Costa Rica with teenager in July
June 10, 2005 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Going to Costa Rica next month with my 16 year old daughter Nima. Where should we go and what should we do?

We'll be there maybe ten days, two weeks (getting tickets next week, possibly via Priceline.) We need to keep expenses down.

A friend suggested we rent a 4x4 and go to the Carribean side, camp on the beaches, and hang out in Limon a few days. We enjoy snorkeling, hiking, reggae ... not into nightclubs or expensive hotels. But I don't want it to be boring for Nima.

I've picked up a Rough Guide book but any firsthand advice would be great. July looks to be rainy, so maybe beach camping isn't the best idea? Is the East coast the best for us?

Aside: I've been thinking that CR might be good to retire to in ten years, so maybe would like to see what places would be livable.

(Post-aside: if PriceLine comes up with really low cost tickets to Botswana, we would love to go there instead of Costa Rica -- does anyone know the cost of things there?)
posted by anadem to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may find this guide by the Library of Congress helpful.
posted by AlexanderBanning at 10:08 AM on June 10, 2005

I just got back from Costa Rica. Great place, you'll have lots of fun. The Monteverde area has lots of activities that teenaged kids and adults find entertaining. Horseback riding and zip lines to name just a couple of things. The hotel we stayed at in the area is called Arco Iris Lodge and it was only $30 a night. It was pretty nice too.
We also stayed on the Pacific Ocean side. There are things to do there as well like learn to surf, but we just hung out on the beach, played in the high surf and got sun burned. The hotel we stayed at there is called The Belvedere and it was $50 a night. It, too, was really nice and had air conditioning.
As far as renting a vehicle is concerned, you'd better have nerves of steel. The roads are very small and it's up and down mountains. You get stuck behind a truck or a semi, you'd better be able to take chances on passing on curves and hills, otherwise, you're going 15MPH the whole way. Driving truly is a game there. We took the Interbus everywhere we went. Interbus is a privately owned transportation system and they used air conditioned minivans. Very nice way to get around.
This time of year is called the green season because of the rains. As a result, everything is a lot cheaper right now. In Monteverde, it rained every single day, but it was a Florida type of rainyness. Meaning, it doesn't rain 24 hours a day, just a few hours in the afternoon. On the Nicoya Peninsula, it only rained once on us, but it's very hot and humid there.
posted by NoMich at 10:44 AM on June 10, 2005

I was there about two years ago. The Pacific side is where to go. It is a little less “resorty”, and there are great nature activities. We mostly surfed while there, but even if you are not surfing a trip to Witches rock is well worth it. Cost is about 80 dollars to get a (reliable) boat to take you there from one of the local villages.
posted by Dr_Octavius at 11:02 AM on June 10, 2005

I really enjoyed Monteverde. It's got a lot of things to look at, a good collection of people and a Serpentarium! We also went on a walk through a butterfly garden while we were there [where they raise butterflies to send to other researchers and I don't know who.... butterfly ranchers?] which was something I hadn't done before. It's a long ride to get there, but very peaceful when you're there. [link] If your daughter is a picky eater, there is also a Quaker eatery -- from the Quakers who settled in CR during WWII because they were pacifists, they now run a cheese factory in Monteverde -- which has some standard American food in addition to all the tasty CR food [think pancakes/bacon]. We stayed in Hotel Belmar there, and it was quite lovely, nice back porch to sit and watch birds from. They have a restaurant with good local food and the owner's brother runs a Chilean restaurant down the road, or did.

We stayed at the Hotel Don Carlos in San Jose when we got there, very nice place good little cafe indoors. Since CR is sort of tough to travel around roadwise, it's worth planning a night in town after you get in and before you get out [if you fly in to San Jose, that is] to make sure all your travel connections meet.

Here's an article I found on travelling to CR with kids while I was trying to track down our hotel, it has some links to some canopy tours and other fun things to do.
posted by jessamyn at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2005

I went last summer by myself. Spent most of my time in Montezuma but also travelled down to Manuel Antonio, stopping through Jaco and Quepos. Avoid Jaco and Quepos. Manuel Antonio is beautiful, but most of the stuff is happening in Guanacaste and Nicoya, you'll see all that in the Lonely Planet guide, which I recommend over others.

Transportation is wicked cheap if you take buses, and keep in mind that taxis and mini-vans don't go much faster than the bus.

Limon is kind of a hole, but you can get down to Panama on the Carib side that is pretty good.

And by the way, the locals, Ticos, are really nice people, but keep your eye on your stuff.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2005

I rather enjoyed Mt. Arenal, which is a live volcano. You can camp out at the bottom and watch the lava flow at night. There's also hot springs that you can swim in. It's something of a haul to get there, though, as we had to take several buses.
posted by toothless joe at 11:32 AM on June 10, 2005

Probably don't need to spend the money on the 4x4 if you want to keep things cheap. The buses are very cheap and give you a nice local feel for the country (if thats your thing). I was just there two weeks ago and enjoyed spending time around Arenal and Monteverde. Didn't make it down to the beach, but the temperatures in La Fortuna (near Arenal) and Monteverde were quite pleasant. There is no shortage of "excursions" (zipline, horseback riding, sea kayaking, etc) to do and they aren't exactly cheap. So I would say, save the $40-50 per day you would have spent on a rental car and put it toward activities to keep you and the kid busy.

You are certainly not the first gringo to consider retiring in Costa Rica, the place is swiming with them at every turn. Its kind of baffling to me how attractive it is as a retirement destination, the place is beautiful, but its the most expensive country in central america and I don't think your buck is going to stretch quite as far as it may have 20 years ago.

Also toothless joe, Arenal is one bus from San Jose and two from Monteverde (changing at Tilaran) not really all that bad for the $4 or so it was for each ride.
posted by jduckles at 11:45 AM on June 10, 2005


The Pacuare is one of the best rivers anywhere. Wonderful, wonderful experience.
posted by eas98 at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2005

I was there (family vacation) 10 years ago and stayed at the Hotel Herradura in San Jose. We hired a "freelance tour guide" and visited rain forests, cloud forests, volcanos, beaches, jungle canopy tours, etc. We also got to see a lot of the non-touristy points of interest. For example, we took a trip down a river with trees full of monkeys (to clarify, the trees surrounded the river . . . I'm sure you understood that though). It was incredible. The tour guide's friend lived on the river and took us on his boat; afterwards he invited us to join his family for dinner. All in all, we were fortunate to see sides of the country that most people don't get to experience.

At the time, this option was cheap. About 15 per day. A tour bus to many of these destinations would probably be that price (if not more) per person.

That said, I don't know if I would do the same thing today. In the past decade, crime (targeting tourists) has increased significantly in Costa Rica. Crime is especially problematic in the costal areas. Make sore you are making safe choices and consult both the US Consular Information Sheet and the Costa Rican Tourism Board's web site.

FInally, if you can, buy a bag of rambutans from the vendors in the cloud forests, they are fantastic. Otherwise, stay away from produce (and anything really) from roadside diners and non-tourist friendly restaurants. Let's just say I was rather sick throughout the vacation.
posted by necessitas at 4:21 PM on June 10, 2005

oh man... well. to be honest with you ... im not sure i concur with any of the above ... if you are going - go to the osa peninsula - all the way baby. it is absolutely amazing - positively spiritual. there is a tent camp (stay at los leones) on the south edge of the corcovado park on the pacific side that is super super cool... you can trek into the park from there.

email me if you are considering the osa and we'll share some secrets with you - matapalo is something else... especially if you daughter is interested in learning to surf.

its really amazing - if you can go to the osa...

the southern atlantic side is great too - cheaper, funky, fun - very jamaican without all the hassles. i think you would you love the puerto viejo area (a night or two in playa cahuita is highly recommended ... stay at the sublime - kelly creek lodge (great spanish owners)) and the magnificent beaches to the south of puerto viejo - playa chiquita is the best.

another option for great beaches is malpais way out on the nicoya peninsula - a great b&b there is casa cecilia - paradise.

some additional notes: dollar rent-a-car is the way to go... make sure you get a newer car - good guys, good prices - i would say definitely rent a car for your trip... it makes seeing costa rica so much more fun (a little 4 wheel drive is money well spent)...

if you have some extra dough at the end of your trip a night at xandari is one you wont forget.

i've traveled quite a bit - and can't recommend CR enough... especially if you speak a little spanish.
posted by specialk420 at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2005

oh - by the way... the best costa rica guide is the moon guide for costa rica.

ps - i've never been there... but from what i hear monteverde is a little too touristy - there are better adventures to be found if you scrounge.
posted by specialk420 at 12:26 PM on June 11, 2005

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