What Should I See/Do While Staying at Doubletree Resort Puntarenas, Costa Rica?
I am trying to plan a last minute trip (going next week) to Costa Rica. This will be our first time in Costa Rica and I'm wondering what we should see and do while there.
I've booked us at the Doubletree Resort Puntarenas, as it looks pretty nice and I can get triple HHonors points!
The three sites that seem the most popular are Monteverde Cloud Forest, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Arenal Volcano. Do you recommend these? Should we do them all or just some of them? If we have to choose 1 or 2, which ones? Are there other recommended sites or suggestions for things to do?
Here is what the Doubletree lists as nearby attractions:
Arenal Volcano&Tabacon Hot Springs 90 KM NE
Carara Biological Reserve 37 KM S
Golf Los Suenos 45 KM S
Manuel Antonio National Park 130 KM S
Marinas Los Suenos 45 KM S
Monteverde Cloud Forest 42 KM NE
Poas Volcano 100 KM NE
Tortuga Island 25 KM NW
If we rent a car, how easy is it to get to and tour sites on our own? There are 4 of us going, so it seems we may be able to save some money by renting an SUV rather than paying for guided tours plus a taxi to/from the airport. I've read the thread about driving in Costa Rica so I think I know what to expect in terms of road conditions.
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Hmmm, I'm not sure which property that is...maybe the old Fiesta Hotel. I'm curious to hear how Hilton has spruced that up. If that's the place, the beach there is not good at all.
Manuel Antonio is one of the better bets from that spot for both beach and jungle stuff, but the drive there is over two hours. I would probably recommend Monteverde (should be a little over an hour depending on weather). Arenal volcano is further out on a tricky road; good place to visit but not a good day trip from that spot. The golf course at Los Sueños is fun.
I guess we'll plan on doing Monteverde and maybe Manuel Antonio.
I was wondering about the beach (it looks bad in the pictures on the website), so thanks for clearing that up. Fortunately we really aren't beach people, we prefer to look at it rather than swim in it.
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If you're into zip-line canopy tours there's a cute place (La Mariposa?) in the hills above Miramar. A german family owns a small hotel and they have a nice layout...it should only be about 35 minutes from your place.
I believe that hotel has a nice pool; it was their way to make up for the crappy beach. You can at least stroll on the sand at the beach, it's bathing that is not recommended.
Finally, if you're not beach people I would put Monteverde higher on the pecking order than MA; MA's charm is that it has a great beach within the park.
Points aren't everything. As a Hilton Gold, I will recommend you stay elsewhere. There is no reason to stay in Puntarenas, and this hotel does not get particularly good reviews.
Having recently returned from Costa Rica, I can offer some suggestions. First, the entire coast from Punta Arenas to Manuel Antonio seems to becoming an American colony. It's weird -- all the real estate signs are in English. Much like parts of Florida, everyone builds and the place loses what made it special.
Manuel Antonio (hour and a half away) is sort of worthwhile. The beach in the park is very nice, and some of the animals are still left (not in as much abudance as elsewhere in the country, though). The town around the park isn't so great.
Arenal is also sort of worth it, but that area also suffers greatly from over-tourism.
If you're at all adventurous, read the Lonely Planet "thorn tree" website which tells you where you need to go to see the "real" Costa Rica. The site is a great reality check. You should also read the Moon guide.
The "unreal" Costa Rica isn't bad (more expensive than it should be, you can see my post about overpriced activities), but personally I like "unreal" Hawaii more than "unreal" Costa Rica.
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Puntarenas is NOT a destination for travelers, it is a hangout for tourists and commercial interests reveling in closeness to Puerto Caldera (cruise ship terminal) and relative closeness of San José. The beaches are dark volcanic sand, the water is murky and there is rubbish aplenty, not to mention suspect sewerage and runoff handling.
Monteverde is a nice nearby destination (but distances can be deceiving - the road is a slow climb on anything from unimproved to swampy and can take 1 - 3 hours, depending on conditions.) It is a mountain rain forest preserve - yes, it is likely to rain, mud and fog while you are there, which is why you can visit rain forest and see many interesting denizens not to be found elsewhere. The park can also be very crowded.
I agree with iahphx - CR has changed for the worse, IMO overused, abused and riven with highly inflated prices, often charged by overextended providers of services that use a plethora of excuses for mediocre and even lousy service.
Today, much of Costa Rica is not Green, it's "Greenwashed" - prefixes like "eco-" and the like on every other word, excuses to charge extremely high prices for only modest products because of the "eco-" use, high density and overuse in too many places, unsustainable and nature-unfriendly practices (gensets in the mist) and environmental abuse.
To add to this dismal picture (with a few possible exceptions,) petty crime is alive and well throughout the country. Once confined to the Caribbean coast and centered in Puerto Limón and nearby beaches, now one must watch their belongings in hotels, airports... basically, everywhere.
There are some decent destinations, but be sure to check the weather - CR can be nasty in the "green" season (what they now call the rainy season,) and that season varies according to where in CR you are - Arenal is dismal in December, when the central plateau or Pacific coast are quite pleasant, for example. Central coastal areas can be humid and wet, with many biting insects: in the wet, er, sorry, "green" season can be infested with "purujas" - no-see-ums that can fly in squadrons through normal netting and may leave inflamed itchy welts that will persists for weeks.
(Also avoid the Manchineel / Manzanilla trees lining beaches near Manuel Antonio - they are nasty pieces of work whose sap can cause severe damage to human skin, which is why the worst slaveholders in the Caribbean would tie "miscreant" slaves to these trees to punish them. Ask a guide or park guard - be aware of these.)