How best to visit Costa Rica
June 12, 2007 3:26 PM   Subscribe

What is the best plan-of-action for doing a 10-day outdoor-focused trip to Costa Rica?

I'm planning a one year anniversary present for my girlfriend. We are both fairly well traveled. Travel begets travel, so I want to give her a trip. Costa Rica seems to have the right blend of allure/adventure.

I'm coming from a somewhat outdoor-oriented mindset, while she does not she is open to new things. I, more than anything, want to water-water raft as much as possible, climb/canyoning, cave/spelunking, check out some waterfalls, canopy tour, and possibly some relaxing beach/snorkeling time.

Should we just go down there with a little plan and get day tours to things, rent a car and stay at hotels? There is always the option of a fully developed itinerary with a tour group. Yet, is this the best way, as there are only two of us and we wouldn't know anyone else? Is this way worth the money or does it actually work out more in our favor?

I think that she can spare a week to 10 days there, as can I. (America needs to shift to a more Euro-centric vacation policy.) It would be best to keep the whole thing under 3k, though I'm sure she would be more than happy to pay for her portion--that might just be her airfare or something.

posted by cmorris to Travel & Transportation around Costa Rica (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where would you be coming from?
posted by mdonley at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2007

PS - You can check out previous Costa Rica threads here.
posted by mdonley at 3:45 PM on June 12, 2007

Can't help you with Costa Rica, but I'm thinking about visiting Nicarauga in the spring. There's a resort there called Morgan's Rock that looks just amazing.
posted by donguanella at 5:44 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I planned a 10 day tour of outdoor excursions for way less than $3k. We were able to: Stayed in a hotel on Arenal, hike Cerro Chato, do the hot springs, spend 3 days in the rain forest on the Pacuare river ( you raft in and out, and go hiking/canopying/wildlife watching while in there ), and then spent time in Jaco where we: surfed, off-roaded on 4x4's, deep-sea fished, visited local farms and farmer markets, and day tripped to the nearby natural preserve at Manuel Antonio.

We had 4 people, and I arranged for private transfers between each destination via mini-van. It's not as expensive as you would think, and for 2 people you could get a smaller vehicle.

Email's in profile if you want me to point you towards some of the hotels, tours, etc.. that I used, if you're interested. I'd need to dig into some old emails.

Total with airfare, hotel, transfers, spending $, food ( I'm a foodie ) was about $2100.
posted by zap rowsdower at 5:52 PM on June 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I did a 10-day trip about 6 years ago. Rented a car at the airport and went to Monteverde, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Having a car and not being on a tour gave us the freedom to do whatever we wanted; if you see some waterfalls along the side of the road you can pull over and hike, and leave when you like. The roads were terrible in most of the mountainous terrain, so a 4X4 is absolutely required, but roads werent crowded and the drivers not bad (compared to a lot of places Ive been) so it wasnt really a stress. You need to have a decent sense of direction, as away from the larger cities maps are somewhat bad and location signs rare. We noticed driving from Monteverde to Arenal that all the signs were only going in the other direction -- I guess everyone only goes Arenal->Monteverde or something.

We stayed in nice hotels and the total was certainly under $3000 for 2 (6 years ago though). With a little research before and with help at the hotels we were able to find tons of both free and guided outdoor fun when we got there, no pre-booking: canopy tours and hiking in monteverde, kayaking, horseback riding. Plus some relaxing in the mineral waters at Arenal. Lots of english spoken there too so its not a huge stress if you dont speak spanish, though of course you should try.

Most of the other tourist we met were on on tours, and thought we were crazy/were madly jealous of us.
posted by Spurious Packets at 10:14 PM on June 12, 2007

Response by poster: I would be coming from Houston. Also, I don't speak Spanish, but I can get by "somewhat".

I checked out the previous CR threads and none of them mentioned a full-package. It seems that that is not the way to go.
posted by cmorris at 8:28 AM on June 13, 2007

Getting from one area to another in Costa Rica takes time, so I'd suggest having at least a basic itinerary. Having a car gives you more freedom, but the roads are crazy and crazy bad in a lot of places. And I saw some people having issues with parking. In most of the places I went, the activities/tours/etc would pick you up at your hotel and bring you back. This was either included in the tour or was $1 or so extra. Hotel-to-Hotel transfer using Interbus isn't as dirt cheap as public transportation. But it was efficient and a nice way to meet people. It also was a little less nausea-inducing.

When I was there I was with some people who were on a full package but not as a tour group. The nice thing was that everything was taken care of, they had an itinerary and all of their activities and transfers had been pre-paid. I found that anything I paid for in advance was cheaper once I was there. I also like having freedom to change once I'm there. But that's how I like to travel, it may be that you guys would prefer having it just be done, and knowing what main things you'll be doing.

A package tour from a company or travel agent will probably be a little bit better than what you could do on your own completely in advance. They will also usually be able to upgrade your room a few places or throw in some freebies. But like I said, I found that things were often 5%-10% cheaper when I got there. Either because the hotel I was staying at had discount tickets for things, or because I was wearing an old college shirt and people gave me a student discount, or because I was standing in front of them with cash so they came down a bit. It isn't like I was working hard to get a bargain, it was just cheaper once I was there.

No Spanish is required. Costa Rica was the least stressful foreign travel experience I think I've ever had. English was widely spoken, and US dollars [$20 bills] accepted everywhere to the point where even small local restaurants listed all their prices in dollars. The only place where the prices weren't in dollars was at the nicest hotel I stayed at, and that's because they were trying to cover up how expensive everything was.

Tripadvisor has a great, active Costa Rica section of the forums. Folks there may be able to point you to some tour operators or travel agents that can do a package. If you don't do a tour package, you do need to do your research. There are 18 zillion zip lines and some of them really suck. You don't want to end up doing things that aren't great just because you got off the bus and someone with a clipboard sent you someplace.

If you are more adventurous... Guatemala seems to be the up-and-coming destination, less tourist infrastructure, fewer Americans, etc. I loved Costa Rica, but the people I met who were doing all of Central America raved about Guatemala and felt CR was over-developed and expensive.
posted by Mozzie at 12:09 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

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