15 days in exotic Costa Rica : Dec 2012 – Jan 2013
Costa Rica is a beautiful Central American country nested between Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south. It is a small country where you can travel from east to west in less than an hour by flight but would take you a very long time to drive because of its mountainous terrain. You can see the Caribbean coast, tropical rain-forests, mountains and volcanoes, cloud forest, sunny beaches and the Pacific coast, all in one country.
If you’re interested in adventure, Costa Rica is the place to visit. From ziplines to hanging Bridges tours in the forest; ATV tours to whitewater rafting; wildlife viewing in canoes and kayaks to adventure treks on volcanoes; night walks in the forest to relaxing in the sun on the clean beaches; parasailing to yacht rides; you will find something for all age groups and for all interests. To top it all the food is simply delectable.
There were the lot of conducted tours ranging from seven nights to 10 nights but we opted to plan our own itinerary because we wanted to spend 15 days in our own way. Also planning your own itinerary will help you save money. The best part of Costa Rica is that a tool can be planned for all budgets; from a backpacker budget to a five-star deluxe one. There were five main things that I wanted to see and experience in Costa Rica which were
- the turtle nesting site and rainforests on the Caribbean coast- Tortuguero – which can be reached only by boat
- the Arenal volcano
- the cloud forest of Monteverdi – the hub of adventure activities and wildlife viewing tours
- the gorgeous sunny beaches of the Pacific Coast – Manuel Antonio, which is not only the most beautiful beach but also the most unique because it has white sandy beach on one side and a dense forest on the other side.
- Visit to the Poas volcano crater
Summary of the tour
You can book all the hotels, travel arrangements and activities online or on the phone. They take your credit card information but would bill only at the end of your stay. I found everyone very cooperative and eager to help. Costa Ricans are basically very good natured people who would go out of their way to help you have a good time. But at the same time it is imperative that you exercise due diligence and do your proper research before committing to something or giving out your credit card information. I found trip advisor forums very useful in making decisions.
Food is not very expensive with an average lunch costing around $ 10-$ 15 per person. If you are on a tight budget local sodas would be ideal.
- Day 1 evening: drove from Toronto to Detroit US; flight from Detroit to San Jose Costa Rica with a flight change at Fort Lauderdale US – normal flying time : 8 hours;
- Day 2: pick up from airport and drive to Tortuguero – Turtle Beach resort; the journey is completed in two parts: the first part is the drive through the mountains, banana and pineapple plantations to reach La Pavana; the second part is the boat ride from La Pavona to the resort which is one of the two ways to reach Tortuguero. The other way is to fly from San Jose to Tortuguero in a small plane.
- Day 3 and 4: Rainforest wildlife and flora viewing by trekking and in boats; boat rides in the mangrove canals; relax at the beach; the resort is right on the beach, so you can be in and out as many times as you want.
- Day 5: private transfer from the resort to la Fortuna, Arenal – Catarata Eco Lodge: Drive time – 8 hours; enjoyed delicious Costa Rican meals on the way; private transfers approximately cost $ 160 for a good band or a 4×4 vehicle for a travel time of 4 to 5 hours; if you are just one or two people travelling, it would be better to take inter bus which charges about $ 50 per person.
- Day 5, 6, 7, 8: various sightseeing activities in Arenal such as – trek to the Catarata or the Waterfall; trek up the Arenal volcano, drive around the Arenal Lake, hanging Bridges trip, Cano Negro boat tour which takes about 7 to 8 hours and takes you pretty close to the Nicaraguan border, shopping for souvenirs – we picked up a few paintings on feathers and souvenirs made by local artists
- Day 9: travel to Monte Verde on horseback – drive to the lake, take a boat which would take you on the other side of the lake, ride horses for two hours and finally take a 4×4 ride to the hotel – Monte Verde Rustic lodge. Walk around and explore nearby places and enjoy authentic Costa Rican food. There are other less adventurous transfer options available too, which may also take less time. But if you know even a bit of horse-riding, I would recommend taking the horseback route. Your guides are extremely accommodating and don’t mind you galloping away on the rustic paths!
- Day 10 and 11: We did the canopy tour and extreme adventure tour – ziplines, Tarzan leap, Superman ride; ATV tour to the Continental divide; night walk in the forest to see exotic amphibians and reptiles such as the right frogs, tarantula, snakes, etc.
- Day 12: Private transfer to Manuel Antonio in a 4×4 – about 4 to 5 hours drive beaches very scenic as you descend through the hills; enjoy the scenic ride; stop at Tarcoles to see from the bridge the giant crocodiles lazing in the river below. Check in at the hotel and run to the beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches that I have seen.
- Day 13 and 14: enjoy the beach, more Costa Rican food-this time seafood; trek in the Manuel Antonio National Park famous for the white faced cappuccino monkeys; enjoy beach activities such as parasailing, yacht rides to enjoy the sunset or sunrise, boat rides, Jet water scooter rides; you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and tents for $ 15-$ 20 a day;
- Day 15: rented a small Toyota Yaris and drove to Poas volcano – 4 to 5 hours drive; enjoy the breathtaking view of the Poas volcano crater, cloud permitting; enjoy the wonderful view from a height of almost 3000 m; drove back one hour to San Jose;
- Day 16: enjoy a sumptuous breakfast at the adventure in hotel and leave for the San Jose airport to take the flight back home and conclude a truly adventurous and satisfying vacation.
Travel dates :
There are three seasons in terms of the rates offered – off-season, high season and holiday season. Starting mid-December to mid-January is the holiday season where the rates are anywhere between 2 to 4 times the off-season rates. If youre keen on viewing turtle nesting, June to October is the right time to visit. December, January and February are supposed to be the driest months and ideal for people who do not want to get wet on every outdoor visit. A word of caution – even less they call it dry, you can still expect intermittent rain.
Air ticket booking
We were in for a rude shock when we checked around for the flight tickets and found that in December the rates range anywhere between $ 1700-$ 2400 per person for a round-trip from Toronto to San Jose and back. Obviously we had to do a bit more searching on the Internet and found an online site which offered better rates. I decided to book on the phone to avoid any problems and got an amazing rate of $ 865 per person, only to discover later that the sales agent had by mistake booked us to San Jose California and not San Jose Costa Rica. It was our good luck that we discovered this mistake quite early and with a bit of cajoling, managed to get our full money back.
But that put us back to square one, as we still did not have tickets that we could afford. Someone suggested that we should try flying from one of the close-by US cities, such as Buffalo. On searching a bit more on the Internet we found an airline called Spirit which offered great rates but the only flight available for San Jose Costa Rica was from Detroit US. We decided that the savings justified the five hour drive to Detroit.
On the day of the travel
Our flight was at 6 AM from Detroit and calculating that the check-in would start at 3 AM, we decided to start from Toronto at about 9 PM. The drive which otherwise would have been simple and straightforward was made a little more complicated by the snowstorm. We reached Detroit around 2 AM and could easily locate the long-term parking at the airport which charges a flat rate of $ 10 a day. The airport is pretty small and the restaurants are closed at night. So it would be a good idea to carry some snacks with you as the five hour drive might get you hungry.
We checked in as scheduled, moved to the security check and went to through the boarding gate. The McDonald opened at 4 AM and there was an instant long lineup to grab breakfast. Around 5:15 AM just 15 min before the scheduled boarding, they announced that the flight would be delayed. Cutting the long story short, the flight finally left three hours late because of which we missed the connecting flight from Fort Lauderdale US and eventually reached San Jose Costa Rica a full 12 hours late.
San Jose airport Costa Rica
The 12-hour delay changed our plans. Now we were required to wait at the airport for a few hours from where we would be picked up by the resort company at 5:30 AM in the morning. This didn’t seem very daunting after having experienced prolonged wait times at airports and hotels in the past 24 hours. We decided that we would take a short nap in the San Jose airport lounge. But to our extreme surprise and dismay we found ourselves out on the street as we exited the customs. Needless to say, the San Jose airport is really small.
Feel free to write to me if you need any details or help in planning and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP.