7 Day Fly and Drive Costa Rican Adventure Trip Report : July 29th-Aug 5th, 2010
By Jerry D Finley ("Danger" is my middle name)

Day 1- July 29th, 2010: I slowly extracted myself out of bed at an unholy 4:15am to catch our early 3.5 hour flight from Asheville, NC to San Jose, Costa Rica via one stopover in Atlanta. Time for a long overdue vacation.  This would be our first trip to Costa Rica, the only country in Central America I hadn't spent time in.  Was offered a deal from Gate1 Travel that I couldn't refuse. A 7 Day Fly & Drive package for $384pp which included 7 Day 4WD SUV rental, hotels in 3 towns, and breakfasts every day. As we have a gajillion air miles with Delta we hit them up for 2 free First Class seats..er.. now they call it "Business Class" as, I guess not to offend  the other flyers by inferring that they are second class.  Must be PC as not to offend, doncha know.

Arrived in San Jose around 11:30am or so and after clearing customs, was told (by Gate 1) to look for a rep holding up a sign that said "Adobe Rental Car."  Easy enough. We saw reps from every car company EXCEPT Adobe. One of the locals asked who were looking for, we told them, and they made a quick call to Adobe (without us even asking) and within 10 minutes an Adobe rental van pulled up. This was probably the only glitch in the Gate 1 Travel package. One easily forgivable. After a 5-7 minute drive to the Adobe office, we are filling out the paperwork for the Suzuki Jimmy.  The office people spoke pretty good English and were very friendly and professional. While the 7 day rental was technically covered in the price of the package deal, we opted for optional liability insurance and paid for a second driver. Cost for the extras was under $120, I think. We passed on the optional Garmin GPS as we brought our own, having purchased a Costa Rica Garmin program off eBay  for $40 just prior to leaving. We were praying to Crom that the program was worth the money and we were not disappointed. More on that purchase and use of a GPS in Costa Rica later.


When booking the trip, Gate 1 gave us 2 options for the first  and last nights in San Jose. One was by the air port (I forget the name) and the other is the one we booked.. the Casa Cande Hotel. I chose it for no other reason than there is a park nearby. While the hotel was NOT a disappointment.. on the contrary.. the choice was a bad one. Why? The Casa Conde is on the far side of town. A good 30-40 minute drive from the airport through  unknown roads, construction, confusing round-a-bouts, and apparently perpetual traffic. No one in the country is aware that to the left of the steering wheel there is a lever which , when used, shows other drivers which direction they intend on taking.  Oddly enough, unlike other central American countries, nobody.. and I mean nobody in Costa Rica uses their horns. Guatemalans use their horns more often than they blink. I had heard that Costa Ricans hate any type of confrontation and this must be true, but I digress. Back to the story..  If I had it to do over, I would have gotten the hotel near the airport as the next day when you actually head out for the first stop of the trip.. Monteverde.. you have to drive back across town and pass right by the airport on your way to the next nights stop. Doh! Live an learn.

The Casa Conde Hotel, San Jose: Very nice! Wasn't expecting much but was surprised. Our room was more like a 2 bedroom apartment with flat screen TV, fridge, microwave, small kitchen with sink, world-class AC, coffee maker, and a very comfortable queen bed. The food in the restaurant  was wonderful featuring local and international dishes. Staff was very helpful and almost all spoke perfect English. Umbrellas are available for anyone who wants one which comes in handy during the rainy season. Like every other place we encountered on the trip, they gladly take American money or AmEx.  I should add that unlike every other trip to Central America I've taken over the last 20 years.. I did NOT exchange dollars for the local currency when entering the country and it worked out just fine. Not one vendor had a problem with US currency and all gave change in dollars or Colons.. the local currency. Most menus in restaurants even list the food in both English and Spanish and both local and US currency so theres no confusion or anxiety trying to do math in your head. Overall.. A very nice place to stay. While we didn't use the pool due to the rain.. It looked inviting.

The Casa Cande Hotel, San Jose

Day 2: After  a quick breakfast we program the GPS for the Volcano Lodge in the town of La Fortuna. We've been told it's a 4 hour drive, but we made it in 3.5. We've been told that the roads are bad and hard to pass on and this proves true.  If you get behind one of the many slow moving trucks, it becomes painfully clear very quickly that there are few places to pass so you have to be on your game when that microsecond rears it's head for a quick pass. Making things worse (for us) was that the 3 cylinder Suzuki Jimmy rental had about as much power as a mid-priced weed trimmer. Passing anywhere except on a down-hill slope was almost an impossibility. I'll mention the following tip at the end of the review.. When booking ANY SUV from ANY car rental place for a similar Costa Rican trip.. Pay the extra money and get a heavier vehicle with some god-like power. Trust me.. This will pay off big time during the week. The little Suzuki, while very gas efficient and fine on perfectly paved roads was a source of torture most of the trip more so due to it's feather weight than the lack of power. Also.. There are cops everywhere and they are pulling people over constantly no matter how remote the area.

GPS or Not to GPS: As mentioned previously, we purchased a Garmin program off eBay just before the trip for $40 delivered. The rental car companies rent Garmins for about $10 a day so I saved myself a few dollars. While I get lost going to the post office, my wife was a born explorer who instinctively knows which way is North and can read a map better than any cartographer. Her innate abilities never cease to both amaze and piss me off. With her otherworldly navigational skills, we weren't even sure if we'd even need a GPS, but as it turns out.. it was the best decision either of us have ever made. Costa Rica proved to be the worst country to drive in that I'd ever seen. There are virtually no road signs and detailed road maps can not be found in this galaxy. If you pick up a map at any Costa Rican store it'll be no more detailed than a child's geographical coloring place mat that you'd see at a Dennys or Shoneys. Not sure if the locals navigate via telepathy or just from daily repetition. Bottom line.. you are at the mercy of the electronics stuck to your windshield. Once you get out of the city into the rural areas where the pavement has become a distant fond memory, even Magellan or Vasco da Gama would be scratching their heads with indecision.. You quickly learn that you have to put 100% trust in your GPS and with the exception of 2 minor glitches, ours never let us down.  Ours took us to every hotel and every attraction we wanted to see no matter how remote the area.  I'll explain the minor GPS faux pas momentarily.. the other issue I'll report in detail at the end of this review. Bottom line.. I can NOT emphasize how important a good GPS is here. Nuff said.

The road to La Fortuna was pretty good for about 2/3rs of the way then turned pretty bad. The last 40 miles or so was rough, but we had expected as much.. After all... this is Costa Rica! I had expected tropical lush scenery once we got out of San Jose but this was a misconception on my part. Things don't really turn scenic until you're almost at La Fortuna. O well. It was never boring.

La Fortuna is a small town with a dozen or so restaurants, one gas station, a lot of trinket shops, some woodworking shops featuring some wonderful carvings, a large town square church, and the prerequisite local tour guide services for the local attractions.. ie.. the Arenal volcano and rain forest tours.  Their whole economy revolves around the Eco tours and biz looked good. There's a small park in town with lots of aromatic flowers and kids playing. Nice place to people watch or take a few pics.


Volcano Lodge & Gardens: Just 5 minutes out of town is the Volcano Lodge & Gardens where we'd spend the next 2 days. The place is for the most part.. wonderful. While the rooms did NOT have a fridge or microwave.. they did have an ice bucket, a flat screen TV, a closet safe, a vanity table, chairs, and a very comfy king size bed. Our room had a direct view at the always smoldering Arenal volcano and gardens. The staff couldn't have been nicer. There are 2 computers available to guests in the lobby 24/7 with a 15 minute courtesy time limit on them during peak hours. The restaurant was fantastic. Food was wonderful at every meal.  You can't get vegetables in the states that taste this good. Service was excellent. I had Omelets made to order every morning. Most prefered the buffet which was open around 7am or so. Expect freshly squeezed juice every day or like every place we went while in Costa Rica.. some of the best java you'll find anywhere. I don't drink the stuff  as I gave up drugs years ago, but Amber lives on it and must have consumed a tanker full while there. We bought a few bags (which are sold everywhere) for friends and family

The view from the Volcano lodge does not disappoint. Only about a mile or so away is the towering  and dangerous Arenal volcano. On our first day there while hanging out by the pool,  I heard a loud "BOOM" .. looked over and the volcano was erupting!!  OMG! Dark clouds were billowing out the top! Kinda scary. My first thoughts.. "Guess this is as good a place as any to die".. then .... "Frodo.. Frooodo"..  The locals didn't even bat an eye as I guess it's a common occurrence. Guess you can get used to anything! I asked if they run tours to the top like they do outside Antigua in Guatemala and they said No.. The last few who went up died. Either fell though into the lava or from asphyxiation from the sulfur fumes. Geezz.

The only bad thing about our room at the Volcano lodge was the limp wristed A/C. They use those Mitsubishi-type wall units and while I love those things.. they aren't as godlike as what we're used to here in the US. You have to crank them to the max and put towels under the doors to get a really cool room. I'm 100% sure this is due to the poor insulation on the metal roofing. When it rains you can hear it loud an clear on the roof. Took our A/C a full 12 hours to get the room where I like it..  FYI.. My absolute minimum requirement for a comfortable place to sleep is.. no sweating, unless of course sex is involved. Call me a diva if you like. I can take it..

Arenal Volcano View

 

Day 3: After another breakfast meant for kings we programmed the GPS for the Arenal Hanging Bridges Park which was our choice of activities while here.  For whatever reason, the only glitch our GPS experienced during the trip was finding the park. When we initially programmed it in, the Garmin found it and said it was 17 miles away. OK.. Cool. We left the hotel and not 10 minutes down the road .. just 5 or so miles.. I saw a sign that said "Arenal Hanging Bridges Park Entrance Here."  What the f#@*? Disregarding what the GPS was telling us, we turned around and turned down the road to the park and the GPS automatically changed the distance from 12 miles  or so to 1.5 miles.  Atmospheric anomaly? Glitch in the Matrix? Sins of a past life? Who knows. I will report this glitch to the people we bought the program from.  For those of you who stay at the Volcano Lodge or any other hotel in La Fortuna, if you are going to the Hanging Garden Park just remember the entrance is immediately just over the Arenal dam on the right just a few miles out of town.

After reading all the tour books about this park, I was a little apprehensive about crossing the higher of the 5 or so swinging bridges.  The highest is a little over 300ft, I think. When you suffer from Acrophobia
as I do, you have to mentally prepare yourself for these things as I did prior to parasailing and hot air ballooning at other places.  I knew I'd have issues, but I'm a big proponent of facing ones irrational fears rather than avoiding them unless they involve a colonoscopy, but I won't go into that. Park entrance was $22pp. As July/Aug is in the Costa Rican rainy season we came prepared for rain during the 2-3hour walk through the park. We opted to NOT use a guide as we like to do things our own way on our own schedule.

As it had rained the previous 2 days  we assumed it would be raining during this trek and sure enough.. it poured. In anticipation of liquid precipitation, I brought my trusty First Gear motorcycle rain jacket and Amber brought her waterproof jacket she wears when horseback riding.  We both wore our water-proof hiking boots. For extra measure, we stopped at the local mart in La Fortuna and purchased two large umbrellas at about $15ea which turned out to be another wise decision. Also.. We carried plastic zip-lock bags in our back-packs to keep valuables dry.. Wallet, phone, food, etc. As soon as we got out of our car to buy tickets the heavy rain started and didn't let up all day. Appropriate for a rain forest and we loved every minute of it.

The rain forest was everything we had hoped for and more. There were very few others in the park that day which made us feel all alone in this peaceful primitive place. I felt like this is where God would hang out if on vacation. It was lush.. exotic.. fresh..alien.. clean.. virgin. Words can not describe. Funny thing.. For whatever reason, the movie "Predator" kept going through my mind. I guess because it's the only movie I'd ever seen that takes place in a rain forest.  Must be a guy thang.  Now and then I'd find myself uttering.. "there's something in those trees" or "if it bleeds we can kill it".. or.. "The only way outta here is that valley that leads to the east. But I wouldn't wish that on a broke-dick dog." Of course Amber looked at me as if I was experiencing the onset of Alzheimers.  Fortunately she overlooks such eccentricities or loves me in spite of them. That's comforting.

Arenal Hanging Bridges Rain Forest Park

All through the day we'd turn to each other and say.. "This is great!!".  The hanging bridges were most excellent. Most of them I had no trouble with and we'd stop in the middle and take pictures. Piece O' cake.  As for the really high ones ? That's another story.  300ft doesn't sound very high, but to someone with a fear of heights it's like looking down off the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I had read in the tour books that other people had freaked out while crossing or would get to the center and freeze.. Love how they plant those seeds.

The hanging bridges tested me. On the 2 highest bridges, I had to step up, focus on the far end,  and just repeat the mantra .. "One step at a time.. Keep moving.. Don't stop.. Feets don't fail me now.. and for gods sake.. Don't look down."  Amber did me the courtesy of not getting on the bridge (and making it swing) until I had crossed. Of course the hanging bridges didn't bother her at all. She'd feel just at ease doing a "Ginger Rodgers" or hand-stands across the bridge. Swell.

The Arenal Hanging Bridges Park was an experience I'll never forget. That day.. walking in the hard rain through the peaceful jungle canopy was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I'm sure Amber agrees. IMHO, the rain actually enhanced the experience as if it had been scripted by our own special effects department. "Cue the rain."

Arenal Hanging Bridges Park View

Day 4: The Road Trip From Hell to Monteverde After another world class breakfast we programmed the Garmin for our next stop..  The Poco a Poco Hotel in Monteverde where we'd be staying for 2 nights. I had read in Frommers and Fodors that while the distance was under 100 miles, drive time would be exaggerated due to the poor condition of the roads. This was an understatement. The trip from San Jose was nothing compared to what we were innocently about to face. The first 20 miles or so wasn't bad. We saw lots of mudslides covering a lane or two but with the 4WD.. No prob. We're laughing and smiling thinking.. "is this all you've got to throw at us, Costa Rica?" Just as we're reveling in our anti-vacation self-aggrandizing magnificence.. the pavement runs out and things go from tolerable to you are kidding me bad... Not just bad, but moon rover bad.. Book of Revelation, end of days bad.. The first hour or so I'd look over at Amber and say.. "It's not a vacation".. to which she'd gleefully respond.. "it's an adventure." This fun verbal bi-play lasted about 1.5 hours which is about how long it took for our incredulity at the apparent unestimated horror which was this road finally kicked in.  Each mile seemed like 10. The pot holes and gullies are deep and relentless. They were spaced as if by a some malevolent god as payback for some past sins so you couldn't straddle them no matter how skilled a driver you are.. at least with the little Suzuki's Lilliputian wheel base. 

Much of the time I'm in first gear doing under 5mph threading my way through the minefield of deep, kidney bashing holes. For 2 days after this little drive my kidneys were screwed up. The GPS is our only friend and fortunately she's on her game as there are a dozen turns on unmarked dirt roads and she fearlessly guides us through all of them.  In the last hour of the  4 hour drive, tensions were so high and nerves so frayed between Amber and myself that at one point I remember telling her.. "There's nothing on the face of the earth worth facing this drive to see."   In the last half hour of the drive when we were both tired of yelling over the loudness of the Suzuki being relentlessly hammered, I gave up and told her.. "Lets just not talk anymore until we get there."  "Fine".. "Fine."

The Road Trip From Hell to Monteverde

Is the fact that this road from hell is a spirit squasher a reason NOT to visit Monteverde or the Cloud Forest? Absolutely not. Most of us can withstand almost anything for 4 hours except perhaps back-to-back episodes of  "the View." Amber and I would have handled it much better if we had been forewarned by experts with more descriptive adjectives such as.. horrible.. nightmarish.. spirit squashing, etc instead of .. challenging.. slow-going.. unpaved, etc. Feel me?

Both of us did some heavy drinking that night.  The next day while talking to some locals about our harrowing experience they casually informed us that the nickname for the road is "the road from hell" and it's widely known as the worst stretch of road in all of Costa Rica. Gee.. Ya think? . Odd that Fodors or Frommers doesn't quite mention this little tidbit of information. Later we asked every local their opinion as to why this particular road which leads to the country's # 1 tourist draw  remains unpaved when most others in the country are almost as good as any in the US? None had a clue. Amber has her own theory which would fall into the line of reasoning of Occam's Razor .. ie ..that the simplest answers are often correct. Her idea is that the Costa Rican government, in cahoots with the travel ministry, purposely aren't paving this road to A. Keep the numbers of visitors down in this ecologically fragile environment and/or  B. To keep the tour operators in biz who run dozens and dozens of buses and vans to these areas on a daily basis.  If the road was perfectly paved and marked, I would imagine that most would simply rent a car at the airport and make the 2 hour drive for 1/2 the price of hiring a tour service.

We arrived in the town of Monteverde around 2pm where amazingly we found perfectly paved roads. What the f@#*?  Our GPS led us to the Poco a Poco Hotel where we quickly checked in and immediately took a looooong nap. Both of us were mentally toasted and sore for the next 24 hours.


Monteverde: While I'm sure the locals are as friendly as Aunt Bee and all have hearts of gold .. they sure live in one dump of a town. It's obvious from the get-go that Monteverde's sole purpose is as a base camp for the travelers that are here to experience the Cloud Forests. Another point that not one guide book mentioned was that this isn't a tourist destination.. It's a traveler destination. Huge difference. In case you didn't know.. a tourist is a person who takes a trip or two a year and after a few days is already thinking about getting back home to their Temper-pedic mattress or beloved parrots or their ever increasing work load. A traveler is a person who stays on the road indefinitely and generally hasn't seen home in weeks, months or even years.

You'll see almost no plaid shorts, flowered shirts, or white sox in sandals wearing old people in Monteverde. As a matter of fact, I saw only 2 people here that were older than me.. I'm 54. Virtually everybody is under 25, wearing serious back-packing gear and looking like they just got back from an archeological dig in Zimbabwe. Monteverde more resembles Aguas Calientes (the little butt-crack of a town used as a base camp for Machu Pichu explorers in Peru) than any other place I can remember. It's definitely not a place worth seeing twice. There are lots of trinket shops, tour shops, a grocery store, bakery, and a few restaurants, coffee shops, cheap hotels or hostels, etc but not much else.


Poco a Poco Hotel: When we first checked in and before evaluating the town, I thought.. "This is one low budget hotel." Of course for the price we paid for the tour I wasn't expecting the Ritz-Carlton. It's not even as nice as a Days Inn and I never stay in those.  The bed was very comfortable and they do have a smallish flat screen TV and a safe. Around back in the garden area they have an on-site massage studio. I would theorize they get a lot of business from the people who just drove in on the road from hell. That's about all. Here's a shocker.. The Poco a Poco has no A/C, my friends. To many ..including myself.. that might be a deal breaker, but fortunately it's cooler in Monteverde due to the altitude so we didn't need it. Dodged a bullet there. Thank Allah.  If it had been hot.. I would have checked out. Also.. no ice bucket, no view (from any room that I could tell), no closet, no vending machines, no chairs, ugly furnishings, noisy, etc. Also.. due, I guess to the fact that it's an eco friendly area, you are not allowed to put  er.. "pre-owned" toilet paper in the toilet. It all goes in the trash. That kinda creeps me out a little but it's not a deal breaker. The restaurant located on the lower level is the Poco a Poco's only redeeming quality and it was first rate.  Those were my first impressions..

After extensively touring the town via shoe-leather express, we came to realize that the Poco a Poco is one of the nicest hotels in town. We came to appreciate the few amenities that they offer after seeing the alternatives. Perhaps I'm turning into an aging hetero-diva. As I previously mentioned.. The restaurant was wonderful. Food to die for. Try their Fettuccini Alfredo with chicken and ham! OMG!  I ordered omelets both days for breakfast and I swear they must have used 6-8 eggs each day. One would have been plenty. Trust me.. Even the typical obese American will NOT go hungry here. The restaurant had some of the best waiters and waitresses I've ever seen in any town outside the US. Friendly, courteous, all speak English, etc..

Poco a Poco Hotel, Costa Rica

They have live music in the restaurant at least twice a week featuring a local guitar player doing cover songs of mostly has-been American pop stars with a few "typical" ditties thrown in for flavor. He's no Ottmar Liebert, but it is free. As there is no sound-proofing of the rooms.. it'll be loud so if you want to read in your room or sleep.. bring ear plugs. Fortunately the music stops at 9:30pm. Keep in mind this is a tiny, tiny town. I should add that in this and most restaurants we ate at in Costa Rica, they add a tip/gratuity to your bill which I generally don't like, but.. here it's only around 3%. Not enough for quality service, IMHO so I'd add a few dollars to each bill to give them what they are really worth.

Day 5: The Santa Elana Cloud Forest Reserve is located just 4 miles out of Monteverde. Of course the road is tortuous so it still takes 20 minutes to get there, but again the GPS was on her game and led is right to the main entrance. Cost was $11USpp and they tell us that 100% of the money goes to support local schools. Upkeep for the privately owned park is done by both foreign and domestic volunteers. They offer up 4 trails which are all loops with the longest being around 3.5 miles and the shortest about a 300 yards. Briefly.. the Cloud Forest is completely different than the rain forest although both are lush and tropical. As it was 'splained to me.. Warm air blows in from the ocean then starts to climb once it hits the mountains and rises. Once this warm ocean air collides with the cool mountain air a dense fog or clouds form engulfing the thick higher altitude forest. It gives everything an otherworldly, mystical look as if  any minute you'd expect to see Gandalf walking through the woods with a large staff. The forest seems to be dripping wet even when it's not raining due to the constant moisture. These same clouds actually roll through Monteverde off and on all day, BTW.

On the day we visited the Cloud forest.. there were no clouds.. None.. Nada.. zip. Instead it was mostly cool-ish and sunny which made for some good pictures and wonderful hiking. Earlier I mentioned that there was nothing on earth worth driving the "road from hell"  for. I changed my mind after walking through the Santa Alena Cloud Forrest. It's pretty impressive and definitely a memorable experience. Certainly worth the price of admission. We brought our own snacks (tuna, bread sardines, cookies) and picnicked in the park, but if you get hungry there's a snack bar at the entrance.

The Santa Elana Cloud Forest Reserve

Day 6: After another great breakfast we checked out of the Poco a Poco and made the 3.5 hour drive back to San Jose for our last night at the Casa Conde before our mid-day flight home the next day. Taking an all different route back to San Jose the drive was very tolerable and uneventful. 80% of the drive from Monteverde to San Jose is on good, paved roads. While there was a lot of traffic .. it wasn't stifling. Expect at least 4 toll booths. I think 3 were under $1US and one was about $2US. There are a lot of cops so watch your speeding. Max speed is 80kph. There are plenty of restaurants and gas stations on this route.

Day 7: We dropped off our rental car at 10am after the 40 minute drive from the Casa Cande to the Adobe rental car area. This was a tricky drive as there is construction everywhere. They  shuttled us to the airport and we arrived about 2 hours early for our flight. We expected a departure fee as all Central American countries take one last stab at your wallet, but we did NOT expect it to be so much. I think we paid $55.US  and they prefer CASH. If you pay via credit card they impose some astronomical, Orwellian user fee. Ouch! After paying our departure fees it was clear sailing all the way home to our Temper-pedic mattress, our beloved parrots, and the ever increasing work load.

Jerry & Amber in Santa Elena Cloud Forest

Helpful Tips for Your Fly and Drive Costa Rican Adventure by Jack Handy

1. When booking your first and last night in San Jose.. book your hotel as close to the airport as possible to avoid having to drive in the city.

2. You will need a GPS while in Costa Rica.. Trust me or abandon all hope ye who enter there.

3. If you go during rainy season you will need an umbrella. You can buy them in almost any Costa Rica store for around $15 for a really good one. . Or bring your own. It'll be your best friend.

4. Speaking of rain.. Most of the rain or cloud forest parks rent high rubber boots. If you have your own water-proof boots bring them.. If you don't.. you can rent them at the park entrances.

5. Bug Spray: As is my nature, I did serious research on bug spray before this trip. Yes, I too had heard the horror stories and I did see a few hikers down there that looked like they had leprosy due to all the bites.  Due, I guess to my superior genetic engineering.. I rarely get bitten no matter where I go. Bugs just avoid me like the plague. Amber is the exact opposite so I worried about her. With that said, I didn't want to temp fate so we settled on Off Family Care "Smooth & Dry."  It was always rated in the top 3 or 4 on the market. Goes on clean, non-greasy, doesn't stink, feels dry, and the best part.. It's cheap and easy to find. Bought 1 can at the local CVS pharmacy and we didn't use 1/3rd of it.. The result after 1 full week in Costa Rica? I got one bite and Amber got one.

6. Clothing: I don't know about the rest of the year, but during the rainy season things were NOT hot in Monteverde. In fact temps were about perfect.  High 70's and low 60's. I wore long sleeves and long pants most of the time of that new dry-fast foofoo fancy clothing  by Columbia and North Face. My suggestion is to buy a couple pair of both shirts and pants (I got mine at REI)  and hand wash them if need be. The new materials breaths well, protects you from bugs and/or sun, and takes up almost no room in the suit case unlike jeans and cotton shirts.  Not cheap but worth it. As there are few places to dress up (at least where we went) I didn't take any dress clothing or jackets. Amber took one slinky black dress. I generally go to a CVS pharmacy or Goodwill store before the trip and buy about 5-6 tees for under $2.50 a piece and as they get dirty on the trip.. I leave them behind for the maids or whoever. It's also a good time to trash the underwear that's just about exceeded it's life expectancy. Use them and leave them. You'll have a lighter suitcase on the return trip. In San Jose and La Fortuna it reached perhaps 80 and I wore shorts and tees.

7. Money: We took US dollars and plastic  and didn't exchange any for local currency. Everyone took US dollars or AmEx and Visa. Take lots of $1 bills as you'll be tipping everywhere you go.

8. They have live music in the  Poco a Poco Hotel restaurant at least twice a week and as there is no sound-proofing of the rooms.. It'll be loud so if you want to read in your room or sleep.. bring ear plugs.

9. When booking ANY SUV from ANY car rental place for a similar Costa Rican trip.. Pay the extra money and get a heavier vehicle with some god-like power. You'll need the power for passing and the better suspension will make the over-all trip more tolerable. Learn from our mistakes.

Postscript:

This was my first experience with Gate 1 Travel and it won't be the last. Their staff (particularaly Josh) was helpful and answered every knucklehead question I threw at them with aplomb. Other than the initial glitch at the airport locating the rental car rep, everything.. and I mean everything went as smooth as hot budda.


GPS Scam? Or the Biggest Coincidence On Earth?

T
he GPS Program I bought off eBay from GPSCostaRicaMap.com was all I had hoped for. There were two minor glitches, but even here in the US those are common so I won't fault the software. Their programming led us through the valley of the shadow of death effortlessly and in areas that would make OnStar cry like a little girl. I mentioned one of the problems previously concerning locating the Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, but anyone who has used a GPS knows that minor geographical faux pas are unavoidable. With that said..while I'm about to relate something non-positive about this GPS software.. in my honest opinion it still does not make the product any less attractive. If I had it to do over today..  I'd buy it again.

What gets my panties in a wad is that the problem (if you could call it that) may or may not be deliberate. I'll relay the facts and let YOU decide. On our epic day driving on the road from hell between La Fortuna to Monteverde.. the GPS was rocking and rolling never missing a beat.. Half a dozen unmarked roads were nailed for our destination without her even blinking. She was giving precise instructions as if we were driving in Manhattan. At this point we had total confidence in the Garmin (and the new aftermarket software) to lead us back to some semblance of civilization when all of a sudden the GPS throws up a warning that it had lost a signal.. or was looking for better coordinates.. Basically saying.. "Sorry.. I've lost my train of thought and you are on your own temporarily." At this precise moment we came to a fork in the road.. BOTH directions unmarked. One way.. to the right.. looked like it was the continuation of the current road. To the left looked just like another gravel road. We decided to follow the road to the right and not 100yrds down the road we run into a little town. We immediately see a 16-18year old boy sitting on a 3ft wall. He's well dressed as if he's on his way to church. He gets up and walks out into the street waving some papers. I assumed he wants to sell us something so we wave and sail past him. Another 50 yards down and the road dead ends. Doh!.

We turn around to go back and this same kid is still out in the road and waves us down again. I stop to ask for directions.  My Spanish is pretty good. Before I can open my mouth.. in perfect English  he says.. "Are you going to Monteverde? Are you lost?" "Yes we are!", I say. At this point we are beaten down both mentally and physically from the hours of being battered by the road from hell. Tempers are hot, patience is short, and we are dead tired.  I'm thinking.. "this kid is a lifesaver." He says.. "I work for the government ministry of tourism.. here's my official license.." (he pulls out a folder covered with what looks like rich corinthian leather and opens it to an official looking license.) I don't take the time to read it. He says.. "many people get lost on this treacherous road and I'm paid to inform them on how to get back to the correct road to Monteverde. If you'll go back up to the fork and go the other way you'll be headed in the right direction. However.. the road gets worse and harder to follow. To make things easier, I have this map here that will make the rest of the trip to Monteverde painless. It's $4US. 

I look at Amber .. She looks at me as we've both heard of these scams but .. what if the kid is legit? He does have what looks like legit papers.. What if the GPS doesn't find her way from here on out?  What if this $4 map will help us keep what's left of our waning sanity? Who thought up green ketchup? And why?  I sheepishly hand the kid $4 and he hands me a photocopy of a map that is no more detailed than the aforementioned child's geographical coloring place mat that you'd see at a Dennys or Shoneys except this has advertising around the edges.

We thank the kid and proceed back to the fork in the road and turn the other direction.. Not 100ft further there are at least 3 signs telling us that this is the way to Monteverde and "magically" the GPS kicks back in and knows exactly where she is. Hmmm..

OK.. Lets look at this with a tad of skepticism. At exactly the point that  I'd need to go off course to run into the little scammer, our Costa Rican produced GPS program malfunctions. Then.. after we get back on the correct road after paying the scammer.. the GPS magically finds its way again. This was the ONLY spot on the trip that the GPS lost her signal. Hmmm.. Am I inferring that the GPS program company is in cahoots with the scammers who sit day in and day out collecting money from unsuspecting touristas? You could read it that way.. I supposes that there is a microscopic chance that it was all a coincidence.

Reflecting now with a rested and logical mind.. Why would the government ministry of tourism pay this kid day in, day out .. month after month money to "assist" travelers who had lost their way rather than simply putting up a $50 road sign just before the fork? Why didn't I think of this when the kid was throwing his well practiced spiel at us? No matter. The kid was making a buck. I didn't have to pay him. That was all on me. What I do have a problem with is the unlikelihood that the GPS just happened to stop working at that precise spot  and then start working again not 100ft further down the road. I should add.. we spoke with another couple in Monteverde the next day that had had the exact same experience with the exact same kid. Coincidence? You be the judge. As I said.. Other than this.. the program was all we had hoped for and more. Easily worth the $40. It proved to be invaluable on our trip.

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Just to be fair.. I ran my conspiracy theories by the people that make the Costa Rica GPS program for the Garmin. Here is their response...

LOL, this is a long but funny story! You know electronics are not 100% guaranteed to work. I am sure you have experienced a cell phone getting stuck on you so you have to reset it, etc. The GPS loosing signal is more a GPS antenna/reception problem on YOUR GPS than a software on purpose malfunction. I am happy to proud and honestly say we are a serious company which makes thousands of dollar not only by selling maps to tourism but selling technology to local companies so the $4 map trick wouldn't be for us. Far from what you have heard about "ticos" we at least our company is made of honest and hard working people. Glad there was a guy to help you and you guys had the choice of not taking this $4 map, by just asking for directions which any "tico" is happy to give out at no charge. Directions are a mess that I agree however all that is part of the adventure.


For photos of our most excellent adventure, visit our photo album and look for the album clevery titled.. Costa Rica Trip 2010!
And that's all I've got to say about that... Pirate out...
Jerry D. Finley... Captain
/ Pirates' Lair