Hard to believe months have past since our fantastic 3 week visit to Costa Rica this past August. Thanksgiving weekend is finally giving me the time to post a trip report and I have much to be thankful for.
We began one night at the Hotel Aeropuerto (simple - good only for sleeping one night) in Alajuela before traveling to La Fortuna for 3 days in Volcano Lodge Hotel www.volcanolodge.com. We had been given two suggestions for hotels near Arenal and were very happy we chose this one based on a photo on the hotel website which showed a swing set playground. We assumed because of this that there would be other families and we were right. Having other kids for our children to play with was great. In the Arenal area, we did Hanging Bridges which we recommend without kids. Our kids found the hike to be too long, but I would recommend it for adults without kids. Eco Centro Danaus www.ecocentrodanaus.com was great with the kids - very short hike and fantastic wildlife visible without a guide - although the center's groundskeeper showed us hidden tree frogs that we would not have seen on our own without his help. We also thoroughly enjoyed Arenal Vida Campesina www.arenalvida.com- a local farm experience with traditional lunch.
We then spent one week as volunteers and Spanish language students at Proyecto Asis www.institutoasis.com -living with a host family in nearby Javillos. I posted a separate recommendation for Proyecto Asis and cannot speak more highly of that experience!
We travelled in one long day, but with our excellent private driver/guide (Ricardo Mora of Tachiz Travel) from Liberia to the Trogon Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota at 8,000 feet near the Cerro de La Muerte at 11,000 feet - the highest point on the Inter-American Highway high in the Talamancan Mountains. The Trogon Lodge www.trogonlodge.com is truly something out of an enchanted forest fairytale. It was by far our most favorite place in Costa Rica from a lodging standpoint and a unique experience that I highly recommend. We not only saw Quetzal birds during the organized forest hike but we saw them while enjoying hot chocolate in front of the warm glow of the fire in the wood stove at the library/bar of the hotel.
I am an obsessive planner and spent no less than three years thinking about this trip. Having lived in Costa Rica for 4 years over 20 years ago, I had very specific ideas of what I wanted my family to experience. After roughly planning out where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, I used Trip Advisor to identify 3-4 tour agencies to contact. Despite knowing the country very well and being fully bilingual (or perhaps because I knew the country very well), I knew that I wanted an in-country partner to make the detailed arrangements with the hotels and to arrange for private transportation.
After consulting with different companies, I settled on working with Tachiz Travel www.tachiztravel.com - Alexis Herrera Vega was always extremely responsive, sometimes responding within hours to my emails and never more than an overnight delay in response. Alexis was able to handle my high maintenance nature and frequent redesign of our travel plans. Even after we had paid in full for our trip but still more than 30 days in advance of the travel dates, when my Costa Rican friend all of a sudden offered to host us at Club Condovac in Playa Hermosa, Alexis was able to re-arrange our other hotel and transportation plans to make it work. He made very good recommendations but also was completely open to our choices and I never felt that he was pushing us toward any particular hotel or tour. Yet knowing that I had a local company handling and implementing our travel desires made for a very relaxed trip. We never did have to make use of his in-country assistance because nothing went wrong. Our prearranged driver was always early to pick us up and transport us to our next destination.
This was a fantastic - unfortunately probably once in a lifetime - trip for us and I cannot be more grateful for the wonderful experience that we had.