We recently returned from our first trip to Costa Rica. WOW! We fell in love. The incredible natural beauty, the abundance of wildlife, and the warm, friendly Ticos won our hearts.
Thanks to all of you who provided so much useful info as we were planning our trip. Even though it was our first “solo” trip abroad, we felt very comfortable and knew what we were doing, thanks to all the info we were armed with, from T.A. boards.
We spent 4 nights in the Osa Peninsula at Bosque del Cabo, followed by 3 nights in Fortuna at Lost Iguana, and finally 2 nights in Alajuela at Xandari. I have posted reviews of BdC and L.I. separately, along with several photos taken from each place and the surrounding areas. If interested in the reviews and/or photos, just go to my contributions page and click on the reviews.
I won’t repeat what I wrote in the more detailed reviews here, but instead I’ll just post some random perceptions/suggestions, etc.:
Bosque del Cabo—I can see why people fall in love with the place. We will be back to Costa Rica over and over to explore new areas, but we will always include a visit to BdC. For wildlife and natural beauty, it simply can’t be beat. We LOVED it there. We did nearly every hike on their property, including our favorite, the Titi trail, 4 times. They have a lot of optional activities available, but we were content just to hike every day. In the late afternoon we were treated to a troop of spider monkeys who came down from the jungle and put on a flying trapeze performance right in front of our cabina, Mariposa. Magical! Also loved that the wildlife there was truly wild—not habituated to humans to the point of hanging around, etc., like other, more touristy areas of the country.
The roads: After much consideration, we decided to take Interbus rather than renting a car from SJO to Arenal. I’m so glad we did! I would not have enjoyed trying to drive on those roads— very narrow, winding, bumpy, and crowded with pedestrians who unfortunately have no place else to walk. I can’t believe how close the Interbus drivers came to knocking people off the roads, including women with strollers, etc. As others have posted here, driving is definitely doable—but personally I would not want that kind of stress while on vacation. Note: we did rent a car while in Fortuna. The drive from L.I. into town, and even the drive to the waterfall and Arenal National Park were not bad at all.
Sansa airline: We kept receiving conflicting info about the baggage restrictions before we left. I had 15 lbs of camera equipment in a backpack, which we were thinking they would count toward the 27 lb (or 25 lb, depending on the source) total weight restriction per person… so we tried to pack very light. However, when we got to the Sansa counter, the young lady told us that the 27 lb limit is just for the “checked” bag, and that our backpacks that we carry on the plane don’t count. They weighed each of us, with our backpacks on, but never weighed our backpacks separately. I’m still glad we packed light, but next time we will know not to worry about it too much.
Hiking: We hiked every day during our 9 day visit, and never hired a guide. Although I understand that guides can spot wildlife, etc. that you might not find alone, and also give you an educational experience while hiking, we really enjoy hiking by ourselves and finding wildlife. We never felt the need for a guide on any of the hikes we did—and we spotted tons of wildlife. It is, however, very difficult to get info on TA about trails that you can hike by yourself. At BdC, as I mentioned, we did nearly all the trails on their property. While in Fortuna, we did a short hike over the old lava field within the National Park, where you can go right up and watch and hear the lava coming down the side of the volcano—spectacular! And definitely no guide necessary. As we were leaving the trail, we saw a group of about 20 people who had paid for the $40 guided hike. It was mid-afternoon, so they were not going to see any wildlife…. but I suppose the guide probably was very informative about the volcano, etc. (although they probably learned nothing that one could not read about, if interested in doing so). So it’s a matter of personal preference, I suppose. We also did the Hanging Bridges “hike” alone, as well as the Fortuna Waterfall, and a couple of very nice trails through primary rainforest, right on the grounds of Lost Iguana. Drove past the road to El Silencio hike on our way into town (privately owned land outside the National Park, and easily doable without a guide) but never made it there for a hike. On our last day of the trip, from Alajuela, we went up to Poas Volcano (didn’t see the crater and unfortunately didn’t have time to hike, but there were a few short trails that looked very beautiful and could easily be hiked without a guide). Anyway, the point is that it is quite possible to find trails to hike without paying for a guide to take you.
Monopod: For you photographers out there, I found my monopod invaluable for getting wildlife shots while on the trails. I never realized how useful they can be before this trip. (It also served very well as a walking stick on the steep sections of trails.)
Tarjeta telefonico (phone card): We purchased a $10 phone card as soon as we landed in C.R., and we found that it came in really handy. We could use it from really any phone (even phones in the rooms at L.I. and Xandari) to call home every few days to check on our dogs. I think we got about 35 minutes total, which was plenty.
Lost Iguana: After we arrived in Fortuna, I was so happy we chose L.I. over AOL, which was the other hotel we were considering. The food/restaurant service is not exactly outstanding, but it was still definitely worth it to stay there for the view and the relative convenience to town. I give details about this in my review of L.I. if interested. (By the way, we highly recommend Restaurante Vagabondo if you are in Fortuna-- OK, it's not "Tico" food but it's GREAT pizza! Thanks to Monica1978 for recommending it to us!!)
Xandari: Since I didn’t write a separate review of Xandari, I’ll just say here that it was, as others have noted, very extravagant and posh, with incredible views over the valley and Alajuela. We decided to splurge for our last 2 nights before leaving, and we were glad we did (although we might explore a new place next time). The food was really incredible—and very reasonably priced, somewhat surprisingly. The service was exceptional. We stayed in a prima plus villa that was down the hill from the restaurant… and after all our hiking, we sometimes didn’t feel like walking up. Well, one call to the front desk, and someone would be at our doorstep with an electric car, to give us a ride, literally within seconds. We also planned to go to Poas on the morning of our last day….but Douglas, at the front desk, called up there (without us even asking) and found out that it was completely socked in…. which was a disappointment to us, but it saved us the $$ of hiring someone to take us up there ($$ that the resort would have made, I might add). He kept calling each hour that day for us, and it remained socked in the whole day—so we went to Doka coffee plantation for a tour instead (very enjoyable). The last morning, as we were getting ready to leave for the airport, the Xandari staff did us the favor of calling Poas again, very early—and this time they were told that it was completely clear. So their driver offered to take us up there for a quick look before taking us to the airport (extra $$, naturally). We decided to give it a try, but unfortunately by the time we go to the top, at 8 a.m., it was socked in again. The park itself looked very beautiful though, and we look forward to spending more time there on our next trip.
Anyway, I can see why people return to Costa Rica again and again! We are already planning our return trip!