Costa Rica — January 2016

My husband has wanted to go to Costa Rica for literally years, and his 40th birthday seemed like a great reason to finally make it happen. It certainly lived up to our expectations and beyond. Its natural beauty is enhanced by the Costa Rican’s commitment to keeping it that way. It was practically pristine, with virtually no litter or pollution, and clean drinking water. There are places in the U.S. where recycling is difficult, but all of our hotels had trash and separate recycling, and some even had separate bins in the rooms for biologics for composting.

The Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo.

We flew in and out of Liberia on Alaska’s new flight. Neither of us really likes to drive a lot so we tried to keep everything to that part of the country to make it easier on ourselves.

Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo:
We were incredibly lucky to have received two nights in a plunge pool suite at this hotel as a birthday gift from a family member. It is a stunning property. The location is just amazing–it’s at the narrowest point of a peninsula so there are beaches on either side with different atmospheres and they’re about a 5 minute walk apart. The protected bay side is supposed to be the “active” beach with water equipment rentals and classes and tours, and the ocean side is supposed to be the quiet beach. We found the opposite to be true. The ocean side beach is much bigger and was more crowded during our time there, and the bay side usually only had a few people around. The hotel has a fairly minimal, spread out design so there’s still lots of room for the birds, lizards and monkeys that make Costa Rica a special place. In addition to being beautiful both beaches featured calm, crystal clear water that was perfect for swimming.

Another great thing about the location is its proximity to the airport in Liberia. Our flight landed relatively late and we still managed to make it before sundown, leaving less of a chance for getting lost. However, there really isn’t too much around. Just to get from the front gate to reception was a 15 minute drive! Fortunately there’s a lot to do at the hotel, and a lot of it is free. WIFI worked well everywhere, even out on the beach.

Pretty gecko keeping the mosquitoes in check.

The food at the Four Seasons isn’t cheap, but it’s good! We had dinner at Sol y Sombra and the steakhouse (which is out at the golf course) and both were very nice. Lunch at the bar was also very good and we were introduced to an excellent local beer called Four Sins. I would say the only complaint I have is that the coffee in the room was just a pod for espresso. We would have preferred a nice brewed cup of local coffee.

Blue River Resort & Hot Springs: Since we didn’t want to drive to Arenal but wanted the whole volcano/rain forest experience, we opted for this place on Rincon de la Vieja. It’s not fancy, although I’d consider it a step up from rustic. The rooms are huge and very private. The plants and flowers on the property are beautiful, and there are also hot springs, a mud bath and spa. They offer several activities, or you could book on your own through independent outfitters.

The Blue River on Rincon de la Vieja.

The activities we chose were a zipline in the morning and river tubing in the afternoon of our one full day there. The zipline was nine lines and an optional “Tarzan swing” at the end. The views were great and this was a lot of fun. The tubing was…something else. This was actually going through rapids in an inner tube, not floating along and drinking a beer. Parts of it were fun, but we walked away pretty banged up. They said it gets even crazier during the rainy season! The next day we decided to do something more relaxing and just went to the spa. My hot stone massage was lovely and appreciated after our adventurous day before.

While Blue River was certainly closer than Arenal, it’s still not a cakewalk to get there. The last 20km of the road is gravel and quite rough in spots. We woke up the day after we arrived to a flat tire from a slow leak we got on the way in. On our way back down we took our time and were super careful and made it without incident. I also wish I had been better about wearing bug spray when we were there. We got spoiled at the 4S with a lack of mosquitoes but they were understandably more of an issue in the jungle. The WIFI wasn’t so great just in case you don’t want to totally disconnect.

I was surprised at how good the food was in the restaurant. You basically have to eat there so they really don’t need to put in any effort, but it wasn’t bad. We even got decent pizza one day for lunch.

Hotel Capitan Suizo: We spent the last portion of the trip in Tamarindo, although this was the first place we decided on when we were planning. Being someplace remote is OK for a little while, but we prefer to be in a more town-ish setting so we have options for things to do and eating. Tamarindo is perfect for that. The good thing about the location of the Capitan Suizo is that it’s at the end of the beach, so it’s quiet but you’re still a short walk (10 minutes or so) to the main area. We had a beachfront garden room, which provided further privacy yet great access to the beach. It had an outdoor shower, too, which was perfect for coming straight off the beach and we ended up only using the indoor shower once.

The hotel’s well-stocked gift shop was handy since we weren’t right in town. I’m old school and always send a postcard to my mom and one of my uncles when I travel, and it can be hard to find stamps these days. They sold them right in the gift shop, so that was appreciated. I found the spa prices to be very reasonable, so we indulged in some treatments here, too. My body scrub and facial were just what I needed after the salt water and sun and my husband enjoyed his massage.

Tamarindo Beach

Since we only ate on property at our first two hotels, we didn’t have to find a ton of restaurants. I’d say we generally enjoyed what we did get to experience though.

Dragonfly: This was a nice place off the beach in Tamarindo. The drinks especially were good, and the live music provided a fun backdrop. There’s also a miniature golf place next door if you want to work off dinner.

La Palapa: Right in the sand on Tamarindo Beach. My snapper was excellent and my husband’s mahi mahi was also very good. The drinks are two for one all day, but honestly they were pretty bad and didn’t have much alcohol in them. We should have stuck to beer like most of the people around us were doing.

Surf Shack: You can just see Tamarindo Beach if you’ve got a good table. If you’re jonsing for burger or looking to watch an NFL game this is the place to do it. It’s run by an American couple and it’s perfect for lunch. I had the tacos, which were delicious. The shakes were very tempting but we stuck to beer.

Cafe Liberia: We stopped here on our way from Blue River to Tamarindo. The food was OK, but the cafe itself is beautiful and the virgin pina colada was insane. I’d go back just for one of those! I will caution you that many of the streets in Liberia didn’t have signs, so we had to drive around a bit to find it.

La Choza del Laurel: This is basically right across the street from the airport, so if you’re looking for something right after you land or right before you leave it fits the bill. Service was bit slow, so take that into consideration. The food was good and the beer was cold, and that’s pretty much all we needed for our last meal.

Rental car/Driving
Something that I had been concerned with before we left were road conditions and driving in general. I had heard horror stories and it made me nervous. My fears were unfounded though. The main roads were small (generally one lane in each direction) but well maintained. The biggest problem was getting stuck behind a giant truck hauling sugar cane and not being able to pass. As I mentioned we did get a slow flat from the dirt road to Blue River, but I think that was partially our fault for going too fast. Signage on the roads was OK, but not great. It’s not hard to miss a turn and get a bit lost, although we always realized we’d made a mistake pretty quickly when this happened. If your hotel provides detailed driving directions on their web site print them out and bring them!

We used Budget for our car and had no problems. We stopped in on our way from Blue River to Tamarindo to get a new spare and they handled it quickly. However a lot of people do have issues when they rent a car in Costa Rica, most often that it ends up being more expensive than they thought it would be, or they don’t get a car because the company is “out.” I think the first problem comes up because companies don’t calculate all the fees into their estimates, so they look super cheap compared to places like Budget. The second problem seems to come up when you don’t pre-pay for at least part of your reservation. I know sometimes budgets are tight, but if you find a rental car rate that’s too good to be true it probably is. And if you arrive thinking you’re renting a car and don’t have one, you could have to scramble for a transfer or spend valuable vacation time figuring out another alternative.

Gorgeous orchids in the rain forest.

I know this was something I was worried about when I was planning, so I figure it’s worth mentioning. We had no issues. It was hot and dry when we were at the beach, and sunny with a few showers mixed in when we were on Rincon. The rain never proved to be an issue, even when it was heavy, and the jungle has to stay green somehow. It did get very windy a few days on the beach. It affected the surf and I think brought some jellyfish into the bay side of the Four Seasons. The descriptions we heard from staff at the hotels of the hot months and rainy season didn’t sound so great, so I think our timing worked well.


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Filed under Central America, Hiking, Tropical

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