Our Costa Rica Trip Review
This page documents Jess'n'Jen's trip to Costa Rica and our notes on
the various tours we took, the places we stayed, the rental car, and
the tour outfit we used. The following things are reviewed
here if you're interested:
- Costa Rican Tours - the tour packaging agency we used.
They provided a package with hotel reservations, tour
reservations, and a rental car.
- SIXT car rental - car rental agency
- Driving yourself through Costa Rica
- Britannia hotel in San Jose
- Arenal Paraiso hotel in Arenal area
- Horseback riding in Arenal area
- Spelunking (aka cave exploration) in Arenal area
- Hanging Bridges Walk in Arenal area
- Canyoneering (aka rappelling down waterfalls) in Arenal area
- Trapp Family Lodge in Monteverde area
- Zip line in Monteverde area
- Night hike in Monteverde area
- Parador hotel in Quepos / Manuel Antonio area
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Catamaran dolphin watching and snorkeling boat tour in
Quepos / Manuel Antonio area
Information is organized by the number of the day of the trip.
Pictures are located here
I took a few years of spanish in high school and Jen learned
from her friends, so our spanish wasn't great but it was good enough to
ask directions, order food, and be polite. If your spanish is
that good or better, the trip will be a breeze. If you have
spanish, be sure you get good maps if you're driving or else ask
directions at hotels- they all speak english.
Day 1 - San Jose
arrived in Costa Rica in the morning at the airport outside of the city
of San Jose. Costa Rican Trails representatives met us at the
airport and drove us to the Britannia hotel in San Jose.
The airport and the city of San Jose
airport customs was fast and friendly, always a good start to a trip in
another country. Definitely faster than customs coming back
the US (but US customs agents are a surprising nice bunch too!).
The city had lots of trash in the streets, very busy, tons of
people, lots of clothes shops and street vendors- definitely a fun
place to explore around. The panaderias (bakeries) are
us at the airport with signs with our name on it, which was very nice
because we didn't have to go looking for them at all. They
super friendly and one drove us from the airport to our hotel.
was very nice, spoke much better english than our spanish, VERY clear
on what we needed to do about the car rental and going on our tours and
such. They provide vouchers for everything from the hotel
reservations to the car rental to the tour packages. Everyone
gave the vouchers to expected them and there was no questions asked-
very nice system they have set up. The driver gave lots of
advice on being safe in Costa Rica and how to drive from one place to
the next. The only downside was that they were supposed to
provide us more detailed maps of the areas we were going to, but he
forgot the maps- so we had a little trouble finding some of our hotels.
Not too much trouble, but we definitely had to stop and ask
directions. If you don't want to have to do this, be SURE
give you maps of the local areas to find your hotels. They
they would try to get the car rental agency to bring the maps in the
morning- but that didn't happen.
One other drawback was the
descriptions of the tours told how great they were and were a good
sales pitch, but didn't mention anything about what to wear or if you
should bring a dry change of clothes, etc. I highly recommend
reading the tour paperwork at the hotels for the tours you are going
on, the tour pamplets or whatever they have usually tell you what to
wear/bring/etc. Paying attention to this can really help make
tour a lot more comfortable which makes it a lot more fun.
though, we felt that the value add from Costa Rican Trails was well
worth it. We priced out the things we did after the trip and
cost maybe an extra 50 bucks each to do it through Costa Rican Trails,
but for the added convenience of the vouchers they give you and having
them drive you to your hotel from the airport and arrange everything-
it's a real deal. Just to be clear, I have no affiliation
them and am receiving no ad revenue or anything for this site.
great rooms, english speaking people, informative, pretty basic
breakfast but it was free, somewhat pricey dinner (not worth it to us),
the area of town looked kind of sketchy but we didn't really see any
place better. Hugh room, high ceiling, lots of extra space.
Overall, definitely a good place.
Day 2 - San Jose to Arenal drive
Car rental agency delivered rental car to our hotel. We drove
to Arenal Volcano area.
and friendly agent. She offered insurance and GPS, but was
pushy about it at all. Spoke good english, spanish, and
There was a number of tiny knicks and chips in the paint from
rocks on the road and such, and I had her highlight the worst of them
on the rental agreement but she said most of them were too small to
matter. However, when returning the car there was some
about whether various chips were already there or not and if we needed
to pay for them. Ultimately the manager was very friendly and
said it was fine, but still the fact there was a question was a little
annoying. Have the agent that gives you the car mark EVERY
ding and chip if the car has any, don't be shy. If the page
ALL marked up, there will be no question when you return it.
car was in good shape though, ran great, and had 4 wheel drive- a
necessity in a few spots, don't get a 2 wheel drive if you plan on
going to Monteverde.
Driving in Costa Rica
People made a big
deal about this, like it was some crazy thing. A lot of the
tourists we talked to were kind of shocked that we were driving
ourselves but it really wasn't bad. The weird thing is, Costa
Ricans don't name streets. They just don't. In San
sometimes there would be street names marked on the sides of buildings
but it was completely random whether or not there was a marker on any
given corner - and the names were basically "avenida 1-8 and calle 1-8"
(or whatever the numbers were). Outside the city there were
street names, but some highways were numbered. Basically the
way to navigate from San Jose to Arenal is by signs for the volcanos!
At every major intersection, there would be signs of which
direction the next volcano was and which directions the next small town
and next major towns were. As long as you knew the next
you were heading toward or the next town along the way you wanted to
go- no problem. The lack of street names wasn't that much of
issue. The streets in this section are very well paved and
The drive took about 4 hours and we stopped frequently for
pictures and such. It was very hilly and VERY beautiful.
The ability to stop a bunch at random spots on the way is
definitely a big plus of driving on your own.. There were
waterfalls and scenic overlooks to stop at. The local
have this kind of ketchup that is unique but good- sweet and more
Arenal Volcano area
Nice, clean, friendly town
called "La Fortuna", the volcano is called Arenal so people call it the
Arenal area. Lots of english speaking people, MANY
choose from (another benefit of having a car, you don't have to eat at
the hotels). There's a local dish called "casado", try it,
delicious. There's some kind of soft white local cheese
kind of squeeky when you eat it. It's fantastic, don't skip
asked the waiter, it's cow cheese made locally in the area.
had it in a lot of the restaurants here.
the nice hotels in Arenal are gated, this is one of the really nice
ones. Has its own hot springs- HIGHLY recommended.
EXCELLENT free buffet breakfast. The whole place
clean, showers in the room were huge, great views of the volcano, gated
parking, nice porch with chairs to sit in and look at the volcano.
Downsides: the room was a cabin and not insulated in the
it was some trouble getting the room cool with the AC unit on full and
the bed was not particularly comfy. Overall though, great
especially since it had the hot springs- those were awesome.
Day 3- Horseback Riding Tour to La Fortuna Waterfall
is a full day in Arenal. We did a half day horseback riding
to La Fortuna Waterfall, which was included in the package.
Stayed the night at the Arenal Paraiso again (more time in
hot springs, yay!)
were nice, profressional, well-skilled though not particularly
talkative or informative. The horses were good healthy ones,
clearly well taken care of, and very tame. We are noob
I've had several lessons and it was no trouble. Others were
time riders and said it was fine. The ride was fun for our
level, mostly walking but a fair amount of trotting as the guides would
hurry the horses occasionally so people could have some fun.
got my horse to gallop a couple times, but it took some urging.
The ride was beautiful with great views of the volcano, over
streams and through a lot of pasture. There were a few
of dirt road where cars went past, but they went slowly and the horses
didn't spook at all. The hide to the waterfall took about 10
minutes down, it was pretty steep- almost all stairs. Well
and by no means treacherous. VERY worth the walk, the
was gorgeous and the water was super clean for swimming and cold enough
to be quite refreshing.
Bring PANTS and good shoes for the
horseback ride, and sunscreen! Bring a backpack with swimming
clothes, there are nice bathrooms to change into your swim clothes
before walking down to the waterfall- have shoes that you can walk down
a steep trail and steps in as well.
Day 4- Visit to Venado Caves
is another full day in Arenal. Arenal is fantastic, a few
there is not too much. We did a cave tour (spelunking) in the
morning and a hanging bridges walking tour in the evening.
cave tour was included in the package, we did the hanging bridges on
Visit to Venado Caves
For a direct reservation you can contact the owner directly at email@example.com
We were lucky and got a tour with no one else on it but us
the owner, his name is "Memo". He picked us up at our hotel
drove for an hour to Venado where the caves are. He was super
friendly, the van was very clean and had a nice flatscreen
monitor where he played a video for us of the cave tour so we'd know
what to expect. He spoke good english and during the tour
explained the science of cave formation and seashell deposits (the
place was underwater eons ago). He was patient and
and didn't hurry us at all. One part near the beginning
the "birthing canal" is very tight but totally optional and he's very
cool to people who don't want to do it (we won't name any names Jen...
oops!). It requires good upper body strength after going
the canal in order to climb out.
There are some portions of the
tour which involve rock climbing inside the cave and require you to be
reasonably strong and have some bravery :-) Memo of course
right up those parts, so anyone with ANY rock climbing experience will
have little trouble. I have very little rock climbing
(done indoor a few times) so I'm a total noob and I was ok.
they have a shower for afterwards, so bring a change of clothes.
Wear shorts and a t-shirt for guys or running bra for girls
pretty warm in the cave, you will sweat). Don't be macho and
shirtless, you'll probably get scraped up because you have to army
crawl in some sections, rock climb, etc. Of course Memo went
no shirt and had no marks, so if you're hardcore and well skilled, I
suppose you could go shirtless if you wanted. Jen wore a
bra and was fine. You will get VERY wet and muddy.
NOTHING on your back or around your waist. This means no
backpacks, no fanny packs, no cameras- because you will be crawling and
sliding around and things attached to you WILL be in your way.
Carry nothing in your hands, you will need full use of them.
The van is safe and secure to leave your change of clothes,
cameras, etc. They have a camera-for-hire to come on the tour
with you and take pictures. It's only 20 bucks I think (dirt
cheap really) but we didn't bother with it.
This was an awesome
tour, I highly recommend it, unless you're claustraphobic of course :-)
or if you're terrified of bats- there were plenty of bats there.
There were also a lot of crickets that looked like spiders
because their antennae are so long. There was one huge spider
few inches across) that Memo picked up and showed us. I'm
chicken about spiders, but it was ok :-)
Hanging Bridges Walk
the afternoon we talked to the hotel tour people about something to do
and they mentioned a Hanging Bridges walk. We drove over
it was $23 each. There were long suspension bridges across
canyons with trails through the jungle in between. The
are high up, but sturdy and well constructed. It was a fun
walk that takes about 1.5-2.5 hours depending how fast you walk.
It was more to go with guides, which we didn't do, but you
probably see a lot more animals with a guide to point them out.
We saw a lot of birds, squirrels, lizards, iguanas, a snake
a guide pointed out when we were walking past, but near the end we got
lucky and spotted a huge woodpecker (probably 1.5 feet tall) and then a
toucan. We also heard howler monkeys.
Day 5- Canyoneering and Arenal to Monteverde Drive
day we were scheduled to drive from Arenal area to Monteverde, but it
was only supposed to take 3.5 hours or so, so we decided to do the
canyoneering tour (rappelling down waterfalls) in the morning because
another guest in the hotel mentioned at breakfast the day before that
it was the tour of a lifetime. So we did that in the morning
then drove to Monteverde afterwards where we stayed in the Trapp Family
Canyoneering (aka rappelling down waterfalls)
picked us up from the hotel in the morning and drove us to the staging
area. Here we switched to a 4x4 truck (cattle style in the
for the rest of the drive up a dirt road to the start. It was
VERY cool, the first drop was 65 meters (around 200 feet) high.
Pretty scary but tons of fun. The guides were
spoke great english, and fun loving but very safe. They
checked all our gear and were careful with themselves as well which is
reassuring- they were always clipped in on top of the cliffs, no
horsing around. Overall, very thrilling, not too difficult
and they provided a tasty lunch at the end. Highly recommend
you wear water shoes, actually water shoes are a great recommendation
for Costa Rica in general- we bought some at REI and used them a ton.
On the way back, the guides stopped the truck and picked up a
fruit at the side of the road called "guanabana". The flesh
of tore like chicken, and was super tasty but Jen thought it was too
slimy though I ate a lot of it. We had guanabana drinks later
after trying it here, fantastic!
The Drive to Monteverde
scenic around the lake. It was a great drive until the tar
and became a SUPER bumpy dirt road (I grew up on a dirt road, so I can
call this one bumpy with some authority :-). At the pace we
it was about 1.5 hours of bumpy road and some signs were missing it
appeared so we made a wrong turn once for about 100 meters until we
found a kid selling maps. We bought a map even though he may
been the one who took down the sign, and it was a good thing because it
showed us where our hotel was in Monteverde- which turned out to be
very helpful because otherwise it would have been hard to find.
DO NOT TRY THIS DRIVE AT NIGHT, you will miss signs and get
room was very spacious and attractive, but simple. There was
AC (though it was cool there at altitude I guess), fridge or TV.
It was also kind of far on a really bumpy dirt road from the
nearby town and there was not much to do around the hotel.
wood floors were beautiful, but kind of loud and slippery.
Overall, a very pretty place, but not particularly
though we spent a little time at the hotel bar and the staff was super
friendly and fun and we had the BEST drinks. They mixed fresh
fruit into the daquiris, etc- really fantastic fresh drinks.
Day 6- Sky Trek / Sky Tram and Night Hike
was a full day in Monteverdge. The tour had the Sky Trek /
Tram scheduled which is a zipline tour. In the evening we
a guided nature hike in the jungle. Stayed another night at
Trapp Family Lodge.
picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the site. This was
great tour, definitely a must. It was very exhilirating and
seemed quite safe. The guides didn't speak the best english,
it was pretty good- certainly no trouble. They had obviously
it so many times that they seemed a little haphazard with their own
safety, however they were extremely thorough double-checking our gear
for safety so we never felt worried about the equipment.
it was over, it was kind of a long wait for the return bus- close to an
hour I think. But they had a really nice butterfly /
garden and we saw the biggest beetle we've ever seen there!
scheduled a night walk from the hotel. The hike was at hidden
valley and cost $20 each. VERY informative tour guide who
great english. He pointed out guarimundi, porcupine, racoon,
sloth, some small mammal we forgot the name of, many tarantulas and
crickets, a wide variety of lightning bugs (one looked like it had
headlights on, super cool!), frogs, etc. He searched for some
snakes, but didn't have any luck. He was really a great
knew a ton and super friendly, it was great.
Day 7- Monteverde to Manuel Antonio drive
drive (tour says about 5 hours, I think that was true) to Manuel
Antonio (next to Quepos). Stayed overnight in Hotel Parador.
1.5 more hours of bumpy road (seriously, by this time we were pretty
darn sick of bumpy dirt roads). The dirt road lasts past
Guacimale until Los Angeles (this is the really nice country version of
LA- no smog, no freeways, no hordes of people). Follow signs
Quepos or Jaco. Construction + trucks made the roadways kind
slow, but after getting off the bumpy dirt roads, we didn't care a bit.
Some of the bridges where the construction was taking place
kinda scary and rickety looking- we drove through the creek to avoid
one bridge :-) Again, the fact that Costa Rican Trails didn't
provide us with a map kinda sucked here because the hotel was REALLY
hard to find. I asked directions at one point and the guy
was a kilometer back the way we came. I drove two kilometers
and asked another guy, said it was one kilometer back the way I came.
So they were pretty accurate and going that way I spotted the
sign underneath signs for a couple other places. Two
bumpy dirt road to it of course off the nice paved road we were on.
road to get there, but WOW. Gorgeous. Huge.
was a palace. Great views of the ocean from the hillside it
on, Jen liked the shampoo and conditioner here, AC, fridge, balcony,
TV. There were monkeys on the grounds, pretty pools with
vanishing edges (one of the pools was adults only), lots of friendly
staff, nice spa (like massages, etc, kind of spa), hot tubs.
good buffet breakfast. Really a fantastic hotel, oh yeah, and
free internet with several computers for free use. The only
that sucked was the road to it (hehe we were definitely fed up with the
bumpy roads around Monteverde by this point so this little 2km stretch
was annoying after all that).
Day 8- Manuel Antonio National Park
The schedule for today was to take a nature walk through
Manuel Antonio National Park and stay another night in the Hotel
Manuel Antonio National Park Nature Walk
This was as awesome as a walk can be! We had a GREAT guide
"Andre"- I suggest you ask specifically for him. He spotted
things you would NEVER
see on your own. He had a spotter telescope for viewing small
animals up in trees and off the path- it was good for taking pictures
too as he would hold your camera up to it and take pictures for you.
We saw howler monkeys, at least a dozen sloths, menpho,
iguanas, cool bugs, bats, the "Jesus Christ" lizard (you know the one
that can run on water), and the famous red eyed frog in all the tourist
The guide also pointed us to which beach at the park was safe and nice.
It's really a great park. There are white sand
beaches, shaded areas, and safe water. No snorkeling close by,
The town of Manuel Antonio
Downtown Manuel Antonio is nice with lots of street vendors.
Definitely good eats between here and the Hotel Parador.
Some places are nice quiet little restaurants, others are
very cool with some sort of theme: one is one of the planes from the
Iran-Contra scandal, another has a trolley in the middle, definitely
fun places. Pretty cheap and good food.
Day 9- Free day in Manuel Antonio
This was a free day in Manuel Antonio or Quepos to do whatever you want
to do and stay another night in the Hotel Parador.
We booked a catamaran tour through the hotel (sorry, didn't get a url).
It was great, there were only 10 people on a boat that
normally has around 40+ people on it. Good food and all you
can drink was included. We went out dolphin watching for a
while and the dolphins played around jumping in front of the boat- very
cool! Then we went snorkeling at a rock out in the ocean.
There were a lot of colorful fish, but it had rained the day
before so the water was pretty cloudy and visibility was short.
We spent more time in the pools at the hotel, had drinks and food at
the swimup bar which was pretty fun.
Day 10- Quepos/Manuel Antonio to San Jose Airport Drive
This was our last day :-( We drove from Quepos (which if it's
not clear is right next to Manuel Antonio so it's hard to tell which
place you're in sometimes) to the San Jose airport. It's
about a 4 hour drive on pretty good roads and highways. It's
a nice scenic drive.
- The "rainy season" - psh, no big deal. There were
often rains in the afternoons but it was nice warm rain, and about half
the days were totally sunny.
- Imperial beer - the beer of Costa Rica. Kind of a
cross between corona and budweiser I'd say, but it's great after a day
of hiking or otherwise running around.
- drinking the water - water at the hotels and airport was
100% safe to drink (in my experience, take your own precautions).
We asked at each place and the staff told us it was fine for
tourists but they sell bottled water everywhere. We drank the
water and were fine- but again to cover myself legally, you should use
your own common sense and discretion.
- heart with a halo over it - there's a symbol you see
occasionally on the roads that is a heart with a halo over it.
It indicates that someone died there.
- driving in costa rica- again, no street names outside San
Jose (and very limited even there) so navigation is accomplished by
knowing which towns or volcanos you're trying to go towards and looking
for the signs at intersections to tell where to turn. Don't
drive at night cause you'll miss signs.