Costa Rica - Quepos, Arenal, Monteverde
January 15, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

We are staying in Quepos, Costa Rica in late Feb/Early March. About 1/2 the time will be spent around Quepos, the other half a road trip to Arenal/Monteverde.

For the road trip, we'll rent a car in Quepos and drive from Quepos to Monteverde/Arenal. Driving from Quepos to Monte Verde, starting out on 34 to 27/23/17/ to 1, then to 606 to Santa Elena and stay there. Then moving on to Arenal, we could go out 606 to 145, then back to the 1, or go NE to 142, either way ultimately going around the north of the lake and east to Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. Then returning to Quepos, staying east to avoid San Jose by going 141 to 1 and retracing our steps.
Does this sound like a good route?
Anybody familar with these roads (606/145 mostly) ?
Are these roads paved or dirt?
Is it worth staying at Monte Verde for more than 1 night? Arenal?
Afa hotels in the Arenal area, can you recommend a hotel with the best cost/benefit?
And advice on driving in CR in general?

For Quepos, there's Manual Antonio obviously. What can you suggest for beaches, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, etc.?
posted by falsedmitri to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And advice on driving in CR in general?


Although I haven't lived there since 2006 so maybe the roads have since improved. But when I lived there, they were really terrible and most of the other drivers were crazy, so much so that it's safer to leave the driving to the professionals who are used to local conditions.

So I recommend skipping renting a car, walk or take taxis locally, and take one of the nice air-conditioned tourist buses or vans to travel between Quepos and Arenal.

Whether you drive or are driven, getting around the country can be exhausting so yes I recommend staying longer than 1 night in each place just to make the hassle of getting there worth it.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:00 PM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, let us know what your budget is per day for lodging, meals, and activities or for the whole trip, because Costa Rica has options ranging from the very cheap to the thousands of dollars per day.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:02 PM on January 15, 2015

Looks like you're staying in many of the same places I did when I went in Aug 2013! My friend and I went Arenal (2 nights) > Samara (3) > Monte Verde (2) > Manuel Antonio (2).

Arenal: we stayed at La Pradera Hotel. Super good breakfast - plantains, fresh fruit, rice, beans, eggs etc. Nice rooms. Great pool and hot tub with view of the Volcano. It was slightly outside of downtown, which meant a longer walk to check out the nightlife, but I felt like the amenities made up for the location.

Monteverde: we stayed at the Cala Lodge, which we loved. They have a beautiful walking path, the rooms were cozy, and the main cabin/lounge was lovely.

We stayed 2 nights in both Arenal and Monte Verde, but it really depends what you want to do ther. Monteverde we toured a coffee/sugar plantation and the butterfly garden, which we enjoyed a lot. You could do both in the same day, though and only stay one night.

In Arenal we did a morning horseback ride and then hot springs in the evening. I thought 1 night would have been very sufficient in Arenal.

Manuel Antonio we did an early morning walk into the National Park. There are a LOT of guides leading trips, but we went early enough (7-8am) to avoid getting hassled too much, and walked on our own. There was a really pleasant swimming beach inside the park. Watch out for raccoons though, one tried to get into our backpack and grab a fruit leather! I recommend not packing too much food for that reason.

We didn't drive ourselves, but the roads were pretty good throughout. I'm afraid I don't know the routes our drivers took though.
posted by nerdcore at 5:07 PM on January 15, 2015

Response by poster: @nerdcore: I've checked out Cala Lodge and La Pradera based on your suggestion. These look to be a good match for us.

When you say "our drivers", do you mean bus driver, or something else?
posted by falsedmitri at 5:56 PM on January 15, 2015

Is it worth staying at Monte Verde for more than 1 night? Arenal?

A hearty YES to both.

I don't know what activities appeal to you / your travel group, but Arenal Volcano is easy to access and not lacking in scenery or ways to enjoy it (hiking, horseback riding, ATV tours, rafting, etc.). Monteverde is also worth the hype. I'd strongly recommend hiring a park guide if you want to maximize your wildlife viewing opportunities there. There are also zipline tours through the canopy. They're pretty safe - my 70-year-old mom did one and loved it.

Definitely more than a days' worth of sights and experiences in both places. Enjoy your trip!
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 5:59 PM on January 15, 2015

At Arenal, we stayed at the Observatory Lodge and had a direct, unobstructed view of the mountain from our bed, and the oropéndolas start before sunrise. It's not super-luxurious, but I thought the location was great. Breakfast and lunch are pretty good; dinner is a little overpriced and foofy, tbh. We did several hikes and a canopy tour. In the little village right next to it, there's a great snake/ frog sanctuary.
I would definitely go back again.
We drove from San José to Arenal in March, and it was fine. I would never drive in San José again, but the country's not bad if you're accustomed to dirt roads and can speak Spanish in case you get lost.
I'd like to put in a plug for La Anita, the most awesome place we stayed, around Rincón de la Vieja. It's owned by a couple on a farm, and the fabulous meals are served communally, mostly with food they grow. There are several cabins for the guests, with hammocks and chairs, so you can sit out in the dusk, drink a beer, and play with the ranch dogs.
posted by queseyo at 6:19 PM on January 15, 2015

I drove round the north of the lake with my daughter a few years ago and it's a long way. If you love driving on rally style roads, it's great, and we enjoyed it, but most people probably wouldn't. We were in a rented Toyota RAV4 (i.e. four wheel drive). The road might have changed since then but I doubt it. It wasn't really bad, but neither was it like US roads. If you do decide to drive, get a RAV4 or similar, not a sedan. Even the good roads have holes.

Definitely stay at least two or three days at Monteverde; it's the sort of place you want to settle in a bit. We didn't visit Arenal.
posted by anadem at 6:20 PM on January 15, 2015

I drove in Arenal and Monteverde when I went to CR in 2009 (in the dry season). Most of the roads were fine and paved with the exception of the roads into Monteverde, which were unpaved and terrible, but, at least in the dry season, more of a rough and uncomfortable terrible than a muddy or dangerous terrible. We did 142 north of the lake between Arenal and Monteverde and it was fine. We saw a bunch of monkeys on the side of the road. The only thing tough about the driving was that there were basically no directional signs at all, so I kept thinking I was going to get lost, but somehow didn't. We rented a tiny Daihatsu SUV.

I thought Monteverde was cooler than Arenal / La Fortuna.
posted by ghharr at 7:34 PM on January 15, 2015

@falsedmitri my friend and I booked all of the hotels, transportation and a few of the tours (the butterfly garden and hot springs) through Anywhere Costa Rica. They booked the drivers and we traveled by van, sometime were shared with other travelers who were picked up at various hotels, other times we were by ourselves. The car companies they used were super professional and punctual. We met plenty of folks who had rented cars on their own though. If you like driving and want to be able to stop whenever you want and check out a little town, I think you'll be fine driving yourselves.

Side note: Anywhere Costa Rica was really good! The original itinerary they proposed had a ton of activities suggested and some pricier hotels, and I worked with them to find some more affordable places. The rates at the hotels I mentioned above were not crazy expensive and the quality was very nice. Also, when our flight into the country was delayed I sent ACR a last minute email to let them know that we would not be there on time to catch our shuttle to Arenal. They were able to schedule us with a private driver instead, applied a credit from what we had previously paid, and only chanrged the difference between shared shuttle and private car.
posted by nerdcore at 7:40 PM on January 15, 2015

For what it's worth, I found the driving there straightforward. For reference, I have a daily driving commute in Los Angeles.

The one challenge was getting caught in a speed trap and being shaken down for a bribe. But now I get to say that I've bribed a police officer, so net positive?
posted by mr_roboto at 7:41 PM on January 15, 2015

Btw, my experience is also with the Arenal->Monteverde drive.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:43 PM on January 15, 2015

Take a bus, imo. They're nice buses and cheap.
posted by empath at 8:18 PM on January 15, 2015

I would highly recommend renting a GPS from your car rental agency. Not only are many roads unmarked, but the GPS notified us of hairpin turns and single-lane sections of road.
posted by amarynth at 4:52 AM on January 16, 2015

Response by poster: @mr_robot: Were you actually exceeding the speed limit, or did they just decide that you were?

Tangentially, I had originally thought of snorkeling/scuba, but from what I'm reading ... not so great in Costa Rica, at least on the Pacific side. Any one have experience with this.
posted by falsedmitri at 10:28 AM on January 18, 2015

It was a classic speed trap. The speed limit dropped suddenly, and I wasn't paying close enough attention. Same kind of thing you see in the US, except for the bribery.

Italy, on the other hand, is so sophisticated. A camera caught me doing something wrong in Florence this summer, and I just had a ticket emailed to me this morning!

Maybe I should take public transportation.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:28 PM on January 20, 2015

And I had a good snorkeling experience near Tamarindo. Guided kayaking/snorkling excursion. The sea life wasn't world-class-blow-your-mind-spectacular, but the guides were knowledgable and being able to kayak out to some otherwise unaccessible beaches was fun. I did not write down the name of the company, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:33 PM on January 20, 2015

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