Costa Rica Trip Report Part 1 – Arenal Day One

Yeah yeah, I know I am late with these. Better late than never, right? Right?

We flew a direct flight from Atlanta to San Jose, Costa Rica and arrived in SJO around noon local time. Right off the plane, we were assaulted with genuine Tico (Costa Rican) food and stores like Papa John’s, Burger King, and Church’s Chicken. OK, maybe it gets better further away from the airport.


We took a taxi to the Golden Turtle souvenir shop where the shuttle was picking us up at 3. I think I read the entire Lonely Planet book on Costa Rica while waiting, which was probably a bad idea. They had glowing reviews of our first two destinations, but the third destination, Playa Flamingo, was noted for its rampant cocaine use, balding old rich men, and high end prostitution. As fun as that sounds, I think it would be more appropriate for a different trip. I was kind of worried and seriously considered calling the travel agent who booked everything to see if we could move somewhere else.

The taxi ride to Arenal was like a roller coaster ride. Roads in CR are abysmal, with scant pavement and potholes everywhere. Despite this, our driver was great and obviously knew the roads and cities very well. He would fly down the roads when he could, and slow down for the big potholes (car swallowers). I kind of wonder about traffic laws, since I saw no rhyme or reason as to when or why he would follow the posted signs. Everyone seemed to have the same understanding of which signs to ignore, so traffic flowed along fairly well. Lots of passing going on, since most roads are two lanes, and there are old trucks, dumptrucks, scooters, etc. slowing up traffic occasionally.

I will say that I am extremely glad that we did not rent a car. I had that arranged initially, but I found some reviews of the car rental agency I had booked with down there that were less than favorable, and canceled the rental. I looked into shuttles since they seemed like a good option, and were significantly cheaper than renting a car. Most shuttles were $35/person between destinations, which usually meant a 3-4 hour car drive. Renting a 4WD automatic SUV for the eight days would have cost around $6-700 with insurance (almost required) from a reputable agency. The big reason that the rental would have sucked is not the cost, but that the roads are 99% unmarked. No signs telling you where you are or where you should be going. My Spanish is weak, so being lost in CR would have been an extra adventure best saved for another trip.

We made it to Arenal around 6:00 and checked into the hotel room. This was the view off our balcony:


And to the left:


Not bad, eh? The room was not big, bed was kind of stiff, toilet screeched like a monkey after flushing, bugs were everywhere, no A/C, construction standards were kind of slack, and it was still the best place I have stayed in my life. Where else can you lay in bed and watch and active volcano? The rooms with the best view are the Smithsonian rooms, in case anyone else wants to go down there. There were some other rooms across a suspended bridge, which would kind of suck, since it rains most mornings and trudging through rain to get to breakfast is not something you expect at a $100+/night hotel.

All of the meals we ate while at Arenal were in the lodge restaurant. The restaurant is that building in the second picture above, so it was right next to our room. La Fortuna was the closest city, which meant a 30 minute cab drive over bumpy roads, so we just sucked it up and ate hotel food the whole time. Dinner the first night was decent, but nothing special. I did have some fresh blackberry juice with dinner, which was pure deliciousness.

After dinner, it was back to the room. Once the sun sets around 6, everything calms way down. This was true for all three cities we stayed in, which was kind of nice. A honeymoon is not a good time to find out that your hotels are full of rampaging frat boys.

I set my camera up on the tripod and started taking some extended exposure shots of the volcano. I stayed up taking shots until super late at night, maybe 9 PM. I know, I am lame. No, these trip reports will not include our nighttime activities. Perverts!


That’s about it for day one. More to come…