Author Topic: Costa Rica Trip Report January 17-25 2024  (Read 1609 times)

Offline itreu001

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Costa Rica Trip Report January 17-25 2024
« on: January 28, 2024, 04:30:45 PM »
We just had an amazing trip to CR with our family. 

We will share our experiences in order to pass it on. 

The idea of this trip started with a crazy sale on Jet Blue in March of 2023 of rt from JFK for about $450.00 we used points. We are also Mosaic on JB which means we all get 2 free bags, they do not weight our bags and we all get free extra leg room and have status at check in and boarding.  Traveling with a family makes this invaluable and has contributed to our quality of travel.  

Check in was at Terminal 5 which means no lounges. 

The flight was full and landed on time at about 10pm. 

Customs in San Jose was quick but they did not allow chicken/meat in. 

We needed a car to fit 6 people and our luggage. So we needed to rent a massive van that actually seated 11 people to fit luggage. We rented from Economy Rent a Car through Priceline. 

We always get the full insurance when flying internationally even though we use Chase Saphirre  The reason is that just processing the claim may cause us to miss a flight and that costs most than everything combined. Itís not worth the risk. 

We landed late Wednesday night and we booked an airport hotel at the Holiday Inn Express which is right by the airport and literally right by our rental car agency. Hampden Inn was right there as well. They are IHG so one room was free on points and the other $167. We had to pay because they only allowed a King bed on points and doubles you had to pay for. At the end of the day all the rooms were double. 

The hotel was functional and they had breakfast in the morning. We were able to eat cereal and fruit. 

In order to get kosher food in CR you MUST have the kosher list. It is on an app. 

The link is: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mobincube.kosher_cis_cr.sc_E8RYF4

It ONLY works on an android phone. 

We donít have one, so I bought a burner phone at CVS for $30 and connected it to WiFi and never activated it and it worked. Download the app and the nationwide kosher list are there. You donít need internet to access the app. 

There is kosher milk, cheese and bread (Bimbo) from local companies throughout the country using the app/list in addition to imported goods. 

There is also kosher ice cream from Pops which has branches throughout the country as well as in the frozen section. 

PalŪ and MaxiPali are supermarkets owned by WalMart. They have a decent selection of kosher items. Use the app. Other chains also have stuff as well. If the Supermarket caters to tourists they will have more items as well. Cereals have hechshers from Mexico. 

Driving in Costa Rica: 

We were very worried reading all the trip reports and other guides about driving in CR. We did not have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We made sure to ask all of the places where we were going in advance if a 4 wheel drive vehicle was required, and we confirmed that none were. We also did not drive on any backroads at night, this prevented us from getting any flat tires as well. 

Costa Rica is a 3rd world country and makes Mexico look rich. Most bridges on roads are only 1 lane, and it slows everything down. Most other highways are only 2 lanes. There are very very few limited access roads in the country and are mostly confined to San Jose. Do your homework in advance where you will be going. Make sure your tires are full of air and make sure you have enough gas before you drive, because you may be going up steep hills at high grades and have limited access to fuel. 

Use Waze to navigate, DO NOT use google maps. Also assume that your trip will take longer than Waze says, budget extra time. If Waze says 2 hours, budget 2.5, if its 3.5, budget 4.

Another thing you need to know, that even though driving distances are not that long, it will take a long time to get from place a to place b, speeding will not make it faster. You can't go on these roads any faster. Watch out for people on scooters, bikes, and on motorcycles, and people walking. 

The other thing is that there are approximately 4 areas for tourists in CR. a) jaco and pacific beach area b) Liberia Beach area c) Arenal/La Fortuna d) Monteverde.
Each one of these are hours away from each other. Unless you have weeks in CR, don't try to do all 4, or you will be spending much time driving. Pick 2 (or three) and enjoy. 

Also, based on my research and talking with people from CR, there is literally nothing to do in San Jose. It is also no safe to park your car with luggage in it unless you are at a paid parking lot.  Our airport hotel at a 24 hour security guard at the parking lot and was not permitted to leave even for a second. The airport technically is in a different city and is 30 minutes from the Jewish community at a minimum. Factor that in to your planning.  

Thursday morning we left in the morning to the Jaco area, where we were to stay at the Los Suenos Marriott (on CSR points, and Marriott points and a little cash). It is about a 2.5-3 hour drive from the Airport. On the way we stopped at the bridge at Tarcoles where there are massive crocodiles to see. There is also a POPS store there as well. 

We then went to our hotel and dropped off our luggage. One of our rooms were ready, and we went to our next stop.

The Marriott is a really nice resort. Breakfast was only included with one of our rooms. They have cereal and fruit we could eat. Because one of our rooms was a suite we had a free Cabana, and 25% off anything on the resort. The pools are gorgeous, and the beach a bit rocky. They have a world class gold course, had a nice gym, sauna etc...They also have soccer, a kids club, mini golf. Also on the grounds they have apartments with kitchens, but we were not able to book them as they were sold out. 

We then went ATVing at Los Suenos Adventure tours. We went here because of the proximity of our hotel as it was 15 minutes away. We all had a great time. 

Sometimes when planning I use google maps to see what is in the area, and logistically it gives a good idea of what can and cannot work. 

We then went back to our rooms and everyone went to the pool and beach.

Costa Rica, because it is close to the equator, basically has a 12 hour day year round with sunrise around 6am and getting dark about 6pm. (it varies a little but not too much).

Once the sun set, we then drove 20 minutes to Jaco, to Sabress Kosher Restaurant in Jaco, for dinner. Their website is https://izusplace.com/.

I had been messaging with Toni, the owner for weeks before and she was extremely helpful and courteous. 

The food was Israeli style food and varied enough for our entire party of 10, and everyone left full and satisfied. 

We ordered food for shabbos from there in advance. You really need to reach out to them at least 2 weeks in advance to order food for shabbat if you are not staying there for shabbat. Their Shabbat prices for catering (minimum 5 people) are $88pp and includes wine, challah, and desert along with mains and sides. The food was delicious, and was more than enough for all of us and we ate the food all week as well.

After dinner we shopped at MaxiPali in Jaco (Make sure to buy the Sanissmo tortilla crackers with the local hashgacha (they make kosher rice cakes also), it was a big hit with our party), they are sold everywhere. 

We then went back to the resort and everyone went to the pool which closes at 11pm.

Friday morning, our party split up, some of us played golf, and others drove the 90 minutes to Manuel Antonio National Park. You need to budget 2 hours, as we will explain.
The Park limits attendance to the park. YOU MUST buy a timed ticket to the park in advance online. Otherwise you can't get in. We did it two weeks in advance. The trick is, they don't care about the time when you get there. You just need to have a ticket for the day. 

The website is here: https://www.sinac.go.cr/ES/ac/acopac/pnma/Paginas/default.aspx

You need to set up an account before you buy anything. Also you can only buy 5 tickets at a time, so if you need more, buy 5 and then buy more again. 

Based on our research (and our experience) you really need to have a guide take you around, or you will just walk around and see nothing. Toni from Sabress sent us a guide and it was $25pp. His name was Barney and his number was 50683402805 on Whattsapp. They had their own parking lot and were right near the entrance to the park. They were much cheaper than other guides and were good. The price does not include admission to the park which you need to have in advance. 

We spent about 2 hours in the park and saw sloths, birds, snakes, and monkeys. The beach in the park is fantastic. The problem with the park is that they do not allow any food, and any drink has to be in a reusable container, because they don't want garbage in the park. The only snack shop in the park at at least a thirty minute wait. We didn't wait. 

On our way back we went to pick up the shabbos food in jaco, but there was a fatal accident on the highway and it took an hour longer than expected. 

We then returned to the resort for shabbos and spent shabbos there. 

Motzoi shabbos we went to POPS right outside of the resort (10 minutes) and to SuperMercado which is right there. It has many American Products with hechshers, but was twice of the price of any supermarket we went to in CR. Back to the resort and the pool.

Sunday morning checkout was noon, but we left by 11 as we had a 4 hour drive to La Fortuna, where we rented an Airbnb. The trip was an adventure. winding roads uphill and downhill some were two lanes some one lane, but we got there. Thank goodness I had a diesel engine. 

Our Airbnb was really nice, we had coconut trees, a starfruit tree, a sloth living on grounds, a pool, even hot peppers that grew there. It was nice for tu bishvat. We were a ten drive west from La Fortuna. 

Kosher food in La Fortuna

There are a bunch of Supermarkets there. There is also a Pops for ice cream. You really need the kosher list to help you with dairy products, bread, and snacks. 
Super Rosvil and Mega Super had the most Kosher Products (also MaxiPali), and both of them even have kosher wine (Manischewitz) for Shabbos if needed. 

Monday we went to Sky Adventures Arenal - https://skyadventures.travel/

We went ziplining, hanging bridges and there is a gondola to take you up with breathtaking views of the Lake and volcano.

It is about 30 minutes from La Fortuna and the road is paved. You don't need 4WD to access the place. We had a great time. I think Mystico Hanging Bridges might have better and more bridges, but timing wise this worked for us and was good. We paid a little extra for guided tour which allows you to see some wildlife you wouldn't have seen otherwise. 

We were there from 1130am-5pm. 

Tuesday we went Horseback riding and to La Fortuna Falls - at Arenal Mundo Adventure Park which is 3 minutes from La Fortuna. We used a fixer Carlos who did it for a cheaper price. His number is 50684753719. It was horseback riding, and then a hike to La Fortuna Falls and then the reverse. There was no charge for the Park entrance which is normally $22.00, so it was a pretty good deal. We had a great time.

We were there from 1-5pm

Wednesday we went to Baldi Hot Springs for a Day Pass. Their website is https://www.baldihotsprings.cr/daypass/

There are 4 major water slides, and tubs, pools and everything else. Their website says no food allowed but nobody checked us, so we brought in snacks. The day pass is from 9am-10pm, and the water slides are open until 7pm. We were there from 11am-5pm. We had a great time. 

Thursday was a travel day back home.

We left our Airbnb at 1030. We drove to The Kosher Center in San Jose, which is takeout and sitdown restaurant. They would have delivered to us in the mountains for $280.00 but we did not do it. They also would have prepared food for us earlier, but we didn't need it because we got food in Jaco. 

We got there at 2pm. We had a sitdown lunch and ordered dinner to go for our night flight. After lunch we drove 35 minutes to a mall right near the airport called City Mall. It was safe to park in the garage, even with our luggage. There is a POPS there. We walked around, and there is an arcade and VR place on the 4th Floor, where the kids spent a bunch of time. 

We then got gas, returned our cars, and then checked in for our 1120pm flight back to JFK.

Check in as Mosaic was 1-2-3 and security was 1-2-3.

The lounges close at 8pm so we couldn't go to any lounge. Most of the stores close at 8pm as well. We ate dinner in the airport, Had a massive maariv minyan as well, and boarded our flight. 

We landed around 5am, and customs at terminal 5 wasn't open yet, so they bussed us to terminal 4. This was good, because getting an UBER at terminal 5 is ridiculous, and we got our luggage and went home.

I hope that his is helpful to anyone planning a trip to CR. Feel free to PM me with any questions. 

Offline g8trgr8t

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Re: Costa Rica Trip Report January 17-25 2024
« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2024, 09:15:33 PM »
Los Suenos has some of the best pools we have found. It used to be my goto cat 5 hotel. Just enjoy the layout and the breakfasts are great. There is also a world class sportfishing marina within walking distance and some very good waterfront restaurants int he marina village.

the atv tours up to the waterfalls were worth the investment as was the ziplining at Monte Verde


the night tours in the cloud forests were interesting. lots of things out at night that you don't see during the day. so much to do, so many things to see and do. Volcano will have to wait
« Last Edit: January 28, 2024, 09:19:14 PM by g8trgr8t »

Offline Mareh Makom

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Re: Costa Rica Trip Report January 17-25 2024
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2024, 03:25:38 PM »
Great and detailed info