An October 2003 trip
to Costa Rica by Laura Rabbit
Quote: Overview of what Costa Rica has to offer. We tried to experience a little of it all during the short time we had traveling the country.
Don't bother spending much time in San Jose. There is little to see or do aside from a few museums, minimal shopping, sparse nightlife, and a lot of hookers. The rest of the country has much more to offer the tourist.
We got a double room in this hotel for $65 a night. It was clean, nicely sized, and the front desk staff was very friendly and helpful. They also offer a tour desk which can arrange any number of things for you.
As it was humid, but not particularly hot, in San Jose, it was fine that this hotel does not offer air-conditioning (many don't). They have two free Internet computers available for guest use and include a "breakfast" with the room (this being a pastry and coffee/juice).
The location is good. You can walk into town, but the hotel spot is quiet and secure-feeling.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 12, 2004
Hotel Don Carlos
Street 9, Avenue 9
San Jose, Costa Rica
We got a two-bedroom cabin (for three) here for about $70. I loved this place. The cabin was two bedrooms with air-conditioning, kitchen/dining area, and bathroom with shower and tub. The hotel grounds are gorgeous, from the Jacuzzi in the courtyard to pools and slides to the hot-springs pool with a swim-up bar.
Most impressive is the hotel's proximity to the volcano. You can't get any closer. One tour guide told us that the hotel was, in fact, "dangerous" because it is too close to the volcano if there is an eruption. (The hotel has walking trails that are now closed due to an eruption that killed hikers in the late '90s.) But taking that risk... it is a great/beautiful spot with its own observatory and tour desk.
A taxi to Fortuna (town) for dinner or drinks is an easy, short ride for about USD$2.50. We enjoyed a couple restaurants and small stores there. The hotel's breakfast buffet was wonderful and large.
It was a surprise that the rooms did not contain clocks, the phones did not work, and the TV reception was nonexistent. But this is one hotel where you feel free and relaxed just sitting outside on a bench. It's a very peaceful place. They have a spa, which I did not use, their own canopy tours, and a tour desk which arranged our day trip to Cano Negro.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 12, 2004
Hotel Los Lagos
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Hotel | "Villa Allegre"
The ocean was through the backyard and of course we had the pool all to ourselves. But the best experience was meeting the couple at the inn. They made us breakfast each morning and even showed us slides from their personal vacations and played cards until the wee hours of the night.
There was also a friendly iguana, Bobby, who lived in the drainpipe by the pool. We became quite accustomed to the little guy.
Overall, it was a great experience, especially if you are looking for quiet and relaxation.
Playa Langosta - Tamarindo
Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Hearts of Palm is a very popular veggie in Costa Rica and we ordered a Hearts of Palm cocktail at this place, not knowing what to expect. We received an elaborate sundae glass exploding with white shoots. What fun!
We had a lot of good food in Costa Rica. This was no exception.
We went in and were greeted by a waiter, way overdressed in black and white, plus a bowtie. He spent nearly an hour rolling silverware in cloth napkins, but was very attentive to us, his only customers. We ordered ceviche, chips and salsa, and our entrees (mine being chicken with a mushroom sauce, potatoes, and salad). We waited a rather long time to receive our meals, but when they finally appeared, it was well worth the wait -- gorgeous plates of food with specifically placed veggies carved into flowers. There were intricate garnishes and huge portions. But it also was absolutely delicious. The best part was that after we devoured our lunch, the cook came out to our table to see if we liked it. She had such a glow of pride in her eyes and we communicated our appreciation the best we could.
Overall, it is a great place to stop for lunch or dinner.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 13, 2004
At first glance, this is a "rough" looking place with thick wooden benches and no windows and doors. You may feel like you are under a park pavilion. However, the lively gentleman playing the guitar at your table and the friendly waiters keep you happy and relaxed. Baskets of onions hang from the wooden beams as decoration, while containers of fresh veggies are attractive and probably part of your dish.
Go here for some cheap eats and Imperial beer. They serve everything from chips and pico de gallo to fish head soup. It’s a great spot to start your night.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 14, 2004
Av 2, Calle 15
San Jose, Costa Rica
We arrived late in the day and were pressed for time - thus missed the video that is offered. The day was overcast and dreary, but hey, it's the rainforest, after all. The ride up was rather amazing. Everything is so green and lush. However, the actual experience was mostly boring and definitely overpriced.
For $49.50 you get the tour and the ride on a tram. Modeled after a ski lift, the tram takes you through the rainforest canopy where a personal guide points out flora and fauna of interest. Although a few plants were memorable, we saw no wildlife, which I found very disappointing. Alas, if I lived in that preserve, I'd stear clear of the tourist tram as well.
So, in summary - save your money. Visit the Braulio Carillo Park, or just walk the trails. But don't bother with the Aerial Tram.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on January 12, 2004
Rainforest Aerial Tram
East Of The City
San Jose, Costa Rica
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 12, 2004
San Jose, Costa Rica
Attraction | "Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve"
An hour into the trip, our driver spotted a sloth hanging from a tree on the side of the road. I was thrilled! We continued on and stopped again to watch iguanas lounging in the sun. Arriving at Cano Negro, we boarded a boat for a 3-hour ride on the river (the one that can take you into Nicaragua). This was the best experience with wildlife I had in the country. It was probably my favorite part of the trip. From monkeys to birds to lizard (and more sloths), we really got our fill.
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
Cano Negro, Province of Alajuela
This place is within walking distance from Hotel Don Carlos and the address on their business card says:
Costado Oeste del Parque Morazon, San Jose
The woman's name is Alba Rosa Torres.
The haircut was around $8 with wash and style. Pedicure was about $5.
Very friendly staff who were excited about us stopping in. Highly recommended!!!
In Costa Rica, you are constantly sticky. It is so humid that nothing ever dries completely -- your hair, your swimsuit, etc. Well, I should note that it was the rainy season when we were there. Nearly every day, it would rain from 2-5pm, which was ok, because we did get cheaper prices on hotels and tours since it was the "green" season. And we had plenty of sunshine at other hours of the day.
There are some great products to enjoy in Costa Rica. Bring home a lot coffee. Cafe Britt or Cafe Rey is delicious. Imperial Beer isn't too bad. And I really enjoyed Salsa Lizano, which is a cumin-based sauce used in almost every dish
Beware of the car exhaust fumes. More than once I felt momentarily ill when we traveled too close to a vehicle in front of us. I can't imagine riding a motorcycle or bike in traffic anywhere in that country.
We had only one major problem on our trip. My friend had his debit card eaten by an ATM machine in San Jose. We had to cancel our shuttle out of San Jose so that we could go to Banco Popular downtown and have someone retrieve his card. Fortunately, the bank employees were amazing and helpful. Within two hours, someone drove to the ATM and retrieved the card. They also spoke with my friend’s bank at home and confirmed his financial info. We were shocked to learn that while in San Jose, someone had used his account number to manually enter the info to withdraw money. This must have occurred when a shady bank worker accessed his debit card number during an initial withdrawal early in the trip. Fortunately, my friend’s bank took action by putting a hold on the account, which incidentally led to his card being eaten when he tried to use the ATM. From this experience, we learned that it is best to only withdraw money from an ATM AT A BANK (not on the side of the road or random building); that way, if a problem arises, you know someone responsible can be reached inside and you know what bank that ATM belongs to.
Overall, I think Costa Rica is a great place for those who like adventure, sports, outdoors, camping, and wildlife. It probably isn't a great spot for those looking for luxury resorts or exotic culture.
We lucked out with our private driver. He was very nice and the lax schedule allowed us our stop for a fabulous lunch in San Ramon. From Arenal to Tamarindo, the potholes are bigger and the speed is slower, but the driver was again friendly and pulled off the road so we could observe some white-nosed coatis. They pick up and drop off at your hotel, and in general I was pleased with their services.
On returning from Tamarindo to San Jose, we booked a flight on Sansa airlines for $68 (one-way). When we arrived at the "airport" in Tamarindo, I thought the taxi driver was rounding us up for some sort of shady business. But, turns out, the airport in Tamarindo is, in fact, an open field with a strip of cement. Little shade, no building, no bathroom. When we arrived, many people were waiting on the dirt road, complaining that they'd been there since 6am waiting for a Sansa flight that never came (due to fog in San Jose).
We were lucky and our flight arrived on time. We climbed aboard the 14-seat plane and harnessed ourselves in for the 50-minute flight. It was quite an experience for me, but well worth it for the time saved.