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Been to Costa Rica? How did you book?

Hubby and I are looking to spend our 1 year anniversary in Costa Rica in Jan or Feb this winter. I would like to book this myself online as opposed to a travel agent as I think thats where the best deals are. But I guess I am so used to searching for like Carribean all-inclusive type trips that I dont really know how to look for deals or book this type of trip? Can anyone else that has been to CR or any Central American country for that matter point me in the right direction? I feel like all the traditional travel sites I know of are like all-inclusive deals which I dont really want. I'd like to split my trip up to stay in a few different regions and really explore the country. Help!
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Re: Been to Costa Rica? How did you book?

  • Just book your flight through one of the travel sites. I am very adventurous, so the way I did it was just booked my first & last night hotel. I was there for 14days, so I rented a car and just drove around the country staying as much or as little as I wanted in any given region.

    Highly recommend Fodor's or The Lonely Plant before going to see what you do/dont want to do.

    I did the whitewater rafting, and zip-lining while there. They were amazing!!! I also did the horse trails to some waterfalls that were spectacular. They also have hot air balloon rides that are great... Arenal and the hot springs are a must. So much to see!

    Have fun and just figure out what/where you want to go.

  • CR can be a little confusing at first but it's actually very easy. I highly recommend the forums on Trip Advisor...the Costa Rica forum is excellent with some very helpful posters.

    We booked our flights directly through the airline (which is what I normally do anyway).

    We booked hotels directly with the hotels themselves.

    We booked our transportation (semi-private though I'd do either private or drive myself next time) directly, though I can't remember the name.

    Some tours we booked ourselves directly with the company before leaving home (SkyTrek in Arenal for ziplining, Juan Brenes/Antigua Tours for our mangrove tour and our park tour in Manuel Antonio) and some through arenal.net, which is part of anywherecostarica.com. It's a legitimate travel website that you can book hotels, tours, etc., through. We wanted to go to EcoTermales hot springs and this was the only way to book it. They might be a good option for you as the prices were the same as what you'd pay directly to the hotels, plus they are fairly comprehensive so it's a good way to see what your options are around the country. Some tour operators offer a discount for prebooking online, so definitely check that out.

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  • 1.  We started by researching regions and figuring out which places we wanted to visit.  The roads are rough and curvy so travel times in CR are long.  Because of this we decided that with 8 nights total (amount of time DH had off work) we had time to visit 2 places.  We chose Manuel Antonio for the rainforest and beach and Arenal for the volcano and activities.  I suggest picking up some CR guide books and read about the regions to get an idea of what you'd like for your vacation.     

    2.  Then we read about how to get to these locations.  San Jose was the closest airport to MA and Arenal so that's where we flew in and out and booked flights directly through the airline.  In CR you can take public transportation, hire a private driver, or take domestic flights with Nature Air and Sansa to the local airports (again, booked directly through these airlines).  We chose to take domestic flights to cut back on travel time, but this may not be the top and most convenient choice for everyone since the flights leave at certain times of the day.

    3.  We chose hotels after asking around here, reading guide book suggestions, and reviews on Trip Advisor.  There are a lot of hotels in CR at all prices so once you have an idea of where in the country you'd like to go and set a budget then come back here and this board may have some good suggestions.  FWIW, since we were on our honeymoon we splurged for Arenas del Mar (loved!) in MA and Arenal Nayara (we had mixed feelings on this one) in Arenal.  We booked directly through the hotels on their websites.

    HTH and let me know if you have any specific questions!     

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  • I checked out a guidebook from the library first and started watching fares on Kayak.com. I used the guidebook to figure out what regions to visit and get a sense of hotels. Then I went to Trip Advisor for more info on hotels. We've been twice- our first trip we didn't have ANYTHING booked but we went in November and didn't have any issues  at all. We went to Arenal and Montezuma. For our second trip we went to Arenal again and Manuel Antonio. If you want to do one stop shopping, check out Latin Destinations.com. I haven't booked through them (I think the searching and planning is half the fun) but they are a reputable company. And there are a ton of us here who've been to CR. Don't be shy!
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  • we got an awesome deal from expedia for air and hotel.

    price things out and then compare with a TA if you want to see who has the best price.

    Friday, December 28 2012. The day I had emergency appendix surgery in Mexico and quit smoking. Proof that everything has a good side!! DH and I are happily child-free!! No due date or toddler tickers here!! my read shelf:
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  • We went for our anniversary and booked everything ourselves. It's really easy!

    Here are the steps we took: 
    1. Did much reading on CR online and from guidebooks. Highly recommend Fodor's forums and TripAdvisor, as well as the Lonely Planet guidebook.
    2. Decide what areas you want to visit, as well as budget and trip length. How many places you go can be decided by how long you have. (Takes 3-5 hours to go between the major areas of interest.)
    3. Build out an itinerary. (I've listed mine below as an example.) Fodorites have posted many of their own, and they helped immensely!
    4. Decide which hotels you want to stay at. (Again, Fodor's forums and TripAdvisor.)
    5. Decide on activities requiring reservations (e.g. whitewater trips).
    6. Book it! Flights + Hotels + Transport between locations

    We booked directly with each agency (airline, hotel, etc). No problems. Most hotel owners are great over email and do well with English. We used Interbus to go between locations. Booked through their website, which isn't the most user friendly, but wasn't difficult either. No problems. (Highly recommend!) We also used a private driver for the Monteverde-Manual Antonio leg. It's a 5+ hour drive, so we wanted someone to tell us about CR and spend time with a local. Definitely worth the splurge ($100-150) if you can afford it.

    Our itinerary:
    Day 1 - Arrive in San Jose (late at night). Overnight in San Jose.
    Day 2 - Whitewater rafting trip through Pacuare Jungle Lodge. Overnight in jungle.
    Day 3 - Whitewater rafting trip Part II. Overnight in San Jose.
    Day 4 - Interbus to Arenal. Overnight in Arenal.
    Day 5 - Arenal. Overnight in Arenal.
    Day 6 - Boat/Horse/Jeep transfer to Monteverde. Overnight in Santa Elena (MV).
    Day 7 - Monteverde. Overnight in Santa Elena (MV).
    Day 8 - Drive to Manual Antonio. Overnight in MA.
    Day 9 - Manual Antonio. Overnight in MA.
    Day 10 - Morning in MA, Interbus to San Jose. Overnight SJ.
    Day 11 - Fly home.

    Some random notes/thoughts:
    - The Pacuare Jungle Lodge is amazing. Was a splurge for us, but beyond worth it. We only did one night, but could have easily stayed longer. Awesome rapids.
    - Santa Elena is right next to Monteverde. 5 minute drive, maybe.

    If you want more info, feel free to ask! I've posted info about my trip multiple times and can repost. There are also others on this board who have been to CR and can give you their thoughts.

    Very easy to book on your own - go for it! 

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  • image OUKatie:

    CR can be a little confusing at first but it's actually very easy. I highly recommend the forums on Trip Advisor...the Costa Rica forum is excellent with some very helpful posters.

    We booked our flights directly through the airline (which is what I normally do anyway).

    We booked hotels directly with the hotels themselves.

    We booked our transportation (semi-private though I'd do either private or drive myself next time) directly, though I can't remember the name.

    Some tours we booked ourselves directly with the company before leaving home (SkyTrek in Arenal for ziplining, Juan Brenes/Antigua Tours for our mangrove tour and our park tour in Manuel Antonio) and some through arenal.net, which is part of anywherecostarica.com. It's a legitimate travel website that you can book hotels, tours, etc., through. We wanted to go to EcoTermales hot springs and this was the only way to book it. They might be a good option for you as the prices were the same as what you'd pay directly to the hotels, plus they are fairly comprehensive so it's a good way to see what your options are around the country. Some tour operators offer a discount for prebooking online, so definitely check that out.

    We did this same thing pretty much. We booked our flights early (as in months in advance) into and out of San Jose.  Then I did some more research to figure out where we wanted to stay and what hotels were recommended in the area.

    We went at the beginning of February this past year and the weather in/around Arenal was great. It would rain heavily for maybe 20 minutes in the morning and then be beautiful for the rest of the day. 

    We stayed at Arenal Nayara and had a wonderful time. Feel free to ask specific questions about the hotel if you're interested.

    ExerciseMilestone
  • Amazing thanks so much! Sounds like everyone does the booking pretty much seperately vs an all-in-one trip website. So heres my new plan: Start reading up on the areas so I can narrow down my 2 regions. Then I can figure out which airport makes sense to fly into and thus flight shop. Then I can find hotels and excursions accordingly. Thanks guys!
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  • Lived and worked in Panama and Costa Rica for 2 1/2 years and used to travel back and forth quite a bit.  I would just book your flight through any of the discount travel sites. 

    Then just do internet research and book various hotels or a hotel through that.  I do recommend traveling around the country, instead of staying in just one place.  It's a gorgeous country. 

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  • image laurakaz13:

    Lived and worked in Panama and Costa Rica for 2 1/2 years and used to travel back and forth quite a bit.  I would just book your flight through any of the discount travel sites. 

    Then just do internet research and book various hotels or a hotel through that.  I do recommend traveling around the country, instead of staying in just one place.  It's a gorgeous country. 

    Since you have experience with the country, I could use some advice. Ok so I am basically set on 1 week- 3 days in Arenal and the rest on a beach area somewhere. I am looking for relaxing, beautiful beaches for snorkeling and sun. Also a rainforest with activities like zipline (but I'm sure I will do this Arenal area) and not super touristy areas like I have heard Tamarindo is. So that being said I have been recommended to either Manual Antonio area or Uvita or on the South Guanacaste area -Nicoya, Santa Theresa. So which beach area would you recommend for me? So confused!

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