My husband and I are planning a trip to CR for the first time this fall. I booked the Smeralda All inclusive hotel on the NW region of Costa Rica - Gulf de Papagayo. We got a great deal, but I recently found out that the flight goes to San Jose and this hotel is 4 hours away! I didn't do much research before I paid
Now I'm debating if I should dispute it all together and cancel, or make the best of it and do a road trip to and from the airport in San Jose. We arrive at noon on Thursday and depart at 1pm on Monday (short trip for Labor Day Weekend)
So short to Costa Rica; what a shame... My friends and me travelled up near that region but never made it further than Liberia. It is a great area though and even for just a few days is probably fantastic. If you are not planning to cancel your trip to Costa Rica all together, I would stick with the hotel.
The problem is that the really nice parts of Costa Rica to visit (whether beach or nature) are all more or less at least 3 hours from San Jose (especially because the roads aren't always as good). There are some volcanos and you can do day rafting trips from San Jose if you don't want to travel all that way but otherwise San Jose is pretty ordinary I found.
You could also try and see if there is a connecting flight to the NW to save time although it will probably cost some. Also consider the form of transportation up to the NW. We took a public bus which is dirt cheap and considering most of this road is the best in Costa Rica, not so bad for 4/5 hours. You probably have to go into San Jose to get this bus though. There might be some transportation forms from the airport directly but I am not so up to date on these. Renting a car is of course also a good option for such a short period.
I would do it if you can find a way to get up to where you need to be in on Thursday. If it means spending a night in San Jose, you probably are better off not going because you will end up only having two days up there.... you will soon forget the travel time though when you actually are where you need to be!!!!
Hope this helps!
Despite everytrhing you will read and hear, the roads are not terrible. I live in NYC which means I don't have a car and drive maybe once a year, I drove across the entire country from coast to coast and in between for 10 days with no problems.
My suggestion is either rent a car and enjoy some of the sights on the way or check with the resort. I am sure that you are not the first couple arriving in San Jose so they probably have drivers picking up passengers. Don't take the public bus,
they are fine if you have a lot of time, and are on a tight budget, since they stop everywhere.
Enjoy CR it is a wonderful country.
I'll be more than glad to help you with any question, actually i'm familiar with the area
you want to visit.
[ Edit: No promotional website postings please.. ]
Well, we are doing it!
We leave this Thursday and come back on Monday. If you have any last minute tips or suggestions for our trip, please do not hesitate to post!
Is a short trip , just relax , don´t miss the 1 day trip to Buenavista Lodge (just 1 1/2 hour from your hotel includes canopy tour, horseback riding and volcanic mud baths) and if you want to bathe on a nicer beach rent a cab to tamarindo or conchal.
enjoy it and I´ll look forward to see your comments when you come back!
Costa Rica August 2003 trip review
The trip was short, but full of adventures! We quickly found out that this is not a destination to just go and relax and the beach and sip drinks like our other vacation destinations…we had to work at this one!
We had a full day of travel on Thursday, and even though we gained 2 hours on the trip there, we didn’t get to our hotel until after 6pm and it was already dark. We landed in San Jose, took a small bus (a van) to a restaurant called Rostipollos where we were met by another small bus (a van). $5 per person. Why the 2nd bus couldn’t just pick us up at the airport – I will never know…I guess it allows everyone in the company to carry our bags and get a tip. $25 per person. The bus driver started the drive and took us on some bad roads only to find out that we were stopping by his little daughter’s house so he could give her a hug since it had been a few days since he had seen her last. While in his neighborhood we saw lots of dogs, houses/shacks with fences on all windows and these mysterious metal boxes on a stick in front of almost each house. Locals use these as their trash bins so the dogs and other animals don’t get into them.
The drive to the hotel was about 5 hours long. A very long ride, but scenic. Most of the roads were OK, but as we got closer to our hotel the terrain got a little rough. We saw many people selling fruits along the side of the roads. One caught our eye since we didn’t know what it was. The drivers stopped to buy some for us and we got to taste joquitos. These fruits reminded me of ciruelas, but were green in color and usually eaten with salt. They were a bit acidic for my taste, but we now owned a bag full of them! We stopped at a restaurant to eat lunch/dinner. George offered to pay their meals and drinks – George had tamarindo juice and I had guanabana – very good! We also got some cough drops since we were still recovering from our cold. The total came out to $13 – what a deal! We dropped off one of the drivers in the town of Liberia and got a little tour of the town – no big deal. By the time we made it to the hotel it was already dark and there wasn’t a person in sight. The lobby area was open and they had a little store – also closed.
Around the corner were the buffet dining room area and a little bar and sitting area. We couldn’t see much of the view since it was dark so we headed to our room. The hotel is on a hillside, so the walk is a tough one – going up or down! We stayed in room 501 which we found out the next day had a pretty good view of the ocean. The room was pretty plain. A bed, TV, dresser, closet, telephone, hair dryer. No AC in the bathroom area, and there were small bugs and ants in the bathroom since the screens had some big holes in them…so we kept the bathroom doors closed. There was a sitting area outside the room, which was comfortable to sit in if you had lots of bug spray on. There were some cats on the property as well as iguanas, butterflies, birds…and if you listened carefully (specially in the am) you could hear the howler monkeys making all kinds of noises in the trees nearby.
We grabbed a bite to eat at the buffet just before they packed up and enjoyed a good night sleep on a bed that dipped in the middle…we called it the valley.
Friday we got to see more of the hotel and it was nice. The pool area looked deserted, there wasn’t a person around but us and the workers…this was definitely not the high season. We made the walk down to the beach area. The beach was very rocky, so shoes were a must. The beach itself is about a 5 minute walk from the resort itself and very dark at night (not recommended). When the tide is low you can see the rocks, but when the tide is high, the water pretty much covers all the sand. They have snorkeling equipment, but if you want to do it I would recommend taking your own since the quality of what they had didn’t look good…and it is so far away from the beach! We saw lots of puffer fish and an eel while we snorkeled. One of the locals also fished out a fish from the same bay area with just fishing line and a sardine.
It rained a bit after lunch, but quickly blew over. We booked the Mega Combo tour at Buena Vista Lodge with Cesar of Connexiones for Saturday – a full day adventure that started at 8am and ended at 6pm. We also booked the sunset cruise through the resort. It picked us up at 4:30pm. There was another couple from the Papagayo Resort across the bay already on the boat. As we headed out into the Pacific, the captain spotted some dolphins so we followed them around with the boat. There were at least 8 of them swimming with our boat. One of them even jumped completely out of the water to show off! It started to rain in different sections so the captain kept us dry by boating around it. We didn’t actually get to see the sunset due to the clouds, but the dolphins made it worth the trip. $35 per person. The cruise also included all the drinks you wanted (except cocktail drinks) and some snacks (but don’t come hungry!). By the time the boat dropped us off, it was very dark. Another couple got off with us who were from another hotel and they had someone waiting for them with a flashlight. I’m not sure what it would have been like if they weren’t on the boat – cause there was no one waiting for us with a flashlight…so be sure to ask about this if you go.
On Saturday, Cesar and his driver Eduardo greeted us in the hotel Lobby where boarded a bus (another van) and started our 2 hour drive. $99 per person. The day was pretty clear, but the clouds always hovered around the mountains. Most of the ride was on a real road, but as we got closer the terrain got rougher. The hills were steep and muddy and we often crossed small flows of water from the mountain. We were the only two on this tour, but another tour left the hotel shortly after us. The Lodge itself was very nice, very green. They had an onsite Internet café $3 for 30 minutes – pretty cheap if you ask me! Once we got all signed up we started getting ready for the canopy. We were both wearing shorts, but I would recommend wearing long shorts (to the knees) or pants for this activity to avoid any burns with the gear and legs. We decided to hook up with the other tour group to make the trip a bit more exciting. There were 3 other couples there so we had a great time! The first time you canopy between trees it’s a bit scary, but once you get over the first one the rest are a real blast. At one of the platforms there were about 6 howler monkeys making all kinds of noises. The guides of course egged them on making the same noises they made. There was at least one female carrying a baby and lots of males with white balls! We canopied until the end. They have a photographer there taking pictures of you at the last 2 canopies if you want to buy them, but the guides never took us to see them on the computer, so we never bought them. Most of us had cameras…just make sure you have a good strap. Photos were being sold for about $15-$20 each.
Our next activity was the slide. They have changing rooms, but be careful where you step since there are all kinds of bugs around there! They give you a helmet and a black ring to keep your elbows in. Those wearing swimsuits also get a leather diaper to help them slide better. We had to walk all the way up to the top of the slide, almost the same trail we had just done with the canopy, but this time we were sweating and it’s a good thing cause the water from the river was COLD. The guide stops the water from coming to let you get in the slide and then opens the floods that just make you fly down the slide! There is a substantial bump about half way, so make sure you don’t have any back problems if you go!! At the end, you land in a pool full of the FREEZING water. Once was enough, but they do ask you if you want to do it again. By this time your stomach starts to growl so they feed you lunch. I had the fish and George had the beef. Both were very good and used the typical staples – rice, beans, fried cheese, salad and plantains. They also served remolacha and limon (beets and lime) juice, which tasted like lemonade with dirt…but we were thirsty so we had about 3 glasses each! It rained a lot while we ate, but it pretty much stopped just in time for our horseback ride to the SPA. George and I packed disposable ponchos, so we stayed dry most of the trip.
The trail is pretty rough, lots of hills and rocks. Looked pretty rough on the horses, but the guide says there are about 600 horses on the property so they rotate them each day. We got to the SPA and changed into our swimsuits once again. We headed for the steam room, which was poured by the natural steam of the earth. After a few minutes we lathered ourselves with stinky hot mud from the volcano. We waited for it to dry as we laughed at each other and then rinsed off in the cold showers. We quickly submerged ourselves in to the first hot spring and hung out. We now felt 5 years younger. We changed once again and got back on the horses and headed towards the waterfall.
Unfortunately for me, they gave me the wrong horse. I didn’t think it was a big deal until they told me it was one of the guide’s horses (usually more restless than the rest). As we went down the hill, I pulled at his line a little too hard and his back legs almost went under him but he caught his balance…soon after that he took off running up and down the hills and there was no stopping him! I had the camera on me and it was getting thrown around against the horse. My legs were coming out of the stirrups and I thought for sure I was going down, but eventually the horse stopped and the rest of the group caught up with me. I promptly dismounted and got back on my slow horse! We took another long walk down the jungle to see the waterfall and walked all the way back to the horses to continue our journey.
The other tour group was picked up by their bus shortly after the waterfall, but our bus driver was waiting at the lodge, so our horseback riding adventure was a little longer than theirs. We then boarded the bus for the last time and headed back to the hotel. Once back at the hotel we had a couple of drinks, took a shower and passed out from all the excitement of the day. We woke up just before dinner finished and then headed back to bed! Saturday night is definitely the happening night at the Costa Smeralda hotel. I think all the locals come out to enjoy the weekend.
On Sunday we decided to take it easy and just hang out by the beach. We quickly found out that this is what all locals think! Our beach was filled with locals. Kids of all ages were in the water and playing soccer on the sand. Many families brought food from home and setup BBQs right on the beach. We snorkeled again, but the waters were just too murky from all the people in the water. At night we had reservations for the A la cart restaurant. The place had AC, which the other one didn’t, but the salad and deserts were still buffet style. The meals were OK, but not worth eating every night.
Monday came quickly, so we started our journey back to Florida. We had a driver take us to the Liberia airport. The ride cost us $40 (too much in my opinion, I’m sure someone could have done it cheaper!). Once at the airport, there wasn’t much action. I knew it was a small airport, but they didn’t even check id or have a real ticket counter. We were scheduled to fly on Nature Air to the San Jose airport to catch our International flight. The plane arrived about 25 minutes behind schedule (but yet that is normal). We got on the plane and enjoyed a nice ride to San Jose ($80 each person one way). Once we got to the airport I realized that this is not the same airport we landed on Thursday. We were then informed that we would have to take a taxi/bus to the Juan Maria airport to catch our next flight (news to me!). Apparently Sansa flies into the other airport, but not Nature Air. This was another $6 per person. Once we got to the correct airport, we got in line to pay the departure tax ($26 per person). The Continental agent sat us in two different rows, so pay attention to your seats or you may have to switch once you get on the plane.
We bought souvenirs at the airport – try to do this somewhere else because these prices were pretty high! We somehow made our connecting flight in Houston after getting our baggage and going through immigrations and customs, but then again we didn’t get stopped and our plane to Florida wasn’t even at the gate when we got there.
Overall the trip was good, but short, which made it seem like we were cramming a lot in a short period of time, so we opted for not doing too much. I would highly recommend doing your homework on travel times and to and from locations to avoid the mishap I had with the Nature Air flight. I would also suggest taking all your $ in one dollar bills or five dollar bills. It’s amazing how no one ever has any change to give you J
I heard mixed reviews on the dives in Costa Rica. We didn’t try it since we were still recovering from a bad cold and didn’t want to chance getting stuck down there. We heard from other couples at the hotel that the ATV tour was really amazing, but $70 per person just didn’t sound attractive to us since we had done it in Hawaii a few years back. The other thing I regret not doing was going to the White Sand Beach island, we heard there were a lot of monkeys and such there to see…If you are going to an all inclusive, I would suggest taking your own large cups to save you a few trips to the bar.