A friend from the states just emailed me, asking for recommendations for his son’s honeymoon in December. Well, he came to the right person for info… I am an information junkie, left-over from my Buyer Agent shopping days!!! So here’s what I have to recommend so far:

For places to visit within an hour’s drive of San Jose, see my Weekend of Oohs and Awes post.

I have two contacts for travel here, Viajes Atlantico, Karen, 506-232-8888 and the Costa Rica Travel Store (recommended by the ARCR, a local company that helps with moving to Costa Rica). I haven’t used either agent for much, but the CR Travel Store helped us get to Nicaragua. And Karen got us GREAT tickets to the states. We will definitely use her again.

You can definitely rent a car here and drive everywhere, no problem. After 3 months, I’m just now getting comfortable driving – the roads are HIDEOUS. But if you ONLY drive during daylight and keep your eyes on the road at all times, you can get everywhere. Potholes are huge and unexpected, there are deep gullies on the sides of the roads, the pavement often ends for long stretches… sounds scary, I know. But we are so used to it now, we hardly notice. Roads that look like they will surely end in a pile of rusting refrigerators actually lead to Office Depot! By December, the rainy season will be over and the roads will be freshly potholed, but it will be beautiful here. It’s beautiful now and we are right at the end of the dry season! Need rain, which we are starting to get now.

The buses go everywhere and they are dirt cheap, so that’s an option. I would have my own car – I like going on my own schedule. But driving can be so stressful on a long trip on these roads, that when you go from town to town or area to area, you may want to take the bus so you can enjoy the scenery, then pick up a new car in each place. Also, the country is so small, really, and places to stay can be so inexpensive, that you may want to have a home base hotel and travel out from there…

By December, I will have more recommendations to make for places to stay. Here’s what I have so far:

– On the east coast: La Costa de Papito – have not been here yet, but recommended by my Key West motorcycle world-traveler buddies… Also, down below is info that I copied from Andrew’s Travelblog who made some recommendations for the Caribbean coast.

– On the southern pacific: The Hotel Mono Azul – we stayed here, it was cheap, clean, older, comfortable – we’d stay again

– Near the Arenal volcano: The Chalet Nicholas – we loved this place (make sure you ask for a room with a door that closes. We stayed in the loft room, not a lot of privacy but we were with the boys so didn’t need it!) Great for being close to the lake for windsurfing – Lake Arenal is THE windsurfing spot.

– At the base of the volcano: The Arenal Lodge. We stayed here, it was great, make sure you ask for a volcano view room!!! Unfortunately, the volcano is shrouded in clouds most of the time. But if you get a clear day or even a clear hour, it is worth every second, every penny. You can also hike trails up the side of the volcano – sounds like just the ticket for an active traveler! We took a short hike to a waterfall and saw a coral snake slither off thru the rocks. Don’t ask me why, but Sunny Eymann‘s voice rings in my head when I hear talk of a coral snake, much less see one: "Red touches black, step back, Jack. Red touches yellow, kill a fellow." Good to remember in the tropics!!!

– For a more elegant volcano stay, Tabacon Hot Springs. It was $500 a night, we talked them down to $250 for a last minute deal but then couldn’t even stomach that amount… Arenal Lodge was $120. But Tabacon has THE hot springs. You can stay other places, like the lodge, and then visit the hot springs at Tabacon. The lodge had tickets for us for $16 for the day at Tabacon.

– On the Nosara coast: The Gilded Iguana – haven’t been here either but this is owned by my Key West buddies and we are looking forward to being there. Remote, monkeys, surfing, the whole nine yards!

The other place I’m dying to go but haven’t made yet is the cloud forest at Monteverde. They are reported to have the best canopy trip in the country, butterflies, wildlife, the works. And good ice cream.

Don’t know about rafting places, but by December, opportunities for that will surely abound.

Don’t bring or wear any jewelry. I wear a thin gold wedding band and sometimes junk earrings. Other than that, jewelry is out. San Jose is really the only place to be worried about having it actually stolen off your body. But the rest of the time, you just look out of place and rich, no matter how teensy the diamond. And wear cheap sports watches. Don’t bother with make-up either… lipstick because the need for lipstick has been genetically implanted. Otherwise, I don’t wear any. After my facelift, no one will care. But that’s another blog.

I take my computer everywhere and my digital camera in my purse. Most hotels are safe, I hide my computer under the bed (don’t tell anyone) just to be safe and sometimes the hotel will have an actual safe where you can keep a laptop or cash. We have ATM cards that work everywhere, never had a problem and don’t carry much cash on us. Don’t think travelers checks are the way to go here… cash is best and always accepted.

The local money is pretty easy to get to know: 500 colonnes = $1. By December, it will likely be 520 colonnes per $1… colonnes practically disappear before your eyes. But easy to translate.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. If you take any of my recommendations, or have others to share, please comment or email me and I’ll share those. As I think of more, I will pass that along. In the meantime, here are the notes I took from Andrew’s Travelblog:

Puerto Viejo
Bungalows Calalú, run by a French family. It was a terrific place! It was within walking distance of both the center of Puerto Viejo and the beach. It had five really well made and designed bungalows surrounded by a large variety of tropical trees and plants. The pool was very well done with interesting, large rocks all around the pool and the rest of the pool area was enclosed with tropical plants and shrubs, providing both an interesting enclave of sorts, and importantly, privacy. The price was reasonable and the best gauge of a hotel is that I slept well! The rate didn’t include breakfast.

We found several terrific restaurants in the Puerto Viejo area. For breakfast, we found a couple of very cool, funky places. One was called “Bread & Chocolate.” I liked the feel of this place and the ex-pat owners and wait staff were very friendly. They made excellent coffee and I really enjoyed their eggs and potatoes. Café Rico, also run by ex-pats, was quite good as well. Beth asked me to mention that they make the best fried potatoes in Costa Rica. I agree! We also came home with a few bottles of their honey and Beth liked their ginger lemonade.

At lunch, there was a Mexican restaurant I really like and for dinner we ate a good deal of Italian, and even some Asian/fusion. In fact, one small dingy-looking restaurant sitting atop a small convenience store had excellent Italian food, prepared by what I would call a typical Italian mother—and as it turns out, she was from Roma! I think we were spoiled in the Caribbean because of the many food choices.

Punta Uva
We traveled down the coast towards Panama on our way to Manzanillo, the last “big” town before a national park that runs along the Panamanian border. We came across Punta Uva on our way. I’m not sure if it is actually a town, though I guess it is, as I did see it listed on my map. However, there wasn’t much here except a few convenience stores and one or two guest houses. As we were driving along, we peered to our left and saw a narrow dirt road heading to the ocean. So, always wanting to “take the road less traveled,” we headed down it and came upon the beach at Punta Uva. This is one of the nicest beaches I’ve seen in Costa Rica. White sand, clear water at just the right temperature—warm but not too warm—and a long beach front with barely anyone on it. I am not a good judge of distance but I would guess it was 1.5-2 miles long and I don’t think I counted more than 7 or 8 people on the whole expanse of beach. The beach angled out towards the ocean with a huge rock formation, covered in trees at its precipicewith the ocean wildly thrashing it.

…in Puerto Viejo, is a place called “Agapi” or Greek for “love.” Whenever I see something like that I know a Greek must be involved and being of Greek descent myself, we had to investigate. Agapi is an adorable hotel right off the main road (some parts paved, some parts not!) heading a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. Consisting of two wood buildings with a number of large rooms, some with kitchens, it was right on the beach. When we arrived we met a portly woman of African descent who was the co-owner. I’m always impressed with the hotel was very nice, inexpensive, clean and one cannot beat falling asleep to the sound of waves! I’d definitely recommend it to anyone traveling to this area.

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