How did you get yourself to Costa Rica?
April 1, 2010 8:06 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to plan a vacation to Costa Rica? I've been researching the crap out of going, but I'm having trouble finding a good method of procuring the best deal for airfare, hotels, car rentals, and outings.

I've read a lot of good advice here on MeFi regarding places to go and things to see in CR, but other than searching expedia or, what are some other good resources for finding good package deals?

I don't want to sign on to a "tour group" where we are led around the entire stay and we don't have options to do our own thing. I would like to just have a "click here to book airfare, a local hotel, rental car, etc." It seems that doing it a la carte is really expensive. I don't want to go over US $3k.

Ideally, I would like to fly into Liberia (just because I have heard that San Jose is not that great to fly into), stay at a nice oceanfront place (nice- not dirt floors, but not marble floors either) and enjoy some nice beaches and warm water, maybe surf a bit, venture out in a rental car and check out Arenal volcano, cloud forests, take a zip-line/canopy tour, and just rest and relax.

We are planning on going in December for 6 nights. Dates are not really flexible.

Any suggestions? If you've been to CR, how/through whom did you arrange your stay?
posted by ehamiter to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We did our Costa Rica trip a la carte, but we've done the package thing (flight, accommodations, car) through Travelocity a time or two for other destinations. Have you looked at doing that? It looks like Travelocity has packages to Costa Rica; I imagine Expedia and Orbitz will also. Accommodations will be in big resorts or hotels, not in rental homes/villas, so if you're not interested in a big resort, that may not be the way to go.
posted by devinemissk at 8:29 AM on April 1, 2010

I've gone to Costa Rica a few times and each time I do things a la carte. But that's how I always travel. I book the airfare into Liberia. I'll book a hotel I've found in the Lonely Plane guide. If I need a car I'll compare rates when I'm in town. There's places in Tamarindo that will offer zipline, quad or horse tours, surf lessons or board rentals, etc. I like have the flexibility of not having a package where I have to do x at y location.

Although close on the map, going from Tamarindo or other beach cities to Arenal takes a few hours and you don't want to drive through the forest at night so it really isn't a day trip. You can stay at hotel in La Fortuna and check out Tabacon spa in the evening after checking out the volcano during the day.
posted by birdherder at 8:42 AM on April 1, 2010

Not Pepsi Blue-ing anyone but this month's Budget Travel magazine is Costa Rica heavy... You might find it helpful!
posted by ShadePlant at 8:44 AM on April 1, 2010

"enjoy some nice beaches and warm water, maybe surf a bit, venture out in a rental car and check out Arenal volcano, cloud forests, take a zip-line/canopy tour, and just rest and relax.

We are planning on going ... for 6 nights."

Unfortunately, that activity list crammed into 6 nights is not compatible with your "rest and relax" goal. Costa Rica is very mountainous and the roads are shitty so getting around from site to site takes a lot longer than you would think from just looking at a map of the country. If you only have 6 days then I recommend that you pick either the beach OR the volcano/cloud forest part of the country instead of trying to do both or you will spend too much time driving and checking in and out of hotels to relax.

And I don't recommend on going any bus tours if you're at all prone to car sickness. The roads are too windy/bumpy. I'm not super-sensitive and I barfed every time I road a bus outside of San Jose.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:01 AM on April 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips so far. I would love to stay in a non-mega-huge hotel with buffet lunches-- I think smaller / cozier villas with kitchenettes sounds great, but not sure where to find them. I did see this:

and this is a great example of something that would work for us. Any others like this?

I guess if I have too many activities planned, this is what we really want to do:
  • Canopy tour (this is mandatory) / see monkeys, tapir, wildlife, etc.
  • Stay near (walking distance, preferably "back yard" close) a nice beach / surf / snorkel
  • Rest / relax / drive around just to check out the area
Is Tamarindo a good place for the above? It seems that way, but wanted to see if there's a better / more suitable area.

Seeing a volcano would be cool, but it is not essential for our vacation.
posted by ehamiter at 9:14 AM on April 1, 2010

If you are intending to go to various disparate areas of the country, fly. It's a lot faster and not too expensive. Plus you get awesome views of the country.
posted by reddot at 10:03 AM on April 1, 2010

I was just in Tamarindo last week! We booked our tickets through Continental directly after watching prices for three months and seeing no deals or discounts whatsoever.

Luckily for me, my brother lives there so I had a free place to stay. Tamarindo does seem to be near-ish to everything you're looking for (and there's a hotel there with rehabilitated monkeys just wandering around, if that will suffice!).

My brother lives on the "outskirts" of town, which is a seven minute walk from the beach. I noticed several car rental places, and I know that he has driven to the volcano and done canopy tours/zip line, etc. as day trips (but he doesn't mind driving through the forest at night).

The beach was awesome and there seemed to be decent surfing going on. If you go, go to Taco Stop and Buon Appetito, and get pie at Nougi's. And check out their movie theater below Bar 1--it's adorable!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:49 AM on April 1, 2010

IMO Tamarindo is an overcomercialized tourist trap. It lacks authentic feel and is getting Cancunish. I can give you extensive suggestions/tips, but I'd need to know your tolerance for adventure, roughing it and your Spanish capability (your budget is more than enough; I did it in a week on 650 USD).
posted by Hurst at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Never been to Cancun so I can't relate.

My wife and I are going primarily for a traditional vacation: to relax, enjoy ourselves, and see local things. I do not want to rough it. My Spanish is almost non-existent, although I will be trying to learn as much as I can from now until December.

I have a high tolerance for adventure and roughing it, but don't want to invoke it for this particular trip unless necessary.

What other towns/areas would you recommend for the activities I described earlier? I definitely don't want to stay in a tourist trap area, but then again, I don't want to feel like a stranger in a strange land where I can't be understood by anyone and wind up staying in a ramshackle teepee.
posted by ehamiter at 11:46 AM on April 1, 2010

GAP offers some decent package deals that cover interesting terrain with a minimum of hassle. I'm sure if you can speak Spanish and have a lot of free time you can finagle something yourself for a better price. We used Interbus to get around - the prices are cheap and they will pick you up and drop you off pretty much anywhere in the country.

Nthing that Tamarindo is becoming a sewage laden tourist trap. It is full of shoddy hastily built condos and hotels without proper sewage lines and proper municipal planning. The surfing is great there but they have many coliform scares (and will have many more until they get the zoning under control).
posted by benzenedream at 12:01 PM on April 1, 2010

Planning a trip like yours is the kind of thing that a travel agent can be good for. I also like TripAdvisor for advice on great places to stay, eat, etc.

Also, I recently planned a trip to Puerto Rico, and although I read a lot on the internet, I didn't really feel like I got everything I wanted to know until I bought a guidebook. Even a used, older guidebook can be better than trying to search a million websites.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:03 PM on April 1, 2010

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