Recently got back from our first trip to Costa Rica and thought some of you might be interested in hearing about it.
We spent 14 days in the country, and since it was our first time, wanted to see a fair amount of it. We made our list of 'must-dos' and based on advice from this forum I contacted Costa Nica Tours to get a price quote for our itinerary. We always travel independently but we really liked the idea of having a driver - we'd both actually get to see everything instead of keeping our eyes on the road, no need to navigate, get lost and then find ourselves again, and (since between the two of us we know about 10 words of Spanish) no trying to decipher inscrutable traffic signs! I priced out our trip myself, with a rental car included, and Costa Nica's price was almost the same. Additionally, Rod gave us excellent advice about the pros and cons of our itinerary and made some great suggestions.
We flew into San Jose, arriving late, and stayed at Pura Vida Hotel in Alejuela for the night. It was a lovely place and we were sorry we weren't staying there longer (for more info I've posted a review in the Hotels section). Our driver, Gustavo, picked us up promptly the following morning and we headed for Poas Volcano to take a look, before heading on to Arenal.
Weather at Poas sucked - cold, windy and foggy. We could barely see over the railing, let alone see the crater. Bummer - I'm a volcano geek. There was a cool hike to overlook the second crater/lake but since we wouldn't be able to see anything, we blew it off.
Had a great ride with Gustavo to Arenal - we learned a lot about the countryside we were traveling through and about him and his family as well.
We stayed at Lost Iguana Resort at Arenal. It's a lovely place (see my review in the Hotels section for more info) but it was really our second choice. We had hoped to stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge but it was booked. Volcano geek that I am, I was determined to be able to see lava from my room and, Lost Iguana was the only place that met that need and had an available room.
We took a guided hike at the Hanging Bridges, went to La Fortuna waterfall, bummed around La Fortuna town - all of it was fun and interesting. Our second day we took an excursion to the Cano Negro Reserve which was well worth the effort. Our guide was excellent and not only did we see tons of wildlife on the river trip, but also along the roadside on the way there and back.
We left Arenal via the boat and headed for Monteverde. Stayed at El Establo Hotel which was ok but not our favorite (for more info see my review in the Hotels section). The afternoon we arrived we had a "town tour" with Kattiya of Palomino Tours. This was a blast! Kattiya has a little 'motorized rickshaw' and she took us to places that I'm sure we wouldn't have found on our own - a women's arts and crafts coop, a local coffee coop, some out-of-the-way galleries, etc. It was like having a friend giving you the inside scoop. Santa Elena is a sweet little town and we enjoyed exploring it. the next day we took a guided hike through the Cloud Forest at Selvatura Reserve, which was excellent.
We left Monteverde for the beach and Kattiya and her husband were our driving team. Again, another interesting drive and opportunity to learn about the area and the people.
Our next stop was Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula. Great little town, beautiful beach. We stayed at Villas Kalimba, which was great! (for more info see my review in the Hotels section). We were only there for three nights and we were sorry we couldn't stay longer - after touring and hiking all day, every day for a week, we were really ready to sleep late, lie on the beach and just have some R&R!
From Samara we flew back to San Jose and connected to a flight to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula. We stayed at Bosque del Cabo for 5 nights and it was definitely the highlight of our trip - and that's saying a lot because we had a great time everywhere we went! I learned of Bosque from tripadvisor and all the rave reviews you read here are true! If you are going to Costa Rica to explore its ecosystems and flora and fauna, the Osa is the place! We saw more wildlife here than everywhere else combined. Bosque is like a garden of Eden (see my review in the Hotels section for more info) and I can't think of anything that could have made it better. The lodgings, the grounds, the food, the trails, the naturalists, the wildlife, the beaches - was all spectacular!
We really had a wonderful time and I can't say enough about Costa Nica Tours. Everything went smooth as silk - every reservation was perfect, every driver on time, courteous and helpful, every step was just as planned. And using a driver instead of renting a car was wonderful! And one unforeseen benefit was that it gave us the opportunity to get to know a few Costa Ricans in a way that we never would have had otherwise. It gave us a great appreciation for the country and its people - far more, I think than if we hadn't had that opportunity.
One piece of advice I'd give other travelers is not to overbook yourselves. There is so much to do and it is so tempting to sign up for every tour, hike and activity. But there is much to be gained just by hanging out in a place and getting to know it. One of our favorite days was bumming around Monteverde with Cattiyah, just getting a feel for the town and area. We'll definitely be going back to Costa Rica, and now that we've gotten an overview of the country, will spend more time in our favorite spots - just getting to know them.