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Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

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Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

My boyfriend and I went to Costa Rica the first week of May, and let me just say that I think this is an excellent time to go. Since it is the beginning of rainy season, most of the hotel prices are discounted, and there were times when we had complete beaches to ourselves. We actually felt really bad for some of the restaurant owners b/c we were often the only people in the restaurants, and they told us how this time of year is very difficult for their businesses. Also, I’ve noticed a bunch of posts on here about petty theft and stuff. Maybe this is worse during the high tourist season, but I can say that (although we’re always careful and aware) we had no problems, and never felt unsafe ever. The only issue we had was with a pay phone. It hid the true price, and then charged my boyfriend’s credit card multiple times. Also, the weather really wasn’t a factor at all. Yes, it rained while we were in the rainforest, but I think that is to be expected, and it’s so hot outside that you’re already soaked with sweat, so you don’t really mind the rain. When we were in the beach areas, it only rained at night while we were sleeping. So, if you are contemplating a trip to Costa Rica during this time, I’d say do it!

A few quick tips:

- Definitely get a GPS if you are going to rent a car, and I would recommend getting a 4x4 too. The roads are rough, but drivable (as long as it hasn’t rained), but street signs are pretty much non-existent. The GPS saved us. By the way, we rented our car from Alamo, and they were very nice to work with.

- You’re probably going to get wet. A lot. We brought rain jackets with us, but because it was so hot, we didn’t really wear them. What was more important was something to put our “stuff” in. My boyfriend always carried our money, passport copies, etc. in a Ziploc bag in his cargo pants pocket, and I bought a Kwik Tek Dry Pak plastic bag for my camera. Excellent investment. Highly recommended. Also, it’s a good idea to wear a bathing suit under your clothes.

- You should bring some sort of travel alarm clock with you. Most hotels did not have clocks in the room, and we wanted to make sure to get up early for all of our adventures. Because my cell phone wasn’t working in CR, my phone alarm didn’t either. Luckily my boyfriend’s did.

- There are definitely some bugs. I washed with peppermint soap (at the advice of a friend), and used Cutter Advanced, but still got bitten up (a little worse by the beach than the rainforest, actually), but I didn’t get sick or anything. I get bit up like crazy in Chicago too though, so maybe it’s just me.

- Even though it can get really hot, I recommend wearing pants on the zip line and on rougher hikes like the AOL hike. I fell a couple of times, and got a little scrapped up, but wearing pants helped. Probably for the bugs too.

We split our time with 3 nights in the Arenal region, 4 nights on the Nicoya Peninsula (Montezuma & Mal Pais), and 1 night in San Jose (maybe actually Alajuela) before flying out.


What an amazing place! The scenery was beautiful, and just like out of a movie. In fact, the whole time we were there, I kept saying how I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. :) …and that volcano! Well, that is something that you just have to see to believe. I developed quite a crush on that thing, and am so glad we got to experience seeing an actual live volcano.

Hotel La Fortuna – Our first night we stayed at Hotel La Fortuna in La Fortuna. Our flight was delayed, so we got to La Fortuna very late at night (P.S. we had no problem driving from San Jose to La Fortuna at night). So, I wasn’t able to experience this hotel much. I will say that it was clean, more modern, and the free breakfast was simple and good. Also, the shower is only separated from the bathroom by a curtain, and although it doesn’t leak, per se, moving the curtain does get water all over the floor.

Hotel Linda Vista del Norte – I really liked this hotel. The view alone is worth staying there for. Our room was facing the lake and the volcano, and we would just sit by the window and stare at it at night. The room itself was clean and big. The bathroom was a little dark, though. The food at the restaurant was ok, and I especially liked the tipico breakfast, but again, the view from the restaurant was amazing. We really liked the pool too.

Soda La Parada – After reading everyone’s reviews of this place on here, we had to check it out. We thought the food was pretty good, and definitely inexpensive. Also, since we arrived late, we really appreciated that it was open 24 hours.

Rancho Margot – This place was really cool and unique. They are totally self-sufficient, from their water-powered energy source to the livestock and produce they grow. Because of this (I’m assuming) it wasn’t super-cheap, but we did enjoy a very fresh meal there. Also, we tried to rush through it b/c we had somewhere else to be, but I would recommend taking your time at this place.

El Jardin Escondido, aka “Pizza John’s” – Where to begin with this pizzeria in the middle of the rainforest? Well, we unknowingly showed up on the one night the place was closed, but since Pizza John (the owner) was hanging around, he welcomed us in anyway. So glad that he did. The 3 of us (me, my boyfriend and Pizza John) spent the entire night hanging out at the restaurant. We ate fresh pizza and delicious homemade ice cream, drank wine, and spent the night telling stories and listening to John tell us about the meaning of Pura Vida from someone who really lives it. If you go here, try to spend some time and really sit down and talk to John. He will love to hear your stories, and we’ve actually already been in contact with him again since we’ve been back in the states.

Hanging Bridges – This was a pleasant hike. Not too hard, and good to do if you have time, but it wouldn’t be terrible if you missed it. It gives you a nice feel for the environment. We went without a guide, and although we didn’t see any animals, we still enjoyed it. No big thrills, but nice.

Skytrek Canopy Tour – Awesome!! It was a one-of-a-kind experience. Definitely a thrill! These are some of the highest, fastest and longest zip lines in the area. The guides were great and made you feel pretty secure, the views were amazing, and this was just a lot of fun. I would recommend it.

Arenal Observatory Lodge Hike - We paid extra to get a guide to lead us on this hike. It wasn’t much extra, and it was worth it. This was not an easy hike. It was through the rainforest, not always on a path, and up the side of the volcano a little bit. The guide even gave us walking sticks, which we needed. Maybe there are easier paths too, but going the guided way was a good way to do it. Anyway, we really enjoyed this hike and the ruggedness of it, and we got to see some really good volcano activity from pretty close up.

La Fortuna Waterfall – This place was beautiful. From the top of the hike there are beautiful views, and the waterfall itself is great when you get to the bottom. There are a lot of stairs to climb up and down, but just take a breather, it’s worth it. Also, I would recommend wearing shoes with good traction, or take them off when you get to the bottom near the waterfall b/c it’s slippery.

Part 2 – Nicoya Peninsula – Coming Soon…

San Jose, Costa Rica
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1. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

Thank you for your part one report...nice to know that you like Arenal area as much as we do!

Agree with you Hotel La Fortuna is a good buy...!


Seattle, Washington
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2. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

So far I'm loving your report! Wonderful details...makes me almost feel like I'm there. And, where else will you find a restaurant owner to open up the place to a few people after closing? How cool is that? Looking forward to the rest... :-)

Austin, Texas
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3. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

I am loving your report so far! I am going to Arenal next week and your report has me super excited. We are staying at AOL. Do you know which trail you took when you went to AOL?

Grecia, Costa Rica
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for Province of Alajuela
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4. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

Great Trip report, Thanks for sharing.



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5. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

Thanks everyone! Hopefully Part 2 will be up in the next couple of days.

SassyBee, I don't know that we were on a specific trail. We just went where the guide took us. It started off on a trail, and then he took us literally through the forest and up the side of the volcano where there wasn't a path anymore. They told us he was an "animal smeller," and he did find a few lizards and a snake for us, but there weren't too many other animals around that day. Also, his English was not super good, and neither was our Spanish, which is a shame because I felt like he had a lot of knowledge that he could have shared with us. But again, he took us to a couple of cool spots that we would have never found on our own, so to us, it was worth it to go with him.

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6. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

Thanks for the report! You mentioned that Jardin Escondido is closed one day a week. Which day?

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7. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

I believe when we were there, it was closed on a Monday. I would definitely recommend you give this place a visit if you get a chance while in the Arenal area.

8. Re: Trip Report - Part 1 - Arenal

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