Western Costa Rica: Anatomy of a Vacation

4732873762 91df103f47 z Western Costa Rica: Anatomy of a Vacation

Osa Peninsula road from Puerto Jimenez to Carete and Corcovado

When Adam’s cousin Minona invited us to her wedding on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Adam and I clapped a high-five heard ’round the U.S.

We figured that she and her then-fiancee Peter’s far-flung choice of location was a clever ploy to pare down their guest list, but it soon became clear: although the happy couple lives  in New York City and their loved ones are spread from California to Massachusetts, only a scant few invites would come back with regrets.

How did the bride and groom choose Costa Rica, you ask? Well, Minona’s mom, Caroline, has lived in the gringo-heavy northwest Guanacaste province since 2000; Minona visits her there every year and thinks of it as a second home. Enter Caroline’s friend, purveyor of a sleepy and sprawling beach resort, and the makings of a destination wedding were born.

We immediately RSVP’d yes. Used to traveling long distances with short timelines, we initially pictured a long weekend for a de facto family reunion.

However, two months after I signed up for a Bing travel alert on flights from L.A. to Liberia (pronounced Lee-BEHR-ee-yah, code LIR) Costa Rica’s second-largest airport, it seemed the best fares (on American Airlines) were unlikely to drop below $750 apiece.

Then came the announcement that the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) conference in New York City would be held just one week after the wedding. I was set on attending, but we had ourselves a four-pronged quandary:

1) We already had a lot of travel planned for 2010, and while Adam’s co-owner of his company, he was loathe to upset his clients’ understandable vision of him driving their apple cart.
2) This was a rare opportunity to gather with his family and see a beloved cousin get married.
3) It felt foolish to spend so much money on a long weekend and…
4) …just as foolish to head back to L.A. before turning back around for New York.

Some people would sagely choose one or the other trip, but to us, only one thing was clear: Adam would simply have to take a few more days of vacation in Costa Rica.

How and where to spend those extra days? Fate/magazines would soon provide an answer.

When my “50 Places of a Lifetime Part II” issue of  National Geographic Traveler arrived, I stumbled across a love letter to the southernmost tip of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, the pristine and wild Osa Peninsula. The whole page seemed to catch fire…or maybe that was just my imagination. Soon after, I found a small mention of the Osa’s El Remanso Lodge in Travel + Leisure, and again with the pyrotechnics.

With a second destination now clear, our schedule seemed simple. The wedding was set for the afternoon of Saturday, June 19th and TBEX was set for 8am on Saturday, June 26th. We envisioned arriving on Friday the 18th, setting out for the Osa Peninsula on Monday the 21st and heading off on our separate ways on Friday the 25th.

Then the bride announced an all-expenses-paid snorkeling/boat trip from nearby Flamingo Harbor to the Catalina Islands for Friday afternoon, and all the family signed on. With travel from L.A. to Guanacaste’s Hotel Sugar Beach requiring a 5+ hour redeye to Miami, a 2+ hour flight to Liberia and an hour’s van ride, an optimistic arrival time would mean 1 pm.  If even one thing went wrong for us on Friday, we’d miss the boat.

We ultimately left L.A. on Wednesday night, met up with family and friends at MIA, arrived in Liberia by noon on Thursday and after a beach-side lunch, to the hotel by mid-afternoon. We had a lovely weekend of catching up with family, only leaving the resort twice (for the boat excursion and a large group dinner).

For part two of our adventure, Adam was eager to drive the length of the west coast to the Osa Peninsula. The folks at El Remanso advised us to expect about 4 hours’ driving time to the Puntarenas province and Manuel Antonio, the midpoint between Sugar Beach and the Osa; they suggested we stay overnight there at a resort called Si Como No.

From there, we we were told it would be another 4 hours to the Osa’s largest town, Puerto Jiménez, and an additional half-hour to El Remanso, where we planned to spend a woefully short two days.

The Hotel Sugar Beach helped us book a small 4-wheel drive SUV (required for sometimes-rough conditions) through a local branch of Budget, with delivery to the hotel on Monday morning and later drop-off at the Osa’s regional airport in Puerto Jiménez. This cost about $300 for the four days, including an $80 charge for the separate-location drop-off.

We’d soon learn that:

1) 4 hours’ driving time per day was a conservative estimate, especially when you factor in stopping for lunch, the bathroom or really, anything.
2) It would have made more logistical/financial sense to stay overnight in the beach community of Dominical, just a few minutes past Manuel Antonio.
3) The widely-touted new road between Manuel Antonio and the Osa Peninsula is, in places, still being constructed.
4) One person’s half-hour is another person’s hour.

We don’t regret our drive – it was fascinating to see so much of the country – but once we were in the Osa, we realized that we would have loved much more time on this gorgeous peninsula. Yes, it was mildly ridiculous to attempt this journey inside of four days, but I’m glad we didn’t miss out on the sounds, tastes, people or photos the west coast had to offer.

My plan to arrive in New York by Friday evening would ultimately require: departing El Remanso by mid-morning on Thursday; driving to the two-way landing strip in Puerto Jiménez; taking a one-hour Nature Air flight to Costa Rica’s capital, San José; tooling around the city for an afternoon and evening and spending a night at the Hotel Don Carlos; then, at the crack of dawn on Friday, taking a relatively new American Airlines 6-hour direct flight from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) to JFK.

Later on Friday morning, Adam flew home to return to our dog and, after only a single day of rest, his business.

Note #1: Flights
Adam’s and my initial flights were the same: LAX>MIA>LIR.
Adam’s flight path home on Friday was SJO>MIA>LAX.
My post-Costa Rica odyssey took me from SJO>JFK and five days later, JFK>LAX.
Curiously, my flight pattern landed me in business class seats going (we upgraded Adam so he could sit with me) and overall, paying $50 less for my trip.
Airlines work in mysterious ways.

Note #2: The Final Verdict
Now that we’ve driven the west coast, we’d happily fly as directly as possible right to the Osa Peninsula…and stay there as long as we possibly could.

Good thing it’s a long life.


See also
Images of Western Costa Rica

Hotel Sugar Beach: A Sweet Stay in Costa Rica
Si Como No: Yes and No
Taking Flight in Costa Rica

TWT Travel Binder: Costa Rica

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  1. My goodness – perhaps you should consider a second (third, fourth?) career as a travel agent. Kudos to you for a) figuring all of this out yourself and b) living to tell about it!

  2. I’m glad you were able to make it to both the wedding and Costa Rica! Having a wedding there would be amazing. I’m getting married next March and REALLY wanted to do a destination wedding, but my fiance talked me out of it because he didn’t think enough people would be able to afford to go (though I heard that makes the wedding less expensive). Oh well!

  3. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site
    when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  4. Hi there your website url: http://www.travelswithtwo.com/2010/07/19/western-costa-rica-travel-itinerary/ seems to be
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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melanie Waldman, Lara & Terence. Lara & Terence said: Great advice. Staying at Manuel Antonio in Sept for GT! RT @travelswithtwo Western Costa Rica: Anatomy of a Vacation http://bit.ly/c3OROW [...]

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