We drove our rental car into Manuel Antonio Park. We fell into the trap of paying $30 to park after some official looking Tico's sprang out at us about 800 meters before the actual M.A. park gates. We were told for an extra $90 the two of us would get a "private" tour of M.A. park, or we could get a tour as part of a group for $60. We went with the private tour, and a few minutes later "Gama" showed up with his telescope. The parking hustler said that we were lucky because we were getting a tour with Gama - an "official certified park guide".
So we parked, and started on a walk of about 200 metres with occasional Tico men breaking out into raucous clapping when they saw Gama walking with us. Having been to the park 10 years before, I was beginning to feel that something wasn't right...and maybe I should have done my research. Long story short, we turned around and walked back, and asked for our money back. The parking hustler gave us back $20.00, and we had to settle for that. Gama got in the car with us and we drove to the park entrance where you could park on the side of the road for free! Lesson learned... yes we got hustled. The tour ended about 11/2hr later after we saw a deer and her baby, some sloths, crocodile or alligator(?) and various other wildlife. No monkeys were seen of any kind. The beach inside the park was nice, but we didn't stay on it. Gama took us on a tiny boat across some water, and then we were let out to go through an alley of where dozens of Tico's had booths hawking their wares (some of it pretty cool) from Peru (?) China (?). Where ever the items came from at least you could bargain them down to your price.
Unique Suggestions: Keep driving when the official looking guys try to approach your car and point and direct you to park where they are pointing. Don't look their way, don't engage them.
OR, you can say you are on your way to the Korean hotel located by the entrance of the park. Once you are nearly at the M.A. park gates you can park on the street or pay a more reasonable $5.00 to park your car in a makeshift lot.
Use your GPS to guide you to where the gates of the entrance is.
Pay $10USD at the gates and get a guide for whatever it costs (we don't know cuz we probably overpaid Gama).
Fun Alternatives: Actually, Manuel Antonio is not the park it use to be. We didn't see a single monkey. Gama, our guide did not take us up to any kind of elevation. The wildlife there can be seen almost anywhere else in Costa Rica. I would only recommend M.A. Park for the better beaches where you won't he hassled as much by the Tico's to buy stuff, and it is not as crowded as the free beach just outside the park.
We ended up at Baldi Hot Springs because we got a good deal from the hostel we stayed at. The hot springs are supposed to be hot mineral water pools, but I think they are just nearby rivers that are heated by the highly active volcano. This is very much a tourist trap, and all you will see here are tourists, but it is well worth it. After a day hiking the trails in Arenal Volcano (about 8K) that hot water feels so awesome. There are about 25 pools and if you want you can also opt in for the buffet dinner, which actually was the best food we've had in the country (although that's not saying much). We payed $25 for the whole thing for the whole day. It was a really good deal considering a hot mineral bath anywhere in the use will be about the same or more for about a half an hour.
The main attractions here are the waterfalls. There were 5, but because of the earthquake in february 2009, there are now only two. They also have a zoo-ish place where you can see jaguars, toucans, humming birds, monkeys, parrots, etc... Normally the feline exhibit is an extra charge, but since you can't see all waterfalls they now include the cats for free.
I say it's a tourist trap because in this zoo, most of the animals are not indigenous to the area, so why did I come here, although they are really nice. The waterfalls are nice but are nothing compared to South Africa. I'm being a little harsh but at $35 US a person, this place loses most of it's luster. It is a great workout since there is so much walking and climbing.
There are a million little tourist shops selling "Real Costa Rican Coffee" pretty much everywhere. Don't buy it!!!
Fun Alternatives: You can get the exact same coffee at any local grocery store for half the price. I didn't find that out until after I bought all my coffee to bring home... :(
Colonial Restaurant on Main St in Jaco. This is the most expensive and over priced restaurant in the region! It is a total tourist trap. The menu prices are sky high, and the food and portions are sub standard to say the least, for what they charge.
There are many other dining experiences in Jaco that offer far better food, at a fraction of the cost. Dont let the fancy decor fool you. It is a crime what they charge and a total embarrassment to the tourist industry in Jaco!
Unique Suggestions: To make this blatant tourist trap more bearable, don´frequent this estblishment.
Fun Alternatives: Caliche´s Wish Bone - Soda Marea Alta, Pacific Bistro, Argentine Steak House, Tsunami Sushi, Lemon Zest, Soda Jaco Tipico.
There are plenty of tour companies that offer a huge variety of tours in the area you are visiting in CR. Before booking a tour, do some research and see if this is something you can do on your own (assuming you have a car that you rented). Most of the times, you will draw the conclusion that you can do the tour on your own, at your own pace, without paying the amount the tour company is charging for it and without being rushed to get from Point A to Point B. You will save lots of money by doing it on your own! Of course, this does not apply to horseback riding tours to the Volcano (you need to know your way around for that!), rafting trips or safari floats, etc.
If you stay in La Fortuna/Arenal area and if you are flying from La Fortuna Airport, you will need to get a cab to take you to the airport. The problem is that even if you use official taxis, the fare may vary from cab to cab since the cabs have broken meters. Expect to pay anywhere between $15 to $25 for a ride from La Fortuna to the airport. Make sure you agree on the fee before you hop in the cab. We did not fall onto this trap because the guys from Alamo knew that we had an early flight and when we dropped off the car they offered to take us to the airport. They did not want anything for this ride, but we gave the driver $10 for this, as a "Thank You for doing this for us".
The same applies if you stay outside the town of La Fortuna and need to get a cab to get into town. Make sure you agree on a fare before you hop in the cab.
Unique Suggestions: make sure you agree on a price before getting in the cab
Fun Alternatives: if you have a car rented, talk to the company you rented the car from. They may give you a free ride to the airport or take you there for a small fee.
We flew SANSA from Arenal to San Jose in order to save time. We had a great experience with SANSA, but I was a little bit caught by surprise when they asked us to pay a "terminal facility surcharge" when we checked in. The fee is $7 per person and you get a receipt for it. I was not aware of this fee (I was sure all the charges were included in the ticket price) and I am not sure if all the internal airports charge the same fee, but if you fly from the La Fortuna Airport, make sure you put some money aside for this fare.
The people who will approach you on the street will all have different and creative ways to try to get your money. They will ask you, "What state are you from? Oh Really?? My cousin lives in (whatever place you told them you live)", the man who offered you directions will ask for money, there will be sob stories, just keep straight faced and tell people you don't need help or can't help them. They will confuse you with their perfect English, just keep moving!
You have a just had a great vacation and you now want to buy a few souvenirs. Perhaps you were in Monteverde and realized that the prices for knick knacks were almost 3 times the price of the same items in tourist stores near San Jose. On the way down the Pan American highway you stop at a tourist shop. Oh yes, the prices are still high, but at least they are lower than the airport. You find something you really like as a souvenir --here comes the trap-- you buy it. Only later do you realize that it was made in Ecuador, or worst still China, and you paid more than you would have paid for the same imported item in the USA.
Unique Suggestions: This trap is not limited to Costa Rica. It just seems more grievous because of the high prices asked for some of these items. For example, I saw some very nice Andean weavings from Peru in a modest but large shop in the San Jose Valley with prices of around $125. This is about 5 times the cost in Peru and probably 25% more than you would pay over the internet. This trap need not be experienced. You just have to be aware of the possibility. Just always ask where the thing you like was made. I expect that you will almost always be told the truth.
Fun Alternatives: One fun thing to do when you get the answer that the item was made by the owners of the shop is to ask to see their workshop. You may be surprised at how much seeing the actual manufacturing process can add to you pleasure of making a purchase.
I always recommend avoiding Tamarindo, Montezuma, Sarchi, and Arenal. Don't waste your time going where everyone goes and hustlers are waiting for you to show up. They are crowded, restaurants are expensive and overall not very good--they do not expect you to return, and overall not a good deal. Instead find the smaller less popular beaches. In Arenal I estimate your chances of seeing the volcano are about 40% due to it's hight and cloud formations. Lava, maybe 12%. And it is a long drive.
Unique Suggestions: If you must go to Arenal enjoy the trip getting there--wheather driving or by bus. Just don't go to Sarchi--it is expensive and not worth the trip. Instead of Montezuma head or Mal Pais.
Fun Alternatives: Instead of Montezuma head or Mal Pais. If you must go to Tamarindo, drive to the secluded empty beaches nearby. Instead of Arenal, go to Poas Volcano--make sure to go early in the morning; you will be able to go to the very rim of the crater and see inside. It is espectacular. And the drive is beautiful.
Arenal volcano is the most spectacularly active in Costa Rica. Many people visit this park at night to watch the lava flows and red hot boulders ejected from the volcano glow in the darkness. Although eruptions are the main attraction, you should be aware that even in the dry season the clouds often obscure the top of the volcano, and your chances of seeing a pyroclastic display are even smaller in the rainy season. Volcano watching can be frustrating. Unless you want to be disappointed, you should plan on taking advantage of some of the other attractions in the area, and consider it a bonus if you see Arenal put on a display.
Many operators offer day trips to Arenal from San Jose that include a couple of hours of volcano watching in the evening. Your chances of seeing an eruption are almost nonexistent, and you will spend at least six hours in a bus. Not recommended. In fact, rather than try to make a quick trip to the Arenal region while based out of San Jose, I would recommend using the Arenal region as a base of operations, and avoiding the noise, congestion, pollution, and crime of San Jose altogether. The small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos (a.k.a., La Fortuna de Arenal) is a budget travelers paradise and the setting is the antithesis of San Jose.
(Thanks to Mr Ray Krueger (who is the author of this text) for this magnificent explanantion on the Arenal region !!)
Don't use Tom Roucek from Costa Rican Realty Group. He puts on a good show, but if you don't have all the money he'll ignore you. I made a trip down there to look at a listing of his, got excited, made an offer, went home, and got an email telling me that the zoning was being changed from residential to commercial on that lot. THis was HIS listing, and he didn't know that?? I found a wonderful person to deal with however, who knows a LOT about Maritime law and realty, who is 100% trustworthy. Her name is Mariette Diagnault. email is
Fun Alternatives: www.studiocasaamarilla.com
Alright, I admit it...I fell for it...hook, line and sinker...Costa Rica's infamous Canopy Tour...I know, I know. It looks all touristy and completely not the "off the beaten path" type of travel I normally venture into....but well this had me ladies and gentlemen. It's great! It's takes you back to a place in your childhood, where treehouses were the coolest thing you had going for you at the ripe old age of 7. And guess what I really like that feeling, being able to escape from reality, to allow yourself to be nostalgic....and well isn't that what all good trips/travels should do? Try it, it was well worth it.
Alajuela / San Jose
This is the name of a Tour organiser in the san Jose/Alajuela area. They'll sell you local tours like Grecia, Sarchi, Poas or Irazu volcano, or longer expeditions in Tortuguero, Arenal volcano or tarcoles river. We found them in our hotel, almost as a "no name" tour. We bought an Irazu tour, the small one not including the Lancaster Gardens and Orosi Valley. We thought that 36$ per person was a fair price, considering we were staying in Alajuela, far enough from the volcano to ruined us in cab fare.
They picked us up near our hotel at 7h in the morning. Then we started the milk run in the traffic of san Jose, picking 5 or 6 more couples in different hotels and the guide, without regards for time, organisation or common sense. We were on the volcano at 11h and could only stay about 30 minutes before heading back down. Very dispointing after all that wait!
But it wasn't all. We got to wait almost an hour in Cartago for a minivan to pick us up and drive us back to the hotel (as the other couples were going on the big tour with of the gardens and valley). In the end, a regular taxi came by and drove us. It was 13h when we got back in Allajuela. For a 30 minutes walk on the volcano...
Fun Alternatives: Of course, this Tourist Trap Tip dosen't mean you shouldn't go to the Irazu volcano. By all mean go, it's breath taking. But don't go with Expeditiones Tropicales. Take a cab, a bus, rent a shuttle, rent a car, but don't get in an Expeditiones Tropicales minivan...
The clerck at your hotel could book them for you so be sure to know witch company is going to provide the tour you bought at your hotel.
San Pablo De Turrubares, Costa Rica (Formerly La Finca Que Ama Hotel)
Good for: Business
I don’t know how many of you have stayed in an all inclusive hotel before... but this resort was so...more
Very friendly an to other d helpful staff. The newer rooms are excellent. good value relative...more