If you have 4 people I would recommend taking a private tour, we went on 2 with Cesar Molina Calderon who runs Live Your Dream Tours. He is just starting out after working for several years at the Allegro Papagayo Resort. He lived in the US for most of his childhood so his English is very good and he has a great sense of humour. We had a great time with him, he is as much entertainment as guide. He has a way to get even the most shy person to smile. I would not hesitate to recommend him to anyone with a sense of humour. Cesar ROCKS!!
The photo is of a beach Cesar took us too on our bay cruise, sunset cruise and dolpin watching tour. It was awesome, check travel log for more.
We also took one tour with the well known Ricardo Vargas. I read about him on Debbies resort reviews. We had him take us to Monteverde and he is very professional. He is much more quiet than Cesar, but we had a good time with him as it was the end of our vacation and we were pretty tired and not that talkative that day. He is very knowledgable and his english is perfect, he doesn't have an accent at all. I would reccomend Ricardo to anyone that likes a more subdued guide that is happy to answer questions and is very knowledgable.
When in Monteverde, Ricardo hired us a guide for the hike. I think more because he was too cold to go, it was only 11 C in the cloud forest, but had been 32 at the resort (even the Canadians were cold for the first hour or so!!) Adrian had lived his whole life near Monteverde and seemed to know everything about the place.
This photo is of a "polaroid" leaf, Adrian carved on it with a knife and after about 10 minutes this showed up.
To catch the bus to Nicaragua go to the Nica Bus terminal 2 blocks south of the main intercity bus terminal. The bus ticket to Grenada, Nicaraga cost approx $15US each. Nica Bus was fabulous. They are a first-class bus service and they provided excellent service.
You can take a public bus to Peñas Blancas (the border) either from the Interamerican Highway or from the Bus Station in El Mercado. It will cost about $2. Then on the other side pick up the frequent public buses that run in Nicaragua from the border.
Alternatively there are long distance bus companies which are more expensive and usually handle your immigration and fees for you.
Central Line: 257-7214. Leaves at 8 am daily. $10
Nica Express: 256-3191. Leaves at 9 am daily. $12.50. Picks up from the Hotel Guanacaste
Tica Bus: 666-0371. Leaves at 9 am, 11.30 am and 4 pm. $12.50. Tickets from the Pulmitan Bus Station. Picks up in front of Hotel El Bramadero
Liberia offers several rental options around the airport. An AWD Daihatsu Terios. (Think Geo Metro on steroids) goes for around US $ 320 for 7 days, unlimited mileage.
A vehicle with AWD/high ground clearance is essential if you travel anwhere off the mian highways. Remember CR rental companies deduct a refundable $800 deposit at the time of rental to cover any damage to the vehicle. I have heard horror stories of people losing deposits for spurious damage claims by rental compnies , but I found Adobe rentals to be very honest and trustworthy in this respect
We flew in to the "new" Liberia International Airport. The expansion of this airport makes it much more pleasant to visit the Pacific Northwest, which has many new resorts (including a new Four Seasons!). It would sure beat driving the 5 hrs it takes to get to this area from San Jose.
Our flight was a charter, because we purchased an all inclusive package. Skyservice was an OK flight, although there was a shortage of leg room.
One other note, the descent in to Liberia was VERY steep, causing many people to have agonizing pain in their ears. I don't know if this is because we have to decend immediately after going over the mountains that divide Costa Rica into the Pacific side and Carribean side, but whatever it was, it would have been good to know that before hand!
Aeropuerto International Tomas Guardia is located in the heart of rural Guanacaste province. If the idea of arriving in San Jose's busy airport, and then having to deal with the capital's traffic is offputting, this is a good low-key alternative. Flight only tickets are available from Vacation Express. They serve various cities in the South-East US. The airport is a few miles from Liberia and few hours from Arenal, Guanacaste beaches, as well as the Nicaraguan border.
We flew into Liberia and rented a car to drive to our rental in Tamarindo. I reserved a car with Thrifty online before we left and was quoted a price with taxes and fees included. I got to the rental counter at about 8pm and was informed that the Collision damage waiver and Liability insurance were mandatory. My credit card provides coverage for the rental car itself, so I was just planning on purchasing liability to cover other motorists. The employees at Thrifty told me that the government requires you to purchase the CDW and liability. I found out this was not true when I rented a car from Budget in Liberia and they told me that I was free to decline all coverage if I wished. I am trying to get ahold of them to resolve this, but have so far bee deflected by their automated call system. Don't let them scam you! Better yet, don't rent from Thrifty Rent a Car in Liberia!!!!!!!
Granada is a popular and somewhat easy overnight trip that can be done from Liberia. Ticabus is the only company offering a bus from Liberia to Granada, as TransNica goes only to Managua.
Tickets are purchased at the bus depot on the northwest side of town. It's fairly easy to walk to. The ticket office is at an unmarked window on the left as you enter the station. You can ask who sells the tickets ("Donde se venden las entradas de Ticabus?") to the people at the windows, as there are several unmarked windows handling a variety of services. The window is cash only and you will need a copy of each rider's passport to purchase them. They close at 5pm. Make sure you purchase a ticket on the bus that goes directly to Granada, as there are two buses daily, with one going straight to Managua that involves transfering at Nandaime to an unmarked bus. You cannot purchase the tickets ahead of time over the phone or online. Information on the Ticabus site is outdated and phone calls to their offices usually go unanswered.
The bus picks up at the Hotel Bramadero, which is just north of the main intersection in Liberia on the Pan-American Highway. There is an open-air lounge where you can sit if you order something from the restaurant. As is typical in Latin America, the bus is very likely to be late.
You will know you're at the border when you see hundreds of trucks lined up on the side of the highway as you go past them. You are given a paper to fill out allowing you to exit Costa Rica and one allowing you to enter Nicaragua before reaching the border. You are then pushed toward a small, slightly air-conditioned office where your exit from Costa Rica is processed. Only about 30 people at one time can enter the office. Others remain outside to wait.
The bus then drives 100 yards or so and you hit the Nicraguan border. There are vendors selling a variety of snacks and drinks. They will accept US$ or Nicaraguan cordobas. Note that when you enter Nicaragua, no one will accept Costa Rican colones. As you reach the border, the attendant will go through and collect your passports in a plastic bag. A little unnerving, but this is how it's done. As you leave, your name will be called by an immigration official, and you will be allowed to take your passport and re-board the bus. You do not interface with the Nicaraguan border officials. It is handled by the bus staff.
If you do take the morning, non-direct bus to go to Granada, you disembark at Nandaime. Make sure to let the attendant know that you're getting off at Nandaime and, on your return, that you're getting off at Liberia (they won't stop otherwise). Nandaime is a relatively small town with few services, although there is a store, restaurant and bank. When you get off, you will be rushed by men offering taxi service. These are not regulated (although very little is in Nicaragua) and they will charge about $5 for the ride, but will want $10 initially. It's not advisable for you to use this method to get to Granada. If you walk to the road, there is a concrete bench, and this is where the bus to Granada picks up. The bus is a brown school bus with a sign on the windshield that says "Granada." You can ask people at the stop but, obviously, do not ask the men trying to get you into their cars. The fare is 10 cordobas per person. I was able to pay with US$ though ($1 for two people). This bus picks up along the road to Granada and will likely fill up. The journey ends at the town's market, which is a short walk (continue down the street the bus was on) to the tourist area.
When you return, the bus picks up at a cramped and uncomfortable office a little under 1 mile west of the tourist area. Get there early if you want a seat for the long wait (again, it's likely to be late).
It was so easy to get from the Liberia airport to the Thrifty car rental office. There was a car waiting for us at the airport and a driver with our name on a sign. From the rental office, they gave us a map to our hotel (Hilton Papagayo Costa Rica Resort & Spa). With things so spread out in this area of Costa Rica, a rental car was a must. I had read horror stories of phony charges from other car companies (like Economy), but we had no trouble with Thrifty at all. We brought it back with just a little less gas, and they only charges us $7 for the difference. Also, there were no bogus damages. Great company.