Author Topic: Costa Rica in September  (Read 3790 times)

peoria

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Costa Rica in September
« on: April 18, 2016, 12:06:41 PM »
We are going to costa rica in September, and I want to have fun, and try to keep costs low.

Our airfare to Liberia and our lodging is already free ( $80 of airline taxes).

We are staying in Playas Del coco, Guanacaste.

Questions for those that have been to the area-

Would you/did you rent a car? We went to Puerto valllerta, and their streets were pretty crazy for driving and parking due to small size of street and large number of cars. We were happy that we did not rent a car. We are active though, and I don't believe we will want stick to just the playas del coco area.

Can you suggest any hiking in the area?
Is going to arenal mountain area worth it?
Experiences with white water rafting tours? Did you go with a company or to a specific river that you enjoyed?  Would be into class 3-4 rapids.
Experiences with zipline? Specific company that you enjoyed?
How is the scuba? Any company to go with? Possibility of shore diving in that area, or just do snorkel?
Anything else that is a must do?

Advice for phone/data while in costa rica? We have to have access to email, and work emergency access for phone calls ( could use google voice, if data isn't an issue while wandering the country).  Our hotel wants $10 a day for wireless, and that doesn't go with us when we go out.  Verizon wants $40 for 100mb data and limited phone/text. 

Thanks for you input.

Secretly Saving

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2016, 01:33:47 PM »
I'm headed to CR in early summer.  Hiking, Arenal Volcano, white water rafting, ziplining, scuba and snorkel are all on our list.  I'll update when I get back!

TravelJunkyQC

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2016, 01:42:45 PM »
Hello!

I went to Costa Rica in late August last year!

I do recommend renting a car, simply because public transportation is very slow, so if you want to move around a bit, having a car will be easier. I cannot recommend enough Wild Rider (http://www.wild-rider.com/car-rental-rates/) for car rentals. It's a local company, owned and operated out of San José (but I think they might have something out of Liberia airport, you'd have to check). One thing to watch out for in car rentals in Costa Rica is that almost every company is going to quote you the day rate, and then once you get there, they'll tack on the mandatory insurance (Costa Rica doesn't allow car rentals without the country's insurance - your own insurance or even credit card insurance won't be acceptable). Wild Rider was the cheapest by far, simply because their quoted price was EXACTLY what I paid. They brought the car to the airport, and the guy spent an hour and a half with us, not only showing us the car, but mapping out our entire vacation for us. With our paper map on the hood of the car, he asked us where we were staying, and what kinds of things interested us, and then he drew possible itineraries, circled areas to visit, names of the best tours (always local - not touristy places), told us where the locals go for hot springs (no $$ to pay!), everything. It was fantastic.

I recommend the Arenal region, as it was lovely. That's where we went to the local free hot springs. You park across the street from the Tabacon Resort (at the entrance of the Volcano Arenal Park). You walk under the yellow metal gate, walk down the little hill, underneath an old stone bridge, and BAM, free hot springs just across the street from an expensive resort.

Volcano Arenal is also beautiful - we hiked up Cerro Chato, which is in the same park. From its rim you can see the Arenal Volcano. Instead of paying for a guided tour through the park gates, again, stop right before. There's a little wooden hut, and for I think 12$ for the two of us, they gave us a map and indications for the hike.

We also went to Las Pumas Rescue Center (about 5 km from Canas), which is a lovely little park where they rescue injured or animals that were formerly kept as pets. The town of Canas was also beautiful, with a church in the middle covered in mosaic tiles.

Close to Tilaran is Vientos Frescos, which is another private small park with a total of 5 (or maybe 7? I can't remember) waterfalls. It's a lovely short walk and we were the only people in the entire park the whole day. Be careful of the monkeys at the entrance though, they pelted us with fruit when we didn't move along quickly enough.

Also, the Catarata Llano de Cortes, which is a few km outside of Bagaces. Absolutely breathtaking little waterfall, with a pool at the bottom for swimming, you can explore the cave behind it. The entrance is free (it's private property), and you can simply donate to the women seated on the road. They collect money for the local church/school (they'll give you an official receipt). I gave 2$ and some fruit that we had. It's well worth the stop.

After the Arenal region we stayed in Nosara, south of Playa del Coco in Guanacaste. I don't know much about where you're going to be, but Nosara, Playa Guiones, Playa Juanillo... they were all lovely.

There - now you know my entire vacation!

Feel free to PM me if you want more details. Have fun!

teadirt

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2016, 01:58:05 PM »
I visited Costa Rica this January, and we had a great time!

I would say don't rent a car unless you have a tight schedule and you have a lot of faith in your driving ability. Be ready for very tight mountain passes with large vehicles driving on them (while riding a bus, the bus driver frequently had to BACK UP on the highway to let other large vehicles pass safely. We were inches from steep cliffs at some points)

Public transportation is also extremely cheap. We paid around $5 each for a bus from San Jose to Arenal.

peoria

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2016, 02:09:13 PM »
Secretly Saving, I will look forward to hearing about your trip.

TravelJunky, thank you for all the details of your trip. How did you feel about the roads and tight mountain passes?

Teadirt, were the roads like that in all areas, or just the road from San Jose to Arenal?

To others, I also realize September is the rainy season, does that affect whether or not I should rent a car? ( Are the roads crappier, and I shouldn't bother?)

FrugalFan

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2016, 02:12:53 PM »
Have done lots of work in that area over the years. Definitely rent a car! Easy driving in most places, and so many places to see (Coco is okay but there are amazing places nearby). For hiking nearby, try Rincon de la Vieja National Park. There are several great trails there, including a hike to the volcano summit, where you can see the crater (full day hike), and a 10 km round trip to a waterfall and swimming hole where you would likely be the only people there. There is also a shorter loop trail that takes you through some nice evergreen forest with some smaller waterfalls and some cool boiling mudpots (this is an active volcano). These three trails are very different and it would be worth going more than once to try another trail. Santa Rosa National Park is a great place to see wildlife but there are fewer hiking trails there.

I like Arenal and the northern route around Lake Arenal to get there is gorgeous. I also really like Monteverde and would go there if I were choosing between the two as the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest reserves are amazing. Both of these would have to be an overnight trip from Coco, but you can find somewhere cheap to stay in either place.

Ginger's restaurant in the neighboring beach town (Playa Hermosa) is amazing. Pizza Pronto in Liberia is also a favorite. And along the Arenal route, the Gingerbread House is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at.

This is a good company for river tours, but it is best for wildlife watching, not rapids: http://www.riostropicales.com/costa-rica/corobici-river-rafting-float/

There are tons of companies that do diving/snorkelling tours in most of the beach towns, including Coco.

I am not a fan of zip-lining as I prefer to enjoy the nature while hiking or on canopy bridges, but there are a lot of companies that offer zip-lining tours. 

Kaspian

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2016, 02:38:47 PM »
Well done on the free airfare to Costa Rica! It's the only real killer cost in a trip down there.

I would warn you--if you rent a car, please be careful!  Costa Rica has the highest incidents of road banditos in Latin America.  I can't remember where I read that stat, but it happens fairly frequently--they find some way to stop your car on an isolated stretch of road by radioing to bad guys up ahead.  Sure, 99% chance you'll be fine, but just keep it in the back of your mind.  Also, "Costa Rica has one of the highest traffic accident rates in the world. "  Source:  http://travel.gc.ca/destinations/costa-rica

"Anything else that is a must do?"  Yes, take some surf lessons!  :D


peoria

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2016, 02:50:23 PM »
Traveling Biologist, thanks for the tips.  We hope to make a good portion of our food at the condo, with only a few restaurants involved.  I did think of doing overnight to Arenal. You think monteverde is better?

Kaspian,  Southwest flies to costa rica now ( and many other new international destinations). We have tons of sw points ( 16000 rt for my SO) and a  companion pass for me:)   I have never heard of road banditios, I will look into them.


flyingaway

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2016, 08:02:25 PM »
If you will be in La Fortuna and like hiking, try Cerro Chato and get down to the volcano. I think those trials are really challenging and are certainly illegal in the U.S. (due to safety).

brooklynmoney

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2016, 08:52:16 PM »
You should check the weather. The surf camp I go to closes in September because it's rainy season. The roads could be washed out and driving could be difficult.

hm13hm13

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2016, 09:36:35 AM »
Peoria, I saw this post and thought it was such a great idea to get mustachian advice on upcoming travel. I saw you went to Puerto Vallarta. That's where I'm taking my family in May. I'd love to hear your download on PV and get advice! Post in here or post on the PV thread I started...

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/puerto-vallarta-in-may-with-2-little-ones/

jrhampt

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2016, 10:29:37 AM »
I lived in Monteverde one summer and got down to Guanacaste to the beaches as well as to Arenal to see the volcano and enjoy the hot springs.  It was about 12 years ago, but at the time the roads were TERRIBLE.  Most of them were unpaved, and as someone else in the thread mentioned, the mountainous roads are not only unpaved and steep, but also very narrow.  Unless the country's infrastructure has had an overhaul in the past 12 years, expect it to take much longer than you expect to get anywhere due to the poor road conditions.  When I lived there, we walked or took public transportation everywhere (buses), which was slow, but cheap.  When my boyfriend came to visit, he flew into San Jose and rented a car, but wished it had 4-wheel drive due to the road conditions.

I enjoyed Arenal, but it's more exciting if you get a cloud-free night when you can see some volcanic activity.  There are other places in the country where you can tour volcanic craters, and some of those are worth visiting, too.  I did no ziplining or scuba, but plenty of hiking in the cloud forest of Monteverde, which is a beautiful place.  Eat lots of fruit and enjoy all the fresh fruit drinks (batidos) in flavors you don't often see here - cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, lime - the country's cuisine overall is unexciting in my opinion, but the fruit there tastes more like fruit than it does in the US.  You will feel like you've been eating a pale imitation of fruit for your whole life.  And avocado season is fantastic. Also the mangos...we ate so many that we developed a slight mango allergy where the skin around our mouths broke out a bit from the juices.

TravelJunkyQC

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2016, 11:41:37 AM »

TravelJunky, thank you for all the details of your trip. How did you feel about the roads and tight mountain passes?

Teadirt, were the roads like that in all areas, or just the road from San Jose to Arenal?

To others, I also realize September is the rainy season, does that affect whether or not I should rent a car? ( Are the roads crappier, and I shouldn't bother?)

The roads aren't super, and don't expect to go at the same speeds as back home, and the rules of the road are a little less strict (people pass whenever they want, etc.). As long as YOU are careful, you'll be fine.

And I was also worried about being in the rainy season, and there were a few tertiary roads that were off limits (they were flooded), but primary and secondary roads were fine. Remember, secondary and tertiary roads are largely dirt, so potholes are an entirely different game than what we're used to here. However, again, go slow, (and for the love of all that is good, get a 4x4 car that is higher off the ground than a sedan), and you'll be perfectly fine. Yes, sometimes you may have to stop entirely to let someone pass on narrow mountain roads, or someone will pass you around a corner when you personally don't think they should, but I never felt in danger.

I agree with the above comments that renting a car isn't necessary - however, since we were there for only 11 nights, we didn't want to waste entire half-days in transportation. Especially if you'll be staying in the same place every night, I think a car will allow you to really explore as much as this beautiful country deserves.

In terms of security, I also heard about people getting car-jacked (the internet is a magical place to scare yourself silly). We never had any issues. In general, never stop for anyone that is not dressed as a police officer. If a police officer stops you and asks for you to pay a fine for xyz reason, ask for a ticket or ask to follow him to the police station. Police officers are sometimes just looking for easy cash. If you ask for anything official, they'll let you go. I've never had either of these experiences in Costa Rica, and everyone was incredibly helpful and friendly, but these are just general rules of the road for me.

I'll repeat something that I always tell myself: the internet is a great place to scare yourself into staying home and thinking that the outside world is terrifying. Costa Rica is beautiful, the people are lovely, and the end of August/ beginning of September is "rainy" in that it will rain for 1.5 hours in the afternoon and then... see picture :)

Trust me, you will have so much fun!

FrugalFan

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2016, 06:59:31 PM »
Our research team has been going to Costa Rica for months at a time for 15 years and none of us have ever experienced road banditos. We have been stopped by a cop looking for a bribe once or twice. Don't leave anything valuable in your car or it will get broken into. Other than that, the major roads are paved and fine and safe. There are some steep gravel roads going up the mountains (e.g. Monteverde) so a 4WD would be good during the rainy season, but even something small like a Susuki Jimny would do the trick. I actually feel safer in a small car than a bus on those mountain roads because of the narrowness. If you mostly cook at home, the staples tasty and cheap (black beans, rice, lots of fresh tropical fruit). The eggs are amazing! As for Monteverde versus Arenal, they are both nice but very different. Most of the areas around Arenal are more open and not forested. But the park around the volcano is nice and the town of La Fortuna at the base of the volcano is pretty nice, with nice views of the volcano. Monteverde is just very lush and green and very beautiful. Other than a small village with some cute shops and great restaurants, it is surrounded by cloud forest.

Reddleman

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Re: Costa Rica in September
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2016, 07:29:20 PM »
echoing here, but defintely agree.

You really need a car.  We rented a Suzuki Jimny through an international chain (National/Alamo) and there was no attempt to upsell us.  It was a great vehicle and got us through everything including some pretty substantial river crossings!  Although it looks small, it is a full body-on-frame, genuine 4x4 vehicle.  You really can't get anything more capable without spending serious money.  Something bigger?  It would make small roads more difficult to navigate, but be more comfortable because of the longer vehicle base.

The real problem with September is definitely the rainy season.  It will probably only rain 1-2 hours a day, but some areas will not be easily reachable because the roads will be underwater. The bad part is you won't know until you reach the crossing and suddenly discover that you simply "can't get there from here"!  Sometimes there is a way around, but it may take many hours longer. . .  and you might run into another river crossing.

BTW- having driven most of Nicoya on the coast, there are "better" and "worse" beaches, but you will have no problem finding nice places with few or no people on them.  The towns on the southern tip tend to be more touristy and "American" mostly because they're easier to get to by ferry/bridge.  My favorite spot by far was Samara.  Great little town with a good mix of locals and expats from around the world.

Arenal was nice too.  We stayed by the lake and hiked around Tenorio. FYI- while it may rain only a few hours a day in most places, rainforest means it- almost constant! 

If you're going to Monteverde, you might want to check out this.  The Univ. of Georgia has a center there on sustainablity and community development.  We stayed there for a few days and it was almost like being in summer camp!  A great way to get adjusted and oriented to the country. 

https://www.externalaffairs.uga.edu/costa_rica/


Have a great trip!