For those who are interested: here’s the budget breakdown for the trip. Skip it if it bores you, but I always like to know if I’m getting a good deal by comparing with others. I suppose this will also be a review of sorts for some of the places we stayed.
Flights: Delta airlines had the best price/schedule combo for us, and we paid about $600 per ticket.
Night one: Hemingway Inn, San Jose $62/night, because we paid cash. (Add 10% to pay by credit card.)
We thought we would need a place to crash after traveling all day. Plus we thought we might want to see the sights in San Jose. In the end, we should have skipped San Jose and gone straight to La Fortuna. Not much to see in the capital, especially since I’m not a big museum person. Especially because our digs in La Fortuna were so amazing, and the Hemingway was… not so great.
Our room was comparable to a closet, i.e. a closet with a bathroom and decent shower, but still. It was hot, it was noisy, the hotel claimed to offer parking on their website but it turns out they don’t so we had to find a lot and pay to park, and our bed was horrible. I think the website says the inn was remodeled, but I think that may have been in the late 70s. Or something.
That said, the staff were friendly and nice, though the girl who checked us in didn’t know how to use a room key. Breakfast was fair, with fruit, coffee, juice and gallo pinto (beans and rice). Everything in the place was a little grungy. The advantage for us was that it was within walking distance to the major shopping/pedestrian/downtown area, so we grabbed dinner there.
On the way: Volcán Poás: $7 each to get in.
On the way up to La Fortuna, we stopped at the national park for the Volcán Poás. Great idea, FP! There was a bit of hiking involved to see the crater, but we got up there and had a great view. We didn’t even realize it was a rare view, as the crater is often covered with clouds. We also took the much steeper hike up to the little lake which was serene despite the tourists. The drive up to the park was beautiful, too, amid the coffee fields.
Nights two and three: Arenal Springs Hotel, $350 for two nights in a junior suite. The four of us shared a suite (which is pretty much all they offer) to save $$.
Loved it! After driving all day in the heat, they served us some amazing fruit juice at the bar even before we got to reception. All the staff, with the exception of the two receptionists, were super friendly and talkative. They were also very helpful.
On our first full day, a waiter saw me standing at reception to ask about the safe in our room. He asked what the problem was, promised to get someone out there to fix it, and he did! A maintenance person showed up to fix it.
They had great attention to detail that I appreciated. When we were shown to our room, the bell boy noticed one of the light bulbs in the fan was burned out. He sent someone over right away to change the bulb.
The grounds are beautiful, the view of the volcano is gorgeous, and the hotel is not far from town. It’s not really walkable, but with a car it’s perfect. We went in to town both for lunch and two dinners. We noticed that prices in the hotel gift shop were very equal to what we found at the souvenir shops in town, too. Oh, and there was wireless in the rooms, great for updating twitter.
Arenal Outing: The Arenal Hanging Bridges. The entrance price was supposed to be $22/person, but the girl at the desk took pity on us and gave us the student rate of $12/person. We were flattered that at 30 and 31 years old, we still look young enough to be students. Yay us. We didn’t pay for a guide, but it would have been interesting.
This was really fun, too. there are actually tons of activities to do in the Arenal area, but we wanted to keep things pretty low key for the pregnant ladies’ sakes. We all loved the two mile loop through the rain forest, up and down trails and across the hanging bridges. We saw at least 3 red and blue poison frogs. Definitely bring a rain jacket if you do the hike, because you will get wet. The rain was extremely pleasant, though. Adam and Emily learned way more than they ever wanted to know about my deprived and sad (apparently) childhood in the rain forest, as various plants and other things brought back memories.
Nights four and five: Aguas Claras red cabin, $260 for two nights, plus breakfast = $300.
We wanted to get away from the hordes of tourists who head to Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, so we chose to go to the Caribbean side of the country. We also wanted to experience some of the amazing snorkeling we saw last year in Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is just south of where we were in Puerto Viejo. Also, the beaches in that area were listed on Frommer’s as some of the best unknown beaches in the country.
Aguas Claras was cute, and the owners polite and helpful. When we came back from the beach the first night to shower, I noticed the light in our room was burned out. (What is it with us and burned out light bulbs?) I saw the owner, Mario, walking by and he came over and fixed it immediately.
The cabins were clean and tidy, and the kitchen had everything needed for light cooking and making lunches. Breakfast at the adjoining Miss Holly’s was very good, full of fresh fruits, smoothies, hot lattes and organic yogurt. Breakfast isn’t included in the price of the cabin.
Puerto Viejo, the town near Aguas Claras, has a bit of an anti-society hippie vibe. There’s lot of organic, yoga, hemp and bicycle riding. When we asked the waitress at our favorite restaurant how a particular chicken dish was, she responded, “I don’t eat chicken.” And nothing else. Well, OK then. We ordered it anyway.
Rental car: Thrifty via expedia.com. We ordered the small size SUV and added a GPS/$10/day. The expedia quote was $250 for 6 days, but when we got there, by the time taxes, insurance and GPS were added, the total was $481. The GPS was totally worth it and a great help.
Though it seemed like it took about 100 years to fill out the paperwork after we got to the Thrifty office on the complimentary airport shuttle, Thrifty was great. I really wish I could remember the name of the guy who helped us on the way in and out, because he was super polite and fun.
Food and Souvenirs: We spent about $500 in 7 days for the two of us. We didn’t pick budget eats, we just ate what we wanted (though the one budget place may have been the best — Super Hamburger, Adam?) Little roadside eateries in Costa Rica are called “Sodas.” We ate at a couple of those, and later found out they aren’t always the most hygienic choice. But we all survived sans sickness.
As far as souvenirs, I bought a few wooden things in La Fortuna, some coffee and a few pieces of jewelry for friends. I’m sure that part of the budget was less than $100.
Snorkeling: We found a place run by expats in Manzanillo (pretty much the last town you can drive to before hitting Panama on the coastal road) where we rented sets of fins and snorkles for $3/ hour. I think it was called Aquamor. They also offer kayaks and tours. There’s a reef right off the public beach. Recommended.
So there you have it. Costa Rica in 7 days, in about $2500 including airfare for the two of us.