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Trip report - Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Ra'anana, Israel
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Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Thanks TripAdvisor community for helping me plan a great tour in Costa Rica. Time to give back.

WHO: My husband and I (in our mid 40s) and our 3 daughters (ages 10, 15 and 18)

WHEN: 8-20 April, choose this time because it is dry season and the girls were on their spring vacation from school. Out of 11 days of our trip, we had 10 days of sunshine (maybe some rain in the evenings)

The down sides of April:

- Not turtle season in Tortuguero

- Not enough water in the rivers for serious rafting

- Not whale season in Marrino Ballena

But hey, you can't beat sunshine – I would defiantly recommend going in April.

TRANSPORTATION: A rented Car. Can't imagine doing it any other way. Having a car gives you freedom to do what you want when you want to and enables you to enjoy a wider selection of hotels and restaurants. Many timer you would read hotel reviews where people that didn't have a car would say "remote hotel at least 5 miles from nearest restaurant, you have to eat the hotel restaurant where the food is bad and overpriced". While people with cars will say about the same hotel: "great location just 5 min from a lot of restaurants.."

We used NavSat GPS maps. They were great. Got us anywhere we needed. Sometimes didn't suggest the shortest route, so best have a printed map for sanity checks. We used the map from mapcr.com. It has detailed location maps for major tourist town, which we found very useful.

The car was rented from Poas rent a car. Overall we were pleased with their service; The only issue is that when you have a flat tire, you need to take care of it on your own. The problem was that it was impossible to change the tire with the tools provided with the car. More about that later on…

HOTELS: being a family of 5 traveling during the busy tourist season, we had reserved all hotels in advance. Hotel selection was based on TripAdvisor recommendations. We were extremely pleased with our choices. If you read the reviews you will know exactly where you are going, and find that hotels that are best for you.

*** Arriving at San Jose and Poas Volcano area ***

Arrived at San Jose airport at 10:30 AM and didn't take long before we were out of the airport. Called Poas rent a car and they came to pick us up to their offices which are 5 minutes away. We had reserved a car class Suzuki XL for 7 people. We found out the car was too small, my 3 teen aged girls could not sit comfortably in the back. I don't know how anybody can sit in the 2 additional seats in the back row. They said they will have a bigger car for us, but it will only be available the following day and that they will deliver it to us at our hotel (which was about 45 min away) with no extra charge. And so they did.

Had lunch at a restaurant near the car rental offices – Rusti Pollo – (grilled chicken) which was good.

La Paz Waterfall gardens – took us about an hour to get there. The last part of the road is a dirt road. La Paz Waterfall gardens are open till 5:00 pm and have a secure parking lot, so we could leave the car with our suitcases in it. It was a good introduction to Costa Rica wildlife. We saw many animals that we will later see in the wild, like monkeys, birds and butterflies and some that we didn't get to, like tigers and the tiny red frogs. The hike to the waterfalls was also very beautiful.

Poas Lodge – Half an hour from La Paz Waterfall gardens we arrived at our first hotel. It is a very lovely small hotel located on the slope of Poas volcano and has a great view of the valley below. Ate dinner at their restaurant which was very good. Poas volcano is just a few min up the road so you can have breakfast at 7:00 and be at the gates of the national park at 8:00 when it opens. You need to check out at 12:00, which gives you plenty of time to explore the park and come back for your belongings.

Poas volcano – We arrived early in the morning as all the guide books advise. There were no clouds and we could get a great view of the main crater. Did the hike to Botos lake. By the time we got there it was all covered with mist we couldn’t see a thing. But the hike itself is very nice, beautiful vegetation.

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Poas Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
Ra'anana, Israel
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116 posts
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1. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

**** The way to Tortuguero ****

There are 2 main methods of reaching Tortuguero.

One is a "package" where you get picked up in the San Jose area, take a tourists boat, stay at a lodge outside the village, eat at the lodge, take a tour of the park and maybe also take a tour of the village.

The other is to take the same route as the local people do: drive a long partly unpaved road, take the public boat, stay at a hotel in the village and eat at local restaurant or buy food in a local grocery store. This is the method that I preferred. I think Tortuguero is not just about wildlife it is also about the village. I wanted my daughters to understand that there are different ways of living.

The boats leave 3 times a day and the drive is pretty long. So we have decided to stop in the middle of the way for the night.

Casa Rio Blanco – Located near Guapiles. They have wood cabins on the edge of a forest above a river – beautiful. There are many restaurants nearby including a burger-king. But we were too tired to go out so we asked Annett, the owner to cook for us.

In the morning we took a hike down to the river bellow and had a swim. It was fun having the forest and the river all to ourselves.

Left Guapiles at about 10:30 to be sure we make the boat to Tortuguero. NOTE: the boat leaves la Povana at 1 PM not 1:30 as stated in Tortuguero village web site. So better check with your hotel before going, or make sure to arrive well ahead of time, just to be on the safe side. There is a big restaurant at la Povana, where you can sit and wait for the boat.

Looking at the map provided at Tortuguero village web site, the drive to La povana looks complicated. We just entered La Povana into our GPS and arrived there with no problems. Well almost no problems…

As we pulled into the parking lot at La Povana we could hear the air coming out of our tire. Tried to fix it but the jack provided with the car was too small to lift it and had a dent in it so you couldn't lower it back to it's original position. Called the rental company. They said flats are our responsibility, their nearest office is an hour and a half away and we should try to handle it by ourselves. Time was getting short so we just left the car as was and boarded the boat to Tortuguero.

*** Tortuguero ***

The boat dropped us off right on the dock of our next hotel:

CASA MARBELLA – Located right in the middle of the village on the bank of the canal. My daughters just loved walking around and exploring the village, which is what we did in the afternoon. Though most houses in the village are pretty run-down, casa Marbella is clean and well maintained and a very pleasant place to stay.

At 6 am the following morning we took the wildlife tour with Daryl the owner of casa Marbella. The tour leaves before breakfast but coffee and tea are available and we got some cakes at the bakery next door which opens at 5:30. The tour was great. We saw and learned a lot about the wildlife in the area.

Since we already had tickets to the National park, decided to have a walk in it in the afternoon. Saw a few monkeys and a local boy showed us a few snakes for a few bucks.

At dinner at the Buddha Cafe. The service was slow but the food was good.

In the evening we went on a turtle tour on the beach. We were warned that there is very little chance of seeing any. But we were in Tortuguero – we had to give it a try. No, we did not see any turtles. But we learned a bit about them.

Many has been said about how great a wildlife guide Daryl is, but not enough about how great a person he is. After the tour I decide to consult with him about our flat tire situation. He just went home and lent us his own Jack to use (it was much bigger and better than the one provided with the car). Told us we can leave it with the guard at the parking lot at La Povana. Really saved us.

For all of you asking: is Tortuguero worth visiting out of turtle season? I say: defiantly yes. My family just loved the village itself, and there is plenty of other wildlife to enjoy.

*** Form Tortuguero to Arenal ***

Took the 6AM boat out of Tortuguero so that we will have enough time to fix the tier and get to our next destination. Using Daryl's Jack we had no problem changing the tires. In the next town we fixed the tier. It cost about $5. Got to Tirimbina, our next hotel. In the afternoon went back to the car to get something and found the same tire out of air again. This time the parking security grad came to our aid, with his own bigger and better Jack. Fixed the flat in a little place a few meters up the road. This time it cost us about $6 (not including the tip to the security guard) but it least it was fixed properly.

Tirimbina – came across this place while looking for a place to have a quick stop on the way from Tortuguero to Arenal. Decided there is so much to do here it deserves spending the night.

Tirimbina has a private reserve with paths that include several hanging bridges. It is free for hotel guests. We took a walk there and saw some wildlife and the forest is also beautiful. Marked "hanging bridges" off my Costa Rica to-do list .

Thought of taking a rafting tour in the Sarapiquí river (can be arranged through the hotel),.But water levels are very low this time of year. They were running only class II rafting. Having spent considerable time in boats the past couple of days, we decided to skip it.

In the evening we took Tirimbina's bat program, which was very interesting. And we got to touch a bat.

In the morning we took the chocolate tour. Learned all about chocolate origin, how it is made and got an opportunity to taste it as well.

Than we continued towards Arenal. This time the GPS suggested a route that will take about 5 hours (back through San Jose). Looking at the map we saw that there is a much shorter route, which takes about 1.5-2 hours. After we consulted with the people in the reception, who told us the short route was on paved roads in good condition, drove this part of the trip using the map instead of the GPS. Had no problem finding the way.

The route took us through Muelle where we stopped to see the iguanas. They are easy to find. In Muelle turn north, instead of continuing west towards La Fortuna. After about a few minutes you will see los iguanas restaurant where the iguanas can be found.

Soon we saw the mighty Arenal in front of us. Our good luck with the weather continued and Arenal was fully exposed almost the whole time we were near it. And it is a beautiful mountain.

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Ra'anana, Israel
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116 posts
87 reviews
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2. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

**** Arenal *****

HOTEL LOS LAGOS – after staying in so many small, out of the way bed and breakfast type places, my daughters have earned the right to stay in a bigger more resort type hotel. My daughters loved los Lagos, especially the pools that included hot pools and water slides. We spent 3 nights at Los Lagos. Every day ended at the pools that are open till late in the evening. Very nice to relax in the hot pools, for us, and to go on the slides, for my youngest daughter. Another reason for hanging by the pool is that WiFi is available by the pool, but not in the rooms.

Originally I have thought of staying at a hotel on the "lava" side of Arenal, near El Castilio. But since lava has stopped flowing for several months I have decided to stay at a hotel closer to town (La Fortuna). The views from the hotel are spectacular. You can see Arenal from about any point on the property The hotel is on the slope of the mountain so there is also a great view of the valley bellow. The breakfast was rich - had pancakes, which my daughters love, and is served from 6:30 so you can grab it before going on activities.

PURETREK CANYONING – Choose this canyoning company over the other one because they take smaller children and the others only take from age 13. My little one was disappointed to realize in the middle of the trip that she had no control over her descend. Her ropes were tied differently and the guides were lowering her like a bag of potatoes. I guess they don't take any chances. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun. They have tours at 7 and at 12. We took the 7am one so that we will have time for another activity that day.

HORSEBACK RIDING, LOS LAGOS – in the afternoon (1:30) we took the horseback riding tour that leaves from the stables that are on the hotel grounds. It was the best horseback riding tour we ever took. Two of my daughters ride horses but the rest of us only ride once or twice a year in tours like this one. The horses we well behaved and easy to control. It was just the 5 of us, and the guide. The tour took us on the slope of the mountain, through green postures and even one small creak. You have the volcano in front of you and the valley on the other side. 2.5 hours tour – just right for us.

LAUNDRY - after traveling for about a week laundry was starting to pile up. Both Trimbina and Los Lagos have laundry service, but it's a "pay per item" type of arrangement. Being a family of 5, it is not really a practical solution. In our map we found in indication of a laundry service in La Fortuna main road, across from the church. It was in Arenal Hostel. There they have a "pay per Kilo" laundry service. This is much more reasonable. Left the laundry there that afternoon. Picked it up the following afternoon, all clean and neatly folded.

The next day was devoted to exploring the farther side of the volcano, near El-Castilio. Traveling with kids, you know that every dirt road has to have an attraction in the end. For us it was sky trek.

SKYADVENTURE SKY TREK – there are many places you can zip line in La Fortuna area, including one in los lagos itself. We choose sky trek. It looks very professional and safe. The views of the lake and the mountain are very beautiful. You literally zip from one mountain to another. Very long and high lines. My little one did the shorter runs by herself and the longer ones with a guide.

After sky trek we went to hike the trails at Arenal observatory lodge. My daughters, at this stage decided they had enough of rain forest hikes and just wanted to get back to the pools at Los Lagos.

We at lunch at PIZZA JOHN'S JARDIN ESCONDIDO, at El Castillo. Really good pizza accompanied by an interesting life story.

After all the activity of the past days, my 2 older daughters wanted a massage. They had one in Los Lagos spa. They enjoyed it so much that my husband decided to have one too. We didn't need advance reservation.

*** form Arenal to Manuel Antonio ***

Check out time at Los Lagos is 12:00. We decided to stay and enjoy the pools some more. Big mistake. The drive to Manuel Antonio took us (including lunch and other breaks) about 7 hours. The last hour or so, was driving in pitch dark, which is no fun at all.

Stopped at "Lands in Love" for lunch. They server vegetarian food and have a much larger variety of dishes than your typical costa Rican soda. We enjoyed the food.

Another stop was at the bridge over the Tarcoles river to see the crocodiles.

*** Manuel Antonio ***

LA POSADA – Continently located at the gate of the national park, we just parked the car in their parking space and walked to the park or the beach. There are several restaurants and a supermarket within walking distance. We stayed in La Casa, which is a huge 2 bedroom apartment. It has a kitchen and it was nice cooking our own food after eating so much restaurant food. As said in many reviews the animals from the park come to visit la Posada. One day a group of white faced monkeys came to visit and the other day a dear came by. No need to say how thrilled my daughters were.

On our first day there we visited the national park, with a great guide that was arranged though La posada.

In the afternoon the girls took surfing lessons. Again we arranged the guides through La posada, but you can find these same guys on the beach offering surfing lessons as well as jet skis. There is really no need to reserve these activities in advance.

On our second day there we decided to go a bit to the south. Seen the beached in Ballena national park. And visited Domonical, as the girls wanted to see a surfers town. Got back to Manuel Antonio in the after-noon, took some boogies from La Povana, and hit the beach again.

On our last day there – being so close to the national park, we took a morning walk in the park before heading back towards San Jose Airport

*** San Jose Airport ***

Had an 8 am flight out of Costa Rica, so had to spend the last night near the airport.

We have returned our rented car in the evening, so as to save time in the morning. Poas rent a car were kind enough to give us a ride back to our hotel.

ADVENTURE INN – Very good motel for a stay near the airport. It is located a 10 minutes' drive from the airport, in a pleasant neighborhood. There is a commercial center down the road with a few restaurants, a supermarket and a pharmacy. Not sure if it is walking distance. The only problem we had here was that the room they gave us was above some engine room. It was not only noisy, but you could feel the bed shaking. We arrived early so there was no problem to move us to a different room. Don't know what the people that got there after us, and got the same room did about it. Adventure inn offers free taxi ride either to or from the airport. So that is how we got to the airport in the morning.

Had a great time in Costa Rica, especially thanks to the great advise given by TripAdvisor members and experts. Thanks!

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3. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Nice report...thank you...

roadadvisor

Winnipeg, Canada
Destination Expert
for Costa Rica
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4. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Thanks for taking the time to write such an excellent and detailed report.

And thanks for adding it to the Trip Report Thread so others will be able to find it

Glad you enjoyed your trip.

pura vida

raquel

Edited: 31 May 2011, 23:30
chicago
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5. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

What was your drive time from MA back to San Jose?

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San Jose
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6. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Awesome reporting, thanks for taking the time to do that for future travelers, good stuff.

Cheers

New York, NY
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7. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

So so glad I found this report as I've been trying to find someone who did the chocolate tour as we'll be driving from Arenal to LaPaz and wanted to make the 10 min detour each way to Tirimbina for the 1pm chocolate tour. How was the road west of Tirimbina to the main road going to intersection with 140 and on to Muelle ?? (I think it's not certified by DOT so that is why your GPS didn't bring it up and car insurance wouldn't cover this section).

Is the chocolate tour worth the detour and waking up really early?

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8. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Thanks! Great report NoPlaceLkeHome, tks.

Ra'anana, Israel
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116 posts
87 reviews
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9. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

Hi,

Glad to hear my report helps.

We enjoyed the chocolate tour in Trimbina very much. You learn about how chocolate is made, have a go at grinding and mixing it, and of course taste it. The tour includes a walk through the jungle over some hanging bridges, these are also an adventure for the kids.

The road from Arenal to Tirimbina is a good paved road. I think the problematic road is the section going down to La Paz.

Have fun

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Jacksonville...
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10. Re: Trip report – Poas-Tortuguero-Tirimbina-Arenal-MA

What a great trip report! Thank you for all the details. Can't wait for our stay at Poas Lodge and Los Lagos!