Hi Fiona, I was planning to give you feedback when your letter arrived to prompt me to get going, so here it is.
The outward flights with Delta were punctual and uneventful. However we found the crew to be rather scruffy and not very friendly; the food was awful and the films were rather old. So we wouldn’t recommend them, or choose to use them again. Our luggage was booked right through to San Jose, which was a blessing, but passport control at Atlanta took one and a half hours, and security (as with most American airports), was not a life enhancing experience! I understand that there are to be direct flights to Costa Rica in the not too distant future which will definitely make a difference.
We were met at the airport by the lovely Douglas, and taken to the Xandari which I think was our favourite hotel. The suites were fabulous, as were the staff, and the food was really good. We wished we had booked an extra night here as we arrived quite late on our first night, so just went to bed. Our second day was taken up with the outing to the Poas Volcano and Waterfall Gardens, so we just had the late afternoon and the evening to spend at the hotel, and then we left very early the next morning. So another full day to enjoy the beautiful grounds and food would have been good. The outing to the volcano etc. was really good, and we had an excellent guide called Lee (full name Allessandro, I think), who had an encylopediac knowledge of plants and the whole area of San Hose. We actually got to see the volcanic crater which is apparently quite rare.
On our third day we were collected punctually, again by Douglas, and taken to meet Gustavo, another guide, for the road trip to meet the boat for Tortuguera. We saw plantations and wildlife along the way and Gustava spotted sloths and iguanas and many more creatures, which we would have missed. The boat ride to the Manatus Lodge was punctual, and again we saw lots of birds and wildlife along the way. Unfortunately the moment we arrived the heavens opened, and the monsoon-like rain only stopped for about 2 hours in all the time we spent at Manatus Lodge . We only managed one river outing in the two days, and even then we were soaked to the skin. We had brought waterproofs, but nothing which could cope with that kind of deluge. The villas at Manutus Lodge were really nice with two queen size four poster beds, and a huge shower room. Unfortunately in this area, if you can’t get out on the river, or go for a walk, there is nothing else to do, so we had to resort to books and travel scrabble. The staff here were really lovely, apart from the manager, and the food was very good. The manager seemed to be missing a lot of the time, and when he was there, wasn’t exactly full of the joys of spring. However he was definitely the exception as everyone else during our whole holiday were happy, upbeat and helpful. I think this hotel should provide drink making facilities in the villas, as I’m sure many people get confined to their rooms because of the rain, Although we were told that the amount of rain we experienced was a bit of a freak event.
Our driver for the onward journey to Arenal was again the lovely Douglas. By now we felt like family! The Kioro Hotel was really good, but the the unique selling point of panoramic views of the volcano is a bit misleading as the volcano is covered in mist most of the time! We weren’t sure we’d use the hot tub in the room, but as the persistent rain was determined to follow us around, we got soaked through again, and the hot tub was the most welcoming thing we’ve ever experienced. The staff here were the most professional and helpful we came across in any hotel we stayed in; nothing was too much trouble, from reception staff organising getting our wet stuff dry with no charge, to the room ladies and their fantastic towel sculptures. The breakfasts and lunches here were very good, but we found the dinner menu a bit over-elaborate and expensive; also there is very little atmosphere in this very large dining room. Unfortunately the hotel is a long way from the centre of Fortuna, as you pointed out, so you can’t save anything by going into the town as a return taxi costs $32 (without a tip). However we did go into Fortuna one night and ate at the local Soda (opposite the church) and it was excellent. The food was very good, and about a third of the hotel price, and the service from a young waiter who was keen to practice his English was exceptional. I even got a free dessert! We did the zip wire in the rain, and I felt very proud of myself because I’m scared of heights, but it was very well organised and I felt very safe.
Our driver from Arenal to San Gerardo de Dota was JB, who introduced himself as James Bond (actually Javier Blanca); I therefore introduced myself as Miss Moneypenny, and my husband as Q! On the itinerary we were given by Douglas when we arrived, it said this journey time was 3 hours. It actually took six and a half! If we had known the journey was so long, this is one destination we wouldn’t have booked. This was the first dry day in over 5 days and we spent it in a mini bus!. However, the Trogan Lodge is unique. The grounds are an international garden of shrubs and flowers, with trout pools; absolutely beautiful. However, the lodges are described as rustic, and that’s probably being a bit complimentary. After the Kioro, the little huts were a bit of a shock, and definitely not to my taste. The only reason to stay here is if you are an avid birder, and want to see the elusive Quetzal. You have however to be prepared to get up before 5.30am for the experience. It gets very cold at night here, and the staff light the little gas heaters in each hut, and provide hot water bottles for the beds. The food was buffet style, and OK but not exciting. So, this was a unique experience, but not our best memory of the holiday.
Our driver to Manuel Antonio was once again Douglas. We’ve now adopted him. Once again the journey went like clockwork, and Douglas provided yet again another interesting commentary throughout the journey. And at last we had warmth and sunshine! The Parador is a very nice hotel and the food was very good. The rooms were spacious with lovely views, and very quiet…apart from the howler monkeys in the trees just by our balcony…but we’re not complaining; they were a joy to watch. My husband injured his knee running on the treadmill here, (I know…what normal person goes to the gym on holiday?), so our activities were limited, and we only ate in the hotel, so I can’t comment on the eating places you suggested. However we were happy with all the dining in the hotel and it was reasonably priced. The self service laundry was a godsend as well; after all those wet days, all our clothes were starting to have a bit of a whiff!!
Our final driver was George (Jorge), who shared an obsession with motorbikes with my husband, so another interesting journey, punctuated by seeing the crocodiles from the bridge. Amazing! Our return flight was a different route; Costa Rica to Panama to Amsterdam to Manchester. The flight from Costa Rica boarded on time….but never took off. There was a fault with the plane, so after two hours we were taken off and shipped to the nearest Best Western Hotel. We were given drink and food vouchers, and then taken to the airport the following day. (Some passengers seemed to think we would get compensation under the new EU Regulations, but I’ve done a bit of research and I don’t think we qualify. Do you have any opinion on this?) All the flights then went well, and I thought KLM were very good. The staff were smart and very friendly and the food was very good.
Sorry if this reads a bit like War and Peace Fiona, but I wanted to give you as much detail as I could.
To sum up, it was an excellent holiday. The weather was a bit disappointing, but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment. All the hotels were great, except the Trogan Lodge, but I can see that some people would love it. All the drivers were excellent and we learned so much about ordinary Costa Rican life and culture from them. The journeys went like clockwork and made us feel so relaxed because they were so reliable. The journey from Arenal to San Gerardo de Dota was definitely too long, so we wouldn’t recommend that. But apart from that, we would recommend everything else, and we really thank you for the excellent organisation, which made us feel safe and secure and well taken care of. Finally I must mention the Costa Ricans in general. They are so proud of, and loyal to their country and always put a positive spin on everything. We could all learn something from that kind of attitude.
Thank you, (and do you have any openings for secret travellers???)
Kathryn and Terry Beney