Very nice, but the construction made it less than idylic
Our family of five stayed at the Tulemar Bungalows March 15-18, 2006. I had heard that there was construction and had been assured that it would be completed before we arrived. The construction is no where near complete.
I asked for a bungalow away from the construction and was told that the only one available was the one NEAREST the construction...and oh, sorry, but the air conditioner is broken, too (Bungalow #110-avoid it). The construction workers were literally right outside our windows and yes, they do start work at 6 am. They offered to move us the next day, which they did (to #112, which was fine). I was very irritable that whole first day because I couldn't unpack and it was very unpleasant to have to root around in suitcases for everything we needed. (They did give us a discount for our trouble, which was fair.)
After our move, I started to really enjoy the place. The bungalows are dated, colorless, but roomy and cute. It would have been nice to have been able to have all the windows open, but it was too hot for that. The air conditioning units were VERY VERY noisy, and I really missed being able to hear the birds and other wildlife from our bungalow.
The private beach is much rockier than at the National Park, but it was still a nice feature of the place. We drove our own car down every time, so I have no idea how the shuttle service works.
Breakfast was adequate but not great. The one thing that really really bothered me was that they had the loud "pool/bar" music on all the time...even at breakfast. No listening to the birds in the morning...just loud music (often with lyrics inappropriate for the ears of children). There are a couple of very large lizards that hang out in the restaurant; it can be either alarming or fun (or both) when you find one under your table!
The pool was small (no hot tub) and it was very difficult to get towels. One afternoon at 3:30 pm, my husband got the "last towel." After an hour, they brought out two more towels...and there were 6 of us that needed them. Your reward for the less than ideal pool is that sometimes at sunset, dozens of monkeys travel overhead.
I could see the attraction of Tulemar, but the serenity of the place is currently marred by the sound of lots of heavy construction vehicles lumbering up and down the roads. I'd stay there again, as long as all the construction was done (probably about 4 months from now, from the looks of it).
Stunning Ocean Views, Private Beach
We stayed at Tulemar in a bungalow for a few nights, and it was fantastic--the bungalows feel like they are out on the edge of the hill, so you get great views of the ocean.
Our bungalow was very nice--clean, well-decorated, and a good size for two people. It felt luxurious and pampered.
You can call a car to take you down to the private beach, since it is a very steep and long walk--we recommend that you ask the front desk to have the driver call when he has arrived--a few times when they were busy, the wait took 15 minutes, which can get annoying if you are waiting outside.
We loved the private beach--it was quiet and secluded, and in addition to the bar, they provide lounge chairs and umbrellas, boogie boards, and kayaking equipment for guests. We stayed until sunset on both days that we were there, and it was gorgeous.
The pool is also very nice--the only problem is that Tulemar seems to be doing quite a bit of construction (this seems to be happening at many places in the area), so I left the pool area because I could hear the construction and smell gasoline from the trucks. That was the only real downside. We did not hear any construction when we were in our bungalow, but to be safe, I would make sure to request a bungalow away from any construction.
Breakfast every morning was delicious.
We would definitely stay at Tulemar again.
Ocho Locos (eight crazies) en Costa Rica
"The Rojo Chapeaux, Alajuela to Arenal"
Eight 50-something women, 10 days in Costa Rica. The adventures of Debby, Elizabeth, Lesli, Leslie, Linda, Maria, Pat, and Susan.
October 3, 2005. Eight women (one very drunk & worried about the flight) board a Martinair flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Several issues, lickings and A, B, C, and Deeeeeeeee's later (ya' hadda be there), they arrived and were whisked away by private coach to Orchideas Inn, home of the Marilyn Monroe Bar, for one night.
Orchideas was very nice. The beds and the food were okay and the two dogs were real sweeties. The grounds were lovely, and a great first introduction to Costa Rica. In the morning the women were picked up by Eduardo, Juan, and a whole mini-bus from Costa Coach just for them.
The ride to Arenal was uneventful. Plenty of beautiful scenery and new sights, with a great stop in Sarchi for souvenir shopping. Sarchi is where most of the souvenirs sold throughout Costa Rica are made. It's also the home of the painted oxcart, and one can view the artists at work. The women THOUGHT they stocked up pretty well on souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home, all at very good prices. Pat bought a humongous handmade salad bowl, and Leslie managed to spend more money than anyone else but doesn't know how she did it. As they neared Montana de Fuego, Juan pulled the bus over to the side of the road and Edwardo pointed out a sloth in a tree.
"The Rojo Chapeaux, Arenal"
Arrival at Montana de Fuego Lodge and Resort was a lovely surprise. The women were given four double junior suites overlooking Arenal volcano, which just happened to be very visible and very active. The cabinas were comfortable, with good beds and nice big bathrooms. Each had a covered porch on the front and a little balcony on the back. There was even satellite TV and air conditioning, a rarity for Costa Rica. Only three drawbacks: no window screens, there were never enough towels, and there was nowhere to put the suitcases but on the floor. The resort had beautiful grounds, full of wildlife, birds, and flowers, always overshadowed by the volcano. Howler monkeys greeted the day at 6 each morning. There were horses in the pasture at the back door and hummingbirds in the heliconias at the front door.
There was a great pool area with a full service bar with one side adjoining the pool, so you could swim up for a drink. There was also a covered hot tub, a kiddy pool, and showers. A wide, paved path lead to the sauna, cold plunge pool, and En Gadi spa, where Pat and Susan had hand and foot reflexology and back massages. Leslie had a reflexology foot treatment. En Gadi is pretty expensive by Costa Rican standards; the prices are similar to prices in the U.S.
Late one afternoon the neighboring finca's horses escaped and stampeded through the resort grounds. It was quite entertaining as there were no injuries or damages.
The food at Montana de Fuego was fabulous. The woman all became addicted to the guacamole and not a day went by that at least one of them didn't have an order of guacamole and chips. Staying a the resort can be all inclusive or not. It is such a nice place and the food is so good, it would be worth the all inclusive package. Unnecessarily, everyone went into La Fortuna several times. A taxi was less than five dollars each way. It's mostly a tourist town, only about three blocks long. Plenty of souvenir shopping, a small grocery store, and a pharmacy.
There are a lot of feral dogs all over Costa Rica. In La Fortuna, someone puts big open bags of dog food out in the park for them, and many people talk to them and pet them.
Eduardo had been to Arenal many times and had never seen the volcano. Susan had been there in December of 2004 and never saw the volcano. On THIS trip, the volcano was visible every day, rumbled every day, erupted violently once, and the lava flow was visible at night. That much visibility and action is rare; the women were very lucky to have seen so much.
While at Montana de Fuego, the women took advantage of several of the tours the resort offers. Pat, Leslie, and Susan took the morning volcano ride. Three hours on horseback up the side of Arenal to an observation deck above Arenal's old crater, which is now a lake full of water-lilies. During the ride, Arenal grumbled a lot and spit out some gases and ash. The horses were provided by the finca next to the resort and were in very good condition and well mannered. The same cannot be said of some of the riders. Most had not ridden before and acted pretty silly much of the time. There were 15 riders on the tour, which was really too many. However, it was a good ride with a lot of exposure to the countryside around Arenal and a few good gallops. Susan had some difficulty mounting; no matter how many times she said "Empuje mi culo" (push my *ss), no one would do it, so she pulled all the muscles in her stomach and back getting on her horse.
Maria, Debby, Linda, and Lesli went on the zip-line tour of the rain-forest canopy. It was a wild experience, and they all came back with bruises from hanging upside down and sore arms from braking themselves. All agreed it was wonderful and were glad they had done it. Maria and Linda said "Never again!".
Elizabeth and Leslie went on the white water kayak tour. They returned all wound up, excited, and exhausted. Brave, experienced Elizabeth initially refused the helmet, life vest, and double kayak. When the guides donned their own helmets and life vests, she changed her mind. She ended up falling out of the kayak and getting caught in a hole under a rock. Without that helmet, she might not be with us today. She found several bruises later to attest to her mishap. Both agreed it was wonderful. Coming from rock-less Florida, they found the river to be very exciting.
Susan, Pat, Elizabeth, and Leslie went to Baldi Hot Springs one night for a fabulous dinner, full therapeutic massages, and soaks in the hot springs. That was so wonderful none of them wanted to leave. All four gave rave reviews to both the meals and the massages.
Debby, Linda, Lesli, and Susan went on the boat tour of Cano Negro Preserve, which turned out to be very similar to the Florida Everglades. It's a pleasant, relaxing ride with a lunch break at a local home. Lunch was terrific except for the weird corn juice served as a drink. A nice easy way to end the stay at Montana de Fuego.
"Arenal to Manuel Antonio"
On Saturday, October 8, the bus returned to take the women to Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Eduardo told them the drive would take 4.5 hours. Seven hours later, the women began to understand the meaning of "Tico Time". In Eduardo's defense, though, the women did insist on stopping for more souvenir shopping, smoke breaks, Taracoles River crocodile sighting, and lunch. The roads were very bad. There had been serious flooding and major mudslides on the Pacific coast. Several bridges had been washed out and crossing the temporary (very scary) bridges was very slow going, especially for a bus. Poor Eduardo and Juan missed the first half of the U.S.-Costa Rica world soccer match, but Costa Rica won, so they ended up happy anyway.
"The Rojo Chapeaux, Manuel Antonio"
The women had reservations at Buena Vista Villas at Tulemar, a vacation home development between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. There were two 2-story, 3 bed villas and one upper story 2 bed villa for them. Susan and Lesli stayed in the two lower story efficiency rooms with a single king size bed. Lesli felt especially blessed with her honeymoon suite - this was the first time she'd been all alone since her children were born. Everyone else had full villas with kitchens, living rooms, and 2 queen size beds. This place was very luxurious. It does not have the same amenities as Montana de Fuego, but the quality and luxury of the accommodations more than made up for that. The only drawback here was the steepness of the paths around the property (the site is nearly vertical) and the difficulty of maneuvering luggage about.
All of the villas had a big front balcony on each level overlooking the rain-forest and the Pacific Ocean. Each balcony had a hammock, plenty of seating, and a ceiling fan. Each bedroom had a ceiling fan. Each bed was topped with a fluffy mattress pad, which was covered by thick, soft, high-thread-count cotton sheets and a fluffy white duvet. The pillows were new and firm. Each room was air conditioned and had satellite TV. The full villas even had ice makers. The walls facing the ocean were all glass, either windows or doors. There were abundant towels, thick and soft, and arranged in silly swan or flower shapes on each bed. The bathrooms were huge, with both regular shower heads and overhead rain shower heads. There was plenty of room to do laundry and still take a shower, and there was plenty of hot water.
The restaurant here was fine too. The guacamole was not as good as Montana de Fuego's, but that didn't stop anyone from eating it. Elias, the bartender, introduced the group to Guaro, which is a Costa Rican liquor made from sugar cane. Mixed with lime juice and sugar and lots of ice, it makes a very refreshing and very intoxicating drink. On their last night, the women consumed two PITCHERS of it.
BVV has a private beach, reached by a long, winding, slippery path or Tulemar's shuttle van. At low tide the beach was wide and pristine with thousands of tiny hermit crabs. There was a cabana with a full service bar, and plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas and boogie boards and snorkeling gear for the guests to use. At high tide the beach doesn't exist. Coincidentally, the low tide was at noon, so there was ample beach time for all.
Tulemar hosts bands of squirrel monkeys, white-face monkeys, and coatimundis. They visited every day. The squirrel monkeys came to the restaurant several times and to the roofs of the villas. Howler monkeys could be heard in the distance on most days. Birds were everywhere, all the time. Pat, Leslie, and Susan even got to see toucans. There are large iguanas all over the place. Leslie befriended one, named it Fred, and fed it several times a day with any greens she could salvage from meals. Fred started waiting for her to appear. On the last day, she learned that Fred is really Maria and is well known by the staff.
There was a great deal of nothing done at BVV, well deserved and necessary. No one was ready to end the trip, but real life sometimes gets in the way of one's chosen reality!
"Manuel Antonio activities"
Pat, Leslie, and Susan went for a horseback ride on the beach. The guide, a local boy named Walter, was very good and pointed out numerous sloths, monkeys, lizards, and birds. The horses came from Marlboro Stables and were in disappointing condition. They were quite skinny and dirty with numerous bald spots on their rumps and faces. Once the ride started, it was obvious that the horses were not well trained. Leslie and Susan's horses walked as though their feet hurt. Their hooves were quite long and shod, something that cannot be good for beach riding. The thought was that the more riders that pay to ride the horses, the more money there will be for feed and care, so the women went for what was supposed to be a three hour ride.
After an hour and a half riding it began to rain. It was obvious that the horses were not happy and Susan was still suffering from painful stomach and back muscles, so they decided to return to the stables. The price was only 35 dollars each, so no refunds were requested, and Walter was assured repeatedly that they had fun and they were pleased with his guiding skills. However, due to the condition of the horses, they would not recommend Marlboro Stables to anyone. Equus Stables came highly recommended, but was closed due to a small mudslide which inundated the barn.
There were numerous trips made into Quepos for souvenirs and to stock the kitchens. Most trips included a stop or two at a bar and/or restaurant. Quepos is essentially a surfer town with many North American visitors and residents. It's much bigger than La Fortuna, with several grocery stores and two pharmacies. Feral dogs in Quepos were numerous and neglected. Their conditions were so bad that Leslie broke into tears on her second visit to town and refused to return.
Susan made several attempts to arrange tours of Manuel Antonio Park, but the conditions of the trails were such that the guides were refusing to lead hikes. Unfortunate, but the weather had really been quite bad and the park had a lot of damage. As an alternative, Susan, Pat, Leslie, Linda, and Debby went on the Rainmaker Preserve hanging bridge canopy tour. That was very exciting. There was evidence of many washouts along the trails and several mudslides, but the hanging bridges were fantastic and offered great views of the rain-forest. One of the largest known colonies of leaf-cutter ants was alongside the trail. Many birds and butterflies were seen, including blue morphos. The guide managed to catch a poison dart frog, and spotted an eyelash viper that was close to the trail.
"The Rojo Chapeaux, Manuel Antonio to Alajuela"
On the morning of the 12th the bus returned for the final leg of the trip, one more night at Orchideas. Everyone was so tired they did nothing but eat dinner, sorted and packed souvenirs and "stuff", and went to sleep.
The return flight to the U.S. was uneventful, though a bundle of walking sticks were abandoned at the airport. Everyone is home now. No one can stop talking about the trip and everyone agrees that they will return to Costa Rica. No one contracted any tropical diseases or got a serious sunburn or brought home anything worse than bruises, sore muscles, and too many souvenirs.
Patrick Hewitt of Costa Rica Travel Exchange arranged the trip according to Susan's specifications, but much better than her original plan. It met and exceeded everyone's expectations. Most of the women had never been out of the U.S. Most of the women had never stayed at a luxury resort. Everyone felt pampered and special. The Costa Ricans all thought 8 lady millionaires were in town, and treated them accordingly, though the trip actually cost LESS than 2000 dollars each, including airfare and spending money.
The women are very grateful to Pat Hewitt and now they know why Susan is Queen of the Women of the Rojo Chapeau. It would be extremely difficult to arrange a better vacation.