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Costa Rica!! Pura Vida!! This was a great trip, highly recommend it if you’re seeking adventure and activity at a moderate pace and can handle a few different climates.
Good stuff: Costa Rica is a great country. Unlike Mexico, its not built up so the accommodations are small and in lush natural areas surrounded by animals and lots of plants and trees, and it wasn't hot until we hit the low lands on the Pacific coast. Waking up to the sound of howler monkeys, being greeted by an Iguana at the hotel or hanging out poolside with Monkeys was quite common during my trip. The tour includes lots of activities such as White Water Rafting (which you can swap for ziplining, though zipling is way better in the Monteverde optional), bridge walks over the forests, a visit to a volcano and a coffee plantation, to name a few. There is a day at a nature park in Monte Verde where you’ll get to hang out with hummingbirds - by far the coolest animal on the trip! The accommodations were pretty good (some worse than others): decent bathrooms (hot water didn’t work in a few places, but the water is drinkable everywhere) and very close to nature. The hotel in San Jose was fantastic! Its brand new, has free WiFi and long distance calling. The optionals were amazing: the Rappelling/Canyoneering option in Arenal is not to be missed, neither is ziplining in Manuel Antonio or the catamaran trip into open water (with open bar). I could have done without the horseback ride in Arenal and the surf lesson in Manuel Antonio. The chocolate tour is good too, plus its one of those “if you don’t go you may be doing nothing for a few hours” moments.But i love chocolate so i'm biased.
Bad stuff: the weather! I went in late November. All the books say the wet season is over by then, but we had nothing but rain the first week. It didn’t put too much of a dent in the trip (the night cruise in Tortuguero was cancelled but we partied at the hotel bar instead) though the stay at Sarapiqui in the jungle tents was a tad uncomfortable since there were only gravel paths to the tents – the tents were dry, thank goodness. The night walk there was in a deluge! Pack for rain on this trip, especially the cloud forest where it always rains from the trees. Pack rain ponchos (all our expensive ‘rain jackets’ were useless, we were drenched, only a plastic sheet can keep you dry and don’t bother with umbrellas in the parks) and pack shoes that can get wet: wet shoes stink and can’t dry because its too damp. Pack closed shoes for the walks and for the activities, you can’t wear sandals on the rafting or the zipling (my crocs were superstars). Pack long pants: jeans, convertible pants, yoga pants whatever. It gets cold at higher elevations.
Suitcase or back pack? I had a suitcase, so did the majority of my group: it was just fine. The boat to Tortuguero doesn’t exactly have a dock but we managed to get the bags on and off ok. Same in Sarapiqui, there’s gravel paths and stairs. Just be ready to carry it for about 30 m.
Budget: I budgeted about $80 USD a day and did ok, but the optionals and Tips were extra to that (~$500USD). They accept US Dollars everywhere interchangeably with the Colon. Conversion rate is 500 colons to $1USD.
Group Size: we were 23. I think there’s only 24 spots available. Big coaches don’t travel well in Costa Rica – most of the roads are not paved. our coach was super comfy even on the bad roads.
Ammenities: ATMs are a pain. Sure they are nearby but folks had a tough time with them. Use them in San Jose near the hotel (there’s a scotiabank there for my Canadian friends). The Tour manager gives you heads up about where they are if you are in a bind. Tortugeuro is pretty much all-inclusive unless you venture to town and do some shopping (and by town I mean the 20 huts that sell touristy things and food and drinks). food is ok, it was safe to eat anywhere and the breakfasts at all the stops were great.
Stuff to pack: Beach towel, closed shoes, open shoes, long pants, short pants, rain poncho, jacket, stuff you don't mind getting wet in and stuff to keep your camera dry (bonus if you have a waterproof camera, you’ll get great shots). Free wifi at all the hotels so pack your smartphone/netbook/tablets even if you don’t want to use the Roaming feature. My Contiki Ekit SIM card was terrible down there. The calls were all broken up. Pack equal amounts of bug repellent and sunscreen. You’ll use more of the repellent especially at the start of the tour.
Highlight: Manuel Antonio: warm, sunny, lots of fun, real close to the beach (ah the sunset!). Monteverde was a close second with the ziplining park and humming birds. Arenal was a blast at the bars and the cultural dinner.
If you’re looking for a more chill vacation or more history/culture, consider Mexico Grande. Costa Rica unplugged will keep you busy and active in the most amazing greenspaces you will ever see! You will see tons of cool natural stuff, don’t let the threat of rain dampen your spirits, the monkeys don't seem to mind. Its called the rain forest for a reason!
Review written Dec 2012Read more reviews » Write a review