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Costa Rica

mlpmd56

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Greetings Tuggers:
I am posting this in the hopes of helping others, so PLEASE no flaming replies. Everyone likes something different, if everyone was the same, the world would be pretty boring. I am a Hawaii person. I also love the Caribbean. (I have been to Aruba, St. John, St. Thomas, Bahamas, St. Martin, Grand Cayman, and Curacao.) I do not like Mexico. I usually get sick regardless of how careful I am (REALLY sensitive stomach) and I don't like all the peddlers constantly approaching me. I asked several folks who had been to all the places I have been (Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico) who had also been to Costa Rica about it. Unanimously they told me it was NOTHING LIKE MEXICO. Well guess what? I disagree! Peddlers approaching you everywhere, I (I am female) was propositioned by a prostitute (in broad daylight sitting on a park bench waiting for my husband to retrieve the car), my husband and I both got Montezuma's revenge, and the extremely narrow roads and drivers are terrifying! Everyone plays "chicken" crossing the middle line. As a physician who has taken care of head on collision victims, I am NOT a fan of dangerous driving. The "mandatory" insurance on the rental car was much more than the actual rental fee. Meals are very expensive. Locals in the hotels and restaurants (I was in tourist areas although we did drive around and explore) were really nice and helpful, but definite hostility from locals in the grocery stores and gas stations. I would not have been comfortable exploring without my husband. So, just my opinion, but I found it to be very much like Mexico, exceot way more expensive. I am not going back. Which I am sure is just fine with fans of the country as I won't be contributing to the crowds! I wish someone else would have posted something like this for me to read before I planned this trip. Marcy
 

Seaport104

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Greetings Tuggers:
I am posting this in the hopes of helping others, so PLEASE no flaming replies. Everyone likes something different, if everyone was the same, the world would be pretty boring. I am a Hawaii person. I also love the Caribbean. (I have been to Aruba, St. John, St. Thomas, Bahamas, St. Martin, Grand Cayman, and Curacao.) I do not like Mexico. I usually get sick regardless of how careful I am (REALLY sensitive stomach) and I don't like all the peddlers constantly approaching me. I asked several folks who had been to all the places I have been (Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico) who had also been to Costa Rica about it. Unanimously they told me it was NOTHING LIKE MEXICO. Well guess what? I disagree! Peddlers approaching you everywhere, I (I am female) was propositioned by a prostitute (in broad daylight sitting on a park bench waiting for my husband to retrieve the car), my husband and I both got Montezuma's revenge, and the extremely narrow roads and drivers are terrifying! Everyone plays "chicken" crossing the middle line. As a physician who has taken care of head on collision victims, I am NOT a fan of dangerous driving. The "mandatory" insurance on the rental car was much more than the actual rental fee. Meals are very expensive. Locals in the hotels and restaurants (I was in tourist areas although we did drive around and explore) were really nice and helpful, but definite hostility from locals in the grocery stores and gas stations. I would not have been comfortable exploring without my husband. So, just my opinion, but I found it to be very much like Mexico, exceot way more expensive. I am not going back. Which I am sure is just fine with fans of the country as I won't be contributing to the crowds! I wish someone else would have posted something like this for me to read before I planned this trip. Marcy

Which part of Costa Rica did you visit? There are a number of tourist areas and they are different from each other.
 

mlpmd56

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We flew into Liberia initially (got in late and stayed in the airport Hilton that had filthy carpeting--should have been my first clue!), and then drove up to Arenal Lake, Fortuna area. Stayed in a lovely place (Silencio del campo) that had cabins and fantastic hot springs. Drove all around (risking life and limb) north of Fortuna which was beautiful. Then went to the Marriott on a beach (which was not swimmable) outside Tamarindo (we actually could not BELIEVE that a Marriott was down this gravel/dirt/washed out road with potholes the size of volkswagons, but it was!) where I had a conference. Only redeeming factor was that I got to write off the trip for work! Everywhere we went food was bad and expensive. And of course we went to the places recommended by Trip Advisor!
 

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Well, I for one thank you for making this post. Like you, I have heard so many glowing reviews of Costa Rica, we have put it on our bucket list, too. I won't be taking it off the list quite yet. But your post is a good warning for us to be wary, and get some good first hand information from friends who have visited, before undertaking such a trip.

What month did you visit? My good friend who travels to Costa Rica frequently tells me that December or January is the best time to go (weather-wise), and not to go during summer because it is the rainy season. I have seen her pictures and Facebook posts, and you are right that there are quite a few similarities to tropical parts of Mexico. But maybe without the bribes and corrupt police force?

Thank you for posting a contrary, non-popular opinion. Glowing reports of every destination are of no true benefit to travelers. We might as well just read the tourist office pamphlets.

--- Rene
 

Egret1986

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My sentiments, as well. Thank you, Marcy, for your post. I appreciate it.

Well, I for one thank you for making this post. Like you, I have heard so many glowing reviews of Costa Rica, we have put it on our bucket list, too. I won't be taking it off the list quite yet. But your post is a good warning for us to be wary, and get some good first hand information from friends who have visited, before undertaking such a trip.

What month did you visit? My good friend who travels to Costa Rica frequently tells me that December or January is the best time to go (weather-wise), and not to go during summer because it is the rainy season. I have seen her pictures and Facebook posts, and you are right that there are quite a few similarities to tropical parts of Mexico. But maybe without the bribes and corrupt police force?

Thank you for posting a contrary, non-popular opinion. Glowing reports of every destination are of no true benefit to travelers. We might as well just read the tourist office pamphlets.

--- Rene

When a recent sighting was posted on TUG for a bulk bank of weeks in Costa Rica, I was quite tempted. I've watched the supply, with availability over a two year period, dwindle. This would be a great exchange from what I can tell.

I am not a fan of Mexico either and many of the things that were bothersome to you would, indeed, impact my enjoyment of a vacation.

There are a couple of other areas (inside and outside the US) that the "majority" love (not just on TUG). While these areas have fantastic offerings, things like the smell of urine and vomit, extreme panhandling, safety concerns, and among other things, a general dislike of tourists by locals, make these destinations places that we will bypass. While we will miss out on many great things, I know that the inherent negatives would definitely diminish our overall enjoyment.

There are still so many places, not yet visited, that there's no need to try to make an "iffy" place work.

As you said, Marcy, "Everyone likes something different, if everyone was the same, the world would be pretty boring."

Thank you for sharing. :wave:
 

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We visited Costa Rica a few years ago. Our timeshare resort was in the middle of nowhere. Iguanas joined us at the pool and we spent time on the black sand beach and hiking. We literally had to ford a river to get into town to go to dinner. Then all the electricity was out which made it very difficult to find the restaurant in the dark! We ate by candle light and there were only a couple things on the menu that had been prepared before the power outage. Almost all the roads were "gravel" which sometimes appeared to be large boulders. We visited the volcanoes and rain forest. It was an amazing experience - so much more memorable than another Marriott on a beach somewhere when they all look the same.

The bottom line is that you need to know what you are getting into and what your tolerance level is for a vacation that is not 5* American accommodations.

Deb
 

ronandjoan

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I, too, dislike "flaming" posts.

That said, I can only say that my very favorite vacation ( and if you read our BLOG, we ve been going a lot lately) was in Costa Rica but we did not timeshare, and most importantly, we did not drive. Agreed, that would have been horrendous.

We flew to Liberia and took a shuttle 1 1/2 hours to Samara, a village on the Pacific coast to a vrbo place. I will not give the "glowing glitzy" review that maybe you are talking about ... But, it could not have been better .

October 2012 , rainy season, so everything was green. They said the dry season , although more popular, things are brown not green.

Being a small town was good, probably better than your experience. Owners of the vrbo were from the US so maybe that was another plus for a positive visit. Their house was on an adjoining property so very helpful.
 
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taterhed

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Marcy...thanks for sharing.

In a kind/funny way....

We've found that many places offer amazing vacation/learning experiences. That said, there are many that I wouldn't return to...at least not regularly.

Greece is amazing. But, talk about hostile...yikes. Italy is a must see and one of the most historical sites on earth. But, dear lord in heaven above...the driving there is eye-watering to say the least. Our hotel driver took a parking lot (really) at 40 mph as shortcut. Plus, there are few if any lanes in some parts--just lots of cars pretending there are! And, if you don't like the street crowds that beg/hustle the tourists, then you can pretty much write-off the larger portions of several land-masses/continents where the tourists swarm like bees. BTW: we had a family vacation at Riviera Maya a few years back... We drove, ate in town and shopped at a local grocery. We had a fine time. It was very relaxing. I think one of the most memorable moments was when my son commented on how different the local shops and businesses were from the tourist-ready shops found close to the resort areas. How right he was.

So, I think you're not alone. There's nothing wrong with liking Hawaii or Aruba or Hilton Head. But, I think it's important (for me) to see and appreciate other parts of the world as well. Thanks for sharing your experience.
 

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I also found Costa Rica to be disappointing (a generous word that has been tempered by time) I think mostly because it is so hyped.
We made the mistake of renting a car. My GPS did not work there and there are NO STREET NAMES!! NONE! Directions are given by approximate distances to landmarks that they only know about. On top of that, in the hundreds of times that we stopped to ask for directions, I think only ONE person said they did not know. Everyone else offered something, even if they had no clue, very frustrating. People were not friendly. Very aggressive monkeys on the beach, not cute...Food was outrageously priced, in fact everything is over priced.

I have traveled all over and I get it that not every place should be compared to Hawaii or Aruba. I had a Thai massage (where you keep your clothes on) in Bangkok that cost $15 for an hour. Based on that price, I did not expect swanky resort surroundings, just a clean one. But if you are going to charge me American prices, then give me American service.
 

klpca

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Your post is valuable perhaps about Costa Rica (where I have not visited) but about travel in general. You will have the best vacation if you keep in mind what will be a deal breaker for you on vacation. I know that I can't stand crowds and I don't like the heat (unless it is a resort trip). A trip to a crowded city in the summer would be miserable for me - as in there is no point in going. Usually I can make the best of things in nearly any circumstance, but hot and crowded gets the best of me every time. We also limit our driving in foreign countries. It stresses me out which then stresses out my husband. We take trains if possible and supplement with buses, taxis, private drivers and tours if necessary. (I hate tours almost more than anything too, lol). This works out perfectly for us.

Travel is supposed to be fun, and everyone's idea of fun is different. The best that you can do is try to read as many reviews as possible and see what people are saying - kind of reading between the lines - and see if that fits with what you want to do on vacation. Some of the things that people mention don't bother them but would bother you. We have friends who took a trip to Viet Nam and Cambodia in October. They had a great time. They ate fried tarantulas and saw the killing fields in Cambodia, flew on sketchy planes between cities and loved the cultural diversity. After hearing their trip report I knew that this was not for me. That would just be roughing it a bit too much for me. I'll be passing for now.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'll let you know how our trip to Costa Rica goes in 2017. I took one of those bulk units that showed up in RCI :)
 

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Panama is much safer than Costa Rica. Not as touristy but cheaper and more american. Still not for everyone. For everyone thinking Costa Rica is expensive try living there on a fraction of the US poverty line.

Also unkept gravel roads are better then unkept blacktop roads.
 

mlpmd56

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Thanks!

First of all, thanks everyone for not flaming me! I was staying at the Marriott only because my conference was there. I love my private little owner managed timeshare in Hawaii--so I don't have to have a "name" hotel. (I have owned both Marriott and Westin timeshares and sold them because I resented the gouging maintenance fees.) I too experienced misdirection by locals, maps had absolutely no resemblance to the actual roads, and distances were grossly inaccurate (and yes I know the difference between kilometers and miles! ;)) We did see some cool iguanas hanging around. I liked that alot. Taking a bus or hiring a driver would not solve the problem for me--I am scared whenever drivers are driving dangerously. And as for "bribes" the rental agent at the Avis agency advised us to offer a bribe if we got pulled over!
 

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Thanks for sharing. I am planning a trip during Easter week and this info will help me better plan.
 

ronandjoan

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Thanks for sharing. I am planning a trip during Easter week and this info will help me better plan.

What area are you going to? There are so many varied places. I wanted to go to rhe volcano but DH said we live by MT St helens so ... And we just got back from Hawaii... But they are all different. I wanted to go to the cloud forest too.. Could have done each if those with a tour from where we were ( which was on the Pacific coast, 6 hr drive from San Jose, 1 1/2 hr from Liberia. ). We did take a 2 he tour south to see the turtles hatch their eggs which was great .
 

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Greece is amazing. But, talk about hostile...yikes.

i was surprised to read this comment, because that wasn't our experience when we did a trip there last year. It's probably another example of how different people's tripsto the same country can be based on where they stayed, how they traveled, etc.

We were on a tour that included a small cruise boat to several Gtreek islands plus some time in Athens. it was shortly after the rounds of Greek bailouts and financial restrictions, so I'm sure many Greeks were not happy. But we generally felt welcome and were treated well.

i do appreciate reading about others' experiences, though, because it always helps to learn more about places. i know we aren't fans of some places that others love, so I enjoy understanding why that is.
 

taterhed

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i was surprised to read this comment, because that wasn't our experience when we did a trip there last year. It's probably another example of how different people's tripsto the same country can be based on where they stayed, how they traveled, etc.

We were on a tour that included a small cruise boat to several Gtreek islands plus some time in Athens. it was shortly after the rounds of Greek bailouts and financial restrictions, so I'm sure many Greeks were not happy. But we generally felt welcome and were treated well.

i do appreciate reading about others' experiences, though, because it always helps to learn more about places. i know we aren't fans of some places that others love, so I enjoy understanding why that is.

Ours was before the bailout and in the city several years ago. It was near a military installation. Apparently, the locals were not fond of Americans at that time and expressed their displeasure at night by randomly throwing yogurt at Americans from mopeds. Not a great time.
I'm sure it's changed in the last few years. I'm sure that same anti-American or anti-tourist sentiment can be found from time-to-time at lots of places around the world.

Watching the movie 'No-escape' made me think a bit too.... But its just a movie. Spoiler alert: If you're planning to go to Thailand anytime soon? Don't watch No-Escape before you go. :ignore:
 

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We had a wonderful vacation in Costa Rica about five years ago.

We stayed in a very nice bed and breakfast in a town called Grecia halfway up the mountain. The climate there is very mild, so that typical houses are built with neither heating nor air conditioning.

We did not rent a car, instead using a driver provided by the B&B. One day we went in to San Jose and saw the opera house and the gold museum. We also took trips to the Arenal volcano, a coffee plantation, and the botanical gardens.

We found a nice restaurant that was serving good steaks and seafood for about a third of what we would pay in the US. I think we went there most nights, taking a cab. One night we had pizza delivered.

For us, it was five days of slow-paced relaxation. We will definitely go back, probably to the same spot.

Edit: By the way, we ran into several Americans who were retired there. I seem to recall a consensus that after spending $200,000 or so building an American-style house, a couple could then live on $1,000 per month.
 
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Edit: By the way, we ran into several Americans who were retired there. I seem to recall a consensus that after spending $200,000 or so building an American-style house, a couple could then live on $1,000 per month.

Not sure what the exchange rate is now but a $1000 a month will not get you much in Costa Rica.
 

ronandjoan

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For people interested in Costa Rica vacation info, as was the OP's topic , the December issue of Costco's magazine , page 87, has interesting info.
 

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To answer previous questions--We went last month in November. Still a LOT of rain, but it is the shoulder for rainy season in November. Would not complain about that! However, having everything leafy and green prevented me from seeing any monkeys or toucans despite paying a "guide." I did get to HEAR a toucan. Smile. I too would have enjoyed seeing turtles hatch, or certainly would have appreciated renting a house from an expat. Again, different strokes for different folks. Dirty Hiltons, constant panhandling, Montezuma's revenge, and extremely dangerous driving pretty much exclude a place from my planning a return trip. Those four are all deal breakers for me. Have traded for St. Lucia for next November. Hoping that is a better fit--at least for me!
 

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So sorry you had such a bad experience, it seems almost unbelievable . We saw monkeys every day! And right in the trees by our room.

We saw no panhandlers (unlike always in Mexico) and did not attempt driving after studying the insurance rules . Neither did we have any digestive problems.


Perhaps other visitors can learn from your experiences and plan differently.
 

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What area are you going to? There are so many varied places. I wanted to go to rhe volcano but DH said we live by MT St helens so ... And we just got back from Hawaii... But they are all different. I wanted to go to the cloud forest too.. Could have done each if those with a tour from where we were ( which was on the Pacific coast, 6 hr drive from San Jose, 1 1/2 hr from Liberia. ). We did take a 2 he tour south to see the turtles hatch their eggs which was great .

We are flying into Liberia and staying at the Westin Playa del Conchal in a suite (I am SPG Plat so I am hoping for a nice upgrade) for 5 nights and then going to Panama to the Westin Playa Bonita.

We got the all inclusive package at the Westin Playa del Conchal but are open to eat outside if it looks safe and smells good. We are thinking about renting a car. Not afraid to drive on narrow roads as I have done extensive driving in Mexico in narrow/hilly roads.

I'll take any advice you can offer. Specially anything related to seeing turtles and snorkeling.
 

Helios

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BTW, the Westin is located in Guanacaste.
 

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This is a useful and well modulated thread! Thanks to all who have posted.

We traveled to Costa Rica as a family (kids ages 8-13 at the time) and had a great trip. But:

1) renting a car and driving ourselves was awful. The roads were winding and dangerous, the AC in our car quit, and it was just generally terrifying. The travel time is much longer than the distances would suggest, and GPS did not work for us either. As already stated, no road signs. AT ALL>

2) Perhaps because of where we were, we did not experience any panhandling. We stayed at the Springs Resort near the Arenal Volcano (highly recommend, would go back any time! $$$ though), then an actual tree house in the jungle (super rustic, saw lots of monkeys), and finally at the Hilton in Guanacaste. It was just okay but my kids loved it because it was all inclusive :)

3) This year, I just went back to mexico for the first time since my honeymoon this year after 23 years of traveling the world...and almost immediately booked a second trip! So I went in Feb and Nov both of this year because I figured out a way to make it work for my needs. Like OP, I don't like the constant panhandling but I deliberately chose were I stayed based on lack of access. Playa Grande in Cabo has zero panhandling because people can't get to the beach except through the resort. Walking through town, I had to curb my normally friendly greetings to people we passed to avoid inviting a sales pitch. The only bad experience in Mexico was renting a car on the Feb trip. We got deliberately bad directions from Avis, picking car up took FOREVER, the car was only 1/2 full of gas, we got the "mandatory insurance" scam thing (which I got my credit card company to reverse after coming home), and it just wasn't worth it.

I'd go back to Cabo for sure (can't speak to other parts of Mexico) or Costa Rica but wouldn't rent a car either place.

I do like Aruba and Hawaii better than either place, but there is such good availability of exchanges into luxury timeshares in Mexico and it is faster / cheaper to get there.

Thanks for starting the thread, OP
 
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We are flying into Liberia and staying at the Westin Playa del Conchal in a suite (I am SPG Plat so I am hoping for a nice upgrade) for 5 nights and then going to Panama to the Westin Playa Bonita.

We got the all inclusive package at the Westin Playa del Conchal but are open to eat outside if it looks safe and smells good. We are thinking about renting a car. Not afraid to drive on narrow roads as I have done extensive driving in Mexico in narrow/hilly roads.

I'll take any advice you can offer. Specially anything related to seeing turtles and snorkeling.

It's not that the roads are narrow, it is that they are gravel and rock. The gravel is not small pieces but giant boulders in places. You will need a 4x4 and be prepared to drive slowly and dodge the boulders. You may also find some roads washed out or crossed with streams that you have to ford. It is all part of the adventure! Just be prepared.

Deb
 
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