My sister and I travelled to Costa Rica for a conference that she was attending. I tagged along for the fun of it. Here is the trip report...
Day 1 (Wednesday):
We flew SFO-IAH-SJO, arriving in San Jose, CR about noon on Wednesday. We travelled with a few other people from my sister’s club who were going to the conference, and then caught the shuttle to the Doubletree Puntarenas in El Roble Puntarenas (www.doubletreepuntarenasresort.com), which is where the conference was being held. The ride took about an hour and was our first look at Costa Rica. It was raining pretty good – this is the Green Season – but we still saw quite a lot. Very junglely and lush once we left the city. The city itself looks ok – a little on the run down side, but pretty much what we expected.
The Doubletree is a reasonably nice hotel. It is looking a little dated and could use some TLC, but overall it is fine. They handled a big group very well. The food was ok to good, depending on the items. The pool and bar areas are pretty nice. The one real down side is the beach – the hotel is right on the beach, but that beach isn’t very nice. Another downside is that the pools close rather early – right around sunset, so no evening swimming or hanging out at the pool bars. There are bars open later, but not at the pool.
There are a few different pools and most of the conference attendees were booked into rooms in Building 3, which is around a pool. That was quite nice since we could all gather there in the off times. Building 3 seems to be the best building in general – our room was on the ground floor and we had a sliding glass door out to a small patio and then direct access to the pool area.
The first day was mostly just settling in and having dinner. There was a conference event that I didn’t attend, but I was tired so I called is an early night.
Day 2 (Thursday):
Today was an excursion day with Rain Forest Adventures (rainforestadventure.com/costa_rica_pacific_t…). We went on a canopy tour and ziplining near Jaco, which was a lot of fun. I had never been ziplining before, and although I was nervous at first, it was great. The canopy tour was pretty neat too. We didn’t see many animals on the canopy tour, but it was fun anyway. The tour included lunch, which was very good, and a nature walk and snake experience – I don’t care for snakes (at all) so I opted out of that.
After returning from the excursion, we swam in the pool and drank at the swim-up bar with most of the rest of the conference attendees. It was lots of fun – a good opportunity to meet the different people. Also a good opportunity to learn about Guaro, which is a Costa Rican alcohol, distilled from sugar cane.
Dinner was at the hotel, in the main buffet restaurant where we had all of our hotel meals. There are 2 (maybe 3) al a cart restaurants at the resort, but they were all full. We were at the hotel for 4 nights and tried for a reservation when we first arrived, but were told that they were booked solid throughout our stay. That was disappointing. I did hear from others though that showing up at the restaurants, early, and with a tip worked for some people, and that the restaurants were good.
That night was a costume party as part of the convention. A good time was had by all, but I am not sure how it would be as a regular guest – our convention was pretty lively, and I think we may have impinged on the enjoyment of other guests. So something to keep in mind if considering this hotel, since it seems that they do put on conferences on a regular basis.
We topped the night off with a walk on the beach (and some swimming, although NOT by me).
Day 3 (Friday):
This was a very laid-back day. My sister had conference activities, so I just hung out at the resort – breakfast, a walk, a swim, sunbathing, lunch, another swim, some reading… It was quite nice. I also booked a tour for the next day to Tortuga Island. When the conference activities were finished for the day, I convinced my sister and another friend at the convention to ditch their convention responsibilities and come with me.
That night we had another convention party – this time Nations Night, which was held on the beach with a band and a DJ. Each club brought representative alcohol and snacks from their country to share. And share we did. Again, it was a pretty raucous party, but this time some hotel guests not part of the convention crashed the party – can’t beat them, join them
Day 4 (Saturday):
Ditching the convention entirely – day trip to Tortuga Island. There are a lot of tour operators that take people out to Tortuga Island for snorkeling, sunbathing, lunch, and general hanging out. We chose one of the tour companies across the street from the Doubletree. There is a travel agent on site with Swiss Travel, but her tours were $115pp – we went with a more basic one for $80pp. It included a fast boat out to the island, snorkeling, lunch, and soft drinks. Our guide also brought beer for us. We learned later than the Swiss Travel tour boat took twice as long to get to Tortuga and that snorkeling was not included. They also were charged for drinks. Their boat did have a bar on it though.
The snorkeling was fun, although it wasn’t as spectacular as in other places like Hawaii (so I have heard – it was my first time). And the beach was great – white sand, nice soft waves, loungers and umbrellas. We spent a lovely day there.
My advice for Tortuga Island – check the different tour operators and see what they offer. Everyone goes to the same beach.
Saturday night was the finale of the conference – a gala dinner at the Hotel Villa Lapas (www.villalapas.com), which is on the way to Jaco. This is a neat hotel in the rain forest – we only had a few hours there, but it was beautiful and I would definitely return given the chance. The gardens are very pretty. Everyone was dressed up and it was just a really nice evening, although everything ran behind schedule. Tico time!
Day 5 (Sunday):
Next stop: Tamarindo
The conference was over, so time to say good-bye to everyone and go on our way. We got a shuttle back to San Jose airport, and then rented a car for the next stage of the trip. We travelled with 3 other girls from my sister’s club. We had an absolute blast with them – so much fun.
We rented a Mitsubishi Montaro and stuffed ourselves in for the ride to Tamarindo. The drive was longer than we thought –the instigator of this part of the trip thought the drive would only be 3 hours or so, but it turned out to be more like 4 1/2. We didn’t get on the road until about 3, so we arrived in Tamarindo after dark. The roads were decent though and we had GPS (a god-send). So it was fine.
In Tamarindo we stayed at the Best Western Vista Villas (www.tamarindovistavillas.com), which I loved. The hotel is fairly basic, but comfortable and clean – sort of a funky little place with a laid-back vibe. There are monkeys that live in the trees, which was neat. The pool area is nice with a great view of the ocean. The hotel is on a hill across the road from the beach. There is also a bar and restaurant area. We had drinks in the bar and breakfast in the restaurant – all good, and the people there are terrific.
We had dinner in town – Tamarindo has a beach road with a lot of shops, bars, and restaurants. We picked one (Restaurante Portofino Beach), sat out on the sand and had a great dinner. The people at the restaurant were great. That is one thing that I have to say about Costa Rica – by far some of the nicest, most friendly people I have encountered anywhere.
Day 6 (Monday):
After breakfast at the hotel, one of the girls and I wanted to go do something active. The other girls wanted to shop and hang out, but we wanted to get into the water. The people at the hotel recommended Blue Trailz surf shop. The guy there set us up with a sea kayaking and snorkeling tour. We went out with a guide – kayaked from the beach to a small island in the bay. We snorkeled from the island and hung out awhile, then kayaked back. The whole thing took about 3 hours. It was great.
We met up with everybody else after and had lunch at a little place just off the beach. Then after a little shopping, we went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon in the pool and at the bar – of course, more Guaro. Very relaxing day.
For dinner, we went to a small Soda (café) about a mile from town back up the road on which we came – the bartenders at the hotel recommended it. Very good food, very nice prices. Then we went back into town to check out the bars and clubs.
Overall, I loved Tamarindo – great beach, laidback surfer vibe, just a really nice little town. Great place to hang out.
Day 7 (Tuesday):
Today my sister and I left the other girls and headed to San Jose. We had a flight on Wednesday morning. The other girls were off to Manuel Antonio, so we took Interbus (www.interbus.com) to San Jose. The ride took awhile 4-5 hours, but it was scenic and the van was fairly comfortable. We sat in the back, and it was still ok. I would absolutely use this bus service again. The bus made a pit stop enroute – at a little roadside place with a café, bathrooms, gift shop, and trees filled with parrots (macaws?). It was a welcome break in the journey.
We spent the night at the Hotel Presidente (www.hotel-presidente.com), which is right in the middle of downtown San Jose. The hotel is lovely – not much to look at from the outside, but very nice inside. And once again – wonderful staff. San Jose itself is busy and sort of run-down. We had been told that, so we weren’t surprised, but still there are quite a few places of interest in the downtown core that I would like to see.
This was our last afternoon and my sister and I wanted to do some shopping, so we hooked up with some friends we met at the conference who live in San Jose. They took us to a market to shop. I bought a few things, my sister bought a lot of things (she is a marathon shopper). Neither of us are great at bargaining, but our friends backed us up. We’d do what we could, and if they didn’t think prices had come down sufficiently, they cleared their throats and voila, lower prices. It was fun.
We were pretty tired by the evening, so after we left our friends, we just went to a restaurant across the street from the hotel called El Patio – turns out it is part of another hotel, the Balmoral. Both hotels are on a pedestrian-only street, with lots of people out and about. El Patio was fine – decent food, nothing to write home about, but good. The restaurant itself was well decorated with lots of plants and dark woods. I am sure we could have found better food, but we didn’t want to put in the effort.
Day 8 (Wednesday):
Time to head home.
Breakfast at the hotel was plentiful and good, coffee universally good in this country. The door man got us a cab to the airport – we paid the hotel directly for convenience when we checked out. The drive to SJO was not bad – maybe 20 minutes.
We had other friends who stayed at hotels right near the airport before flying out, which was fine – but we are happy that we stayed in San Jose proper and got to see a bit of the city itself. The drive back to the airport wasn’t bad at all.
Costa Rica has been lovely, and we both vowed to return. It is a beautiful country with tons to do and see. And the people are great - absolutely wonderful.