the "you'll shoot your eye out or robbed blind" BS stories.

We covered much of central and west Costa Rica driving. We expected a beautiful paradise and for the most part, found quite a bit of natural beauty. I know tourists tend to be treated like walking wallets, so we expected some of that, but there was no shortage of that treatment and too much dishonest information intended to trap tourists into opening their wallets.

You see, we like to get off the beaten path and experience the local culture. Sadly, there was none. It seems that most of the tourism dollars (or euros if you prefer) flow right out of the country with very little being reinvested into the infrastructure or people.

It was hard to find locals who enjoyed living there. A common trick to find a good local restaurant is to ask employees at the hotel or nearby store where they go for their anniversary. After getting only blow off responses from everyone, we finally realized no one knew because none of the employees could afford to live near where they work. We found many employees who commuted 2+ hours each way every day.

Hotels wouldn't even negotiate their prices. Turns out at most foreign owned hotels, the employees not only had not authority to negotiate, they had no incentive since it would just be more work for them. Many employees only got paid $10 to $40 per day.

We then changed strategies to just trying to find locally owned hotels and restaurants and that improved the experience a little bit, especially with restaurants. Staff was much more pleasant and we felt better knowing that they truly got to keep their tips. Service/gratuity/fancy words/charges all went straight to the owners at almost all restaurants. Locally owned restaurants tended to not play that game and let you just tip the staff directly. If you do try to skirt it and tip staff in cash, do it very discreetly or they will be expected to turn it over to the establishment.

Now, for the eye opening revelation. Every notices the 'bad' road conditions. Few realize that the lack of investment into infrastructure has some seriously life threatening repercussions. Before every international trip, I always research the hospitals and mark them on my google maps so I know where they are. The only meaningful hospital in Costa Rica is in San Jose. We saw a girl wait two hours for an ambulance to pick her up after she hit her head so hard, she had a concussion and we believe she broke her cheek bone. You will also find the safety gear lacking or even absent for many adventure activities (boating, ziplining, off roading, hiking, horseback riding, etc...) Back around 2015, there was a catamaran with over 100 people that completely flipped over and sank within minutes killing three (google for the youtube videos). All the survivors were 'rescued' by mostly fisherman who volunteered their time/boats/fuel. The Costa Rican Coast Guard showed up after everyone was rescued. http://www.ticotimes.net/2015/02/25/cos ... in-january

Costa Rica contains a lot of natural beauty and can be well worth the trip. Just make sure you are going eyes wide open with respect to your safety. We don't regret our trip as we feel that we are wiser and enriched from the experiences. I do find it sad to realize just how much Costa Rica hides its poverty.

retired recently
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by retired recently » Thu Jan 04, 2018 7:43 am

We went a few years ago and I would highly recommend visiting and some great advice has been given upthread. We had spent six weeks in Thailand the year before and in comparison Costa Rica is way overpriced but the flora/fauna are amazing. While it is very unlikely we would ever return as it is pricey compared to other destinations, I definitely think it is worth seeing one time.

I would not visit Arenal given it no longer has any activity. We did a hike and spent a few nights in the Oso Peninsula that was very nice.

Have a great time!!

motorcyclesarecool
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by motorcyclesarecool » Thu Jan 04, 2018 8:03 am

We honeymooned there were in the shoulder season. We got our own plane tickets and used a CR-based travel agent. We went back and forth a few times before settling on a fantastic itinerary. We were met at the airport and whisked everywhere by a private driver in an air conditioned van. Boutique hotel in Guanacaste. Amazing, relaxing vacation. First class honeymoon. PM me for the name of the agency.
Understand that choosing an HDHP is very much a "red pill" approach. Most would rather pay higher premiums for a $20 copay per visit. They will think you weird for choosing an HSA.

fishmonger
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by fishmonger » Thu Jan 04, 2018 10:02 am

Love CR. Can't go wrong with either the Manuel Antonio or the area around Arenal. Lots to do, particularly if you/your kid is adventurous our into exploring

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midareff
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Re: Costa Rica

Post by midareff » Thu Jan 04, 2018 10:08 am

dekecarver wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 10:27 am
Hi,
DW and I are thinking of taking our 12 year old son to Costa Rica in March. I'd appreciate any feedback from those of you who have vacationed in Costa Rica regarding things like nicest beach, best tours, vacation package..that you have found to be enjoyable and anything else that you learned along the way.

Thanks in advance.
Wife and I spent about 11 days in Costa Rica in December of 2016. We were on a guided tour hosted by Caravan. It was extremely interesting, very diversified from resort days, volcanoes, rain forest, ecological sites, national park.... it was also a very strong value. If you want to have a peek my pictures of the trip are here: http://www.martindareff.com/Internation ... -Paradise/

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