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Trip report

Ponder, Texas
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84 posts
23 reviews
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Trip report

I wanted to post a trip report to pay back the advice I received on this forum prior to our trip. In hind sight, I wish I had asked more questions. We arrived at the Liberia airport on Sat. June 5. We rented a car (actually reserved 2, an SUV and a corolla). After talking to the tourist info girl at the airport, we decided to go with the SUV. I'm glad we did, though it was not actually necessary but it was nice to not worry about clearance so much. We headed out for the Barcelo Langosta hotel. First stop was to get gas at a Total station. Due to being tired and kind of stressed, we got taken for an xtra $8. Guess it was a tip. :) Lesson learned, figure out the exchange rate prior to going! On to our hotel, a little of the road in Tamarindo was very bumpy but the rest was fine. We loved the Barcelo Langosta. Food was good to great, depending on the meal. The cooked to order station and pool bar were fabulous. Drinks were not so great. We're not big drinkers, so taste matters, and they just weren't good. We walked to the National park across the river. Very deserted and beautiful. The cvurrent was pretty strong though. The beach hotel was not swimmable at all. This was very disappointing. Too many currents and big waves. But we drove up the coast to Brastilitos(?) and Flamingo. They were uncrowded and perfect. Nice sized waves that our twins "surfed" in those inflatetable rings. We also stopped to see the monkey's at Captain Suzios, the baby monkey loved my kids blonde hair and climbed all over them! Very cool.

Wednesday a.m, we left Tamarindo for Arenal. Here's where things went south. We had a gps and 2 maps. But there are no signs! Let me repeat that, there are no signs, not highway, not town, not any! My hubby's route had us take hwy 6 then turn onto Hacienda something road, which turned to a 1 lane mud road about 2 miles in. The gps and maps showed that it was a road, but not 1 we wanted to take a chance on. Since we had no info on the other roads, we drove all the way up 6 to 4 and then down. Even this was very difficult because we would drive into a town and somehow get on the wrong road. We speak very little spanish and no one we asked to spoke English. Anyway, we finally made it to La Fortuna, took about 5 1/2 hours. The volcano was beautiful and in full view. Too cool! Our hotel was the Volcano Lodge, it was amazingly beautiful Very private feeling with gardens all around. We relaxed and hung out at the pool with the volcano peeking in and out. About 5pm it poured rain but had stopped by 6:30 pm. We ziplined with Skytram the next day. Another wonderful experience. The Arenal area is so beautiful, I wish we had stayed another day or 2. So Thursday about 2:00, we headed for San Jose. It rained the whole way, the road was very curvy but we were able to find our way. Then we got to San Ramon where I swear they drive the craziest I've ever seen! After too many near misses we got near the SJO airport, but we could not find our hotel. (Holiday Inn Express). Traffic was stopped in every direction and again, no road signs at all. We did not have an address so we could not put it into the gps, and the phone # I had did not work. I was pretty well in hysterics. Finally a very nice lady gave us directions and we got to the hotel, which again was very nice. Thrifty was right across the street, so no more driving! YAY!

In hind sight, get better info on the roads, get better directions, get phone #'s or maybe take buses. Absolutely LOVED Costa Rica, but the driving made me temporarily hate it. Hope this helps someone to plan better. PS Get the full insurance, yes it's $$ but worth the peace of mind. And Thrifty was wonderful too.

San Jose, Costa Rica
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46,308 posts
35 reviews
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1. Re: Trip report

Thank you for such a nice report...glad that everything was almost OK...about roads signs...we know exactly what you are talking about...it will change in the near future? I do not think so! SORRY!

roadadvisor

malibu
4 posts
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2. Re: Trip report

Thanks for sharing.

I think you gave a very accurate description of driving around in Costa Rica.

No signs. Repeat no signs.

I wonder why they don't have more signs?

Based on everything I have read on this Forum - no rental car for me. I might get one for the day, but for 8 out 10, extended rentals are a big hassle in Costa Rica.

Thanks again,

Bu

Boston...
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904 posts
8 reviews
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3. Re: Trip report

Rental cars are not a hassle in CR. They're an adventure.

Costa Rica
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25,654 posts
25 reviews
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4. Re: Trip report

I really can't imagine getting lost going from Tamarindo to Arenal! Tamarindo to Liberia. Turn right at the traffic light. Follow that highway until you see a sign that says "La Fortuna." Turn left. Follow that road to La Fortuna. How did you get "taken" for the extra $8? Bad exchange rate?

If you turned onto Rt 6, you went to Upala which is WAY out of the way and I can't imagine why you went that way. Poor GPS information perhaps? There are big signs at the intersection where you turn to go to Upala and none of them say La Fortuna. It sounds like you had a GPS problem since your GPS didn't know where the Holiday Inn Express was. (Yes, traffic is pretty bad around the airport but really don't know how you missed the Holiday Inn Express - there are signs and it is really very obvious.) I think the poor GPS was probably at the root of the problem.

As for signs, I see signs all the time. What kind of signs were you looking for?

I think driving in Costa Rica is like driving anywhere you have never been. The difference is if you don't speak any Spanish and can't ask for directions very easily. However, people here will really try to help you, unlike the guy at the gas station on Long Island who said to me, "Lady if you want directions check the Chamber of Commerce. If you want gas, I can sell you some." Yes... there are crazy drivers.... you just have to be watchful, as has been pointed out here many times.

Of course, you don't have to drive when you come to Costa Rica. There are other modes of transportation. But it does give you the freedom to come and go at on your own schedule and stop where you want to on the way. There are always trade-offs. Private driver is expensive, shuttle is great but not very flexible, public bus is inexpensive but time-consuming, domestic flights are always an option. But the other question is - how are you going to get around once you arrive? Think about the day trip to Brasilito and all around.

What some people do is take some kind of transportation to their destination and then rent a car there. This is possible in places like Liberia or Arenal and some other places.

Central Florida
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53 posts
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5. Re: Trip report

I'm looking forward to getting a little lost in the mud next week!

In all honesty, I'm not really sure what to expect. I am the only one in our group who can read a map, and I'm pretty good at knowing when I'm off track.

How long did it take you to make the drive from your hotel to the airport area?

Tampa, FL
Destination Expert
for San Jose, Costa Rica
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2,221 posts
1 review
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6. Re: Trip report

"Rental cars are not a hassle in CR. They're an adventure." I think that statement by Travelholic sums it up REALLY REALLY well.

Renting a car a self driving is certainly not the best solution for everybody. In fact, for some people it can be an absolutely HORRIBLE solution. You need a decent sense of direction (OR evidently if you're going to rely 100% on the GPS, a decent and reliable GPS system), an ability to roll with the punches (e.g. getting caught behind slow trucks and sometimes dealing with the overly aggressive drivers that try to get around them) and, like Travelholic said, the outlook that the experience is part of the adventure because sometimes despite everything else things can and will go wrong. For those people who have those abilities and/or can take that outlook, renting a car and self-driving can really enhance your CR adventure by providing you with the complete freedom to go whereever you want whenever you want (at least during the day as driving yourself at night can be somewhat dangerous in some areas even for experienced CR drivers).

I have a pretty good sense of direction, grew up driving on the crazily laid out potholed streets of the Boston area with all its aggressive drivers (I realize that is not exactly the same, but there are similarities) and so have always felt fairly comfortable driving around CR. Still I've gotten lost driving in CR a couple of times. Though those incidents seemed a bit tense at the time, they were really more of just a temporary inconvenience and looking back on them now I think of them more as just another travel story I have to tell. Looking at it yet another way, I did get to see some parts of CR that I probably never would have seen otherwise. So it really does all depend on your outlook.

----

btw, rebl32262, great trip report. I'm glad you still had a wonderful trip despite your few difficulties.

Ponder, Texas
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84 posts
23 reviews
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7. Re: Trip report

Wow thats some strange reactions to a trip report. # 1, we had 2 10 year olds in the car. Getting stuck in the mud or getting totally lost was not going to be an adventure, and my kids are sweet, mellow kids. BUT no kid likes to spend hours getting some where. #2. I have never, in all my travels seen so many unsmiling, mad looking people. We started paying attention, my hubby and I, and agreed that there were very few smiles. Yes I realize it's a poor country, and I have been very poor, but being happy is free. #3 There are no signs telling what hwy you are on, there are no signs saying what city you are in,, there are just NO signs. # 4 maybe the locals can spot a rental car and figure it's a good way to get free repairs, but there were numerous incidents where the driving went way past aggressive. Like cars on either side of us passing on a road with only 1 lane. We have driven all over the world and travel extensively, we've been to NYC and encountered lots of people more than willing to help, in CR, it was just the opposite situation. We have never had an experience as close to horrible as the driving in CR was. I just think that tourism is a huge boon to the economy, it would benefit everyone in CR if it was easier to get around.

Last, I was just trying to explain to other families, what the difficulties of getting around were so they could possibly make other arrangements or at least know what to expect. I realize that some of you think only good stuff should be written, it is the same way on cruisecritic, but I like to read someone's opinion, the good and the bad.

Costa Rica
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25,654 posts
25 reviews
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8. Re: Trip report

Sorry, rebl - you did write a good trip report and we are glad you had a good time. I still would like to know how you came to end up in Upala when you were trying to get from Tamarindo to Arenal?

I took a little trip yesterday to take a look at a new hotel which is about 50 miles from where I live. There were signs everywhere, including signs to tiny little towns down gravel roads. There were signs that warned you of a narrow bridge; there were signs that warned you of a school; there were speed limit signs; there were signs for curves; there were signs that there was a gas station ahead. . No, I did not see any signs telling me what highway I was on. That's true.

I am sorry you had such a difficult experience driving but I am just questioning some of your statements about "there were no signs".

Once again, I think that your biggest problem was your GPS. I am sure that once you got confused and started feeling lost, everything seemed pretty dismal from that time on.

Anyway, glad your family had a good time.

Seattle, Washington
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2,505 posts
12 reviews
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9. Re: Trip report

Thanks for taking the time to post your report and helpful tips for other travelers. It does, as you say, always help to read the good and the bad...and basically - everyone's personal experiences. I've heard both sides from 1st time visitors, some thought it was a breeze and some with difficulties. Glad you had a good trip. :-)

Philadelphia
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10. Re: Trip report

We spent a week driving from SJO to Arenal and down to MA last month. Funny, but the only crazy drivers who passed us like maniacs were other tourists, not Ticos!

As for the lack of signs, yeah, there could be more. But every time we stopped to ask where someplace was, we got a good response, no angry people...