Our Costa Rica trip

Feb 5th - Feb 21st 2011


We took a two week vacation to Costa Rica. It turned out to be an ideal vacation. Beautiful weather. Excellent adventures, amazing animals and some terrific scenery. The hotels were great. The food was great. Everyone we met was friendly. It was just a terrific time.

Before we left, Melanie put together an aggressive itinerary of all the places and things we would like to see and do. Because the weather was so nice (February is the dry season in Costa Rica), we were able to everything on the list. I read in that Costa Rica is only about the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, which sounds quite small, yet Costa Rica seems like a much larger country because of the diversity of places to visit. Despite the fact that we spent two weeks in the country, we saw less than half of it. Of course that means we will have to return some day!

Here is our itinerary, with a few links.

Saturday: Feb 5

Fly from Seattle 8:15 AM on Continental #166 to Houston

Fly from Houston 5:15 PM on Continental #745, arrive Costa Rica at 8:40 PM

Best Western Las Espuelas Hotel

Sunday: Feb 6

Pickup Rav4 4x4 manual shift from Budget

Drive from Liberia to Santa Elena via Juntas

Hike the trails of Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Guided Night Hike in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Monteverde Rustic Lodge

Monday: Feb 7

Guided Bird Hike Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Hike the trails of Monteverde

Monteverde Rustic Lodge

Tuesday: Feb 8

Sky Tram/SkyWalk/SkyTrekziplines and canopy bridges

Frog Pond exhibit

Monteverde Rustic Lodge

Wednesday: Feb 9

Drive to Tarcoles -4 hrs

Rio Tarcoles Crocodile Bridge

Agujas Beach - sea kayaking/snorkeling tour 1:40 PM tour

Cerra Lodge in Tarcoles

Thursday: Feb 10

Early morning Guided Bird Hike in Carara National Park

Afternoon hike the rest of the trails in Carara

Drive to Manuel Antonio National Park

Hotel Manuel Antonio

Friday: Feb 11

Hike in Manuel Antonio National Park

Rest of the day spent in the park - beaches/trails/monkeys

Hotel Manuel Antonio

Saturday: Feb 12

Kayak to mangroove

Drive to Cartago

Casa Mora B&B

Sunday: Feb 13

Tapanti National Park

Orosi Valley

Casa Mora B&B

Monday: Feb 14

Whitewater raft trip on Rio Pacuare

Historic downtown Cartago

Casa Mora B&B

Tuesday: Feb 15

Irazu Volcano National Park

Lankester Gardens

Casa Mora B&B

Wednesday: Feb 16

Drive to Poas

Poas Volcano National Park

La Paz Waterfall Park

Poas Lodge

Thursday: Feb 17

Drive to La Fortuna outside of Arenal

Zipline adventure

La Fortuna Waterfall

Baldi Hot Springs

Cataratas Eco-Lodge

Friday: Feb 18

Desafio Canyoneering

Arenal National Park

Eco Termales Hot Springs

Cataratas Eco-Lodge

Saturday: Feb 19

Venado Cave Tour

Hanging Bridges Canopy walk

Cataratas Eco-Lodge

Sunday: Feb 20

Tenorio Volcan National Park

Drive to Liberia, Return Rental Car to Budget

Hotel Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport

Monday: Feb 21

Fly from Liberia to Seattle

Leave Liberia 7:50 AM on Continental #846 to Houston

3 Hr layover in Houston

Leave Houston 2:25 PM on Continental #767 to Seattle arrive 5:10 PM

Tuesday:
Wednesday:
Thursday:
Friday:

Here is rough map of the route we followed, and how many nights we spent at each stop.

We found the following map and guide books invaluable. We also used the Frommers Guide to Costa Rica in our initial planning.

I admit that when we first thought about traveling in Latin America, I had some trepidation about whether two people could get around the country without a guide. I don't speak Spanish, the drivers in Costa Rica were reputed to be maniacs, the roads were impassable, and tropical diseases and mosquitos were rampant, the hotels were depressing and full of bugs.

I contacted a Costa Rica guide group, and ask them to design a two week itinerary for two budget-minded persons. The cost came back above $5000, not including car rental or airfare or all the admissions. I noticed that the hotels that they would book us into were listed as higher-end resorts in the guide books. So I decided we would do the entire trip on our own.

It turned out all the fears were unfounded. Costa Rica is a great place to visit and can easily be toured by two people on their own. The map we used got us around. We drank the water everywhere and never felt ill. Mosquitos were only a minor nuisance - only a few days did I even put on the bug spray. The food was pretty good. Despite staying in the cheaper accommodations, I liked every place that we stayed, I think I have provided links above to all of our lodging stops. My goal was to spend our money on attractions like ziplines or nature guides or sea kayaking adventures rather than on luxury lodging, because I think those are the most memorable parts of a vacation. I know we will always remember the crazy water slides at Baldi Hot Springs or spotting the scarlet macaws in Carara national park, but I doubt I'll remember a hotel room, no matter how nice it is.


If you are going to go to Costa Rica, you can definitely do it yourself. Here are some things we found out:

Stay out of San Jose. The city is grimy, crowded and impossible to get around. There are NO street signs any where in San Jose, both times we drove through it, we got lost. Traffic in San Jose is awful. There is no place to park. There isn't much to see in the capital city any way. I suggest flying in and out of Liberia airport, which is easy to access and will give you a much nicer first impression of Costa Rica.

The roads are actually nicely paved, potholes are no worse than what you find stateside. We drove on some dirt roads - such as going to La Fortuna waterfall or Arenal National Park, but those roads are easily navigable by a standard car. However - there are a couple of exceptions. The road up to Monteverde DEFINITELY requires a four wheel drive vehicle with high ground clearance. Also the roads up to Poas Volcano National Park were damaged by earthquake in 2009 and still have not been repaired, and so they are deeply rutted and muddy.

There speed traps all over the country, especially along the Pan Am highway north of San Jose. The speed limit is only 80 kmph, so you are tempted to pass, but don't! Remember you are on vacation and drive slowly. If an oncoming car flashes his headlights at you, then there is a police speed trap just ahead. Other than the Pan Am highway, the speed limit is only 60 kmph (about 35 mph) in most places so it takes forever to get any around. The roads have no shoulders, few passing lanes, and often are quite twisty and winding. We often found ourselves stuck behind a slow moving truck that we could not pass.

The speed limits are painted on the street, often there is no sign. Two way streets can become one way streets with no warning signs except for arrows painted on the pavement - I once drove into a street which suddenly become one way in the other direction, and had everyone honking and shouting at the foolish gringo.

I suggest avoiding driving at night. Street lights are few, and street signs are rare.

If you drive on the Pan-Am highway south of San Jose, expect to go slow - it is a steep, twisting road, and once you get stuck behind a truck your speed drops dramatically. Fortunately, it was a Sunday when we were on this route, so the number of trucks was a lot fewer.

Gas stations are all full serve. Avoid the Total Gas Station in Liberia.

We carried a good amount of US cash with us, and it was accepted every where. They always tried to give us change in colones, so we carried a lot of small bills and always tried to pay the exact amount. Many places were willing to accept credit cards. Other than the Total Gas station, we didn't experience any problems with using our card. The Capitol One card does not add a transaction fee on international purchases, so that is a worthwhile card to own.

All the guide books repeatedly warn not to leave valuables in your car, so we always stopped at our hotel at dropped off our luggage before parking at a site. Even if it was too early to check in, the hotel was always willing to keep the bags at the front desk. The only place we left bags in the vehicle was our last day at Tenorio National Park.


Trail Maps

Santa Elena Trail Map Monteverde Trail Map Childrens Rain Forest Trail Map Carara Trail Map Tapanti Trail Map Lankester Gardens Trail Map La Paz Waterfall Park Trail Map Arenal Trail Map Hanging Bridges Trail Map

I kept a detailed record of where we spent our money on this trip. It turned out to be less expensive than I expected. We spent a lot on activities, but ate quite cheaply.

Item

Price

Description

Plane Tickets$1482 ccardTwo roundtrip tickets on Continental, Seattle to Liberia, Costa Rica
Airport Shuttle$46 ccardCheaper to take the shuttle than park car at airport for 2 weeks
Liberia Taxi$20 cashTaxi from Liberia airport to Best Western in Liberia
Budget Rent a Car$865 ccard2 week rental. Reserved a Tersio, upgraded to a Rav4 for free.
Shell Gasoline$36 ccard18040 All Costa Rica gas stations are full serve
Castrol Gas$26 ccardRule of thumb: never get below half a tank
Los Angeles Gas$28 ccard14163 Gas in Cartago
Shell Gas$32 ccard16000 Fill up gas tank before heading to Poas
Servicecentro Gas$56 ccard28000
Total Gas$44 ccard22000
Exit Tax$52 cashYou have to pay $26 tax each to leave Costa Rica

Transport Total

$2687

Best Western Las Espuelas Hotel$73 ccardDouble, one night. Including breakfast.
Rustic Lodge$186 ccardThree nights stay in a double, w/ breakfast
Cerro Lodge$79 cashOne night in a double, includes breakfast
Hotel Manuel Antonio$185 ccard2 nights stay. No breakfast, but ideal location.
Casa Mora Bed/Breakfast$331 ccard164800 Four nights in a double, includes breakfast
Laundry$12 cashCasa Mora did full service laundry for us! Sweet!
Poas Lodge$55 ccard1 night in double, includes breakfast
Eco Catarata Lodge$207 ccardThree nights in a double, w/ breakfast
Hilton Garden Inn Liberia$112 ccardNo breakfast, but free shuttle to airport

Lodging Total

$1240

Subway$14 cashTwo sandwiches for lunch at Houston airport
Monteverde Market$7 ccard3700 for granola bars, apples
Tree House Pizza$41 ccardTwo personal pizzas + soft drinks
El Campesino$14 ccardDinner at a traditional "soda"
Monteverde Market$5 ccard 2350 Fruit
Tree House Pizza$7 ccardMuch cheaper to eat in Tree House cafe than their restaurant
Tarcoles BNCR$12 ccard5940 Food is cheap when you eat at traditional sodas!
Super Joseph Market$5 ccard2475 Apples and Diet Coke
Gourmet Italia$19 ccard9570 Pizza / lasagna in Manuel Antonio restaurant
Hotel Manuel Antonio$15 ccard7630 We ate a big lunch of chicken + rice
Gourmet Italia$8 ccard3600 Gelato for dinner!
La Puerta del Sol$14 ccard6905 We liked the casados here
La Puerta del Sol$13 ccard6250We ate the hamburgers this time
Pali Market$13 ccard6430 Fruit, Diet Pepsi, nuts
Ice cream$6 ccard2775 ccard Banana split
La Puerta del Sol$16 ccard7705 Returned for more of their casados
Poas Lodge dinner$18 ccardFish taco dinner, and casado for Melanie
Super Christian Market#4$3 ccard1400 Diet pepsi, fruit
Soda La Parada$13 ccard >6350 Casados for dinner
Super Christian Market#4$8 ccard3740 Lunch: yogurt, fruit, drinks
Soda La Parada$13 ccard6600Casados for dinner again! Plus an Imperial beer
Subway sandwiches$15 ccard7800 Last meal in Costa Rica

Food Total

$279

Santa Elena Reserve$28 cash$14 per admission
Guided Night Hike$34 ccard$17 each. Trantulas, bats, sloths
Guided Bird Hike$130 ccard$64 each. Quest for Quetzals
SkyTrek Adventure$150 ccard$75 each for Tram/Hanging Bridges/Zipline
Children's Forest$20 ccard$10 each admission
Ranario (Frog Pond)$25 ccard$12 each. Red eyed tree frogs
Kayak Jaco$110 ccardSea kayak/snorkeling adventure
Carara Guided Tour$80 cash$40 each, includes $10 admission to Carara
Manuel Antonio Admission$20 cash$10 each admission
Mangroove Kayaking Tour$123 ccardKayak to see mangrooves, monkeys
Tapanti Admission$20 cash$10 each admission
Explorodores$183 ccardWhitewater rafting, includes breakfast and lunch
Whitewater rafting CD$20 cashPhotos from rafting trip
Volcano Irazu Admission$23 cash$10 each admission + $3 parking
Lankester Gardens Admission$15 cash$7.50 each admission
Volcano Poas Admission$23 cash$10 each admission + $3 parking
La Paz Waterfall Park$70 ccard$35 each admission
Baldi Hotsprings$72 ccardIncludes buffet dinner
Zipline$92 ccardWe were only two to show up, so it was a private zipline tour
La Fortuna Waterfall$19 cash$10 each admission, but we got a $1 change from our $20???
Desafio Canyoneering$168 ccard$84 each, signed up with Jacamar Tours
Arenal National Park Admission$20 cash$10 each admission
Eco Termales Hotsprings$64 ccard$32 each, includes towel and locker
Venado Caves Tour$30 cash$15 each. Includes flashlights + helmets!
Arenal Hanging Bridges$44 ccard$22 each
Souveniers$33 ccard3 T shirts and one refrigerator magnet
Tenerio National Park Admission$20 cash$10 each admission

Entertainment Total

$1636

Grand Total

$5842

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Monteverde Cloud Forest

Road to Monteverde Monteverde Clouds Santa Elena Reserve trail Santa Elena Reserve White nosed Coati Tarantula Monteverde Night Frog Entrance to Monteverde Rosy breasted grosbeak Blue Grey Tanager Emerald Toucanet Purple throated mountain gem hummingbird Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird Elephant Ear Palm waterfall in Monteverde Strangler Fig Hollow interior of a Strangler Fig White nosed Coati Epiphyte Monteverde bridge Bananaquit Quetzal Preparing to zipline Departing on the zipline Landing on the zipline The longest zipline On the zipline Arrival on the zipline Childrens Rain Forest Red Eyed Tree Frog Monteverde

Carara National Park

View from Crocodile Bridge Carara Entrance Sign White Iguana Spectacled Owl Agouti Boat Billed Herons Anhinga Scarlet Macaw butterfly Scarlet Macaws Costa Rica Iguana Crocodile Green Heron Iguana Kingfisher Roseate Spoonbill Leaf cutter ants Trails in Carara National Park Scarlet Macaw Nest Woodpecker Iguana

Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica Sunset Entrance to Manuel Antonio crab in Costa Rica Fawn in Costa Rica Fiery Billed Aracari Sloths in tree Beach at Manuel Antonio Sand on the beach ON the beach Raccoons Manuel Antonio Beach Manuel Antonio National Park Juvenile Iguana Lizard Pelican White Faced Capuchin Monkey White Faced Capuchin Monkey White Faced Monkey Two Capuchin monkeys Capuchin Costa Rica Sunset Costa Rica Sunset

Tapanti National Park

Entrance to Tapanti National Park Yellow tailed Oropendola Poinciana flowering tree Coati in Costa Rica Bairds Trogon Waterfall in Tapanti El Salto Waterfall

Historic Cartago

Cartago Basilica Cartago Ruins Interior of Ruins at Cartago Orosi Valley in Costa Rica Bridal Veil Falls in Costa Rica

Rio Pacuare Whitewater Rafting

Pacuare Whitewater rafting Pacuare Whitewater rafting Pacuare Whitewater rafting Pacuare Whitewater rafting

Irazu Volcano National Park

Irazu Entrance Irazu Summit

Lankester Gardens

Lankester Gardens Entrance scarlet bananas Bird of Paradise Bromeliads at Lankester Gardens Heliconia Lankester Gardens Orchid Purple Orchid Irazu Peak

Poas Volcano National Park

Entrance to Poas Volcano Clouds and Fog obscure Poas Volcano Crater Forest Hike at Poas Volcano Crater Poas Volcano Crater Poas Volcano Crater Lake inside Poas Volcano Crater Poas Lodge View Poas Lodge view Poas Sunset Lights of San Jose

La Paz Waterfall Park

La Paz Entrance Templo Waterfall Templo Waterfall La Paz Waterfall Magia Blanca Waterfall Two Waterfalls at La Paz The La Paz Waterfall La Paz Waterfall Tree Frog Red and blue frog Blue Dacnis Blue Grey Tanager Black Bellied Whistling Ducks Flame Colored Tanager Scarlet Macaw Golden Hooded Tanager Toucan Toucan Keel Billed Toucan Purple Throated Mountain Gem Green Crowned Brilliant Hummingbird Olingo Tree Sloth Black Handed Spider Monkey Jaguar Ocelot Peak of Poas Volcano

Arenal Volcano National Park

Poro Poro Tree La Fortuna Central Park La Fortuna Waterfall Trail La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna Waterfall La Fortuna Waterfall Baldi Hot Springs Entrance Rappelling Adventure Melanie Rappelling Rappelling Melanie Rappelling Descent Melanie Lets Go  Rappelling Rappelling Desafio Lunch Arenal Volcano Entrance View from the Lookout Point Volcano Risk Zone Lake Arenal Volcano View Mangroove tree at Arenal Not a boa Ceibo Tree at Arenal Howler Monkey at Arenal Howler Monkeys at Arenal Howler Monkey with baby Eco Termales Hot Springs Entrance Hammock in Costa Rica Cloud Shadows Panorama View of Arenal Volcano Map of Venado Caves

Hanging Bridges

Hanging Bridge Entrance Tunnel Suspension Bridge Hanging Bridges Waterfall Whiptail Lizard Eyelash Viper Eyelash Viper Highest Suspension Bridge Suspension Bridge Hanging Bridge Canopy TV Show Bridge Hanging Bridges View

Tenorio National Park

Turkey Vulture Tenorio Entrance Sign Rio Celeste Tenorio Waterfall Rio Celeste Waterfall Rio Celeste Waterfall Tenorio Fumeroles The Blue Lagoon Laguna Azul Tiny Costa Rica Snake