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.
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.