Monday, February 20, 2017

Costa Rica

Costa Rica.At the very end of 2016 we have booked our next vacation. We as a whole family — kids, us and my parents — are going to Costa Rica in the beginning of April. Again. We have been to Costa Rica before — in 2013. Arosha was two and a half years old and only remembers anything from the pictures we showed him. Anюta has technically been to Costa Rica too, but I doubt she remembers much considering she was inside of Alёna’s belly.

Last time we stayed in Hilton Papagayo Resort which was less than stellar — one of those rare cases when Hilton actually disappointed us. And this time around it simply doesn’t exist anymore — has been sold off to some other company. We haven’t done many all-inclusive vacations, but the one that stands out the most was in Mexico when we stayed in Riu Palace. So we opted in to stay at Riu Palace Costa Rica. Continue Reading

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Exploring Costa Rica

Our Toyoto RAV4 at Santa Rosa National Park.As I noted in my previous post, not being confined to the extents of our resort by virtue of having a rented car and going out to actually explore some nearby parts of Costa Rica was the most fun part of this vocation for me. We made two such excursions, since it’s still hard for Arosha to spend so much time sitting in the car.

Scenic view stop.Luckily for us two places that we picked out to visit turned out to be vastly different from each other. The whole ecosystem reminded me of our trip to Big Island of Hawaii. On one side of the island there is an eternal summer with very high temperatures and dry climate and only 60 miles away there is an non-stop rain with lush green forests. Costa Rica is very similar in this regard and we got to see both sides of the so-called coin here.

Santa Rosa National Park


Trails of Santa Rosa National Park.In the morning of our second full day in Costa Rica we got into our car, turned on our GPS and headed North in the direction of Santa Rosa National park — the closest destination we could find. Right across the road from Santa Rosa there was another park — Guanacaste National Park, but as we later found out the park was closed to visitors.

Arosha in a hole of a volcanic stone.Soon after we were at the park entrance. It was very easy to find and especially so with GPS’s assistance. At the entrance we were given a map and a nice explanation of what’s worth seeing in the park by a nice and very polite young guy with very good English. The entrance to the park was $10 per person.

Dry tropical forest of Santa Rosa.Soon after we came to appreciate the fact that we rented a 4×4, because there is no way we would’ve gotten through to any of our destinations by the so-called road on any other car. It was not paved and it was covered in rocks and in certain places with deep muddy puddles. The ride that was only 12 kilometers long took us not less than an hour.

Creepy tree at Santa Rosa.We did 3 hikes. One fairly long one — 1.6km each way and two shorter ones. The park was not at all what we expected Costa Rica to look like. It was a dry tropical forest and March being the peak of a dry season made the forest look pretty much dead. The temperature was in the 90s so the hikes themselves were quite exhausting, especially with the fact that Arosha expired very quickly and one of us had to carry him as he didn’t want to walk by himself anymore.

Santa Rosa hiking trail.We did get to see the canyons at the end of the hike and later on — our third hike — even got onto the shores of open Pacific Ocean. And even though it is called Pacific it was anything but. The waves were just humongous. The beach was deserted and nobody wanted to risk getting into that water, but it was beautiful.

Iguana.We also saw a whole lot of iguanas. Arosha even tried to catch one — and hit it on the head with the stick as he claims, but luckily for that iguana it was a lot faster than Arosha was. But now every time we mention an iguana he points out he wanted to hit it on the head with a stick, but was unable.

Open Pacific Ocean. Naranjo Beach.At the end of the day we were quite exhausted. The unpaved road back took a long while, and we were extremely pleased to finally get onto the highway and drive back to our hotel. The only thing is that for some reason our rental car came with no cruise control and it’s really hard to go long distances without it once you get used to such a convenience. My foot was ready to fall off by the time we got back.

Second Excursion Planning


Naranjo Beach.At this point we really wanted to see the Costa Rica that we imagined before the trip — lush green rain forests. However research proved to be very difficult. The information that comes up is often that on various tourist agency sites and lacks any kind of useful information for touring without a guide. There was a number of parks not too far from us, but from what we read they would either be very similar to Santa Rosa and all of them had long hikes that we would need to take to see anything. As we understood it was not really a great option for us with a 2 year old.

Unpaved road at Santa Rosa.One place that was often mentioned was Monteverde cloud forests. But from what I could find online it really is more of an area than a park and the same thing — long hikes. It took us several days to finally come up with a plan for our second, and last trip.

Arenal Volcano National Park


Green forests.A place that we were aware of before we got to Costa Rica was Arenal Volcano which in fact was located inside the national park. And even though we again couldn’t really find any good information we looked at the map of the route there and seeing as it goes along the coast of a large lake we figured it was worth a drive. We were hoping that maybe if we don’t even get to do a hike in the park we’ll catch some good views along the way. And right we were.

Lake Arenal.Remembering Hawaii I advised everyone to take sweaters because the temperature could change dramatically with higher elevation. And as once years ago during our trip to Yosemite Alena took the sweaters for us and my parents decided it was too hot for sweaters. And were they wrong or what. As we were gaining altitude we ended up literally driving into a cloud. The mist started to set down on the windows and when we got out on a first scenic view everyone completely froze.

Monkeys in the trees.The views were magnificent and they were getting better. The fog was hugging everything around, the forest was getting greener and trees were getting taller. Near one such tree we saw a stopped car and a pair of tourists looking up. From our experience in Yellowstone it was a sure sign of wildlife. We pulled over as well and saw a whole bunch of real wild capuchin monkeys sitting in the tree, eating some exotic fruit. We we already excited — even if we don’t get to see anything else the trip was already worth it.

Coatis.We kept driving and suddenly we were surrounded by funny furry animals with long noses — about 30 of them. They were all very wet because of the rain, and they were also very hungry. Sadly Arosha has finally decided to take a nap, which didn’t last long, but he did miss all the fun. As we later learned these animals were called coatis.

Rain forest.We drove a little while longer and the forest just became irresistibly photogenic. We passed a small one lane bridge and I pulled over onto the shoulder. We got out and went back to the bridge. This was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve seen during our trip. Bright brown water of a mountain river under the bridge was surrounded by lush green forest that was in turn covered by fog, or the cloud that we’ve never left after driving into it. Such a serene place.

Dad on the one lane bridge in the middle of a cloud forest.Right while we were walking around a car with some American tourists going in the opposite direction stopped and they informed us that a couple of miles down the road there are 30 lemurs running around. And sure enough, there was another large pack of “lemurs”.

Inside a cloud.Soon after we arrived to the entrance of Arenal Volcano National Park via a relatively short unpaved road. To our surprise the park was closed for some administrative restructuring, but they were letting anyone in anyhow. On the plus side the admission fee was not collected, but on the down side there were no maps or any explanation of what we were supposed to see. However we ran into a couple of tourists and an information board with a map and it turned out that park itself wasn’t very big and all the trails were pretty self explanatory.

More coatis.First we drove all the way down to an observation area and observed a volcano which was absolutely not visible because of the earlier mentioned fog. Not even a hint of it. So we decided to take a hike to the lava fields, which we actually have seen a lot of in Hawaii. It was also lightly raining, but better rain then 90 degree heat. I gave my sweater to my mom, my dad grabbed a towel and I was pretty well covered by my hiking hat.

Trail inside Arenal Volcano National Park.The trail itself was very different from the view that we saw on the bridge along the way. The path was surrounded mostly by tall bamboo sticks which look a lot like oversized grass. I was getting a feeling that I have been shrunk by some magical device and I was walking through grass which now appeared to be gigantic. Arosha was running around trying to find the biggest leaf of fern (paporotnik in Russian) and trying to pronounce this complicated word. He came up with a number of rather funny versions.

On a rainy trail.We kept walking and walking and kept getting wetter and wetter and we suddenly decided that we’ve seen what lava fields look like before and we can live without seeing them today and just turned around. It was still a fun hike, but we didn’t get to our destination. Also all around us were signs saying something along the lines of if you melt because of lava, it’s your own damn fault, and don’t blame us. Although we heard that Arenal was actually not active right now, so there was a little chance of that happening I guess.

Arosha and coatis.We got back into our car and started driving back with numerous stops along the way. We ran into a pack of “lemurs” again on the way back and Arosha got to see them. He liked them so much that he decided to generously donate an orange he was eating at the time. And then asked for some banana and did the same.

On the road.And then we got hungry and after driving and driving decided to stop at a strange German place of all things. Everyone ate some tasty goulash that goes well with cold rainy weather and I ate some bratwurst which tasted pretty well too. Although they do some really funny math when they give you a check, but we decided not to argue too much and pay.

Arenal Volcano National Park.That’s pretty much all the events from this day that I remember. We got back to the hotel after dark, so it was a full day road trip that Arosha handled very well. We’ve seen a lot of unusual things and some amazing beautify that Costa Rica’s nature has to offer.

Conclusion


Papa at Santa Rosa.So all in all, even though we only did two trips I was very glad that we rented a car. We got to see two very different sides of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and it made the vacation much more fun than it would’ve been otherwise. It was a worthy investment without a question. Thus concludes my reporting on yet another one of our great vacations.

Fog.
1
1
2
2

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Costa Rica — Impressions

View from the balcony.Alёna already wrote about things in general, so I’ll probably be somewhat repeating her thoughts here, but here are my own impressions in a few words.

Flight


The flight was surprisingly easy. Arosha has “matured” a lot since our last trip to Dominican Republic. Even though the flight to Costa Rica was quite a bit longer he spent most of it in his seat either watching cartoons (not much at all) or looking at books, looking out of the window or just talking to us. And when he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask. The flight back went pretty much the same way.

In addition to that I myself stopped taking motion sickness pills for the flights about a year ago. I find that I actually handle flights much better lately because I’m not insanely drowsy and can just watch movies and read without falling asleep while not being able to actually sleep.

Our Hilton Papagayo resort.One interesting thing was the fact that when we landed we expected to pay an entrance fee as it usually happens at these types of destinations. We were quite surprised that there was none. However as it turned out later there is a catch after all. Even though there is no entrance fee everyone has to pay a departure tax of $30 per person. I actually would’ve rather dealt with that upon arrival than having to do all that when you’re trying to catch a plane.

Car Rental


Renting a car worked out rather well for us. I’m typically not a huge fan of beach vacations, but a car gave us an opportunity to see more of the country rather than spending it in the confines of our resort. As Alёna said I just got a decent quote from a guy in the airport — you can actually push them for a better deal, and we got the car for exactly the price that was promised to us.

Our rental — Toyota RAV4.A quick shuttle took us to their location and soon after we were in a nice Toyota RAV4 on our way to our hotel with the help of a rented GPS unit. We decided not to rent a car seat for Arosha, even though we originally planned to do so. Instead we just bought a brand new one at Wall Mart for the same price that the renal would’ve cost us and this way we were sure that it was clean and new. It was light enough and you can check it in with your luggage for free for the flight.

Vacationing.The car was big enough for us to fit four of our suitcases in and seat 5 people comfortably. Later I also was glad that we rented an SUV as some of the roads would just be not passable on a normal sedan inside the national parks. The roads around the country itself were in a quite decent condition.

Resort


We decided to stay in Hilton Papagayo Resort. However we didn’t really win much beside free Internet for all our iDevices for our Diamond VIP status. We ended up booking the vacation through a travel agency because the combined price for the flight and hotel was coming out $500 cheaper as opposed to us booking it all separately. As a result we got no points for all the money spent.

Our rooms are next to each other and 2 balconies.The property had 3 restaurants in addition to a buffet, but the food seemed quite repetitive. Italian restaurant actually had different kind of food, but the service was the worst and the food didn’t taste good. For example risottos that we ordered with Alёna were so salty that we couldn’t really eat it.

The territory itself was quite big situated on the coast of a very nice quite bay of Pacific Ocean among pretty steep mountains. There were very frequent shuttles running around, but as Alёna mentioned we ended up being pretty close to the beach, pools and main restaurants that we didn’t even need to use those shuttles.

Buffet. Checkout that fork action.Basically the moral of the story here is that as far as food goes we had the best experience at Riu Palace in Cancun and Hilton wasn’t really worth it in this situation. I think we’ll stick with Riu for our next vacation of this type if it will be available. Although maybe all the waving of my Diamond VIP card did have some effect on the rooms we got, even though we did have to move to get them.

The Beach


The beach was really nice. As I mentioned it was located on the bay and therefore there was practically no waves which can’t be said of the open coast of Pacific Ocean. When we were in one of the parks there were waves my height hitting the sand. Nobody dared to get into that water at all.

Arosha on the beach with his beach accessories.Arosha had a blast. He loved playing in the sand, jumping into the water, playing with his shovel and a bucket and all other things. He also spent a lot of time in the pools and enjoyed going from one place to another. He spent hours and hours playing and swimming throughout these days.

I on the other hand jumped into the ocean water once and preferred to spend my time hiding under a shade reading something on my iPad. I am very susceptible to sunburn and I enjoy putting on all the sunblock about as much as I enjoy the sunburn itself. Although I did swim in the pool almost every day when there was shade from the water bar covering a portion of the pool.

In the pool.Also on our last day my dad got burned by jellyfish. He had a pretty severe red line around his arm and a bad burning pain. I read that the best thing to treat this would be to spill some vinegar on it and fresh water would actually be the worst thing one could do. I suggested he goes to the diving equipment rental place that we had and ask them about it. Luckily enough the lady working there whipped out a bottle of vinegar when she heard about it and put it on his arm, so I guess it’s not a very rare occurrence there. Vinegar did help a lot. We were just glad that it happened on the last day and didn’t happen to Arosha.

Excursions


These were actually the most fun days for me, but I’ll write about them in the next post.

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Costa Rica — Vacation Start

Hilton Papagayo Resort.Vacation time came unexpectedly fast as always. As the majority of people, I dislike packing, but at least I’ve become quite efficient with it over the years. It takes me 2-3 hours on average to pack bags for the three of us, and even though I usually overpack, the amount of unused stuff nowadays makes up a considerably smaller proportion of our overall luggage than it used to.

Anyhow, we packed, we made arrangements for Shublik, we went to bed early on Suturday and got up early on Sunday. The drive to the airport was quick — we do live very close to JFK after all. Checking in and going through the security lines was a pretty fast process too. We had a flight on JetBlue.

Our first set of rooms — 404 and 406.Aroshka was excited. The best thing about the airport as far as he is concerned are escalators. He kept telling us from the moment we set foot in terminal #5 that he wants to take a ride! He had to wait for all the necessary procedures to be finished (and that included breakfast), and then he just ran to the escalators and kept going down the escalator and up the stairs (there was no escalator up) over and over and over again. By my count he did it for about 20 times before it was time for us to go and board the plane.

Our second set of rooms — 202 and 203.What I love about JetBlue planes is more spacious leg room. In majority of airplanes my knees touch seat in a row ahead, and when people lean back, it actually hurts. I don’t have this issue while flying JetBlue. We had 5 seats next to each other — Aroshka, Danya and I were on one side of the isle, and Danya’s parents on the other. Arosha got a window seat. He first watched cartoons for about 10 minutes, but got quickly bored (maybe because they were in English and he does not understand it yet). We talked to him a lot, I read one of his favorite books for a little while, he watched cartoons on iPad for a little while (no more than 20 minutes I think). He ate potato chips snack — he likes chips, but we don’t buy them, so for him it was a rare treat. He did not sleep, but we kind of expected this. I was a little worried about him using the restroom on the plane — we have not had any accidents in months, but I was not sure if unfamiliar situation will affect him — but it turned out that I had nothing to worry about.

Aroshka playing on the beach. Check out the running part.Upon our arrival to Liberia airport, we took a shuttle which drove us to Budget car rental. Danya made a few reservations with other places in advance, but at the airport he got a better price quote from the Budget representative, so we decided that there really is no point to pay extra. We rented a Toyota RAV4, and there was plenty of room for all 5 of us and all our luggage. Before the trip we bought an inexpensive car seat at Wallmart for Aroshka and brought it along. It makes me feel better to use our own car seat — not only it’s cleaner, but we also know its complete history of accidents.

The drive to our hotel was relatively short, around 20 minutes. Hilton Papagayo resort, where we stayed, is located in Guanacaste area. The bay where resort is placed is really beautiful. I did not tire of the view throughout our stay, but kept thinking of how nature can create such an amazing, breathtaking grace. There is an old tree at the center of the beach line, and due to the dry season it was absolutely naked. Each time I looked at it, it seemed as though its branches formed faces and bodies of some magical creatures.

Main buffet-restaurant.We were pretty exhausted and starving. When we were checking in, in turned out that they only had rooms which required taking a shuttle to get to the main area where beach, restaurants and pools were located. It was slightly disappointing, but not a big deal, since this particular Hilton had a lot of small bungalows covering large territory and I think that majority of people have to take shuttles to move around. When we arrived to our rooms, it turned out that they were not interconnected as we have requested months in advance, but just next to each other.

Danya went to the front desk to see if it was possible to fix this, since having interconnected rooms was really convenient because of Aroshka. After initial reluctance of a lower level manager to do anything, the upper level manager fixed it — he told us that tomorrow a pair of interconnected rooms will be available, and that if we wish, we could move. And so we did. Our new rooms were also much closer to the center, which was an added bonus. We did not have to take a shuttle to get to the beach anymore. I have to say though that shuttles were driving around often and you could always request one. Moreover, Aroshka LOVED riding on shuttles, so pretty much each night we were taking a ride just for the fun of it.

One of hotel's frequent shuttles.We had a dinner at local buffet, and the food was pretty decent. They have a salad bar, and then everyone has to order the actual meal. It was functioning as a 100% buffet only at breakfasts. There were three other restaurants, but I find that the food was very similar in all of them. We got progressively more tired of it, but this usually happens to us in all-inclusive resorts. The only exception was Riu Palace hotel in Cancun — their food was far superior to other places we stayed in, and their restaurants were definitely high end. Aroshka ate pretty well. I felt slightly bad that he was eating french fries almost every day, but he ate a lot of fruits and vegetables too, so whatever.

We spent Monday at the resort. Woke up early, ate breakfast and headed to the beach. The sand on the beach was not yellow as we are used to, but grayish-black in color due to its volcanic origin. I think it also had a smaller grain and was lighter. There was also a lot of small pieces of corral on the beach, so I guess the beach itself has a mixture of volcanic-coral sand.

Hard at play.Aroshka loved the ocean. He spent around 3 hours running around, playing in the water, playing with sand and overall being happy. The sand area of the beach was pretty much deserted. Sometimes there were people going for a swim in the ocean, but they preferred to stay under umbrellas in the grass-covered area above the beach. Which worked perfectly for us — it was much easier to track Aroshka when there were no other people around.

I used a combination of zinc oxide sunscreen by Badger, which made Aroshka and I look like a pair of mime artists, and a more conventional spray which provides a chemical block. The combination of Badger and small-grain black sand was really something, plus it was hard to wash off!

Hilton Papagayo from the top.After the beach we ate a lunch in one of the cafes, and went to get some rest. After a shower Aroshka was fast asleep. He did not require any song-singing or fairy-tale telling throughout the whole trip. The only thing that was needed is the cosiness of his crib. By the way, he could barely fit into the standard hotel crib. I fear that in a few months he will outgrow it completely.

We planned a trip to Santa Rosa National Park for Tuesday, but I’ll leave it for the next post.
1
1
2
2

Leave a comment

O.o teeth mrgreen neutral -) roll twisted evil crycry cry oops razz mad lol cool -? shock eek sad smile grin

Bar (via Instagram)

Bar