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Trip List by dan_mcweeney

First time trip to Costa Rica on a budget

14 Mar 2008  My girlfriend (a full-time grad student) and I planned a quick getaway for her spring break.
5.0 of 5 bubbles based on 9 votes

We spent a week in Costa Rica traveling to Arenal and Monteverde. Here all all the photos from this trip. Here are all the photos from this trip: http://tinyurl.com/5kx2rl

  • 1. Hotel Silencio del Campo
    Hotel El Silencio del Campo, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park

    Really cute, quiet hotel in La Fortuna with a very friendly staff who speak good English. Amazing views of the volcano (the green side, not the side with recent lava flows). On a clear day you could see all the way to the peak of the volcano from your window. They have individual cabins (we stayed in #6) that are spacious. There is a restaurant on premises with pretty good food at good prices, and breakfast was included. They have a pool and a separate small hot springs area - both are set away from the cabins.

  • 2. Catarata La Fortuna

    Beautiful waterfall (catarata in Spanish). It's a steep hike (both down and up), but well worth it! You can swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall as well. Total time (without swimming was about 1 hour - to hike down, take some pictures and get out). With swimming they estimate about 2 hours. Think it was $6/pp for the entrance fee.

  • 3. Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal)
    Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal), Arenal Volcano National Park, Province of Alajuela

    On the same day we went to the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. Entrance fee was about $10-12/pp. They give you a map when you pull into the entrance with trails marked off. We followed one of them which was more of a nature trail than a hike (not at all strenuous). Initially they keep you pretty far away from the volcano, but as you get further into the hike it brings you closer, and as we walked around in the lava rocks we were at the base of the volcano and could hear it hissing and rumbling (fun and a little frightening!) It took about 1.5 hours, although we probably could have allotted more time to explore other trails.

    Side note - we had the Hotel (Silencio del Campo) call us a taxi in the morning to take us to the waterfall (it's a far hike, all uphill) and we asked the taxi to meet us afterwards and take us to the volcano, which he cheerfully did, and then after that he took us back to the hotel. We speak very little Spanish, and he spoke no English, but we made it work and it only cost $60 for the day, including tip.

  • 4. Eco Thermales
    Ecotermales Fortuna, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Arenal Volcano National Park

    Fantastic! This is down the road (walking distance) from Hotel Silencio del Campo and across the street from the Baldi hot springs... there is a tiny, unsigned gate that has a buzzer - that's Eco-Thermales. It's about a half mile walk down the long driveway (bring a flashlight if going at night), and when you get there the friendly staff will give you a towel, locker key, etc.

    Eco-Thermales has 5 pools ranging in temperature. They limit the number of people coming in to no more than 100, and the reservation period is for 4 hours. They have a bar (on the honor system, pay when you leave). The group can vary - largely tourists, a good number were in their 50's or 60's, and a group of teenagers, etc. A solid mix so that we (late 20's) didn't feel out of place. They give you the option to purchase a meal with the hot springs. The food was pretty good, and we'd recommend eating as late as possible (we went for the 5-9pm reservation with dinner, and the pools cleared out at around 6pm-ish for dinner, so I imagine it was quite crowded in the dining area).

  • 5. Arco Iris Lodge
    Arco Iris Lodge, Santa Elena, Monteverde

    This hotel is in downtown Santa Elena but it is so quiet you can sometimes forget. The grounds are beautiful, and we saw a lot of interesting animals (hummingbirds, capuchin monkeys, other tropical birds) from our balcony alone. The buffet breakfast in the morning (which is not included) was very good, and the staff will make you eggs too! The rooms are simple - no tv, no air conditioning, but if you keep the windows open it should provide a good breeze... we found that (in March) it was pretty cool, and we didn't need air conditioning.

    The staff was very friendly - we bought food from the supermarket to take with us to Monteverde, which they stored in the fridge overnight for us. They also booked us a bus back to San Jose to catch our plane ($35/pp - Interbus).

  • 6. Sky Tram/Sky Trek Tour
    Sky Adventures - Arenal Park, Arenal Volcano National Park, Province of Alajuela

    Doing the zip line is fun if all you are expecting is to fly through the air. We thought it was a blast, but don't expect to see any animals or even much of anything else! The guides were great - very nice, focused on safety, etc.

    We did the combo Sky Trek (canopy tour - aka zip lining) with the Sky Walk (the hanging bridge tour) purchased through Desafio. While walking on these bridges was fun, we would have preferred to have spent our time going into one of the reserves.

  • 7. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
    Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Monteverde

    Get up early to go to Monteverde! We caught the 7:30am bus from Santa Elena (can be purchased through one of the tour operators in town for about $2 plus the $15 reserve entrance fee), and it took about 30 minutes to get to the reserve. The people at the entrance to the park gave us a map and outlined a few good trails for us.

    We hiked a few trails on our own - some exertion, but nothing too strenuous - and saw some animals (some brightly colored birds, butterflies, howler monkey), but we both agreed that getting a guide would have been better - they're much better at spotting animals and can provide interesting facts about the forest in general.

    NOTE - although the guidebooks say that the reserve has binoculars for rent, at 8am they did not, so be sure to bring your own.

  • 8. Finca Ecologica / Ecological Farm Wild Life Refuge
    Ecological Sanctuary, Santa Elena, Monteverde

    We did a night hike at the Ecological Sanctuary - again booked through Desafio - it was a lot of fun, and we saw tarantulas, frogs, sleeping birds, a two-toed sloth, leaf-mimicking insects, a poisonous snake... I think it might have been more fun to do the night hike in Monteverde, just because of the potential for more animals, but it was definitely enjoyable.

  • 9. Morpho's

    A restaurant across the street from the supermarket in downtown Santa Elena. Cute decor, friendly staff. The food was pretty good and relatively inexpensive.

  • 10. Mar Y Tierra

    Downtown Santa Elena restaurant. On the high street in Santa Elena across from the Sky Trek office. It's above a bakery, so you have to walk up to the second floor to get to it, but the food was excellent. It too was inexpensive.

  • 11. Tree House restaurant

    On the main street in downtown Santa Elena - restaurant built around a huge tree. We thought it was a mistake to come here - the prices were significantly higher than they were elsewhere in Santa Elena and the food wasn't as good as Morpho's or Mar Y Tierra. It was our second most expensive meal in Costa Rica ($56), and not worth it (although, they do provide free internet at the computers downstairs with a meal). However, it would probably be good just for drinks and the atmosphere - there's something fun about sitting in the open air on the second floor of a restaurant with the tree providing shade while drinking something tropical.

  • 12. Sofia's

    A Latin Fusion restaurant in Cerro Plano, in between Santa Elena and Monteverde. From Arco Iris it was a $2 taxi ride to get to the restaurant. This was our second to last night in Costa Rica so we decided to splurge a little (most of our meals cost around $30, this around $85). For our splurge we got 2 cocktails, a bottle of wine, an appetizer, 2 entrees and one dessert. The food was really good - the type of place you'd expect to see in a metropolitan area. The atmosphere was quiet and romantic, although there were groups as large as 6, and a little fancier than other places (cloth tablecloths, candles, etc.) but we felt fine in jeans. The service was very good, and the restaurant was happy to call us a cab back to the hotel. As an aside - they did ask us if we had reservations (which we didn't), so it might be good to have your hotel book one ahead of time.