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Costa Rica Birthday
Old 09-08-2007, 07:15 PM   #1
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Costa Rica Birthday

Me and my DW are going to Costa Rica next Febuary. She's one of those people who only have birthdays every 4 years and this ones going to be a milestone (60). We're going to take the Caravan Tour in accordance to our LYBM lifestyle but would like to take a couple of days before to celebrate her birthday. The tour starts in San Jose which doesn't seem to be nicest place to stay. I Thought the Orquideas Inn in Alajuela looked nice. Any ideas on where to stay and what top do in the San Jose area for a couple of days before the tour?
Thanks,
kbst
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Old 09-11-2007, 09:18 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kbst View Post
Me and my DW are going to Costa Rica next Febuary. She's one of those people who only have birthdays every 4 years and this ones going to be a milestone (60). We're going to take the Caravan Tour in accordance to our LYBM lifestyle but would like to take a couple of days before to celebrate her birthday. The tour starts in San Jose which doesn't seem to be nicest place to stay. I Thought the Orquideas Inn in Alajuela looked nice. Any ideas on where to stay and what top do in the San Jose area for a couple of days before the tour?
Thanks,
kbst
We stayed in Alajuela the first couple of nights a few years ago on a one-week run around from there to Arenal to Tamarindo and then back prior to flight home from San Jose. We used Alajuela as home base for a day trip to white water rafting on Pacuare River. That was a lot of fun. I think the section of river we did was rated at level III (maybe some IV) rapids. With guides it was very manageable (we're not regular rafters, but we're all pretty comfortable in the water). A couple of us (daughter and I) did get bumped out at one point along the way (more like fell out because we were reaching for something - the water wasn't bumpy at that point). Very scenic route, punctuated by rapids, largely through a stretch of forest canyons. You can also do an in-trip overnight at a jungle lodge as part of a trip. Different tours will take you to different rivers (or parts of the river) with varying degrees of rapids. Conditions can change day to day with rains.

A couple of other things that were interesting in the area were Zoo Ave (the small zoo, focused on birds - hence the name - but some other creatures as well, conservation based, very near to Alajuela if not actually there) and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens (the park also has a butterfly garden and I think some orchids and very cool bathrooms). It's an easy drive to the waterfall gardens. We did it on departure day before a 2:00 PM flight and there was plenty of time to do so with an early start. We had a local driver who turned out to be a very welcoming and informative guide for us. Your hotel should be able to arrange a driver if needed. If not already on your tour, Tabacon Hot Springs in Arenal is an interesting place for a soak and some drinks, and probably a doable day trip from Arenal. Though I think it's better at night, so an overnight may be in order, particularly if the volcano isn't clouded in as it apparently is most of the time (and was when we were there). If you end up overnighting in Arenal, we liked Volcano Lodge. It's kind of motelly but as I recall the place was very clean and well maintained, room was well appointed by Costa Rica standards, there was a nice small pool with view of the volcano and a great little outdoor restaraunt. There are a couple of volcanoes more in the Alajuela area that you can drive to during the day to hike, look at the crater, etc. We didn't visit them due to time constraints and plans to stay in Arenal a couple of days anyway. Enjoy your trip!
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Old 09-19-2007, 02:47 PM   #3
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Sparky,
Thanks for the great ideas on what to do in the area. Where did you stay in Alajuela and were you happy with the accommodations.

kbst
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Old 09-21-2007, 02:26 PM   #4
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I heard Costa Rica is so pretty. I always wanted to go to the rain forests. Maybe some day. Good luck on the trip.
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Old 09-21-2007, 07:29 PM   #5
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We stayed at the Pura Vida Hotel. This was a few years ago. Berni and Nhi, the owners and hosts, lived on the property. There are several casitas to choose from in a small walled garden setting. At the time, some were more newly renovated than others. We stayed in a newer one (don't recall it's name) on arrival and an older one (Mariposa) on our last night there.
The newer one was larger (two bedroom with living area and kitchen) and better appointed. The older one also had two bedrooms but was much smaller (each just big enough for the bed, smaller older showers with inline water heaters, etc.). Both were clean but we did have some small ants one of the nights - I think not uncommon in Costa Rica. They serve breakfast on a garden terrace each morning, with fresh fruits, etc., which was nice. Nhi also prepares a dinner each night which you need to order earlier in the day so they'll know how many to cook for. The dinners were very good and the atmosphere pleasant. Berni was quite helpful making arrangements for drivers and the rafting trip we took, and drove us to the pickup point for the rafting trip quite early that morning. A driver met us at the airport (I think that was included in the room rate), which was welcome given the onslaught of free lance cabbies awaiting as you exit the terminal. There is no pool or other in-house activity areas of consequence - just a nice garden, meals and helpful hosts.
Our time there was short and pretty full of planned activites, so we didn't go out into the neighborhood at all. From what we saw coming and going there didn't appear to be much of interest in the immediate vicinity (i.e to go out and walk around a bit), but then again we didn't really check it out. We did some local car touring with Sterling, a driver/guide that Berni arranged. He was friendly and seemed to enjoy helping with my Spanish (and vice versa with some peculiarites of English). From some recent online reviews, it looks like he's still driving in the area.

I think they also may have a couple of rooms in the main house which might be nice for a couple, but I didn't see them. We were a family of four so the casitas worked better for us.

I also just noticed that my prior post mentions Tabacon as a potential day trip from Arenal. I meant to say day trip from Alajuela (perhaps a long one - but Tabacon is in the Arenal area). I no longer seem to be able to edit that post.

Edited to add: Re-reading some online reviews reminded me of a couple of things. In town Alajeula was kind of third-world noisy (e.g scooters zipping about, dogs barking, etc.) - Pura Vida neighborhood included. I *think* Orchideas is a bit further out in a more rural area and seemed like more of a hotel than Pura Vida. Orchideas also had a tour company working out of its lobby as I recall (we didn't stay there but used a driver based from there), so they probably could arrange any of that. If you're looking for all-hours reception desk, ever present staff or similar amenites of an American style hotel, Pura Vida wouldn't be that. But it was quaint and fine for us for a couple of nights' home base around a long day trip out, decent breakfasts, nice dinners and for sleeping (albeit with earplugs) not too far from the airport on our last night. Check the online reviews.

Have a good trip.
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Old 09-25-2007, 09:24 AM   #6
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I agree that the La Paz waterfall gardens are very nice. I have some great butterfly photos hanging in my house that I took there. (If that's your thing). Also, if you like to hike, you can go past where the tour groups go and get on some trails that you'll have all to yourself.

San Jose is busy, crowded, and easy to get lost in by car, as there are very few street signs or numbers on buildings. Alejuela is busy also but not as bad. I forget the name of the hotel we stayed at (it was one night at the end of our trip), but the town has a pretty cathedral and some nice squares.

Where does the tour take you? We just rented a car and started to explore at our leisure with no advanced reservations anywhere, and had a blast.
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Old 09-28-2007, 03:55 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by sparkythewonderdog View Post
We stayed at the Pura Vida Hotel. This was a few years ago. Berni and Nhi, the owners and hosts, lived on the property. There are several casitas to choose from in a small walled garden setting. At the time, some were more newly renovated than others. We stayed in a newer one (don't recall it's name) on arrival and an older one (Mariposa) on our last night there.
The newer one was larger (two bedroom with living area and kitchen) and better appointed. The older one also had two bedrooms but was much smaller (each just big enough for the bed, smaller older showers with inline water heaters, etc.). Both were clean but we did have some small ants one of the nights - I think not uncommon in Costa Rica. They serve breakfast on a garden terrace each morning, with fresh fruits, etc., which was nice. Nhi also prepares a dinner each night which you need to order earlier in the day so they'll know how many to cook for. The dinners were very good and the atmosphere pleasant. Berni was quite helpful making arrangements for drivers and the rafting trip we took, and drove us to the pickup point for the rafting trip quite early that morning. A driver met us at the airport (I think that was included in the room rate), which was welcome given the onslaught of free lance cabbies awaiting as you exit the terminal. There is no pool or other in-house activity areas of consequence - just a nice garden, meals and helpful hosts.
Our time there was short and pretty full of planned activites, so we didn't go out into the neighborhood at all. From what we saw coming and going there didn't appear to be much of interest in the immediate vicinity (i.e to go out and walk around a bit), but then again we didn't really check it out. We did some local car touring with Sterling, a driver/guide that Berni arranged. He was friendly and seemed to enjoy helping with my Spanish (and vice versa with some peculiarites of English). From some recent online reviews, it looks like he's still driving in the area.

I think they also may have a couple of rooms in the main house which might be nice for a couple, but I didn't see them. We were a family of four so the casitas worked better for us.

I also just noticed that my prior post mentions Tabacon as a potential day trip from Arenal. I meant to say day trip from Alajuela (perhaps a long one - but Tabacon is in the Arenal area). I no longer seem to be able to edit that post.

Edited to add: Re-reading some online reviews reminded me of a couple of things. In town Alajeula was kind of third-world noisy (e.g scooters zipping about, dogs barking, etc.) - Pura Vida neighborhood included. I *think* Orchideas is a bit further out in a more rural area and seemed like more of a hotel than Pura Vida. Orchideas also had a tour company working out of its lobby as I recall (we didn't stay there but used a driver based from there), so they probably could arrange any of that. If you're looking for all-hours reception desk, ever present staff or similar amenites of an American style hotel, Pura Vida wouldn't be that. But it was quaint and fine for us for a couple of nights' home base around a long day trip out, decent breakfasts, nice dinners and for sleeping (albeit with earplugs) not too far from the airport on our last night. Check the online reviews.

Have a good trip.
Thanks for all the good information. Pura Vida looked pretty cool. I do wish they had a King bed though. Thanks again.
kbst
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Old 09-28-2007, 04:00 PM   #8
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I agree that the La Paz waterfall gardens are very nice. I have some great butterfly photos hanging in my house that I took there. (If that's your thing). Also, if you like to hike, you can go past where the tour groups go and get on some trails that you'll have all to yourself.

San Jose is busy, crowded, and easy to get lost in by car, as there are very few street signs or numbers on buildings. Alejuela is busy also but not as bad. I forget the name of the hotel we stayed at (it was one night at the end of our trip), but the town has a pretty cathedral and some nice squares.

Where does the tour take you? We just rented a car and started to explore at our leisure with no advanced reservations anywhere, and had a blast.
Kaudrey,
Thanks for the info. I've been places and been unable to find a room so no travel without reservations for me.
The tour seems to allow you to see alot of Costa Rica. It's Caravan's only Costa Rica tour. Google Caravan. 10 days for $995- $1095 pp. It seems like a good deal.
kbst
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Finca Rosa Blanca
Old 09-28-2007, 04:30 PM   #9
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Finca Rosa Blanca

This is not a LBYM getaway but a one night splurge on the master suite might be in order. Google "Finca Rosa Blanca" and it will be the first link. My wife and I stayed there Jan of 06. We loved it.
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Old 10-01-2007, 08:34 AM   #10
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kbst - there are some places I'd definitely have advanced reservations (like for my trip to Alaska next summer), but in CR it is not necessary. There are lots of little places to stay, and each town has a visitor's center with a list of inns or b&bs in the town.

But, I'm an independent type and dislike the herd feeling of excorted tours - saw big buses at the "hot spots" in CR and was glad I wasn't with them. But, I am not you, and obviously you know you like the convenience of a tour. I did read the itinerary - you'll be doing a lot of traveling by bus, but you'll be seeing the highlights, so I'm sure it will be fun. Have a great time!

Karen
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