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Amazing introduction to Costa Rica

Costa Rica Trip Review Derek and Vivien Trip booked through TravelLocal.com with their local travel experts based in Costa Rica. The local experts: The local tour company arranged a fantastic holiday for us, taking us to some to some places off the beaten track in Costa Rica. They listened to our requests, the main reason was that we wanted to visit areas where we would be able to observe fantastic wildlife, especially hummingbirds. Our contact via the online system worked very well with prompt replies from both Wouter and Soledad and edits to our itinerary were made seamlessly. Our arrival arrangements went perfectly with our driver waiting for us at San Jose airport with all our travel vouchers (the voucher system worked very well with no questions when presented at all hotels or tours) and expertly transferred us to our hotel via the busy San Jose traffic. Soledad met us at the hotel the following morning and gave us a great overview on what to expect from the days ahead and useful advice on travel in Costa Rica. We cannot find any fault in the service that TravelLocal's experts provided us and we would recommend them in the highest terms to anyone who wishes to visit Costa Rica. Overall, they were amazing and found us fantastic places to visit that we would not have found if we have travelled independently as we normally do. Our vehicle arrived on time from Alamo. We were glad we had a 4WD but the vehicle we got was underpowered and struggled with any serious incline, we also thought that the tyres were worn in places too. I’m trained to use a 4WD off-road in the UK but we had no instruction of how to change into 4WD if needed and the Alamo representative didn’t really know how the GPS worked either. Accommodation/Location reviews: San Jose: One night at Balmoral Hotel in downtown San Jose. The room was comfy and spacious with 2 queen beds rather than a large double. Good bathroom, aircon and mini bar. Dinner was in the bar/restaurant underneath the hotel which had a varied menu and a good array of drinks. Breakfast (included) in same place and was a buffet. Hotel staff were very helpful with luggage and reception desk called our room when the local expert arrived on our first morning in Costa Rica. San Gerado de Dota: Three nights at Savegre Hotel and Spa. Pleasant bungalow in a row of three, set a little up the hill from the restaurant and reception area. Walkways link the accommodation to and a nearby car park. A heater was provided and was useful on chilly evenings. Buffet meals were of good quality and the cheerful Belgian chef was very helpful with information on what dishes he had cooked each day, hotel staff were attentive and polite. The hotel also has an attractive bar area to relax next to the fire if needed. Plenty of trails and areas to walk in the grounds of the Lodge. Guayabo/Turrialba: One night at Guayabo Lodge The lodge is situated down a small track and is well secluded and surrounded by fantastic gardens which were great for watching birds and butterflies. Staff were very friendly and helpful and we had a lovely room overlooking farmland and distant hills. The bed was very comfy with amazing soft linen and the balcony was great to have a relax and read after a long drive (from San Gerado de Dota via Irazu Volcano). Despite only 4 or 5 rooms being occupied it was great to have a choice of three options for starter and main course for dinner, all made to order. The meals were tasty, fresh and of good quality. Mighty fine mojitos too. The reason we stayed here was that we had a guided tour of the Guayabo National Monument the next day. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. This was primarily down to the excellence of our guide Rosita. She spoke great English and we had bi-lingual conversations as we toured the site which gave my rusty Spanish a thorough work out. She was very knowledgeable and entertaining on not only the history and archaeology of the site but also about the natural history too. Selva Verde: Two nights at Selva Verde Lodge Our accommodation was a bungalow over the road from the main Lodge, on check-in we were informed of the fine of $58 if we lose the key to the bungalow, we thought that this wasn’t the most welcoming of starts. The bungalow was quiet and secluded which was probably a good job as the Lodge seemed to be the preserve of US school/college groups. We were pleased with Air con as it was very warm and humid compared to other places we had stayed. A fridge that came with bottled water was also very useful. We walked to dinner each night which was only about 10-15 mins but did involve crossing and walking along the very busy road, not the best option in the dark even with torches. Food at the Lodge was a bit mixed with the lunchtime buffet disappointing as it was expensive for the size of portions and no dessert was provided. Pizza in the Italian Restaurant below the main dining area was good quality and freshly made. However, the pasta dishes came laden with ready added parmesan rather than it being added at the table. Service was very slow and inattentive and we had to repeatedly ask for drinks etc. The service was the poorest we had on the trip and the hotel seemed to be living on past glories. The thing we really disliked was that the hotel “PR Manager" floated around lots and would constantly keep asking whether you were having a good time and sometimes would sit down with you at meal times which was not called for. The phrase "are you still sweating" after we had arrived back after a morning walk in the rainforest seemed to be plain rude. For some reason, the PR manager noted we were "birdwatchers" and constantly plugged a visit to the local Macaw farm. We later learnt that the Lodge has some commercial link to this farm. On the positive side, our two guided walks here were superb. The night walk guided by Ivan was very good, he gave background information on the type of animals and insects we were likely to see and he found a whole array of amazing sightings including frogs, sloths, basilisks and even a Kinkajoo. On our final morning at Selva Verde we joined Ronald for a bird walk around the hotel grounds. This was excellent and Ronald is a brilliant birder, we found an impressive 45 species in 2 hours including a number that were new to us, a great morning. Boca Tapada: Three nights at Maquenque Ecolodge After two slightly disappointing days at Selva Verde, what can we say about Maquenque apart from it being a little slice of paradise! We arrived after driving the final c30km on a potholed unpaved road from Pital and were greeted immediately at the car park where we left the car for the duration of our stay. There were very apologetic that the boat to take us across the river had a fault - were we OK to take a small open canoe?! We donned life jackets and the luggage was sent ahead of us and our adventure began on the other side of the Rio San Carlos. Luggage was transported by quad bike to our room and we were greeted at reception with cool towels and coconut juice, a nice gesture as it was very hot and humid. We were then given a tour of the restaurant area and shown to our cabin, a short walk away between two lakes and near to the rainforest. The room was an amazing high-ceiling cabin on the far side of the lake from the main lodge buildings with a large bathroom and a small deck at the rear overlooking the lakes. No air conditioning, but an excellent ceiling fan cooled the room well for sleeping. As we were in a remote location, the Lodge provided three meals a day for guests. For breakfast, there was the standard Costa Rican fare of Gallo Pinto (Rice and Beans), fruit, eggs and cheese. For each of lunch and dinner there was a choice of 5 options chosen in advance with many of these changing from day to day. The three-course evening meals were some of the best of the trip with great soups, main dishes and small desserts, all nicely washed down with some excellent cocktails. Whilst here, we had a pre-booked boat trip to the Nicaraguan border, this was informative as we stopped off at the border town of Boca San Carlos and heard about the school and then a farmstead on the return trip. We’d suggest the trip is advertised more as a cultural excursion rather than to see wildlife, however we still saw a massive crocodile, herons, monkeys and a king vulture. Ignacio who guided on the boat tour was also our guide for our rainforest and night walks. Both were exceptional, the rainforest walk took us on a c4km loop around the remote area of the Lodge and we learnt lots about the use of plants by the local inhabitants and saw a number of birds, frogs and insects. The night walk was one of the most atmospheric things we have ever done, with lightning sheeting across the sky, we walked the grounds of the Lodge finding lizards, snakes, frogs and insects before being returned to the Lodge well before the astonishing storm hit. Our bird walk was guided by Jose who again was a fantastic birder and we soon found a number of birds not seen on the trip before and a few of our new favourites. Of all the places we visited in Costa Rica, this was by far the best and we were very sad to leave. A massive part of our enjoyment was the fantastic service at the lodge. We thought that the staff at Maquenque Ecolodge were brilliant right from the friendly greeting in the car park, transportation of our luggage across the river and to the rooms and all the staff in the restaurant and kitchen. Everyone was very helpful and polite and worked exceptionally hard to make sure guests had as good an experience as possible. The Lodge had such an amazing atmosphere that we felt it was great that staff could be themselves and we appreciated this lack of formality whilst still offering a very professional service. We also liked there was a tips box on reception that would be divided across all the staff and not just those who directly interact with guests. Poas: One night at Poas Volcano Lodge Our final night is at this very stylish Lodge with modern rooms in a hotel very reminiscent of a Spanish Parador. The room had a view of the still smoking Poas Volcano which prevented any exploration of the national park. The fresh strawberries and bottled water in the room on arrival were appreciated. Our evening meal was very tasty and for breakfast there were choices of pancakes or eggs along with fruit (included). Included in our visit was entry to the La Paz Waterfall gardens. Indeed, the waterfalls are spectacular but we felt that this was little more than a glorified zoo, with various animals kept in rather poor conditions, the enclosures were way too small and we didn’t have the urge to see things caged that we had seen in the wild. It's great for hummingbirds at the feeders in the garden but the rest of this place felt tacky and was the least favourite place on our trip. In fact, we preferred the local hospitality of the Café Colibri 5km north of the waterfalls to watch hummingbirds. Overall, we had a fantastic holiday and would highly recommend TravelLocal and especially their local experts and would like to thank them for all their hard work.

Derek, from Potton, UK

Visited Costa Rica in

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96% of our customers would recommend us to a friend.

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What was good about our local partner based in Costa Rica?

The ease of communication. Concise and useful information. Simple voucher system to be presented at accommodation and tours

What could our local partner based in Costa Rica improve on?

To be honest its difficult to find where there were any faults.

What did you think about the guides or drivers on your trip?

All the guides we had were superb, especially Rosita at Guayabo. Full details on guides is in the main review text.

What advice would you give to other travellers planning a trip to Costa Rica?

Go to Costa Rica it's amazing. Take the chance to see amazing wildlife in stunning locations you wont regret it. Driving is not as scary as it's made out to be in some places. Be sensible and drive defensively and you'll be able to visit many more areas independently.

What was the most memorable part of your trip?

So many things. Maquenque Ecolodge was in an amazing location. Seeing Resplendent Quetzals in the wild and hearing howler monkeys. Night walk as a thunderstorm was brewing at Maquenque, in the forest as it was lit up by lightning and getting to shelter before the deluge hit, so atmospheric. Hummingbirds.

How likely are you to recommend TravelLocal?

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