Trip Coach: January 13, 2009
Wendy Yanagihara, author of "Lonely Planet Costa Rica," answered your questions on Costa Rica.
Wendy Yanagihara: Hi there! This is Wendy Yanagihara writing to you from sunny (and snowy) Boulder, Colorado. I'm looking forward to chatting about Costa Rica and imagining where you'll be going (and wishing I were tagging along!)... So let me get to your questions.
New York City, N.Y.: I am going to Tamarindo for the week first week in February with 3 girlfriends. Are there any secret sites, beaches, expeditions, restaurants, etc. that we shouldn't miss? We are very active 50-year-olds. Thank you!
Wendy Yanagihara: This sounds like fun! I can't remember the last time I got to go away with a bunch of my girlfriends.
You'll get the lay of the land pretty quickly in Tamarindo. The beach there is great for learning how to surf, and the main drag is full of beachside cafes and shops full of sarongs and jewelry. If you're celebrating a special occasion, book a dinner at Dragonfly Bar & Grill or Carolina's Fine Dining. But elsewhere in town there are plenty of great, inexpensive places to eat: Olga's Coffee Shop, Smilin' Dog Taco Stop, Wok & Roll...
Once you've gotten your fill of Tamarindo, there are some good places nearby to get away. Just across the inlet north of town, in fact, is the beach community of Playa Grande. Not only are the waves good (suitable for beginners, too), but you'll also be there during leatherback turtle nesting season. You can make arrangements from Tamarindo, but do this as soon as you get into town as the national park (Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas de Guanacaste) limits the number of visitors per night and you may have to wait a few days for an opening. You can drive to Playa Grande, which may be the best option, as hotels and restaurants are a bit spread out in Playa Grande. If you don't have a car, you can take a water taxi from Tamarindo, but you'll have to do a little walking along the beach once you get across.
If you do rent a car, you can find tons of secret beaches both north and south of Tamarindo. The drives themselves can be an adventure, since most of these coastal roads are of the bumpy dirt variety. Head south to Playa Avellanas, Playa Negra or as far as Playa Junquillal. Each has its own village feel, with family-run restaurants where you can get a cheap, delicious plate of fish and gallo pinto (black beans and rice) and a beer. Go north and you'll find slightly more developed beach communities like Playa Brasilito.
Any of these spots would make good day trips, which you can arrange through your hotel in Tamarindo or local travel agencies if you don't feel comfortable driving yourselves.
New Orleans, La.: I have wanted to visit Costa Rica with my 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old, son but would like ideas as to which part to visit. I would love to see the volcanoes, the beach, and some wild life, but know we can't see it all in less than a week. What do you suggest to me as a single mother who tires easily?
Wendy Yanagihara: One of the great things about Costa Rica is its size—it's small enough that you can spend about a week and get a good taste of the richness that the country has to offer.
Luckily, you're also traveling with kids who are old enough to really appreciate a lot of this stuff. A good place to start would be the Volcan Arenal and Monteverde area. They're close enough that you can spend several days exploring both, and then move on to the beach to round out your stay. Arenal has spectacular nighttime views of lava flowing from the top of the volcano, and you can enjoy the hot springs and warm rivers heated by the tectonic activity. If your kids are active, you can also arrange day hikes or horseback rides through the rainforest here.
Monteverde cloud forest is a three-hour 'jeep-boat-jeep' trip away from La Fortuna, the base town for Volcan Arenal. The cloud forest is a unique environment, and though you won't see a ton of wildlife here, it's justifiably famous for its lush beauty. You can do short hikes at Monteverde, and guided hikes are best as you're most likely to spot birds and other wildlife with an experienced guide. Around Santa Elena, the base town for Monteverde, there are lots of great things to do and see—horseback riding, a frog 'zoo' where you can see a dazzling variety of colorful frogs you might not see in the wild in CR, a bat 'zoo'...it also has a wonderful artistic community, so the town is scattered with little galleries, handicraft shops and even artists' ateliers. There are also some great restaurants her!
You'll probably want to hit the beach after this, as it can get cool in Monteverde. You can easily reach the beaches on either coast with a few hours' travel. The Pacific coast is probably the easiest to access, and places like Jaco or Quepos are geared towards tourism. They have some lovely beaches and have excellent access to Parqe Nacional Manual Antonio, one of Costa Rica's most famous national parks. A must-visit if you've never been.
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