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Uvita & Dominical, Pacific Coast – Costa Rica

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

I’m pretty disgusted with my blogging on Costa Rica. On most of our trips we travel around, visiting national parks, towns, various sights. We meet interesting people and I usually have something to write about. I find Costa Rica frustrating – everything is far to get to, transport is inconvenient (and taxis really expensive). I should have rented a 4*4 but I don’t drive manual. Anyway, I’ve been told by a few frustrated tourists that all the rental agencies were rented-out. I wanted to see the Nauyaca waterfall in Dominical but I was told that you can not go privately by taxi, you have to go as part of a tour group. I was then told that the tour was sold out for the day in question. This basically sums up our experience in the first ten days of this trip – it just seems for whatever reason we get stuck at a hotel or resort. I’ve never felt that before, everything feels so isolated here.

So this post contains my notes and tripadvisor comments taken from a few days spent at different resorts along the Central Pacific coast. I read it and cringe; I never thought I’d be on of those tripadvisor regulars (you know the ones – they usually complain about not having enough towels in the room or the lack of English spoken at the front desk). In Costa Rica we’ve had lots of time in the various resorts/hotels and that means plenty of time to either appreciate how well they run things or how badly some resorts screw up on the basics that travellers want when they travel. My comments are as much for other travellers as they are for the resorts/hotels; most of which are run by nice people who are too involved in their business to have an objective view of where they’ve gone wrong or how they can improve.

Oxygen Villas – Uvita

This European owned luxury retreat is a 15 minute drive into the hills behind the town of Uvita. There isn’t much to do here except relax, which is what we wanted after Manuel Antonio.

A beautiful place; villas all glass and white furniture, very minimalistic and modern. The grounds are beautiful and decorated by imported Balinese art. Restaurant serves meals all day and at night you can have their special ‘surprise’ meal which is a 4 course meal. Ok, it all sounds snobby and a bit pretentious (compounded by the constant lounge music in the background) but the staff was nice and friendly and didn’t act snobby or pretentious. We were told that it is a popular place for honeymooners and I can see why.

We give the place a 4 out of 5. We spent two days there and quite enjoyed it, it just beautiful and very romantic in many ways. The only thing is that the longer you stay here, the more you see the practical flaws in design, the little things that start to get on your nerves.

• Beautifully decorated villas, comfortable and romantic canopy bed.
• Beautiful grounds, love the Balinese touches, nice pool – room 3 great as there is a tree just in front that the toucans seem to enjoy landing on.
• There are only 12 villas and Oxygen is for couples only, which means only 24 people at any given time and no noisy little brats. We felt that the service was very personal, the staff went out of their way to get to know the guests.
• It was great having everything ‘on-site’ – we didn’t have a car and I chose Oxygen because we could eat here and not have to worry about having to cab it to town.
• On site food and beverages reasonable priced, including minibar and restaurant. Nothing pisses me off like going to a resort where they screw you on the little things like beer, pop, lunch etc, knowing you’ll pay it because you won’t drive all the way to town. They don’t do that here.

• Design flaws with bathroom. Other reviewers have complained about the bathroom situation; nothing says romance like hearing every bodily function of your partner reverberating within the glass walls of your villa. Believe me when I tell you that you can’t get away with even the smallest fart here. On top of the sound situation, you can’t flush your toilet paper away, they ask you to put it in the little white garbage can next to the toilet (the toilet is also a small confined space, so smell can become a problem). Considering that couples stay here for honeymoons I would think that the bathroom would be a major source of discomfort. I think the entire bathroom area should have been enclosed seperately from the rest of the space. This is absolutely the biggest drawback to Oxygen villas.
• The minimalistic décor is beautiful but is also inconvenient; no nighttables or other useful tables inside the room. A lot of the villa space is taken up by the outside lounge area, but this is not practical living space.
• The restaurant is convenient, service is good, food is good – but I wouldn’t call the food any better than good. Didn’t wow us. Nice wine selection.
• It is remote; which is good but also inconvenient if you want to go exploring.

Overall very good. We would come back if ever in the area, but I think 2 days here is sufficient for anyone.

Costa Paraiso, Dominical

Another stay on the Pacific Coast. This is the part of the vacation where were are meant to be relaxing, so we have been mostly sticking to walks around the places we are staying, sunbathing, and reading.

We stayed at this hotel, 2km down the road from the town of Dominical. The hotel is on a large, beautiful site and the owners have done a great job with the landscaping – lots of large trees, flower bushes, and potted plants. The swimming pool is nice and private. The property has lots of nice sitting areas with chairs and hammocks where you can sit and look at the waves breaking over the rocky shore. Really is quite beautiful. The Villas as also quite nice; colorfully painted and spacious. The natural beauty and physical facilities therefore are really top notch. The problem with Costa Paraiso lies in the maintenance and management of the hotel.

We booked Costa Paraiso because they had an onsite restaurant, a good one we read. 2 weeks before our trip we received an email from them letting us know the restaurant was closed for renovations. We were disappointed but as the reservation was during the Christmas/New Year period it would have been too late to change our reservations elsewhere. Luckily it was only for two nights. At least they advised us and were nice enough to change our room to one with a fully equiped kitchen.

We had two problems with the hotel. The first is with the maintenance of the rooms. We found the room dirty, especially the kitchen which had several layers of grime on the sink. The stove was filthy. Cooking appliances were in horrible shape and dirty. We didn’t have a pot in which to boil water. Since we were cooking for ourselves it would have been good to have a clean, functioning kitchen. The bathroom had a disgusting looking carpet in front of the toilet. Like I said, no problem with the physical facilities (although some updating in kitchen and bathroom would be good), the problem is with maintenance. There are several layers of grime over everything that have not been washed off in ages. We also noticed that both lounge chairs next to the pool were broken.

The second issue was with the couple who ran (owned?) the hotel. We felt an attitude the minute we walked into the hotel. The few things we had to ask them for (such as a pot for the kitchen or for some soft drinks that we bought) we were made to feel like we were a bother. The lady actually argued with me that there was already a pot in our room. I think they were more pre-occupied with the renovations going on in their kitchen than in the actual running of the hotel. We weren’t at all impressed.

We give this place a 3 out of 5. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed, and maybe we would have actually enjoyed Costa Paraiso had the kitchen been open. But between the poor maintenance and the unfriendly management we won’t be back.

Villas Alturas, Dominical

I’ll be truthful – after a week, nothing has impressed us in Costa Rica. No sights that have left us breathless, no place that we would say “wow, I’m sorry to be leaving”. Villas Alturas, on a high hill about 10km south of Dominical, changed that.

Firstly, the place is beautiful. The reception/restaurant/pool area is beautiful and the views over the ocean and coastline are gorgeous. It is worth getting up at 5:30 for the sunrise; absolutely amazing.

Our room was fantastic except for a few flaws (all easily fixed) which I’ll mention below. The Kitchen area was clean and modern and I almost wished that I could have done some cooking. The room had a very large living room/dining room area, everything looked clean and modern. The bedroom was also very large and clean. Immaculate.

The restaurant, where we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was very good. Scott and Russell, the co-owners, take obvious pride in their cooking which is Mediterranean influenced. Combined with the beautiful setting, it is a very romantic spot. We loved coming here for meals. Tiny critique; they could do better with the wine selection.

The other critiques I have have to do with the room. All are relatively minor. 1) every room except the bedroom had thin shades – we noticed that someone could see everything passing by at night. Felt a real lack of privacy. 2) room is immaculate but could use a woman’s touch, the lighting especially is cold as well as impractical. Everything is romantic about the hotel except for your actual living space. 3) We had a bed where the slip was badly fitted for the bed, it would pop off on every corner all the time. I hate when that happens. On top of that the blankets are skinny and don’t give any comfort. We found that we didn’t sleep well either night here due to a combination of these reasons. The owners should visit Oxygen in Uvita to see the perfect bed.

But I’m pointing out these things because Villas Alturas could be a 5 out of 5 (we give it a 4 1/2 for now). We loved everything else about it and we loved the two owners. We would definitely come back.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Manuel Antonio – Dec 26,2011

Urgg, what a disappointment. The town of Manuel Antonio is a dirty little beach town. The one street in and out of here is lined with the usual mix of bars, restaurants, and gift shops you see in other beach towns. Some beach towns are interesting and fun in their kitchyness – not Manuel Antonio. It is dirty, disorganized, full of traffic and angry people (more on that later), and littered with the usual douchbags who loiter the streets of beach towns looking to scam, pick up, or otherwise profit from the tourist trade.

There is of course a beach but it is also disappointing. Dirty – it looks like a commercial about the risks of Hepatitis A. There are clumps of garbage on the beach, horses tied to trees, dogs running on the sand. We were later told by a guide that the water that runs from the streams that feed into the beach is runoff from the hotels – he recommends not using this public beach.

The highlight of Manuel Antonio is supposedly the park. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central America known for its high concentration of animals and “rainforest-backed tropical beaches”. “It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve died and gone to a coconut filled paradise” (Lonely Planet). We were not impressed. Maybe we just came at the wrong time of year. But if you come during the Christmas break you are setting yourself up for frustration and major disappointment. Firstly, be prepared to wait between between 1-2 hours for an entrance ticket to the National park. I showed up at 6:45 am (the park opens at 7) and I still waited an hour before getting to the ticket counter. The tickets cost $10 a person for a day pass and you have to buy them the same day; you can’t buy them for the next day – we had tried to do that the previous day when the line died down in the late afternoon. You also can’t buy them elsewhere, only at the lone ticket counter.

We took a guide, along with 5 other tourists, into the park ($20/person for a 2 hour tour). The guide was a friendly young guy and he pointed out trees and plants as we followed the ‘tourist trail’ through the park. We came upon a few beaches that were nice, much nicer than the public beach in town, but quite unspectacular. We also saw a few animals; raccoons, capuchin monkeys, an iguana, a basilisk, a few sloths. We were told that there were crocodiles and caimans in the mangroves of the park. But we didn’t see much – which was no surprise considering the tourist hordes tramping through the park: teenagers in their sandals heading to the lackluster beaches, bored snot-nosed kids wailing and crying, frustrated parents yelling and pulling their brats by the arm. Filled with visions of a tropical paradise where they could relax in nature, see animals, while also giving their kids a cultural experience, you could feel their disappointment and anger. In the 2 days here we haven’t seen many smiling faces.

We were lucky and smart to have booked a hotel right next to the park entrance (more below). But imagine; having to drive to get here through the traffic that builds up very early in the morning, finding a parking spot, waiting in line 2 hours plus to get an entrance ticket, then being shepherded like a herd of sheep through the park. We had it easy but I felt bad for the unhappy families I saw.

Note: the bus that does the 7km between Quepos – Manuel Antonio doesn’t make it into town when there is too much traffic. You get to walk the hilly, narrow road, which has almost no sidewalk (only in a few stretches) and deal with the aggressive drivers who want to get to the park. What a fu***** mess.

Manuel Antonio was a major, major disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I just don’t understand – what is so spectacular about Manuel Antonio? I just don’t get it. What am I missing? We have made the best of it though – 2 days here, we’ve walked and explored in the mornings and spent the afternoons in a bar overlooking the main road/beach drinking beer and watching people struggling to keep it together. Despite everything we are starting to get into holiday mode.

[ To our relief, we met a few people towards the end of our trip who had the same opinions about Manuel Antonio. Peak season had something to do with it, but a few regular visitors to Costa Rica also mentioned that the town has grown too much for its own good and has gotten progressively dirtier over the last few years.]

There are 2 hotels right next to the Park entrance and we got to experience both. We stayed at the Hotel San Bada the first night because we couldn’t get 3 nights in a row at the Posada Jungle. We had opposite experiences at the two hotels. I don’t usually go into much detail about where we stay, but in this case I had very strong feelings about each. You’ll see our Tripadvisor details below.

Hotel San Bada (I give this hotel a 1 star out of 5 – the worst rating I’ve ever given)

• Nice location close to park
• Nice view from 6th floor, good place to see sunsets
• Two comfortable beds in room, good AC

• Incredibly overpriced for what you get ($242 /night including taxes)
• No amenities like coffee machine, free wifi, or minibar (they had a mini fridge in room, but was empty and not even plugged in). Only the basics, which at that price is inexcusable.
• Room feels rundown and an odd collection of outdated furniture. Showerhead broke off and hit Lissette in the arm, bathroom floor flooded (from I don’t know where), no water pressure in toilet or shower. Don’t get room 112.
• Hotel itself feels rundown; have nice facilities which all have to be upgraded and/or finished off. Nice pool on 6th floor with bar – but nobody working at bar (except during happy hour) and you have to go to reception on ground floor for towels.
• Horrible restaurant. Overpriced and just horrible food. Also terribly slow service. The 2 for 1 Happy Hour is no deal – $20 for 4 medium sized Pina Coladas.
• Coffee – I’ve previously mentioned my disappointment with Costa Rican Coffee. San Bada’s coffee was even more watered down than other coffee we’ve had. We had it after dinner and it was insipid. Was slightly better the next morning at breakfast.
• For $242 a night there is no porter to help carry your luggage or even open up the door – they’ll stand there being useless. I don’t mind paying that kind of money for an experience, but I get very upset when everything from A-Z is wrong with a hotel.
Overall, this place was a total rip off in every way, very disappointing.

La Posada Jungle (I give this hotel a 4,5 out of 5 – one of the best ratings I’ve ever given anywhere).

This is not a luxury 5 star hotel. My rating is based on best value for money and the overall experience. The staff at the Posada was incredibly helpful, friendly, organized, and the owner knows how to cater to a traveller’s needs and to make them feel comfortable. Fantastic. Highly recommended if you have kids.

• Great value for the Christmas period ($113/night including taxes for the Posada room)
• Room was like an apartment with a full kitchen facilities including fridge, coffee machine, stove, sink, a large bathroom, a separate room for clothes and baggage. Comfortable bed, slept well here.
• A TV with DVD.
• Free wifi
• Quick and inexpensive laundry service
• A free to use computer in the central area. Also, FREE calls to the USA and Canada if you need to make them.
• Incredibly helpful staff who help you with your bookings even if they don’t profit from it. Can’t say enough good things about them.
• They have a small kitchen and will prepare simple meals like pizza for you. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays they make a special meal and have a ‘movie night’ where they show a movie in the dining area – on the Tuesday we were there they made a nice baked spaghetti, with salad, corn, bread, and a nice sundae dessert. All for $7/person. Sometimes a traveller just wants something simple, quick, but healthy. It was perfect for us.

• Room could use a bit of a paintjob and a little extra deep clean. But I’m being picky.
I wish every place we stayed could be as enjoyable and easy as the Posada Jungle. If it wasn’t for this place I would have really, really hated Manuel Antonio. Because of it I only detest it.

Orosi, Costa Rica

Saturday, January 21st, 2012
Dec 23, 2011 - Orosi is a small town in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. It was our first stop in Costa Rica – we flew into San Jose and took a ... [Continue reading this entry]