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Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan

Washington, DC
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Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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hi there

planning a first trip to CR, for late Dec or early Jan period. current plan is to fly into Liberia Airport, go to La Fortuna/Arenal area for 3-4 days, then go to Punta Islita for R&R for 4 days

questions

- is Monteverde worth the side trip? if yes, what would you do there for 2 days? i am struggling to see what I can see/do there that I cant at LF/Arenal? the unique cloud forest perhaps? but rainforests are everywhere in CR... please enlighten me

- there are so many adventure parks in LF/Arenal and Monteverde that offer hanging bridge walking etc. i think there are 4-5 that i have read about. i assume they offer pretty much similar experience? so if you only have time and budget to go to 2 which will be your top two?

- it seems like such a long drive from LF/Arenal to Monteverde but I know there's a taxi-boat-taxi option. is it a good idea to just leave (sedan) rental car behind at LF/Arenal and do this option RT? is the service still operating post-covid?

- is the coastline from Samara to Tamarindo worth driving along for sightseeing? the road (Route 160) doesnt seem to be next to the water however. I am trying to decide if i should just return the rental car back at Liberia after the LF/Arenal portion, and then take shuttle to/from Hotel Punta Islita. Or is it worth it holding the rental car until the end of the trip.

- can you reach Punta Islita safely with a sedan these days?

thank you for any insights!

11 replies to this topic
Tampa, Florida
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1. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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I can't answer questions about Punta Islita, because I haven't been there. Overall, I believe you're best off with your own vehicle. That way you can travel independently and avoid being crowded into vans with other tourists.

Monteverde has a very different vibe from the Arenal area. Even if the differences in plant life aren't obvious. the high altitude makes it much cooler. It's often windy. As a result, another difference is we've never been bothered by mosquitos up on the mountain. It's a great place for hiking, riding horses, and adrenaline activities (if that's your thing).

Near Arenal, there are a number of venues that offer a few hanging bridges, but by far, Mistico has the most extensive trail of them. The alternative in Monteverde is Selvatura Park. There are several places to zip line, both there and in Monteverde.

Honestly, the big difference for most people would be the weather. Some visitors are uncomfortably hot near Arenal and in other parts of the country. I'm from Florida, so daytime 80s and lows in the 60s are plenty cool. In fact, the swimming pools are too cold for me, but the hot springs......very nice! Others complain about the cool nights, sometimes in the 50s, and wind in Monteverde. It can warm up to the 80s during the day but it feels cooler. Where we stay, we enjoy a fireplace in our cabin.

I would not give up a vehicle to do the jeep-boat-jeep transfer. You would want it for local driving (you cannot rent a car in Monteverde), you don't save significant time, the drive isn't bad at all (very scenic) and you'd avoid sitting shoulder to shoulder with other tourists.

You don't say how many days you have. Assuming flight times don't force you to stay near the airport your first or last nights, I can foresee three nights each near Arenal and Monteverde (or 4 and 2) with your four nights of beach time.

I'd suggest doing searches for lodging. That might help you make up your mind. Most years it would be too late to find accommodations in the popular locations. Even now, you may find some places filled up. If you let us know what you were hoping to spend per night, we could offer specific suggestions.

Ontario, Canada
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2. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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Re "rainforests are everywhere in CR": no, not everywhere. E.g., there are areas with a tropical dry forest, which means completely different flora and fauna.

You are traveling in the peak holiday season, which in some hotels extends well into Jan. in terms of their special rates and booking conditions. If planning on breaking your trip into shorter chunks, especially if you are interested in a particular property in each destination, read their terms carefully. They might require a minimum number of nights per reservation, in some cases as high as 7, as well as promise no refunds for changes and cancellations, no matter how early changes are attempted to be made.

Bring warm clothing/layers for Monteverde. You never know when it might rain somewhere, but both Arenal and Monteverde can be v. windy at the time you are traveling, so you might also need really warm and windproof / waterproof clothes for Monteverde. E.g., this packing list for CR has exceptions for certain areas, including. Monteverde, - https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/packing-for-costa-rica/ . If interested, see Qn. 12 in the FAQs of the Arenal lodge near the volcano where we enjoyed staying, talking about the weather in Arenal region, - https://www.arenalobservatorylodge.com/en/frequently-asked-questions/#e93ff352c8ef07f19 .

As for traveling "post-covid", I don't know who can tell, as there is no "post-" anywhere in the world right now.

Each hotel, tour provider, transportation service and eatery are supposed to follow the overall regulations, as well as likely have their own policies of operating during the pandemic, usually posted on their site. E.g., certain things are closed, accommodations operating at 50% capacity, pools might not be available or operating at 25% capacity, etc. The situation and regulations change rapidly.

For differences between Monteverde coudforest reserves; the jeep-boat-jeep (or taxi-boat-taxi) and other transportation options to get to and around Monteverde, as well as what to pack for Monteverde, see https://mytanfeet.com/costa-rica-travel-tips/monteverde-travel-tips/ . IMHO, if someone is traveling through international airports, sits on a plane full of other ppl, for hrs, stays in hotels, takes tours, shops, eats out, and goes to multiple public places during a trip, I would not worry about a boat ride making a big difference in overall traveling during the pandemic picture.

Tampa, Florida
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3. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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I'd like to clarify something. Air circulation and filtration in airplanes and terminals is a huge upgrade from being squeezed into a shuttle van.

I speak from personal experience. I have done the jeep-boat-jeep transfer three times, most recently December 2019. Not only is seating tight in the vans, but passengers are crowded into the boat. If it's raining, they'll drop down plastic to enclose everyone. There would be zero air circulation.

I have also flown recently, in September. With the precautions being taken, I feel more at risk grocery shopping in my neighborhood.

Calgary, Canada
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4. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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We are going the exact same time as you, starting in Arenal for a few nights (we’ve done it before), and then Monteverde for a night. We figured like the above mentioned , it would be worth seeking something a bit different... be in the clouds, etc. Then 7 nights on the beach:)

Only thing I can really add here that may be helpful... there are still a ton of options out there, but a few of the nicer rooms are slowly getting booked up, and specifically in Monteverde, most hotels had a much stricter cancellation policy. We had to forgo a few options based on this fact alone....ended up settling on Monteverde lodge and gardens... full refund till Dec 20th. I’d get booking soon as I’m noticing more and more people are booking due to recent restrictions being eased up.

Tampa, Florida
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5. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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Since you've jumped in and shared your itinerary, Littlechilds, I'd like to suggest two nights in Monteverde. Many of us don't recommend one night stays anywhere, with the exception of airport hotels. With potential late check in and early check out, you can wind up with less than one full day in a place worth at least two.

I don't doubt that beach hotels are filling up around the holidays. It may be more possible to wait a little longer before booking in Monteverde or Arenal. If you're not fussy about accommodations, there are so many options in those two areas that you can probably find something closer to travel dates.

Costa Ricans head for the beaches during the holidays but you're only competing with mostly international tourists for the inland areas.

Washington, DC
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6. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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i think if i give up punta islita then the whole itinerary will be easier. but where would you suggest in lieu of that? generally, what i like is outdoor activities (hiking..), wildlife (sloth, toucans, etc), and culture (i remember visiting a native group while in panama last time..). initially was thinking abt going to the turtle place on carribean side, but i dont think it's the right season. Manuel Antonio park seems to only have

1 trail open, and to go all the way there to only walk on one trail seems not worth it. poas volcano seems interesting - anybody been there? anyway, i think i will have total 10-14d, not restrictive for now.

flights into SJO seem cheaper. so if i fly into SJO, go to Monteverde 2 nights, then LF/Arenal 4 nights, then end up dropping the car off at LIR. i hope there's no one-way fee but if there is it cant be much more than the difference in flight prices. i think for this kind of itinerary, it will require a 4x4, right? due to the driving between Monteverde to LF/Arenal

ok. so taxi-boat-taxi is no go. i had the same thought as well, being jammed packed with ppl, but also thought maybe there wont be so many tourists around this time. i am fairly flexible on accommodation, will either just do airbnb or cheap hotels. anything below $120 is OK with me.

Edited: 31 October 2020, 21:11
Tampa, Florida
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7. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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Well, mrc, it sounds like you're considering something very different. Knowing your budget for lodging is helpful. The Pacific coast makes it difficult to find something for no more than $120/ night, especially around the holidays.

Nice accommodations are much less expensive on the Caribbean coast, which is excellent for wildlife. We had a great stay at 3 Bamboo near Cahuita. The national park there is a nice alternative to Manual Antonio, as long as you can avoid cruise ship passengers. You can also visit Jaguar Animal Rescue center - it's a short easy drive.

Getting to the Caribbean coast is a bit more driving around the city (maybe that doesn't bother you) but it has a lot of advantages. You could pair it with a spot near Arenal. A great low budget place there is Arenal Oasis Ecolodge.

You could also pair Arenal with Monteverde. Most people want some beach time, but we usually spend all of our time inland. If you had at least two full days in each place, you could visit all three. It sounds, though, like you have less than a week?

Anyhow, start looking at flights into both airports. Also pay attention to flight times. If you land late in the day and depart early you may have to stay near the airport your first and last nights.

Ontario, Canada
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8. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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Hard to tell how "jammed packed" airports, airplanes, hotels or any other components of the vacation might be during the peak, holiday, travel time this yr.

Have you arranged a car rental? Ask them what the drop off fee will be. Look under the Top Qns about CR on the right side of the screen on the main CR forum for the Car Rental Guide. It mentions a few Cos (e.g., to ask them about the drop off fee amounts) and explains about the mandatory car insurance. There is a different topic under the Top Qns about CR re: parking infractions, especially important in MA/Quepos area, but elsewhere, too.

When we visited MA park, it took us about 3 hrs to slowly walk all the trails of this small park, at the time when all the trails were open, and including stops to take photos and read occasional posters near trails about the flora or fauna. More time - on the beach(es) inside the park. There is also a longer, public, beach outside the park, right next to it. The trails and beaches were very busy (rain season).https://manuelantoniopark.com continues to show that only 1 trail is currently open, updated on Oct. 31.

We saw the most sloths, monkeys, toucans, snakes, etc during our trips to the Caribbean coast (from SJO).

Talking about turtles - the nesting season in Tortuguero (N. Caribbean, boat access ony), for ex., is July - Oct.

Also saw lots of wildlife in Osa, though not sloths. Dominican - sloths, monkeys, peccaries, ...

Best places to see wildlife, depending on what you are interested in - https://costa-rica-guide.com/nature/wildlife/wildlife-viewing-tips/ .

Edited: 31 October 2020, 21:28
Washington, DC
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9. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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not a huge beach person, at most, i will take some photos then leave after 20 min

although it would be nice to see black beach in costa rica.

the only other black beach i have been is the one in Big Island

thanks, i should focus more on carribean. havent research any on it besides the turtle place.

Tampa, Florida
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10. Re: Planning first trip to CR for Dec/Jan
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That's pretty much what we do on beaches. The ones in CR are very photographic and there is a Playa Negra near Cahuita.

Cahuita National Park is great for monkeys and sloths and you can learn about wildlife rescue at Jaguar Center; they do a nice tour. In addition to 3 Bamboo, a great guide that I know has cabins for rent near Cahuita, too. You can search Cabinas Tito on Facebook.

We did two nights at 3 Bamboo in March. It was pretty much enough. We stopped for a night near Cartago on our way from there to Monteverde, to break up the drive. We stayed at Grandpas Hotel, which allowed us to visit nearby Irazu Volcano the next morning. It worked out really well.

We also rafted on the Pacuare the morning we drove to Cahuita from SJO. That was a busier itinerary than we normally do but it may give you some ideas.

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