COSTA RICA -- TRIP REPORT

Island Dreams' agents Lisa Nagel and Claudia Boone compiled the following report after completing a recent fact-finding trip to Costa Rica.

GETTING THERE - Service into San Jose, Costa Rica is offered by Continental, American, Taca and Lacsa airlines. San Jose is in the interior of Costa Rica.  It is a scenic four-hour drive from San Jose to Guanacaste on the coast.  Sansa and Lacsa offer continuing air service from San Jose to Liberia.  When time is short, it is efficient to fly into Liberia, which is much closer to the Guanacaste region. Once in Liberia it will only take ½ hour to get to the resorts.  There are direct daily flights from Miami to Costa Rica on Lacsa as well as weekly flights from Dallas to Liberia on a charter airline.

LODGING - There are a number of different dive resorts located in the Guanacaste area.  They range in size from large, extensive full-service properties -- to small family owned and operated private resorts.  One of our favorites was Sol Playa Hermosa.

SOL PLAYA HERMOSA is located in Playa Hermosa surrounded by crystal clear waters and only 25 minutes from the Liberia airport.  There are 54 luxury rooms, with two double beds, private bathroom, hairdryer, telephone, and cable TV and a/c.  Sol Playa Hermosa also offers 47 villas with two or three bedrooms.  Each villa is fully equipped and 24 villas have their own private pool.  Features of this resort include two restaurants, bars, two pools, tennis courts, and water sports.  Bill Beard's Diving Safaris dive shop is located right on the property.

EL OCOTAL is located about five minutes from Playa Del Coco and 20 minutes from the Liberia airport.  El Ocotal has 40 spacious rooms and three VIP suites; All rooms have ocean view with two queen or single king beds. Each guest room has a/c, refrigerator, ceiling fans, terrace, cable TV, telephone and coffee maker.  The resort also has two restaurants, bars, tennis court, three pools, jacuzzi, and water sports. A dive shop is located on property.

VILLAS DEL SUENO is also located in Playa Hermosa.  This family owned and operated resort is small and service oriented.  They have standard and superior rooms as well as 16 one-bedroom and efficiency units.  The standard rooms have one double or two single beds, private bathroom and ceiling fans.  The superior rooms are larger with two double beds, bathroom ceiling fan and rattan lazing salon. All the one-bedroom units have a king size bed, adjacent bathroom with tub and shower, a fully equipped kitchen and living room with a pull out sofa bed.  All units are fully air-conditioned. The efficiency units have one double and one single bed.  The living area and breakfast bar has a coffee maker and toaster oven.  These units are also air-conditioned.  The restaurant on property is well renowned for having some of the best food in the area.

DIVING - There are two very good operators located in Guanacaste -- Bill Beard's Diving Safaris and El Ocotal Resort's Dive Shop.

BILL BEARD's DIVING SAFARIS -- Bill and Nadine Beard wrote the book on diving the Guanacaste region.  Their level of knowledge and service is unsurpassed.  They have a full service PADI dive shop on the grounds of  Sol Playa Hermosa Resort.  Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine surveys have repeatedly rated them tops.

El OCOTAL DIVE SHOP - Located on the property of El Ocotal.  They have three 32-foot diesel power dive boats, 40 complete U.S. divers setups, and 125 new aluminum tanks.  They offer Padi referral, open water and advanced specialty courses.  Their daily two-tank boat dives depart at 9:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.  They also offer night dives and trips to Bat and Catalina Island on request.

Keep in mind that the diving is very different from that in the Caribbean.  You are diving on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.  On average, the water temperature is a bit colder than the Caribbean, so there is less coral growth.  Due to lots of rain (Costa Rica IS a rain forest), the average visibility while diving is also less than the Caribbean.  What you will see is LOTS of marine life.  Huge schools of reef fishes are common, and it's possible to see just about anything.  Sharks, turtles, rays, mantas, whale sharks, even large game fish like marlin and sailfish.

LAND TOURS -- Much of the attraction of Costa Rica is that there is so much to do when not diving.  Here's a sampling of the land-tours available:

ARENAL VOLCANO -- Located three hours from Guanacaste, Arenal is a cone-shaped volcano rising out of flat, surrounding plains.  It is the most active volcano in the country.   In the daytime, clouds of ash and smoke frequently billow into the sky. On clear nights, spectators are occasionally treated to eruptions of lava and burning rocks that explode into the air and shower down the cinder cone.  Even when it is overcast, the rumblings, venting and molten lava glowing through the clouds afford a very spectacular experience.  Near Arenal are the Tabacon Hot Springs, where you can relax after a day of hiking in the Rain Forest, and enjoy the most splendid natural hot mineral springs, pools and waterfalls.

Option One -- One-day adventure to Arenal Volcano followed by Tabacon Resort.
Includes:  Box lunch, drinks, dinner, round-trip transportation entrance to Tabacon Resort
Price per person - $95.00

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Option Two -- A Multi-Day Arenal Volcano (2 days / 1 night) Adventure (We suggest that it is better to do this one on your two last days in country.)  With pickup easily arranged from Guanacaste, you'll enjoy a scenic ride with private driver/guide to Arenal Volcano.  Enroute, visit the Arenal Waterfall, and then enjoy a dip in the thermal pools at El Tabacon Hot Spring.  Dinner is included.  Overnight at the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Situated only 1.6 miles south of the volcano, Observatory guests have an impressive view of the gigantic volcano, which rumbles and erupts, with spectacular displays of vapor and lava. At night you will see the glowing lava.  The Observatory is the only lodge situated within Arenal Volcano National Park.  This recently created park encompasses thousands of acres of pristine rainforest and teems with tropical birds and wildlife.  The next day, continue on to Rio Sarapiqui for a half-day of white water rafting.

Day one: Pick up time at your Hotel in Guanacaste at 8:00am
Lunch in Restaurant y Pizzeria Tramonti
Arenal Waterfall
Hiking in the Rain Forest
Tabacon Hot Spring - Dinner
Lodging at Arenal Observatory

Day two: Rafting in Rio Sarapiqui (Class III)
Pax min: 6 persons
Return to San Jose through Braulio Carrilo National Park at 6:00pm

Includes:  One breakfast, two lunches, one dinner, overnight, tours as described, and roundtrip transportation from local hotels.  Price per person - $358.00

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LOS INOCENTES  -- Hacienda Los Inocentes is a traditional cattle ranch north of Liberia. Enjoy abundant wildlife, panoramic views and a taste of the cowboy life for which Guanacaste province is famous. Whether you want to explore the ranch on horseback or prefer a guided nature walk, the trip to this spectacular spot at the foot of Orosi Volcano is bound to be an invigorating outdoor experience.  Both the trail ride and hike are opportunities to spot such exciting animals as toucans, wild parrots, monkeys and iguanas.  The balcony of the ranch house is the perfect spot to sip a cool drink while watching the cowboys work and enjoying the view of the forest-cloaked Orosi Volcano.

After sharing a bit of the Hacienda life, you will head to the scenic overlook at the town of La Cruz, where a commanding view of Salinas Bav and Bolanos Island provides the perfect setting for an unforgettable sunset.  (Tip:  Wear jeans and boots or sturdy shoes for the horseback riding.)

1/2 day tour pickup Depart at 1:00pm and return at 6:30pm
Includes:  Box lunch, drinks, dinner, horseback riding, biologist guide, and round trip transportation.
Price per person - $95.00

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RINCON de la VIEJA -- CANOPY TOUR and TREE TOP TRAILS

All we will tell you is that this one is very, very good!  Assisted by ropes and pulleys, you will climb one tree almost 80 feet into the rain forest canopy, and then traverse tree to tree, sliding on 15 different cables.  Yes…it is safe…and LOTS of FUN!
Price per person - $95.00

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PACUARE RIVER RAFTING  -- Class III-IV Rapids

Shortly after 7:00 am a guide will pick you up at your hotel. Slowly traveling through the windy roads of Costa Rica, drive past several picturesque valleys before arriving at the town of Turrialba and continuing on between the Reventazon and Pacuare Valley's.  San Martin is the put-in spot.  Load our gear into dry bags, hike down to the river, prepare the equipment raft, undergo a precise safety and paddle talk and then get wet.

Found within these gorges are some of the best whitewater in the world. This day on the river covers approximately 18 miles (4 hours).  It provides an amazing welcome to the Pacuare gorge its rapids and surrounding natural beauty.   All tours included comfortable roundtrip transportation from local hotels. Delicious breakfast and typical or picnic style lunch. Professional friendly guides will ensure your safety and enjoyment of the trip.

What to bring on a rafting tour:
Rubber soled shoes (tennis or similar)
Shorts and T-Shirts or Swimsuit.
Sunscreen Lotion
Towel
Complete change of clothing including shoes.

Departure from San Jose:  7:00am
Return to San Jose:  6:00pm
Minimum 14 years old
Trip Length:    18 miles
Difficulty:                                  Class III-IV
Price per person                         $90.00

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SAN JOSE LODGING TIP:  Need lodging in San Jose while in transit?  This time we stayed at Grano de Oro, an excellent lodging choice in the western part of San Jose. A small and comfortable Bed & Breakfast, it offers a very romantic style of accommodation.

All in all we had a wonderful time in Costa Rica.  While much different that the Caribbean, the diving is interesting.  For outdoor lovers, bird watchers, hikers, rafters, etc., the topside experiences to be had in Costa Rica are second to none.  Call us if you'd like more information, brochures, schedules, etc.  We look forward to helping you to experience the "Magic of Costa Rica."

Claudia Boone & Lisa Nagel -- Island Dreams Travel

 
Photos provided courtesy of Bill Beard's Diving Safaris



Link to Costa Rica Pricing Information

Link to A Client's Unsolicited Review of a Recent Costa Rican Adventure


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