The big debate we had during our planning phase was whether to rent a car, fly to each destination or hire a driver, especially since we are here at the beginning of rainy season. Additionally, we heard that even though the last earthquake was years ago, the government has been slow to repair the roads. After assessing the cost of each option, speaking to people who’ve been here, and recalling the suffocation we felt in Crete when we had to wait for the buses to take us to and from each destination on the island, we decided to take our chances and drive. I am so glad we did! We rented a Mitsubishi 4WD that we have so far taken to Tamarindo, Monteverde and Arenal. The views along our journey have been spectacular and we’ve stopped many times along our route to take photos. The flexibility has been priceless.
We booked our flights 6 months in advance and had no idea what our plans were beyond that. Once we realized there were too many things to do in just 10 days, it was time to prioritize. Our list, in no particular order was: volcano, cloud forest, surf, animals, zipline, hot springs. Based on this list, we created an itinerary that would maximize our time at each destination, give us at least 2 nights at a single hotel, and minimize our overall driving time.
Stop 1 – Tamarindo. We based this on the fact that The Peace Lodge, near San Jose, was the nicest of all the hotels we would be at, which meant we wanted to stay here last. (Back when we hiked Macchu Picchu, we stayed at the crappy hotels last, and this is where we brought home bed bugs. Never again!) And thus, Tamarindo would be our first stop. After a five-hour flight and five-hour drive, we were exstatic to reach El Capitan Suizo hotel, which was right on the beach. This was the perfect place to park ourselves for two nights, where we surfed, ate, drank, napped, did yoga and played with monkeys, raccoons, and cats. Rudy Diaz’s outfit, Radical Surf, was responsible for our ability to surf our way from wave to beach in less than two hours of falling and crashing into waves. Yes, we were quite pleased with our ability to surf, but our aching bodies were not. I now completely understand why surfers have those hot bods! While we took our lessons, his wife took photos and posted them on Facebook – for free! I was pleasantly surprised we did not have to pay some exorbitant fee for photos of our surfing experience.
Stop 2 – Monteverde Cloud Forest. Here, we decided to take our chances on the hotel. We had nothing booked, which worked to our benefit. Given that it was low season, some of the hotels were fairly empty, which gave us bargaining power. We stayed at El Establo, which had beautiful rooms and bathrooms and offered great views of the sunset. It was walking distance to two of the best restaurants in Monteverde – Chimera and Sofia’s, which are owned by the same chef. It was also equidistant between the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Selvatura Park, which is privately owned. Selvatura Park was a perfect all-in-one adventure spot where we ziplined 11 different lines (the longest of which was 1 km), walked across 8 different skybridges, saw a variety of butterflies, and observed dozens of hummingbirds feeding on high-concentrate sugar water (and that is why their wings “hum.”) The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was not as impressive as Selvatura Park, but that could be because we were stuck with a guide who majored in forestry and showed us every single friggin’ leaf in the rainforest and told a 20-minute story about each. I wanted to shoot myself. Thankfully, he must have sensed our frustration and gave us a shorter tour than originally anticipated. Why couldn’t we get the guide who took us to the waterfall!? Once our guided tour was over, we went back in the rainforest and did our own hike, where we saw more animals than with our guide.
Stop 3 – Arenal. After a three-hour drive through some of the most amazing scenery (I pulled over at least a dozen times to take photos), we made it to Arenal. We decided to splurge on the Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort. Well, it might not have been a splurge considering non-hotel guests have to pay a pretty penny per person to visit the hot springs while it was included in our hotel fee. This hotel has been amazing for several reasons. First, 15 minutes after we arrived, the clouds cleared from the tip of the volcano and a rainbow appeared for a mere two minutes. If we had not been outside, we would have missed it. According to the hotel, this rainbow miracle is quite rare. Second, we arrived at the hot springs in sheer amazement. There are about a dozen “pools,” some of which have waterfalls you can sit under. We “pool-hopped” for at least an hour. I felt like a kindergartener with a new toy! There was even a pool with a swim-up bar. Don’t bother with the booze here, though. Drinks are $10 to $12 a pop, and I think the bartender only pretends to give you booze. Third, I ran into a college friend who is here with his girlfriend. Seriously, there was so much magic happening at Tabacon within one hour of arriving, I did not know what to do with myself!
Today, I am able to write this blog because it has been raining for about 5 hours straight. No worries, though. We have been quite adventurous in our seven days here. Heck, we started off our morning with a bike ride that had to have been uphill both ways! Having nothing to do but watch and listen to the rain for a few hours is not so bad. After writing this, I think we will hit the hot springs! Water is water, right?!
Most surprising about Costa Rica has been the cost of food. Guidebooks tell you to take a cab or drive your car to town to avoid the hotel charges for food. Yes, they are correct – going to town saves you money, but not in the sense that you will pay $5 instead of $30 per meal. Think $20 per meal instead of $30 to $40!
With our trip being more and more amazing each day, I can’t imagine what our final destination, The Peace Lodge, will have to offer.
Pictures to be posted on Second Tuesday’s Facebook page upon our return!