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Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Posted by flyleft (My Page) on
Fri, Feb 24, 06 at 21:16

We're beginning to research a trip to Costa Rica or Belize (leaning more toward Costa Rica, but just starting research) and I'd very much appreciate any personal travel tips, must-sees, or must-avoids etc...We're interested in the ecotourism experience, including a pretty curious and animal-loving 8 y.o. girl. I'm guessing that folks here have been to at least one of those places so we can get some fabulous insider ideas to guide our travels :)

TIA :)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I work with a guy from Costa Rica--he's trying to sell a house down there. I'll ask him about any special places to go! :)


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Flyleft,
I was in Belize about ten years ago. It was an "on-the-cheap" bus and backpack trip that started in Cancun and pretty much followed the coast down. Diving, snorkeling... amazing. I spent most of the time on Caye Caulker, a very low-key beach bum kind of place. I remember the most amazing rain forest scenery on the trip as well as lots of clear-cut deforested areas. I can't really help on the ecotourism side except to say that at the time it was hugely expensive to stay in an ecoresort with all the amenities compared to the many local guest houses with lots of local color and flavor... (one extreme or the other). Belize City is pretty rough... I remember armed roof-top guards on some buildings, curfews, lots of general poverty... but then also some cool art/craft galleries, open air food markets, and overall a very laid-back tropical atmosphere.

And in the mangrove swamps you can see manatees... my favorite sea creatures.

Here is a link that might be useful: Caye Caulker


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

flyleft, I use www.fodors.com for my travel research; the forums are very active and it's easy to do a search and pull out all past threads on a certain place. When you access the site, click on TALK and you can pick the area you want.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Flyleft--I have a good friend who has been to Costa Rica, and I know she did some hiking and the canopy tour. I'll see what other info I can get from her.

I haven't been to Belize, but a few years ago I planned a 2-week vacation there for me and my husband. It turned out to be way more money than we wanted to spend, so we never went. But I did a lot of research, so I have lots of bookmarks and email messages that I've saved. I would be happy to compile it into a Word file and email it to you. Just email me so I have your email address.

I bought two books that were pretty helpful: Open Road Publishing's "Belize Guide" and Insight Guide "Belize" (also says Discovery Channel on the cover). The first one has lots of info including prices for hotels; the other one has tons of nice photos. I would recommend either one as a good resource. But you'll find the most up to date info on the web of course.

Oh, I just remembered--one of my fellow Master Gardeners just went to Belize this winter. I'll ask her for tips and must-see sites.

Kathy


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Good morning! catluvr, spacific, mitch & uxorial, thanks very much for your replies. It's been years (well, 8, specifically--my daughter was 5 weeks inside me :)) since we last traveled out of country--now I've got two relatively small countries to resesarch and I'm already overwhelmed...

catluvr, guidance from a person who lived in Costa Rica would be invaluable. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's been to Costa Rica, esp. with kids (but not necessarily).

Uxorial, we'd probably go only for one week--DH can't get two weeks off at one time yet, I don't think (he has the time, but work-wise, doing two weeks at a stretch might be asking for too much) but that said, I would *LOVE* that file--I'll e-mail you. THANKS! (and I'll get the books, too) And mitch, thanks--I figured there were good g'web kind of sites for travelers to share experiences--great lead!

Spacific, I think I want to incorporate a less-well-trod place like that (I guess comparatively less well-trod, I mean they do have a website :)) into whatever more formally eco-kind of experiences we have. We've never been a tour kind of family in the first place. I guess because I'm kind of outgoing (all of us here, are, I think :)), travel mostly end up being way more about cultural learning and dialogue than about a "vacation", as it were. I'm hoping we'll have a pretty deep ethnobiological experience in either of these places--much more "real" than most places (not all) my DD's seen so far. I'm thinking I don't want to do the full-on-college-student bus and backpack thing with her yet, though, although if we were to do it, she'd probably have an even more amazing experience. But she doesn't do well with being cooped up in a car for a long time...I'll have to think this through. Manatees--oh yes! I'm really hoping we'll get to snorkel--she's a great swimmer and even has a snorkel her aunt sent her (the aunt scuba dives) -- sometimes she just goes around the house in it :).

This gives us something to hope and plan for while the silly Master Suite project sits in limbo. This we can do, and it will address so many areas of of our family's interest.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I've never been, but I caught an episode of Globe Trekker that showed the Yucatn Peninsular (South Eastern tip of Mexico), Belize and Guatemala. It looked like an amazing experience. Not only do you have the largest barrier reef in the Western himsphere in Belize, but they also visited Mayan temples as well. Sounds like my idea of a terrific vacation.

See if you can catch it on your local PBS.

They also did an episode of Costa Rica too, but I haven't seen it. My friends went there for their honeymoon and had a terrific time. It didn't seem like it was their style of vacation, but they loved it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Globe Trekker link


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I just heard Ed Perkins interviewed on the radio the other day, and Costa Rica sounds terrific. He said that you fly into San Jose, but don't bother staying around there. Everything is elsewhere. Here's a link. And you can noodle around and find Belize as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Costa Rica


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

lila & fairegold, more great leads! Thank y'all so much. This is going to be a very tough choice; we can't afford both at one time...


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Flyleft,

I went to Costa Rica over 10 years ago. I traveled alot in a past life (lol) and I can easily say Costa Rica is the most amazing country I have ever been.

It was a strange vacation. The only one that I ever packed jeans, hiking boots, bathing suit, bug spray, and a cocktail dress.

It was a business trip and we were guests of a tour operator so it was a "it's Tuesday, what part of the country am I in" sort of trip.

The number of ecosystems in this country is mind boggling considering the size and the regions vary greatly. Your kids will go wild (literally!!!). It sounds like it will be just want you are looking for - if you said you were looking for a beach vacation I would say forget it.

My most memorable night was spent near the Arenal Volcano. It was amazing. I would definately have a tour operator map out the trip because distances can be deceiving. For example the coasts are about 4 hours from San Jose. The local tour guides rock - they are not what we would noramlly think of as a tour guide - they are specialist in different things - many are scientist. Costa Rica takes it's ecotourism very seriously.

Since my trip was 10 years ago - I would hesitate to recommend anything as they do change and truthfully I don't even remember the names of the places I stayed. I would definately work with a good tour operator and you will have the time of your lives - something I am sure your family will talk about for many years to come.

Some things I saw and heard: howler monkeys, leaf- cutting ants, and tucans among many different types of birds.

One more thing - We flew Lacsa Air and we connected in a place that only Lacsa pilots were permitted to land because the runway was smack in the middle of two mountains and they had the training - it was heartstopping!! Man - I don't remember the country - so many brain cells have died since I had mine son!

Oh - and I am waving to everone over here - I haven't checked in for some time!!! Hope everyone is well - MAG


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I've been to Belize twice. I flew into Belize International Airport and took an island hopper over to Ambergris Caye. We took a couple of tours back to the mainland. If you stay on the mainland there are a couple of places to stay in the jungle (staying in the city is not safe). I liked staying on Ambergris because it was a lot cooler being near the ocean (winter time is the best season to go because the rest of the time is the rainy season). The island is very family friendly and the water is as clear as can be--the kids can walk pretty far out into the ocean and fish will swim right up. The excursions we went on to the mainland were great. They bring you over on boats and take a long winding trip down the river where you see all sorts of native wildlife. Then there's a bus trip to the ruins. It's great because they have all the artifacts sitting out in huts--you can actually get up close and personal with them--unlike the museums here. We also got to see the howler monkeys up in the trees (and hear them). On Ambergris Caye you might see some giant iguanas (one had its giant leg caught in our crank out windows at the hotel). There is a some sort of preserve in the ocean near Ambergris Caye where they take you snorkling and no one is allowed to fish there. I don't swim so the guide actually brought up a sting ray and star fish for me to touch. He very gently brought them back to where he got them. The reef is the same reef that runs by Cozumel except it's a little further away from land on the island. Ambergris Caye is also a good place to stay if you want to dive the Blue Hole. I don't dive so that part didn't interest me. They also offer helicopter tours. Let me know if you want any other info.

De


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

We were in Costa Rica for couple of weeks 13 years ago. I had wanted to go for years and take a famous train ride southeast out of San Jose - by the time we went, the track had collapsed, so we planned a road trip instead.

Then, the only option was flying into San Jose "the only world capital where everyone walks looking down" - because the pavements have heaved so much. There is litttle to see or do there, few older buildings (earthquakes, volcanoes, etc take a toll). The plane does drop like a stone down between the mountains. Stayed in a lovely tiny hotel Hotel d'Oro (= grain of gold = coffee bean). DH and I ended up back in the capital for a couple days at the end of the trip taking day tours. Very different experience with more crowding, vendors, tourist oriented things at sites within shot of the capital.

On the road (I use the word loosely) trip we went first to Arenal volcano area. To experience the Tabacan (sp?) hot springs then, you parked on the side of the dirt road and climbed down a footpath, following local kids. Now it sounds like it has been built up to a resort-meets-water-park. Hard to imagine. And Lake Arenal below the live Areanal volcano has also been built up quite a bit. Then there were maybe one or two small remote places to stay over ,and I read now of many people staying in the area in hopes of seeing the volcano lava. (Between poor visibility and periodic inactivity, most sound disappointed. I'd skip that.)

From Arenal, we went north to Monteverde (mountain or cloud rain forest) which was gorgeous. Then they only let a limited number of people in per day and getting there early was essential. We stayed at the Lodge at the entrance - few other lodging options. A memorable stay and I recommend it. Butterfly farm was interesting, but seemed more a haven for some odd ex patriots (stoners?).

The last leg we went along the west coast, I remember the name of only one place Le Ocotel (because of the pix of DH and BIL catching huge game fish there) Wonderful beaches.

Now you can fly directly to the west coast beach area as there is an international airport in Liberia/Guandecanaste (sp?) and there has been much development. Not Cancun by any means, but getting more built up. There are now scattered all inclusive resorts, etc. Know that because it is the Pacific, the ocean is usually more rough (like Rio or Puerto Vallarta or Ixtapa/Zuhuatenejo) and not the serene vivid blue of the Caribbean side. There is good diving (big fish), but snorkling I would research further.

A second change (I hope) is improvement of roads. It was frankly terrifing driving across that country back then. Impossible to believe that the washboard gravel twisty dirt mountain road - no guard rails and crazy drivers - was *THE* highway. We kept thinking we had somehow completely lost the road, but nope, we were on it. Amazing.

The people were shy, kind, gracious, and charming. Very much a traveling experience rather than a tourist trip. It seemed we were often in places few tourists went. Few tourist amenities anywhere - no sunblock, Tshirts, sunglasses or reading materials in English, - you had to bring what you would would need. It's probably different now.

If you choose Costa Rica, decide if you want to combine beach activity with eco tourism. If so, look into flying into Liberia, and going inland to Monteverde or another rain forest setting. That is a common combination these days so you would not feel like you are hacking the trail yourself with a machete. In that case I would skip San Jose and Arenal/Tabacon. A less traveled (= less touristy) plan would be to fly into San Jose and travel to a central rain forest (eg canopy experience) then south to the Manuel Antonio beach area which is also beautiful but less developed. More of a DIY tour than a standard package probably.

I would rank the most adventurous of your options to be Belize. I was there last year but only briefly and didn't see much of the country. Belize today seems much like Costa Rica was then, in terms of tourism just taking off in some areas. But Costa Rica had a better baseline standard of living to start with, with a very high literacy rate, etc. San Jose then had less of a jarring "third world" poverty quality compared with Belize City. Also I don't think there is the extent of tourism (aside from diving) and related experience and support in place in Belize yet. Tours do exist, but it is not a developed industry and you will have to dig harder for information for planning. Something to consider when traveling with a child.

We had a wonderful wonderful trip to Costa Rica. I regretted not getting there sooner, but I'm glad to have gone before the explosion in tourism and eco tourism. I would never have taken an 8 year old on our journey - we were on our own in the middle of nowhere. My SIL just about lost it one day (the only time in 20 years I've seen her like that. we laugh about it now but...)It is a different type of traveling than within the US, or the very well traveled parts of Mexico and in that sense it can be challenging and even stressful. I'm not saying don't do it, rather to be prepared and plan well. You know yourself and your family, and how high Western creature comforts are on your list. Any of the three would be a trip of a lifetime!

Good luck!


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Oh my gosh, you all--I'm so excited about this now...even if we have to wait until next winter. It takes me that long to decide on things anyway, being the compulsive researcher I am, and we want to learn Spanish (maybe a bit of Maya? I remember the shock of feeling like such a colonialist speaking French in Guadeloupe--DUH I should have realized beforehand--I hurriedly tried to learn some Creole while we were there) well enough to get around...

We're pretty intrepid travelers, celtic (just don't want any chronic diseases, otherwise that's about it--although I don't eat conch or goat very enthusiastically, either...now *that's* about it--oh maybe there are a few more things, but not many--I'm a fairly cheap travel date :))--thanks for the abundant details and headsup on the conditions. Great info on the difference between places to fly into. I don't want to put DD out on the most ragged edge when she's not even 10 yet (she'll be 9 in September)--we have to figure out where on the spectrum of touristy vs. trail-hacking we feel comfortable with *her* experiencing.

Funny you mention the stoners: last nightwe came across a travel show on PBS covering Belize, the Yucatan, and Guatemala. One couple, who do tourist horse excursions, were completely ex-pat British hippies--the camera let them tell their rather long story of being in India for 17 years starting in the late 60s, then coming back to England and freaking out at Thatcherism, and heading for Central America as a refuge they could afford...I'm guessing they're not alone there, as you say.

And De, *thanks* for the info wrt going there with kids! We'll definitely look up Ambergris Caye as well as the mainland tours. I will take you up on your generous offer to e-mail you.

maggie, thanks also for those details. I'm actually a far more intrepid driver than flyer--sounds like I'm going to have to take some ginger and aromatherapy to make that flight in...I told my daughter the "howler monkeys, leaf cutter ants, and toucans" line and she shouted "let's go NOW!"

Ethnobiology is seeming like a more and more important field to the future of all of us beings on the planet--we want to do anything we can to encourage DD's interests and give her some vivid memories to spur her on.

Thanks again, you all! Any other advice/guidance/travel stories would be *most* welcome :)


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Flyleft,
I think you and your family will do great in either place. Sounds like you all are travelers more than tourists. We flew back using TACA airlines from Belize City to San Salvador to LA... one thing I'll never forget... almost everyone crossing themselves at takeoff and landing...

Celticmoon said it very well: "It is a different type of traveling than within the US, or the very well traveled parts of Mexico and in that sense it can be challenging and even stressful." But that is one of the very reasons why I travel. If your daughter is not overly squeamish about bugs, dusty roads, heat, and a bit of adventurous eating, I think you're in for an amazing trip whichever you choose.

As I think back to my trip to Belize, I can easily envision taking our 5-yo son on the same experience.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hey flyleft--if you want to get your daughter used to "bugs, dusty roads, heat, and a bit of adventurous eating" bring her up to my place this summer! We can even play "chicken drop" like they do at The Pier Lounge in Belize!

heh heh...

emailing you those files (I've already done a lot of the compulsive researching for you!)

K

Here is a link that might be useful: the chicken drop at the Pier Lounge


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I just found this - a link to the company I used to work - they have since been bought by American Express - they are a wholesaler so you have to book through a TA (or possibly Amex?). This map is great - it really shows you the different regions.

I wanted to add that yes it was an adventurous vacation but also I always felt I was still a part of civilization. You will do fine with a little Spanish. That is wonderful your DD has this interest at such a young age.

You sound just like me - I need to research things forever before I do anything. Oh and hey - San Jose is known for it's plastic surgeons - maybe a nip and tuck while you are there lol!!!!!!

Here is a link that might be useful: travel impressions


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Don't know about Costa Rica, but for Belize you don't need to know any language other than English. I forgot, I think you can take a tour of the Jaguar preserve as well. The first time I flew Taca Airlines and the experience was great--got a full course meal and a movie (the only drawback was they spoke in Spanish first and then translated the instructions in English). The second time we went on Continental--it was ok. The first time I went by myself and felt completely safe. One of the airport personnel whisked me from my Taca flight directly over to my island hopper. At first he just grabbed my luggage and started taking off (I thought maybe he was stealing my luggage) but when I caught up he was only trying to get me on my next plane a little earlier. There are a lot of ex-pats on Ambergris Caye and a lot of very interesting people. I chose to stay in hotels near the town center because I like to venture around the island. Some people stay at the pricey resorts on the ends of the island but you have to take a small ferry or boat ride to get to the main part of the island--it's too far to walk. There is one main road on the island and very few cars (only the ones that didn't sink on the ferry on the way over). Dress is very casual even at the fanciest restaurant (the floors are sand). If you don't eat the local food it can get expensive. We ventured out to the only chinese food restaurant one night and it was $100 Belize ($50 American) for 2 people. Our hotel recommended a guy that does pizza and cinnamon rolls--he's called The Pizza Man and he delivers the best pizza I've ever eaten in my life. They also recommend one of the locals for all the scuba diving and snorkling trips--he is truly a gem. I think I have a picture of him with a sting ray on his head. The winter time is lobster season I believe and the prices are really great. The local fare is a mix of Mexican food (with little cheese) and fried plantains. There is a mix of Creole in there was well. Dairy products are expensive on the island because everything has to be brought over on the ferry.

The first time I went I actually met a multi-millionaire from Houston. I hung out with him and a guy he met from Seattle (he was a construction worker that was going to bum around the island during the rainy season in Seattle). They were a hoot. The millionaire hired a boat one day and we all went hotel hopping down the coast checking out all the different resorts. We also went out to the reef and were able to stand up and walk around. I think he charged $100 for the entire day of boating us around. It was a great deal.

I don't usually vacation in the same place twice because there is so much of the world left to see, but this vacation destination was exceptional and we'll be back for the third time when we can get there. There are several families that have their yearly family reunions there.

De


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Flyleft, the travel show you caught was the episode of Globe Trekker I Was talking about.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hey Fly...my SO and I did Belize about seven years ago, but we did the way off the beaten track...we flew into Belize City then rented a 4x4, drove five hours through the mountains on dirt roads to Placencia, a small (read, TINY) town way down south. There were several nice places to stay, and the food was really good...we drove ourselves to the Jaguar Preserve twice and hiked through there (actually getting locked IN the preserve the last time because we stayed so late, had to jimmy the lock to the gate to get out!)...the roads were horrible, it was hot, lots of bugs. The town just north of Placencia had only gotten electricity the summer before. :-)

On the way back, we said forget the drive and coughed up an additional $500 to fly back to Belize City...

We had a good time, but if I had to choose now, I think I'd go with Costa Rica. I think the infrastructure is more developed, and very eco-friendly. That being said, my experience is seven years old, and we also steered clear of all touristy areas (at the time, the Cayes were really the big tourist draws in Belize), so a lot could have changed!


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hi fly,

I was in Costa Rica for only a few days this past summer - so my experience is limited. I did fly to Liberia though, instead of San Jose. It was an interesting trek from there to the Arenal area where we stayed. We arranged to be shuttled - the roads are (still) quite rough and dirt roads w/ lots of potholes are common. (These are reasons NOT to rent a car.) For us the trip from Liberia to Arenal was long - you have to drive all the way around the lake to get there.

We stayed a hotel Los Lagos (http://www.hotelloslagos.com/) very near volcan arenal (near the town of La Fortuna). This is the area mentioned by celticmoon. This was a nice place, clean, good restaurant on grounds (great breakfast, lots of fruit, gayo pinto (beans and rice), etc). Finding something to eat can sometimes be a challenge and we were happy to have this restaurant at our hotel (we ate breakfast there before touring, then dinner there after touring). The grounds are lovely and the view of the volcano is awesome. You can get a cheap taxi into La Fortuna (~$4) - where you can book tours in offices along the street, use the internet, shop some. (You can also book tours from the hotel office.) I'm sure it has grown alot in the past decade, but it is by no means totally built up and is certainly still a developing country.

The hotel los lagos also has hot swimming pools w/ waterslides, which was fun. Nice to swim in a warm pool at night when the air is cool and foggy. Just dont be afraid of bats - they love to circle the pools in search of insects! Our hotel pools were not crowded, but Baldi hot springs (similar to Tabacon hot springs that was mentioned by celticmoon) was crazy busy! A trip there was included in our volcano tour, so we went for a while. The pools were beautiful w/ lush landscaping all around. The pools are terraced - I guess the water comes out of the ground super hot, so the first pool is so hot you can barely stick your toe in, then that pool overflows to the next one which is cooler, then to another one, etc.

Tour options in this area include volcano/rainforest hikes, horse back rides, canopy tours. We did a canopy tour (combined with riding horses up into the forest) and it was fun, but would be miserable for someone even remotely scared of heights. We also did a volcano/rainforest hike and it's funny - like celticmoon said we didnt see lava - it was a complete rainy fog during our hike - but it was fun nonetheless. We were also in a group w/ some (stoner) teenagers - there are lots of young people traveling solo in central america.

Another place to visit near La Fortuna is the La Fortuna waterfall. Instead of paying for an official tour, we payed a taxi driver to take us there (there is a park admission), then come back and pick us up. It is a serious hike down (and of course more strenous back up) to the pool, but it's beautiful. You can swim around to the back side of the waterfall. Cold, but invigorating!

We went from here to Nicaragua and again transportation was a bit convoluted, but we made it just fine.

So, I saw only a glimpse of Costa Rica - and none of the beach areas, which are supposedly beautiful. If you make it to the beaches during the right time of year you can take night trips to see the female sea turtles laying there eggs on the beach. Supposedly a great sight to see! I didnt get to see this, but we did see the turtles in the water during a boat trip along the coast of nicaragua - a crazy site to spot all these huge turtels bobbing in the ocean.

As for learning some spanish - you could certainly get by without it, but it does enhance your experience to at least attempt some. That is another fun thing you could do w/ your child if you had more time - language school!

This type of travel is for the more adventurous, not the type expecting easy luxury all the way.

Good luck - isnt trip planning fun!


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Wow, what a wealth of experience here in this forum :) I am just posting to recognize people's very generous postings--I will try to respond more cogently after a nap--came down with the flu...hm, lila, maybe that's why I spaced what you wrote. We actually saw it again last night...

Ugh. Off for a nap...


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

O.K., feeling on the mend--this one was unpleasant but doesn't seem to be lasting long, so that's good :)

lila, yes, DUH I should have remembered that. I think I was coming down with this the day I posted this--I made many dumb mistakes around the house that day too (e.g. cut my finger on some stained glass doing something really stupid, misplaced several things in silly places, etc.). I think my DD was a bit concerned about the part where she hiked up the volcano; the lava didn't concern her, but rather the fact that she was saved from toxic fumes only because the wind was blowing from a different direction...the volcano was evidently quite active that day.

lnersesian, having to jimmy the lock in a jaguar preserve to get out? Ay ay ay! I think that's a bit too exciting for DD's blood right now...but the jaguar preserve itself and the rest sounds really cool. I appreciate your appraisal of which place to choose, too. There are compelling arguments for either place, and I'm a Libra...this is going to be very difficult :)

blueginger--good to see you!! How are you? Hot swimming pools with waterslides--with our weather right now that sounds dreamy. Good point about the canopy tour--I'd been thinking of trying to do something like that, but we may have to leave DH at home, actually--he is really almost pathologically afraid of heights, poor dear.

Also I'm really getting the sense that I'm going to have to assess realistically what I can do wrt my silly fibromyalgia--my body just won't be able to hike quite as much as my brain wants to. So we have to find some good climbing and have some good rest days as well. Just a fact of my life, but hey, we're able to go so I'm not complaining. But if I'd had my daughter earlier, before all this set in, she wouldn't have been able to keep up with me! :)

Anna used to *love* sea turtles when we were back on the east coast--I'll look into their schedules because I bet she'd just flip to see that. I do want to try to learn as much Spanish and maybe a little of the native language (it's not Maya, I'm learning, and the population is evidently proportionally more Spanish than indigenous in C.R. anyway) , even if one doesn't necessarily "need" to.

All this information is just amazingly useful; I'm going to print all these out and if I may, maybe write folks personally with followup questions...thanks so very much.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hi there,

I spent two weeks in Costa Rica about three years ago. It was simply amazing. We went to a small surf town called Nosara which is well off the beaten path. My sister and her family have gone there twice and are returing again. It is located on the west coast and is considered a dry forst area, I believe. There is jungle right up to the awesome huge beach..miles long. But in the dry season, it's really dry--no green, very much "un" Costa Rica. But in the wet season (our summer) it's very lush and green. The food is to die for...Italian, German, Swiss...it's very different. We loved it. But it is a small surf town with not a lot of night life. It's not like the tourist destinations at all.

We stayed there for about 8 days and then spent the remainder traveling to Arenal via San Jose. I didn't like San Jose at all...too big city for me. But we basically drove through.

I could go on and on. We saw so much wild life, I can't even tell you. Butterflies the size of dinner plates, lizards, ants, monkeys, frogs, and some FREAKY bugs and spiders. We did experience the rain forest when we went to Arenal, so that was cool too.

I highly recommend it.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

For most of you this is probably way too much information but I am enclosing my trip report from our trip to CR last Christmas. This had been posted on fodors.com. If you want anymor information you can e-mail me. Our driver Oscar chavarria was invaluable and I have his phone number and e-mail.

We just returned from a week in Costa Rica 12/25/04-1/1/05. We are 2 families with 4 kids total- ages 17,16,15, and 12. We had an amazing time and actually managed to agree on most things even though we have somewhat different interests. I planned the trip from this web site.

Day 1- we flew AA from JFK where it took 1 hour to get through security. So many people were held up they delayed the flight an hour. We landed in San Jose and my daughter's luggage was lost. (The 17 year old- you can imagine how pleasant a 17 year old girl without luggage can be!) After 2 1/2 hours at the airport reporting the loss we met Oscar our driver. He was perhaps the most wonderful part of our vacation. I can't say enough about how kind, helpful, funny, and pleasant to spend a vacation with he was.

Oscar drove us to Manuel Antonio and we stopped along the way at a local soda for lunch. We arrived at the Hotel Parador after dark. We were glad we had hired a driver because we had anticipated arriving before night. It was dark and the road to Parador is terrible. Our rooms were lovely. Mine overlooked the tennis courts so it did not have the best view but we did not spend much time in the room. Our friends were in the building with the tram and had a beautiful ocean view. We had a light dinner at the hotel. The service was very slow but the food was OK. The kids went swimming in their beautiful pool and we called it a night.

Day 2- We had breakfast at the buffet which was very nice with an omelet station, etc. Oscar picked us up and took us to Manuel Antonio Park where he hired a guide for us-Juan. We paid $20 at the park entrance. The park was beautiful and we saw lots of things including a few monkeys, sloths, iguanas, leaf cutter ants, etc. We then walked back to third beach in the park which is just beautiful and we swam and relaxed. Oscar then took us to lunch at Hotel Si Como No at the Rico Tico Restaurant. This was very pretty but overrated and the food was expensive.
When I returned to our hotel still no sign of my daughter's luggage. The staff was very nice and allowed me to call on their phone to AA in the US as evidently the San Jose desk never answers their phone.
We went in to Quepos in the evening but everything had closed early on Sunday so we left for dinner. we did manage to buy some coffee at Cafe Milagro in downtown Quepos.
We had dinner at Karoala's which was by far the best meal we had in CR. The dinner though cost $320 for 8 of us which included margaritas.

Day 3-After breakfast Oscar drove us to Finca Valmy ranch for our horseback riding tour. As they were busy we got Adrian their horse trainer and Fransisco as our guides. It was a wonderful day and we rode up to a beautiful waterfall where we swam in the pool. We were the only ones there. The ride is through the countryside and back through the forest. The horses were well trained and we were able to cantor if we wanted. When we returned we went to the Ranch for a wonderful lunch in a beautiful seting. There was a pool if you wanted to swim. The ranch is owned by Valentin and Michel (hence Valmy) who were very gracious hosts. We returned to our Hotel for some relaxation (we did not do a whole lot of this during our vacation) Later Oscar took us to Mar Luna for dinner. We did not love this restaurant and somehow it ended up being as expensive as Karoala's. Afterwards we went out to Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio for desert and returned to the hotel.When we got back to the hotel my daughter's luggage had finally arrived. I forgot to mention that in the car ride back from Finca Valmy we saw sloths in the trees on the road to Parador. There was a crowd of people around the first because they were trying to get it away from the electrical wires. Evidently they are being electrocuted by the low wires. They were successful and we continued on the road to see another crowd around another sloth. This one fell out of the tree while we were watching. He seemed fine and someone placed him back in the tree. He was still there the next day so I guess he was OK.

Day 4-After breakfast at the buffet we decided we needed to relax at the pool. My daughter's main goal for the vacation was a tan and now that her luggage was found she had something new to concentrate on. The pool is really nice and it has a swim up bar. I think they were happy to see us leave as I managed to spill the snack peanuts and raisins in the pool. My husband had returned from a walk to the beach to report there were monkeys on the road. We walked down to see 2 monkeys playing in the trees.
Oscar picked us up at noon to take us to our next stop La Finca Que Ama. On the way we stopped at the Waterfall's canopy tour outside of Jaco. I picked this one because my friend was terrified of safety factors and this was one of a few in CR which was ACCT certified. The tour was great. (my favorite thing I did) It was deep in the canopy. We had to hike a little, cross a suspension bridge and climb stairs to get to the beginning. The guides were very nice- especially to my friend who was terrified and did not know if she could go. The tour consisted of 7 zip lines. The first is off a slide so you sit and slide off the edge. It makes it easier to do the first one. There is 1 tarzan swing and in the middle you land in a 2 story tree house. This has a large bed which can be rented for the night. No thank you! You then can end early (as my friend did) or continue on a long zipline and then a rappell down. This is basically where they let you free fall from the canopy until you are about 10 feet above the ground when they slow you down. The tour was great and fun and beautiful.

After the canopy tour we crossed the Rio Tarcoles and viewed the crocodiles. We continued on to La Finca Que Ama where once again we arrived after dark. (poor Oscar). We were greeted by Neta and Arbol who showed us to our beautiful casitas which were built into the hillside. The then hosted us at a wonderful Israeli dinner with course after course of food which was served family style. They had a Mariachi band serenade us while we ate. After a lovely evening we retired to our casitas for some much needed sleep.

Day5-After a morning hike around the property we had another nice meal at La Finca Que Ama. Oscar picked us up for the ride to Arenal. As I've mentioned earlier we were 8 people with different tastes so what we usually ended up doing was a little bit of everything. Today was no exception. We started the day at a cigar factory in Santiago de Puriscal called Vegas de Santiago. It was a 1 room factory with about 8 people rolling cigars by hand. The owner gave us a tour in Spanish with Oscar as translator. He showed us to the Maestro of rollers who he said was 1 of 3 in all of Central America. He evidently used to live in Cuba and rolled Castro's cigars for him. It was really fascinating to watch. He presented us with one of the Maestro's cigars and we all had a taste later that night. He said it was special partly because of the wrapping leaf which is grown in Connecticut. We couldn't believe it because we are from CT and have never seen tobacco growing there.
Next stop was near San Jose where we met Oscar's wife and 2 adorable children for lunch at a local soda. They were so nice and we loved having the chance to meet them as by this time he was like a member of our family.
On the way to Arenal we stopped at the Los Angeles Cloud Forest since we would not be making it to Monteverde. We did a short hike on the trails which was very nice.
Finally we arrived in Arenal and stopped on the way to Tabacon for dinner at Luigi's which was very good.
We arrived at Tabacon at around 8:30 and encountered our first major glitch of the vacation. We had booked this leg of the vacation through a travel agency and they had not given us any vouchers for the hotel despite the fact that we had paid in full in advance. We had booked a superior suite and a junior suite for my family alone and they had given away the junior suite. They finally put my kids in a regular room (which would have been fine from the beginning but we had no choice from the agency) but it took us about 1.5 hours to get them to refund us the difference in the rooms and agree that we would not have to move the next day. We also did not have the volcano view that we had been guaranteed. (It didn't matter in the end because the volcano never made it out of the clouds while we were there. The hotel was so sure of it that they told us they would comp us the suite if the volcano was visible and we missed it because of the room.) I would like to state that the management at Tabacon was terrible but the workers we encountered were all very nice. We never made it to the hot springs that night but our friends did and loved it. Day 6- After a lovely breakfast (the food at Tabacon was much better than I had heard) Oscar picked up 6 of us (My daughter and the other mother stayed behind to hang out at the Hot Springs) and we drove to the Sarapiqui River to go rafting. We had tried to arrange rafting in MA but the rivers were very low. As it had been raining in Arenal we figured this might be better. On the way to the river we passed by a place where we got out of the car to look at Iguanas. We were on an overpass over a river with the treetops just in front of us. Throughout the tree there were about 30-40 Iguanas staying in the branches. It was amazing. We continued on to the River where we boarded our raft with a guide and a safety kayak. There were about 4 boats total. The river was supposed to be class 3-4 but it was higher due to the rains. I almost always fall out of the boat while rafting and the waves were big enough that I almost lost it twice. We had a great time. There were almost constant rapids on the 7 mile stretch we did. We stopped at a place so people could jump off the cliff into the rapids and there were several places you could jump off the boat to swim. When we approached the end there was Oscar with our camers on the overpass taking pictures of us. We had a great day.

We returned to Arenal and met the others at Lava Rocks for lunch. This was very good. We returned to the Hot Springs for the afternoon and to fight a little more with the management about our rooms. (My son told me he sat in the lobby for a while and saw a constant stream of people at the desk complaining of something.) The Hot Springs were very crowded and I waited in line 20 minutes for a towel and locker key. It was dark by the time I got in the springs and they were a little of a disappointment. Luckily I brought my Tevas because there are a lot of stones in the pools and they made it easier.

We decided to have dinner at the hotel which was very good. This was the only time on the trip I got bitten up by mosquitoes. (I did uses deet for most of the tours)

Day 7- Our last day. We had another great breakfast and the 2 couples and my 15 year old son decided to do the hanging bridges. We left the other kids at the Hot Springs which they loved. The hanging bridges were great. We did not see much wildlife except for some butterflies and a turkey but it was an amazing view from the bridges into the canopy. My friend did manage to take a movie on his digital camera of the leaf cutter ants marching by with leaves. It was really funny and it is now his screen saver. There is a coatimandle (?sp) which hangs out at the office and he jumps up on your leg looking for food (which we did not give him). We returned and we all had lunch at the Hot Springs restaurant and again the food was very good.

The guys went into town to the ATM as we were almost out of cash. The ATM did not charge any fee. We paid mostly by Visa when we could but I would advise cash if possible. All prices are quoted in US dollars but when you sign the slip it is in colones. When we got home we were billed in dollars but the price had gone through 2 exchanges. We invariably got billed $3-5 more than was qouted. Not a big difference but just be aware.

We spent the afternoon in the hot springs and this time I thought they were great. It was not crowded and we could find some very private pools. If you walk way up there is a bar with 2 for 1 specials next to a waterfall with a rock chaises built in. We sat in the waterfall and had our drinks and it was like paradise.

In the afternoon we had treatments at the Iksandria Spa. I had a volcanic stone massage which was so relaxing I kept falling asleep.

Later we went out to Mirador Arenal steak house for dinner. We were back at the Hotel by 10 and we watched the Time's Square ball drop at 11:00 CR time. Back in our rooms we watched Tabacon's fireworks from the garden.

Day8-Oscar drove us 2 1/2 hours back to the airport and we cried when we said goodbye. We had an uneventful flight home and are now back to reality.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Oh My Gosh. I'm going to take a *long* time to take this in and cross-reference it with my other souces...

One first question: how did you know to hire a driver? How did you choose the one you chose? (And would he be available for us? :))

I don't see my DH and possibly not even me doing that canopy zip line thing...Definitely not my DH. But I probably could.

I'm guessing that mostly you spoke English, since you mention that Oscar translated for you on a tour. Did you all know any Spanish or speak any there?

This detail is so helpful, thank you for posting it here. I'll be over at Fodors too, as mitch had mentioned before.

And bella, thanks very much to you too--I love the idea of a small town--how did you decide to go there? We really don't need night life at all.

I've heard on other lists of two people going to Costa Rica in the next month or so...we'd better get there before it becomes Cancun. Hope we're not too late...


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I found out about this particular driver on the fodors.com forum. I spent a lot of time there researching this trip. Oscar got good reviews from a previous poster. He was wonderful. He stayed with friends in each town we went to and drove us around everywhere. He arranged tours if he was unable to be the tour guide although I had made some reservations before leaving. His name is Oscar Chavarria Moria and his email is cuco2228@hotmail.com. He may take a few days to answer e-mail as it is slow down there and he may be on the road. His phone number is 011-506-777-3031 and his cell phone is 011-506-373-2736. He works with a friend Robert who does his booking. I hope this helps you.


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Spanish

Sorry Fly, you asked about Spanish. I do speak some spanish and tried to speak it while there. Both my kids take spanish so we were able to communicate but Oscar also was able to translate. I do not remember how much English people spoke as I tried to practice my Spanish as much as possible.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Thanks so much, jquentzel! Immensely helpful. We've got to get started on Spanish. Even if we end up going to Belize, we'll begin to know another language, so that's good :)


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hi Again,
We are not big on the night life scene, and we wanted a really relaxing place to go. My sister and her husband both surf, and Nosara is a bit of a surfer's paradise. So we decided to go. As you may remember I lived in Santa Cruz, CA last year (mom and dad's house) which is located on the beach in a major surf spot. LOTS of people there new of Nosara and had been there...so it must attract a lot of surfers. Also, some friends of my sister's that live there, they said it's becoming a bit busier with more hotels, shops, etc. It made me a little sad to hear that. The charm of Nosara was the quiet, peaceful feeling. They have a Yoga center there too. Very cool.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

One of my neighbors and their kids went to CR last spring break, they had an amazing time. They just loved it and their kids did too, ages about 9 & 11.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

flyleft, I'm coming to this convesation late, so sorry about that.
I have not been to Costa Rica, but my Dad's new wife owns a condo/townhouse (3br/2 or 3 ba?) in Tamarindo, which I think is on a peninsula. She loves it down there so much she is arranging to buy a second one. Tamarindo, afaik, is very rustic and natural and quiet; very accomodating and polite but not very "touristy". People on Tamarindo time is like people on Maui time after they've learned to relax. It's where my Dad learned how to swim at the tender age of 69. And boogie-board. Believe me, the imagery is priceless.

Anyway, if you are interested in knowing more about her place, her rates and schedule, email me and I can give you her email and/or phone number. She would be also great to get more details about Tamarindo, as I, umm, have not paid that close attention to it.


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Shezzy, I will definitely e-mail you. Thank you very much for this g'web lead--wouldn't it be great if it worked out? :)

And rose, I really appreciate the knowledge that a 9 y.o. liked it. I can't see why they wouldn't, but I just need info on what kids have especially liked...but you know, some of the travel books don't cover things to do with children there (or Belize) at all!


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hey flyleft,
I just did a quick search on travel to Belize with kids, and ran across this website. I believe they're a tour company, but they do give age appropriate info for different types of things to do in both Belize and Costa Rica.

By the way, I'm interested in all this info you're collecting. I just found out that my niece is spending next year (college exchange program) in Costa Rica. Aunt Annie has to visit, don't you think?!?!

Here is a link that might be useful: Adventure travel with kids


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

COOL, spacific! VERY COOL! This is wonderful. I'll use it definitely. And yes, Aunt Annie definitely will have to visit. It seems to be *the* place to be going, recently...what is your niece doing there? Is she in environmental studies or any kind of biology/zoology etc.?


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

Hey Flyleft.

Thought of you this am when today's paper noted a website that features Latin American lodges with "sustainable tourism" = meeting ecological standards as well as committing to local employemt. Says most of the initial 20 listings are in Costa Rica and the lodges offer wildlife viewing, tours, and programs to introduce you to peple who live and work in the area.

Looks like a nice website. Enjoy.

Here is a link that might be useful: eco tourism website


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RE: Anyone been to Costa Rica (or possibly Belize??

I went to CR four years ago and had a spectacular time. Flew to San Jose, went to Arenal / La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Quepos / Miguel Antonio Park. In 9 days, I saw a volcano, hiked around the volcano and through the jungle and the rain forest, rode zip lines across the rain forest canopy, swam under a waterfall, went to the mountains, went to the beach, heard and saw monkeys, lizards, sloths, and many other animals, rode horseback through the mountains and across a river, took a three hour sailboat ride, went to the famous hot springs, got a reflexology massage in a grass hut, toured a coffee plantation, rode a bus with locals and their chickens, had great food, did a little shopping, went to a couple cool art galleries and musuems, wore a t-neck and jacket and 2 days later a swimsuit, learned a little Spanish, learned a lot about the country, people, and environment, and always felt safe and comfortable. I went on a guided tour with Gap Adventures (gapadventures.com) on the 9-day tour. I think it was called the Quest adventure. They have dozens of differenet tours in CR, guided and independent. THe one I did was great, because they arranged everything from hotels to transportation to entrance fees to reservations. They got you to an area, told you what cool things there were to do, and then arranged for you to do whatever you were interested in. It was not a tour where everyone does the same thing at the same time and you are kinda trapped and on someone else's time table. You get the same guide for the whole tour and she knew the areas well and knew everyone in the areas we went, so she could always point us to the right people and places for what we wanted to experience. I frankly do not think I would want to try to navigate and drive through the country without a knowledgeable guide-- it's not like AAA will come get you if there is a problem and there is no mechanic or tire store around the corner. The roads are VERY rough and not well marked-- it would make a heck of an adventure, but just think about if that is the adventure you want, or if that would detract from the adventure you really want. I thought the loosely-guided tour was perfect and would highly receommend Gap, although there may be others that are just as good (I am not connected with them in any way, just a happy customer.)

OH! One word of advice for San Jose-- If a man pinches you on the arm downtown, just say "No!" firmly and move on. That is the customary way that a man tells a uh, shall we say "lady of the evening" that he is interested. Some men just pinch anyone they think is cute, hoping she's a "lady of the evening"! You'll only experience it right in the center of downtown by the square, though, and if you say no then they apologize and leave you alone. Frankly, you likely won't want to hang out much in San Jose. One day for a musuem or two and the flea market is plenty. It is literally hard to breathe in the city because of all the pollution.

Hope this helps. I'd be happy to answer any specific quetions if I can.

--A.


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