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Savvy Travel: Si, Si, See Costa Rica!

The Budget Babe's International Travel Advisor Fifi LaMode tells us how to navigate this "rich coast" nation for less than you might think. —TBB

by Fifi LaMode
By popular demand, I have been asked to review Costa Rica as a holiday destination.

Here's the bad news - there is none. Don't be put off by the "What to do in case of an earthquake" sheet in your room (Costa Rica lies on a fault, like California). This is a win-win place to visit: They have healthy rain forests, people are friendly, food is good, and it's affordable for every budget.

In one week you can do the following: Start off in San Jose, the capital. You don't want to stay in the city because there's nothing there to see - the tours usually stay at resorts outside town, your best bet, because they are located on acres and acres of lush property with gorgeous flowers and colorful birds all around. Ours even had a resident toucan! You can book day trips at your hotel or get a package deal where it's all included, which is what we did.

We went down a river where there were loads of monkeys in a tree; strange flowers that looked green and yellow till you looked closely, then they opened up into shades of purple, red and orange all in one; and various furry things with long tails crossed our path. I mention these creatures because there were more than one and I really have no idea what they are to this day - some look like cats, some look like anteaters, and some look like lemurs. They are all indigenous to the area and are very nonchalant about having people around.

Another day trip was to the Arenal Volcano, where we actually got close up to the caldera. Neat. We were then taken to a coffee plantation in the mountains, where the temperature was cooler and the air was very fresh, as opposed to the more tropical lowlands. Then we descended back into more tropical surroundings and saw a typical village and had a typical meal called a 'casada', meaning 'married', because when women marry they're expected to cook this for their husbands: Steak topped with fried egg, a variation of spanish rice, fried plantains, and some other veggies...yummmmm. We had this at the coffee plantation too. Twice in one day. They keep feeding you here.

Another day we visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a couple hours' drive from the city. Once there, you travel in these cabins about 3 feet over the forest canopy. This is so you don't actually step on the ground and upset the balance of nature. While waiting to go on this 'ride' we looked at the hanging flower pots and saw loads of tiny colorful hummingbirds flying around. They're about the size of a thumbnail and at first we thought they were bugs but they were lovely little things in bright greens. Dumb us made the mistake of travelling in August when it's sunny in the morning and rains the rest of the day. I mean RAIN. We're talking monsoon. We got stuck on this cloud forest tram and got soaked. The bus got us out in time before the roads to the forest closed. When it rains here, it rains.

The Cloud Forest had a resident furry thing as well with a strange name. It was friendly. After a few days in the San Jose area, we took a short plane ride (the pilot had the window open - this was a first) to the Guanacaste beach area and stayed at some golf resort. We don't play golf but the accommodations were self-standing little houses. Outside our door was a tree filled with parrots. There was also a cat, or what we thought was a cat, resting at the bottom of the stairs. It wasn't a cat, but I don't know what it was. I'm sure you can find out in a book of Fauna of Central America, but we were content knowing it wasn't attacking us and it was kind of cool that these wild animals were all over the place. This resort also had iguanas. Big iguanas that just basked in the sun on the sidewalks and didn't move when they saw people. Cool.

Our day trip from this place was a ride across the jungle canopy. This was extremely fun. First, you get driven to the jungle. Then you climb a tree that's 80 feet high. (Did I mention you have to sign a waiver that they're not responsible for anything? Never mind - it's pretty tame.) Then you put on a harness and attach yourself to a rope that goes from one tree to another, let go (remember, you have this harness on) and WHEEEEEEE! You're gliding 80 feet over the jungle and you end up on a platform on the next tree. You do this a few times and then it starts pouring rain and you have to run to the jeep before THAT road closes.

We had hot coffee in this lodge while we dried off. And we saw a family of furry things in the jungle. Long nosed furries with bushy tails with their young. About 8 in all. Then you go back to your golf resort and have a burger because they're not too exotic in these resorts! What you can do in the resort is scuba dive and snorkel. They take you out in a little boat and accompany you to make sure you don't get bitten by anything and if you do they're not responsible anyway, and you can take pics. I'm not a diver but my daughter said it was neat. I lay on the lovely white sandy beach and enjoyed the view until it rained. Then it was back to the room and raid the mini-bar. LOL (The trouble with tropics is that if it rains you're pretty much stuck.)

What to buy? COFFEE! They have delicious coffee. You can get it at the airport. It's cheap. In a section of San Jose there's loads of little shops where you buy wooden carvings painted brightly. The cabbies will take you there. We bought a little Noah's Ark with each individual animal hand painted and stuck on to this little ark. They had them in all sizes. Also napkin holders in the shape of toucans. Corny but cute and colorful. The people I bought them for DID appreciate them, so there! These carvings are all lightweight and pretty and when you look at them you smile. So they make great gifts. Your only problem will be how to get them all in your suitcase.

Give these people your money because they're good to the environment and they don't rip you off, 2 very good reasons to travel anywhere. You will also see flora and fauna thriving in their natural environment, which is very exciting. There's a variety of scenery, the food is healthy and natural, and it's only a short flight from the US.

Travel tips: Check out They offer a variety of options, from complete all-inclusive tours, to do-it-yourself trips where you decide how long you want to stay and where. We've travelled with them before, more than once, and they're top-notch.

Read more about Fifi LaMode's world travels here. >>
It sounds fantastic! I've always wanted to go, after reading your article I think it definitely just got bumped way up on my list! :-) I love fifi!
#1 Peaches (Homepage) on 2007-12-12 11:34 (Reply)
i've been there too and it's sooo colorful. for anyone who paints, it's a MUST!
#2 maggie z on 2007-12-12 15:45 (Reply)
Sounds like a trip I need to take.
#3 j.brown (Homepage) on 2007-12-12 19:47 (Reply)
I am now definitely planning my trip to Costa Rica after having read this!! I was wondering if you could give me a few more specifics, like where you went after San Jose and what the hotel was called (that had the package deal)? Also, did you rent a car or is there ample public transportation?
#4 KSwift on 2008-02-01 19:33 (Reply)
After 3 days in Costa Rica (day trips each day to a cloud forest, volcano, coffee plantation) we took a very small plane (the pilot has his window open! that was a first) to the Guanacaste area on the coast. This is tropical and we stayed at a Melia resort. Melia is a Spanish chain well known in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. It is self-contained, offers day trips, has golf (not my thing, but makes for nice surroundings), a few pools, and is right on the ocean. Many tour operators offer mix-and-match tours where you can put together your own 'modules' combining rain forest, coast, adventure, etc. A family we met suggested a hotel in Manuel Antonio called "Si Como No" which they had been to many times. If you don't have a travel agent, go online and get a brochure from a tour operator like General Tours or Caravan Tours to get an idea of prices and what they have to offer. We took a package deal where hotels, airport transfers a few tours were included. We had free time where we could take additional tours on our own - not a problem, these can be booked through the hotels at your leisure. This is such a popular destination that it is relatively easy to customize a vacation. Word of warning - don't go in summer - it's beautiful during the morning, then around noon it starts raining and stops around 7! I would not recommend public transportation or driving on your own. When it rains the roads get muddy (think mudslides!) and flooded and the locals know how to navigate them. If you book day tours it's worry-free. Happy travelling!
#5 Fifi LaMode on 2008-02-03 15:44 (Reply)
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