Several Part Question about My Trip to Costa Rica
February 17, 2014 2:40 AM   Subscribe

1. My partner and I are planning an 8-day/7-night trip to Costa Rica to celebrate our 10th anniversary. Our plan is volcano + rain forest + beach. Any suggestions on specific places and must sees or must dos? 2. Any recommendations on the best travel agencies to work with to arrange the Costa Rica portions of our trip? 3. I've already heard from 4 companies and they've responded with essentially the same package - 3 nights at Arenal, 3 nights at Manuel Antonio, 1 extra night in either of those places or in San Jose. The prices are in the $3800-$4000 range except for one company which comes in way below the others at $2715 - am I potentially getting scammed if I go with this company?
posted by tmharris65 to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
We were there in October. We stayed in Manuel Antonio the entire time and kept as busy as we wanted but the goal was to err on the site of relaxing.

1. Do a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Forest. Our guide constantly pointed out a great variety of animals that we would have just walled past. Feel free to pm me for there names of a couple guides.

3. My guess is that the difference is where you're staying. Speaking just having visited the Quepos area there are fancy resorts with fantastic views from your bungalow with private beaches and concierge service... and there are also standard hotels in town and you travel by cab or slow public transportation to every destination.
posted by mountmccabe at 4:50 AM on February 17, 2014

Those prices are more expensive than if you just booked the hotels, etc, yourself, but you're paying for convenience, I guess. Have you considered just pricing out your own hotels or renting on airbnb or vrbo? You can save a pile of money, and you won't miss out on excursions and so on, you can't spit without hitting a flyer for a ziplining tour in Costa Rica.
posted by empath at 6:56 AM on February 17, 2014

As a point of reference, I went to Costa Rica for eight nights on my honeymoon in May of 2010. We spent five nights in Manuel Antonio and three nights near Arenal.

We booked through a travel company which arranged the hotels, all transportation (including personal drivers to and from the airport and between the hotels), and all touristy stuff. Grand total for all that was $4000. Our only extra expenses in Costa Rica were some meals, tips, and souvenirs. We paid for airfare separately.

I got the impression that the largest variable in the price was the quality of the hotels. We didn't specifically ask it of the travel company, but we realized after checking in that we were traveling in luxury. As mountmccabe says above, the price difference in your quotes is probably in the lodging.

I'd be happy to share more details and recommendations by MeMail if you're interested.
posted by ejbenjamin at 7:03 AM on February 17, 2014

I did a tour of Costa Rica in 2011 that included volcano, rainforest, and beach, booked through Nature Vacations, the travel agency affiliated with Nature Air which is the local point-to-point airline. I can't recommend them enough, and the price of our vacation was closer to that lower number you used. We stayed at some great places, the best/most fun being Capitan Suizo in Tamarindo at the beach. I agree that the biggest price variation is probably the lodging, but Nature Air is sort of a point of national pride for Costa Rica and they have connections with hotels and tour operators that get you better prices on a lot of things plus a lot of perks. For example, we didn't realize until we talked to someone at our hotel in Arenal that we paid the same price for our nightly stay but we were getting free breakfast and to-go lunch, and they were not. Likewise, we noticed that when we went to the hot springs, we paid the posted entry fee in advance with Nature Air, and our entry included dinner. No mention of the dinner in the posted entry fee for walk-ins, and it looked like others were paying it separately. Another advantage there was flying everywhere. They were little puddle-jumper planes, but getting from coast to coast in two hours beats driving for 6-8, so we were able to fit in more fun for our buck.
posted by juniperesque at 7:56 AM on February 17, 2014

Just as a point of comparison for booking costs yourself.

A trip in tourist shuttle booked at any of the hotels in San Jose to Arenal is about $100/person, including spending all day at the hot springs resort. They'll drop you off anywhere you want to go in Arenal. A spectacularly nice hotel in San Jose, Manuel Antonio or Arenal is about $150 a night. I don't know if there are direct trips from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, but any hotel in either Arenal or Manuel Antonio can arrange it for you if there are. Ziplining tours are about $50/person. Again, any hotel in Costa Rica can arrange it for you.

So, you'd be looking at, for an 7 night trip, maybe $2000 all included if you just made a few phone calls to arrange everything yourself.

I'd suggest arriving in San Jose early, booking a hotel near the central plaza. Have them pick you up at the airport and arrange a shuttle for you to Arenal the next morning. Spend all day in the plaza in San Jose checking out the museums and enjoying some local food. Have the hotel arrange you a tourist shuttle to Arenal and the hot springs -- there's a couple of companies that just drive around to all the hotels and pick people up, spend a few hours in the hot springs and the volcano and back to San Jose, but they'll drop you off in Arenal if you want to stay there.

Stay a few days in Arenal, have the hotel arrange all your ziplining and jungle excursions, and your transport to Manuel Antonio. You can buy tickets for all of that stuff in advance. Then spend a few days in Manuel Antonio, take the shuttle back to San Jose and you're set.

You can probably arrange all of this with maybe an afternoon worth of calling around. Most of the nice hotels have people that speak english. Just make sure you check trip advisor to make sure you're booking nice places.

Costa Rica is extremely tourist friendly and you could probably just jump off a plane in San Jose and figure it out as you go, but a few phone calls and you'll easily save $1000 off of what these guys are offering you. You're not going to miss out on anything and you'll have the freedom to change plans if something other than what you planned seems like it would be better.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on February 17, 2014

Seconding that Costa Rica is super tourist friendly and you don't really need a travel agent. Lots of what is said above is good advice, so I will just add:

1. The drive from San Jose to Quepos (which is the town near Manuel Antonio) is very long and pretty unpleasant. Internal flights are cheap and fast. If you can take 20 minutes in a small plane, it is absolutely worth it over the 4 hour drive and the cost is about the same. You'll want to book it in advance, but you don't really have to -- internal flights run constantly.

2. Not sure what your budget looks like or when you are going, but for Manuel Antonio I love Arenas del Mar, which is a super eco-friendly resort actually located in the rainforest there. I won't bore you with details except to say that my time there with my family (we've been twice) has been among the best hotel experiences I have ever had. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like details.
posted by The Bellman at 10:29 AM on February 17, 2014

Seconding The Bellman's recommendation of Arenas del Mar, also my best hotel experience.

Arenal observatory is amazing for the rooms with the lava flow view and the hiking in the surrounding jungle but not much else. I'd skip the zip-lining unless you're into that.
posted by Manjusri at 7:51 PM on February 17, 2014

I lived in Costa Rica for a year and got back in 2009. My budget was much cheaper than yours, but I visited all those places.

Agreeing with everyone else that you're definitely paying for the convenience of not talking to anyone/doing research here. Some things to keep in mind: - you're talking about two of the most touristy places in the whole country, - getting between Manuel Antonio/San Jose/Arenal by bus is at least half a day for any leg and you'll probably be pretty tired, - even if you don't know Spanish, almost anyone in these locations can speak enough English for you to communicate.

In Manuel Antonio, make sure you stay close to the reserve, no further than Quepos, definitely not in Jaco (which is cruddy and dirty). You want to get in there very early in the day or as the sun sets.

The hot springs in Arenal are nice, go visit them. If you want to see real rainforest, take a night or two in Monteverde, the cloud forest there is beautiful and it's relatively close to Arenal.

Also, don't go between August and Xmas, that's the rainy season and it will severely curtail your enjoyment of the 'pura vida' lifestyle.
posted by cult_url_bias at 5:51 AM on February 19, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all!

Any thoughts on the Uvita area as opposed to Manuel Antonio?
posted by tmharris65 at 3:32 PM on February 19, 2014

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