First off, I want to say that Costa Rica has been amazing! But it hasn’t been without its challenges. What started off as a great holiday, has now turned in to an absolutely amazing, unforgettable experience. Let me tell you how we got here.
Arenal Springs Resort
We left cold, snowy Alberta on New Year’s Eve and arrived in warm, beautiful Costa Rica shortly after 9pm. Once we got through customs/immigration and found our driver, it was 9:30 pm. I knew before hand that the drive to our resort was about 2 1/2 hours, which Alberto our driver confirmed, and we had hoped to be at our resort for midnight to ring in the new year. Alberto knew this and said “it will be close but let me see what I can do!” Already the “tico” service was great. As it turned out, through the pouring rain, dense fog, and winding roads, Alberto had us to our resort by 11:45. Shortly thereafter we were checked in, luggage in room just in time for us to sit out on the veranda and watch the New Year’s firework show. This had to be a great sign that this would be the best vacation ever!
And for the next 4 1/2 days it was exactly that. The resort was gorgeous, the weather was hot with periods of rain (we were in the rain forest at this point) and the people were friendly. Over the course of the next four days, we had one outing per day; Friday – Hanging Bridges tour where we walked deep into the rain forest and saw our first howler monkeys, snakes, and a 3 toed sloth; Saturday – a trip into La Fortuna to walk around the town, shop, and have a nice supper at Don Rufino; Sunday – Zip lining where we experienced 12 lines with the longest being 1km long (I had read that Costa Rica had the best zip lines in the America’s and judging by our experience, we agree. Sorry Mexico!); Monday – Safari River Float where we again saw multiple monkeys, crocodiles, and stopped for a snack at a small farm just off the river where we ate homemade bread, homemade cheese, and coffee. This was experiencing the true culture.
Also within those 4 days we ate and ate very well. No matter whether we ate at the restaurants on site at our resort or the restaraunts in town, the meals were all fantastic (though wildly overpriced at the resort). The times in between eating and our outings, we spent enjoying the resorts hot spring pools and bar. The first 4 days couldn’t have been any better and we were looking forward to moving to the Pacific Coast for sun and more fun.
Froy (our driver this time) picked us up at 10 am for the 4 hour trip to our rented condo in Playa Conchal. Froy was extremely nice and the 4 hours went by very quickly as he educated us on a lot of costa rican subjects. We had mentioned to him that we were going to rent a car for this part of our trip so he offered to take us to the rental place and then lead us to our condo. This turned out to be a very fortuitous decision.
As we neared our accommodations for the next 6 nights, Michele didn’t have a good feeling about it. The area didn’t “feel like Costa Rica” and it was in the middle of nowhere, which we did not expect. Once checked in, this turned into one of those examples of the pictures don’t do it justice! We had booked through VRBO but the condo was old, not well maintained, and had a larger number of bugs than we were used to. We were also supposed to have a 3rd floor unit to take better advantage of the view, but we ended up with a ground floor unit. We were booked in here for 6 nights!! Our incredible holiday took a downturn.
We decided that we needed to give it a chance, so we put on our happy faces and headed out to a nearby small town to a restaurant recommendation to have a nice meal. And that is what happened at Bula Bula hotel. The atmosphere was beautiful, the staff were friendly and fun, and the food was very good! But we couldn’t let go of the disappointment of our condo. We decided over supper that once we got back to the condo, we would go online and check out some options in the area.
As expected, our “not what we expected” condos WiFi also sucked so trying to get any information at all was futile so we had to make a decision based on feel. We knew that we couldn’t spend the next 5 days here but it was already paid for and we weren’t getting a refund. It was a difficult choice but we decided that we came to CR to have an unforgettable vacation and that was what we were going to do, to hell with our budget! We planned that the next morning we would drive into Tamarindo and solve our problems!
Blue River Resort
Before we went to Tamarindo, we decided to drive the short distance to Playa Flamingo to see if we could find a decent place. It was a beautiful spot and had a couple of nice places but unfortunately they only had rooms for 1 night and they were quite costly. So back to the original plan to head to Tamarindo. Tamarindo was a nice beach front town that had lots of shops and restaurants and was packed with tourists. We looked at a couple of places and even had a line on a condo in a gated resort that was reasonable so we stopped for lunch at a little cafe (with wifi) to hash it out. What transpired over that lunch was that we found what sounded like a beautiful place but it was 2 hours away and back toward the rainy part of CR. So naturally, we chose the 2 hours away place over the right here place and raced back to the condo to pack up and go. By noon we were on our way to Blue River Resort which turned out to be a beautiful oasis of hot springs in the middle of nowhere.
The road into Blue River, or the last 20 km to be more precise, was our first real experience with CR secondary roads. It was gravel/rocks with lots of tight turns and narrow sections. This last stretch took us about an hour to navigate and when we finally pulled into the entrance to the resort, all we saw was a large open building with a stable beside it. I believe the first words to come out of my mouth were “you have got to be shitting me”. The look on Michele’s face matched my words. But once we found the office and checked in and drove down to where the cabinas were, our expressions changed. It was a beautiful little resort that had multiple hot spring pools, a botanical garden, and an above average restaurant. We spent 2 nights enjoying this little gem and planned our next destination.
The Road To Paradise
Stepping WAY outside of our comfort zone, we had decided we were just going to head to a beach town on the Pacific Coast by the name of Samara and figure it out from there. The drive was about 3 hours from Blue River and a couple that we had met told us about a place south of Samara called San Miguel. As we passed through Liberia, we fueled up and bought a few snacks and headed to Samara. The road there was a good paved road that wound through some beautiful country. Samara itself was a small beach/fishing town that didn’t have a whole lot of choice in accommodations. We checked out this one place that was called the Treehouse, whose rooms were like little tree houses on the beach, which we thought would be kind of cool but they were fully booked. So we found a cute little homemade ice cream shop, had some tasty ice cream and searched the net for a place to stay. We had a choice to go south as previously mentioned to San miguel or north toward the Nosara area. For some reason, we both decided to go north as the accommodations looked more promising at Nosara.
As we started our 30km journey north, the road turned into my favorite dirt/rock/pothole type road and my spirit weakened a tiny bit. It weakened even more when about 5km in we faced a river crossing that was literally a river crossing. There were a couple of cars sitting on each side of the river, all seemingly reluctant to give the crossing a go. After about 10 minutes of contemplating, along with some encouragement from some locals who were confident we could make it, I put our rented Toyota compact car into gear and turned around and backtracked. All I had were visions of Michele and I sitting in the middle of a river with a wrecked rental car. We only had to go back about 2 km and there was a shortcut to another route. We were back under way for about 10 km when we came to a washed out section of road. The words that I used to express myself needed no translation for my wife or ticos to understand. This time there was no contemplating, I put in gear, found what looked like the shallowest part and gunned it. We were on the move once again. After about another 1/2 hour of driving we came upon Nosara, which turned out to have a total of 3 buildings and 1 road. We pulled over to the side and wondered in amazement how we possibly thought we had found decent lodging in the area. So far, this was not going well!
As we were in the middle of nowhere (I think there is a theme here) and had no idea what was around us, I turned the data on on my phone to search nearby places. One decent looking place came up around Playa Azul which was another 1/2 an hour further south and since I was in such a great mood at this point we just kept driving, in silence! After another washed out section of road, which I didn’t even slow down for at this point, I saw a sign for Hotel Luna Azul. I asked Michele if she wanted to check it out, she made a silent “whatever” face and we turned and pulled up to the closed gate. Michele got out and rang the buzzer and asked if they had any rooms. The voice on the other end said “one moment” and then we sat there for a lot more than one moment waiting for a reply. As we were just about to leave, a young gentleman came to the gate, opened it and invited us to come in and talk to the owner.
From the other side of the steel entrance gate, it didn’t look like much but all I cared about was that it had a half clean room that we could stay in for the night and we could continue on our miserable happy trail tomorrow. As we walked into the combined lobby restaurant and met the owner – Rolf – it started to look better. Michele asked if they had a room and he said yes, exactly one. Michele then looked around and said “ok, it looks like you have a pool” pointing toward the pool and Rolf replied “yes it looks just like a pool!”. I found this very funny despite the mood I was in. Rolf asked if we would like to see the room and escorted us down a path through beautifully manicured grounds to a quaint cabina. Once he opened the door and showed us the room which included a huge private terrace that overlooked the forest, my spirits started to lift and we both had this feeling that we were home. We said that we would take it and asked if it was available for the next 2 nights as well, which luckily it was. We unpacked our car, with the help of Roberto, and because by this time it was close to 5 pm, it was hot, and it had been a long stressful day, I changed and headed straight for the infinity pool that faced west, overlooking the ocean, and watched the sun set, knowing we had found Paradise!
Great writing. Love the new layout.