In the Mountains of the Central Valley, Costa Rica - This perfect Costa Rica mountains bed and breakfast includes a modern, spacious, light and airy master suite with king bed and full bath. Casa Cielo shares a common area with the owners that includes an office, kitchenette, elliptical exerciser, WiFi for your computer and 32" TV for DVD-viewing. There's a private outdoor deck with jungle view and large swimming pool for dry season use. Its furniture is custom-made by Costa Rica's finest woodworkers. The walls are decorated with native crafts.
Casa Cielo is a gated mini-resort on the border of Heredia and Alajuela near San Jose, 4000 feet above sea level with a fabulous 50-mile view that includes Costa Rica's four largest cities, including San Jose, Costa Rica's capital. It's just 25 minutes from the SJO airport. Temperatures are consistently refreshing year-round: 74-82F daytime and 62-68F at night. 25 great day trips - including beaches - are less than 90 minutes away.
Casa Cielo has just one guest suite. It's part of a tropical chalet-style home and working farm in Costa Rica's cool Central Valley mountains, loaded with amenities that you will appreciate. You'll enjoy high-speed Internet in the office and at the pool, a secure parking space, pool-side full bathroom, outdoor kitchen and grill, free evening use of a USA/Canada phone line, and more. Your hosts are bilingual permanent residents Erin and Fabian, their son Max, housekeeper Ligia (Lee'-hee-ya), and gardener Don Carlos.
Located just 25 minutes from Costa Rica's San Jose (SJO) Airport in a distinctly tropical setting, Casa Cielo's views of the Costa Rica mountains and its Central Valley are unmatched. The 2.5-acre mountainside "finca" (small farm) is beautifully landscaped and is criss-crossed by walking trails. Casa Cielo includes a 16' x 40' swimming pool, herb and vegetable gardens, fruit trees, beautiful ornamentals - and a pool-side view that includes two volcanoes, all of the Central Valley, the national soccer stadium, and occasional fireworks displays. Next door is one of Central America's largest herb farms. Across the road is a working coffee farm.
It's an easy one-mile downhill walk to the small town of Santa Barbara - where you'll find friendly, helpful people and nearly everything you need: groceries, restaurants, bakeries, pharmacies, office supplies, clothing and shoes, the central park and Catholic Church, medical clinic, and Saturday's farmers' market (the "feria"). The uphill return trip from the feria to Casa Cielo with a large load of bargain-priced fresh fruit and vegetables makes the $2-$3 taxi fare a good choice.
From Casa Cielo, there's easy access by car, taxi, or chauffeured "turismo" van to active and dormant volcanoes, national parks, stunning waterfalls, a zoo, butterfly farm, orchid garden, coffee plantations, and and Costa Rica's capital San Jose. Resident Costa Rican travel experts Fabian and Erin can provide sightseeing advice, rent you a car, and book day trips or overnight excursions for you anywhere in Costa Rica.
This is the real Costa Rica, the green ecotourism destination you've heard about, not an isolated beach resort that looks just like something you can find near home. But if you do want to enjoy popular beaches, they're just 90 minutes away.
Housekeeper Ligia can tell you the very best sources for whatever you need in Santa Barbara or nearby. Gardener Don Carlos will help fill your table with some of Casa Cielo's fresh bananas, plantains, lemons, mandarins, limes, passion fruit, herbs, lettuce, hot and sweet peppers, corn, onions, tempisque, and more - whatever's in season.
Casa Cielo is owned by Americans who love Costa Rica. We are committed to sustainable practices and to maintaining a low energy footprint at Casa Cielo. Fallen trees become rustic outdoor furniture and reinforce steps on walking trails that connect to the guest deck. Lighting uses low-energy CFLs. A tankless hot water heater conserves power. A solar powered pool ionizer reduces chlorine use, and a solar blanket heats the pool.
San Jose's airport (SJO) is just 25 minutes southwest. San Jose itself is 45 minutes southeast. Within 3-90 minutes from Casa Cielo, you can choose from more than two dozen day trips that sample the full range of Costa Rica's ecotourism attractions, including Pacific Ocean beaches. Further afield, the Caribbean (starring funky Puerto Viejo) is a 3-4 hour drive southeast. The popular Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde Cloud Forest are 3-4 hours northwest.
Your stay at Casa Cielo will be your best Costa Rica vacation ever. Casa Cielo's guest suite is the perfect vacation rental for honeymooners, business travelers, and empty nesters looking for something unique that's off Costa Rica's beaten path.
Rates: Our rate is $199/night year-round, with no minimum stay and no cleaning fee. One week (seven consecutive nights) is $999. We accept Visa/Mastercard.
Occupancy Limit: The occupancy in your private suite is two adults in the king bed.
Deposits/Cancellations: A 50% deposit is required at the time you reserve your stay, with the balance due 10 days before you arrive. Cancellations: If you cancel at least 30 days prior to your check-in date, you will receive a full refund. If you cancel 11 to 29 days in advance, we will refund your deposit minus a cancellation fee equal to the first night's lodging. If you cancel less than 10 days prior to check-in, or fail to show, you will receive no refund.
Extras: We can loan you a GPS for your car (free use; refundable $100 deposit). We can loan you a Costa Rica cell phone (free use; refundable $50 deposit, $5 minimum for minutes). An airport taxi is about $20 from the airport to Casa Cielo (orange taxi), $10 returning to the airport (red taxi).
Amenities Summary: The complete modern master suite and attached common area, also used by the owners, total 700+ square feet (plus deck). The common area is also used by the owners. The master suite includes a king bed, blanket for cool nights, full bath with hot-water tub and shower, reading lights, rocking chair, clothes tree, large custom-crafted armoire, 8'x14' private outdoor deck with table for four to enjoy your morning coffee, umbrellas, walking sticks for the trails, a tripod that's suitable for your lightweight camera, a hair dryer, and an alarm clock/radio. Just outside the master bedroom there's a kitchenette with refrigerator, a bar, microwave, toaster oven, coffee maker, dishes and flatware, game table, games, sofa, 32" TV and DVD player, powder room, a shelf full of books about travel and wildlife in Costa Rica - plus an elliptical exerciser. Outside you'll enjoy walking trails, productive herb and vegetable gardens, beautiful flowers, ornamental plants and fruit trees, swimming pool, pool bathroom with hot shower, gas grill, one guest parking space, and more. For your computer or tablet, WiFi is included in the house and at the pool, and desk space is available in the common area. You can borrow our VOIP phone for free calls to the USA/Canada - after 5:00 PM only.
Breakfast/Cleaning: Rates include a self-serve Continental Breakfast in your refrigerator. If you stay longer than four nights, your suite will be cleaned and bedding/linens changed each Thursday and Monday. We do not provide bed make-up service between bedding changes. If you prefer daily hot breakfasts, daily bed make-up, and daily cleaning service, we may be able to arrange these services at extra cost - except on Sundays and Costa Rican holidays - if you request them in advance.
Reserve Today with your Visa or Mastercard!
Special Events: To rent the grounds at Casa Cielo for a wedding or other special event, please contact us to discuss your needs, including catering. Large Groups: If you need a larger rental, we can book a nearby luxury villa that will accommodate more than a dozen guests. Travel Agents: We welcome your clients. Please call!
Pictured from left to right:
Ligia - Housekeeper: Ligia keeps everything running smoothly at Casa Cielo. She cleans the house and pool, launders bedding and linens, and knows who to contact for everything that we - and you - need.
Don Carlos - Gardener: Don Carlos grooms the grounds at Casa Cielo, tends two gardens, manages our walking trails, keeps everything watered, and harvests fruits, vegetables, and herbs when they're ready for Casa Cielo's staff and guests to eat.
Erin, Fabian, and Max - Your Hosts: This fortunate family lives year-round at Casa Cielo. Erin and Fabian are bilingual (Spanish and English). Both are work-at-home Costa Rican travel experts. Max, born 2011, is a dual citizen of Costa Rica and the USA.
Brian and Lisa - Frequent Visitors: Max's fortunate grandparents from Virginia live here part-time. We bought the property in 2011 and have been improving Casa Cielo and its 2.5 acres ever since. We're learning Spanish by "immersion". If we're lucky, we'll be here when you arrive.
Santa Barbara (see the map at getting around) is a small, rural, typical, friendly town in Heredia near its border with Alajuela, two of Costa Rica's seven provinces. It's located in Costa Rica's mountains in the cool "Central Valley", a very large plateau in the center of the country that's home to half of its 4,000,000 citizens. As in most of Costa Rica, there are no street addresses here, and no residential postal delivery. A local supermarket's address might be "50 metros este de la Iglesia Catholica" or "50 meters east of the Catholic Church". The phrase "100 meters" means one block, which can actually be considerably more or less than 100 meters.
Unless you are among the few Santa Barbara residents with a private local delivery box that's similar to a post office box in the USA, you have never received a bill by mail, or a piece of junk mail. Residents pay all their bills in cash, by Internet bank transfer, or at the local supermarket. If you don't pay your monthly electric bill or phone bill on time, your service will eventually be cut off. Each month, you check online or at the supermarket to find out how much you owe.
Nearly every Costa Rican town has a "parque central" - central park - with a Catholic Church on its east side, plus a bus stop and an army of taxi drivers awaiting your orders. Santa Barbara is no exception. The central park is surrounded by stores, and by a few entrepreneurs selling fruits and vegetables from their cars or trucks on the street. The central park is the center of life in Santa Barbara. Teenagers hold hands in the park, adults crisscross it to reach the stores, and occasionally there is a concert in its central pavilion.
The stores and other buildings surrounding Santa Barbara's park and the next block or two in each direction offer nearly everything you would expect. Aside from the municipal building and elementary school, you'll find banks with ATMs, a doctor and dentist, freshly baked breads and pastries, groceries, clothing and shoes, office supplies, appliances and electronics, hardware, a hair stylist and barber, $1 movie rentals, fast food, and inexpensive sit-down restaurants called "sodas" that serve a typical Costa Rican dinner for about $5. If you're driving, you can usually find a free parking space very close to the central park.
Every Saturday morning - except for frequent religious and secular holidays - a farmer's market or "feria" offers fresh fruits and vegetables at prices so low that you won't believe them. Nearly every town has its own feria; some cover several blocks while others cover less than one. In Santa Barbara's feria, you can find bananas for three cents each, strawberries or blackberries for 75 cents/pint, potatoes or tomatoes for 25-50 cents/pound, plus a dozen fruits and vegetables that you've never seen before. You could live on a healthy diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, and rice - as many Costa Ricans do - for less than $2/day.
From Casa Cielo, Santa Barbara's parque central is a 15-minute downhill walk or a 5-minute drive down a rough gravel road and paved but narrow residential streets. You can call a taxi (about $2-$3) if you need one.
These nearby sights and services are arranged roughly in order of their distance from Casa Cielo. Also check our Day Trips section below, featuring sights that are a 15-90 minute drive by car!
Bird Watching: Casa Cielo will delight you if you want to see a few of Costa Rica's nearly 900 species of birds. Just open your window to hear them and step outside on your deck to see them, starting at sunrise. Frequent visitors include colorful mot-mots and oropendolas, noisy parrots (called parakeets here), flycatchers, woodpeckers, swifts, clay robins - the national bird, several of Costa Rica's 58 species of hummingbirds, and more. Every elevation in Costa Rica reveals different bird species, so be sure to take your camera wherever you go. There's a tripod suitable for small cameras in your master suite, and we have a comprehensive Costa Rican bird book to help you identify them.
Exercise: Casa Cielo's walking trails start at the edge of your outdoor deck; it takes moderate effort to complete the full circuit. Inside there's an iPod-compatible elliptical exerciser with 14 programs. The swimming pool is a 40-yard walk from your master suite. And in downtown Santa Barbara, there's a small gymnasium that you can use for $5/visit. The one-mile downhill walk to the center of Santa Barbara is easy. The considerably more difficult return trip includes a 170-foot rise in elevation.
Herb/Lettuce Farm: Casa Cielo's neighbor is The Ark Herb Farm, where you'll find one of the best collections of medicinal plants in Costa Rica. They also have some of the best lettuces, spinach, and herbs you'll ever find, at reasonable prices. It's a 3 minute walk from Casa Cielo. You can visit informally (and buy some of their products) with Casa Cielo's housekeeper Ligia, or she can arrange an official tour for you.
Healthcare: Costa Rica has a national healthcare system that is universal and effective. Life expectancy here is about the same as it is the USA. There is a local medical clinic in Santa Barbara, part of Costa Rica's "Caja" or national healthcare system, that can handle most medical emergencies. It's a 5-minute drive from Casa Cielo. A new $85 million-dollar hospital, 20 minutes away in nearby Heredia, handles major trauma - and delivered Max, son of your hosts. Costa Rica's abundant pharmacies each have a doctor on staff who can diagnose simple ailments on the spot, determine what you need at no cost, and sell it to you. Only narcotics and antibiotics require a prescription. If you need more complex non-emergency care, there is a clinic in Heredia that will see you for $20 - and prescribe whatever you need. The cost of private dental and medical care is 60%-75% less than similar private care in the USA. Costa Rica is rapidly developing as a destination for medical and dental tourism.
Amusements: Aside from a dance hall, an occasional concert in the central park, and some bars in downtown Santa Barbara, you won't find many amusements nearby. But nearby, you'll find many sights to keep you busy between the 5:30 AM sunrises and 5:30 PM sunsets at Casa Cielo. Because we're just 10 degrees north of the equator, we get 11.5 to 12.5 hours of daylight year-round to complement our perfect temperatures, also year-round. At Casa Cielo, it's "early to bed, early to rise". We're in bed by 8:30 PM, give or take an hour.
Churches: The only nearby church is the Catholic Church located a few minutes away in Santa Barbara's central park. Services are offered only in Spanish. If you wish to attend a Protestant church or Jewish Synagogue or a Catholic Church where English is spoken, you must drive 30-60 minutes to Escazu or San Jose. Try searching online for "costa rica baptist church english" or something similar.
Learning Spanish: It helps to know some Spanish when you travel around Costa Rica. Our staff all speak Spanish fluently, and they can speak Spanish with you exclusively if you wish - that's called "immersion". If you prefer formal instruction, you can take a $.75 25-minute bus ride to Heredia, the capital of Heredia province, where the excellent Intercultura Language School and Cultural Center provides private instruction for $22/hour, or 20 hours of group instruction in five days for $300.
Looking for restaurants - or inexpensive "sodas" - in Santa Barbara? You'll find friendly sit-down restaurants, plus a few that serve "fast food". Many are closed on holidays; call to confirm hours.
Restaurants are listed alphabetically; those with $$$$ are most expensive. Some will deliver to Casa Cielo for $1-$2.
You'll need a car and 15-90 minutes to reach these destinations. The sun sets here at 5:30 PM, so we recommend that you always depart early in the morning. Also check our Overnight Trips section below! These popular sights are arranged roughly in order of their estimated drive time from Casa Cielo. Entrance fees apply to most sights and were last checked by us on 2/20/2012. Most attractions are closed at least one day per week; check websites or call for current rates and hours.
Herb Farm: Casa Cielo's neighbor is The Ark Herb Farm, where you'll find one of Costa Rica's best collections of medicinal plants, lettuces, spinach, and herbs, for sale at reasonable prices. It's a 3 minute walk from Casa Cielo.
Coffee Plantation Tour #1: Organic coffee is the specialty at Finca Rosa Blanca, which is also home to El Tigre Vestido Restaurant (above). Combine their two-hour tasting tour with lunch. $Call 2269-9392. 10 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Coffee Plantation Tour #2: Coffee is practically a religion here, and Cafe Britt is Costa Rica's #1 export coffee. The Cafe Britt Coffee Lovers Tour is a half-day theatrical show and luncheon that you won't forget. We recommend that you take home a few pounds of their Terrazu variety. $49. 15 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Horseback Riding: Ask us about nearby stables that offer horseback riding at all experience levels, starting at $50. Wear a jacket, and expect expansive views of Costa Rica mountains - and the "Central Valley" - at elevations 1,000 to 2,000 feet cooler than Casa Cielo. 15 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Macaws: The ARA Project is a licensed zoological park and non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Costa Rica's critically-endangered Great Green Macaw and the endangered Scarlet Macaw. The ARA Project operates a breeding program and reintroduction projects. You can tour the project facilities and see these stunning Costa Rica native birds by appointment only, daily at 9AM. Call 8662-2663 or 8730-0890. The one-hour tour is $10 for children, $15 for adults. 20 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, in Rio Segundo.
Volcano - Dormant: The nearest inactive volcano is Barva, the biggest volcanic mass in Central America, in the Braulio Carrillo National Park. Barva Volcano is 9,700 feet above sea level - more than a mile higher in elevation than Casa Cielo, so be sure to take a jacket. You should also take the loaner umbrellas from your master suite at Casa Cielo - plus food and plenty of water. $8. 25 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, plus a three-hour hike each way if you want to reach the lagoon at the summit.
Golf: The Cariari Country Club offers a George Fazio designed course. $60-$100. 25 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Rescue Zoo: In Costa Rica, it's illegal to keep most wild animals and birds as pets. The non-profit Zoo Ave Wildlife Rescue Center rehabilitates injured birds and animals, and provides a permanent home to those that have been confiscated from private citizens. It takes 2-3 hours to see the rare macaws and other birds, jaguarundis and other big cats, iguanas, turtles, Costa Rica's five types of monkeys, kinkajous, coatimundis, and more. (Ave is pronounced "ah'vay" and it means bird.) $15. 25 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, near the Butterfly Farm and the Botanical Orchid Garden.
Toucans: The privately run Toucan Rescue Ranch focuses on the care, rehabilitation and study of all five species of Costa Rican Toucans. They receive confiscated, sick, and injured birds, give them a loving home, and when possible rehabilitate and return them to the wild. You can "adopt a toucan" to help with its care. $Donation. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, in San Isidro de Heredia.
Zip Line - Volcano: Canopy Adventure Volcan Barva is a "thrilling zip line through the tree tops, at the foot of the Barva Volcano." The canopy tour has 13 platforms and 8 cables suspended around gigantic oak trees. Under age 8: $35. Others: $42. Transportation from Casa Cielo available at extra cost, call 2266-0782. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, near San Jose de la Montaña, Heredia.
Introduction to Costa Rica: INBioparque is a one-stop introduction to all of Costa Rica, offering an interactive experience through its ecological park. The park aims to bring you into closer contact with Costa Rica's natural resources. Guided tour: $23. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Orchids: The Botanical Orchid Garden in nearby Alajuela hosts flora and fauna representative of the tropical dry forest, including hundreds of varieties of orchids. The orchid flowers range from tiny to very large, and they're beautiful. Don't forget your camera. $12. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, near Zoo Ave and the Butterfly Farm.
Butterflies: In nearby Alajuela you'll find The Butterfly Farm, open every day for two-hour tours. It's one of the country's largest and most popular butterfly ("mariposa") farms. Guided tour: $19. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, near Zoo Ave and the Botanical Orchid Garden.
Coffee Plantation Tour #3: The coffee from Doka Estate is Erin's favorite. She gets special pricing on large quantities; ask her first if you want to take home ten pounds or more for your friends. Doka Estate is located on the slopes of the Poas Volcano, so you can combine a visit to Poas Volcano or La Paz Waterfall Gardens (morning) with a Doka Estate tour (afternoon). Tours are available that include breakfast or lunch. Coffee picking is also an option. $Call. 30 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Waterfalls & Wildlife: Because of Costa Rica's steep mountains, waterfalls are abundant. You'll find some of the country's most spectacular waterfalls near Casa Cielo. La Paz Waterfall Gardens includes five waterfalls, plus beautiful gardens and hundreds of animals - including monkeys, big cats, snakes, hummingbirds, toucans that will walk on your arms, and poison dart frogs. You can combine a trip to Poas Volcano (morning) and La Paz Waterfall Gardens (afternoon). $35. 35 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, plus a moderate 2-hour hike if you choose to see all the waterfalls.
Volcano - Active: The nearest active volcano is Poas, in the Poas Volcano National Park. At 8,900 feet above sea level, Poas Volcano is nearly a mile higher in elevation than Casa Cielo. It gets cold there, so take a jacket. You should also take the loaner umbrellas from your master suite at Casa Cielo. The fog usually lifts magically from the crater lake between 11AM and 2PM, so try to be there during those hours. $10. 40 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, plus an easy 10-minute walk to the crater.
San Jose: There are several sights that we recommend you see in San Jose. Driving to San Jose can be a confusing and harrowing experience for the uninitiated, so we suggest that you take the bus ($1.50 including a bus change in Heredia) or a taxi ($20-$25, 45 minutes) from Santa Barbara's Central Park. Once you reach the center of San Jose, we recommend the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro, $11), the National Museum (Museo National de Costa Rica, $Call), the Jade Museum (Museo de Jade, $7), the National Theater (Teatro Nacional), souvenirs (see below), and the new Chinatown (opened December, 2012).
Souvenirs: For the best prices and selection of Costa Rican souvenirs, go to the Plaza de la Democracia in downtown San Jose, adjoining the National Museum. There, you will find several dozen vendors in a covered outdoor market offering Costa Rican and Central American crafts for sale. Everything is negotiable, with discounts of 10%-35% possible on large purchases from a single vendor - if you pay in cash. Many vendors speak some English. We recommend that you first walk the straight line past all of the vendors' stalls without buying anything - to see what's available. On your return pass, buy what you like. We especially like the wide variety of souvenirs made of a combination of five popular Costa Rican woods, including coco bolo (rosewood). There are some fine bargains here even if you pay full price, and they're guaranteed to please your family and friends. Most of the vendors are friendly and polite, even when you politely say "no, gracias". Outside of commuting hours, it's 45-50 minutes by car or taxi from Casa Cielo.
Fine Furniture Tour: Casa Cielo is furnished almost exclusively with custom-made furniture ("muebles") crafted in the beautiful, sustainable hardwoods "guanacaste" and "cenizero". It was all made in the nearby town of Sarchi, where you'll find more than two dozen stores featuring Costa Rica's finest furniture. If you enjoy the wood and leather rocker or the clothes tree in your master suite, you can buy either in Sarchi for less than $150. $FREE. Sarchi's stores cover more than a mile of the road, and start 50 minutes by car from Casa Cielo. On the way, stop to see the beautiful, unusual church in Grecia; its walls are made of metal.
Botanical Garden: The 17-acre Else Kientzler Botanical Garden is an enjoyable half-day walking tour that includes 11 gardens with 2000+ plant species from around the world. There's a hibiscus maze that's perfect for kids, and a picnic area. Combine this with the "fine furniture tour" of Sarchi, or the topiary gardens at Zarcero. $13 for adults. 55 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Topiary: CostaRica.com says of the extraordinary topiary gardens at Zarcero: "Wavy arches carved from conifer cypress invite visitors to explore artist-landscaper Evangelisto Blanco's latest inventions. Shrubs and trees manifest as dancing animals, stylized creatures and other unique abstractions." Expect mist until Noon; take the loaner umbrellas from your master suite at Casa Cielo. There's also a nearby cheese factory, waterfall, and Juan Castro Blanco National Park, so you can make a full day of it. The topiary is free to visit, although donations are appreciated by the artist (we suggest $4-$5/person). 55 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Braulio Carrillo National Park: A rainforest, waterfalls, aerial tram, zip lines, jungle near sea level and cloud forest at 9,500 feet all await you at Costa Rica's second largest parque nacional, Braulio Carrillo National Park. For a full day of activities, check out the "eco-pass" (listed in the "attractions" section) at Rainforest Adventures. $10 for park admission, or $99 for an eco-pass. It's 60 minutes by car from Casa Cielo to the park entrance; the aerial rainforest tram and zip lines take another 15 minutes to reach.
Lankester Botanical Gardens: You'll find a stunning 800 varieties of beautiful orchids at Lankester Botanical Gardens. $5. 60-75 minutes by car from Casa Cielo. Can be combined with Irazu Volcano, as an overnight trip.
Zip Line - River: The Canopy San Luis tour "will take you on an exhilarating and safe adventure through lush, green canopy and across the majestic Rio Cataratitas." $65 includes lunch. 60-75 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, west of San Ramon.
Zip Line - Wet Forest with Horseback Ride: Aventuras la Carpintera With 19 platforms, more than one mile of cable, hiking, and two rappels, this canopy tour features a wet forest. $75 includes training, horseback ride and snack. Bring your long pants, mountain hiking shoes, bug repellent and sun block. 75 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, at San Diego de Tros Rios, east of San Jose.
Crocodiles & Birding: The easily accessible Carara National Park is famous for its many crocodiles that you can view safely from a bridge on the road - and for excellent birding. If you take a zoom camera, you may be able to photograph a colorful butterfly on a crocodile's nose. $10 if you enter the park; crocodile viewing from the bridge is free. 80 minutes by car from Casa Cielo, on the way to the beach at Jaco. Observe the enforced speed limit when you drive through the park.
Heliconias & Birds: Lonely Planet calls Heliconia Island "arguably the most beautiful garden in all of Costa Rica ... a masterpiece of landscape architecture." This small island displays 80 varieties of heliconia, flowers, plants, and trees. It's also home to more than 200 species of birds, monkeys, otters, and more. $12-$18. It's 90 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
300-foot Waterfall: If you enjoy waterfalls, Catarata Del Toro bills itself as Costa Rica's most impressive waterfall. You can enjoy its restaurant with hummingbirds, rappel, and walk trails to observe tropical birds, butterflies, and plants in the primary forest. The waterfall cascades into an extinct volcanic crater. If you get an early start, you can combine this with a visit to Zarcero or Sarchi. Allow at least two hours here. $10. It's 90 minutes by car from Casa Cielo.
Pacific Beach at Puntarenas: Because of its close proximity to San Jose, its airport, and much of Costa Rica's Central Valley, Puntarenas is a popular beach destination for Costa Ricans and tourists alike. It's 90+ minutes by car from Casa Cielo via a new toll road ($2 each way), depending on traffic and your map-following expertise. A GPS helps!
Pacific Beach at Jaco: Also close to San Jose and the Central Valley, Jaco is a popular beach destination. It's 90+ minutes by car from Casa Cielo. The new toll road gets you there quickly, but the older mountainous route with challenging switchbacks and many typical small towns is an enjoyable alternative - if you have an extra 60-90 minutes. The older, more scenic route can burn up your brakes if you don't downshift on the steepest declines.
You'll need a car and 1-4 hours to reach these popular destinations. We recommend that you plan to spend at least one night at any of these, but it is possible to make a day trip of the closest ones. Fabian can arrange hotels in whatever price range you prefer, and can arrange private or semi-private transportation if you wish. These overnight trips are listed roughly in order of their distance from Casa Cielo. Entrance fees apply to most sights. The Costa Rica travel books at Casa Cielo provide further details. We'll hold your suite at Casa Cielo for half-price (two nights maximum, paid in advance) while you are away on an overnight trip.
*We suggest that you pay for a government certified, official guide ($10-$20/person); you'll see far more wildlife with a trained guide than you'll see on your own, and you'll hike more safely. To be sure that you get an official guide at the most popular destinations, ask for a guide where you pay your entrance fee. Otherwise you may get a freelancer who's not as well trained.
A small 4WD SUV will cost you at least $60/day with the minimum required amount of insurance. We recommend that you check pricing at Fox Rent A Car (San Jose Airport location). Avoid Budget in Alajuela near the airport; their representative added unwanted, costly options to our Spanish-language rental contract. (We complained to American Express, but they said tough luck, since we had signed the contract.) In any case, be sure to check every fee on the rental contract before you sign it. Check your car very carefully, note all damage, and be certain that all safety equipment works - lights, turn signals, seat belts, locks, etc. To save money, take a taxi to Casa Cielo from the airport ($20) and Fabian will arrange the delivery of a rental car one or two days later. That will save you one or two days' rental expense (minus the taxi fare), and Fabian's company will earn a commission.
Gasoline costs about $5/gallon; diesel is 5% less. Costa Rica is the size of West Virginia, so you probably won't drive more than a few hundred miles a week.
Most rural roads and streets in Costa Rica are not well-maintained. But most major roads and highways are in pretty good shape. We recommend that you rent a 4WD vehicle that sits high off the ground. Big wheels add to your comfort and help to prevent flat tires, because big, fat SUV tires are your best defense against potholes.
Most roads and streets in Costa Rica have no names and no visible route numbers. And most businesses and residences have no numbered street address. Addresses read like this: "200 meters north of the police station, and 350 meters east of the Catholic Church". This is changing, but for now a good map - and a good sense of east, south, west, and north - are essential in Costa Rica.
Road maps that rental car companies provide are incomplete - and nearly useless if you plan to visit Costa Rica's many extraordinary sights. So what's a tourist to do? You won't find many maps for sale outside of San Jose. So before you come, we suggest that you buy the Waterproof Travel Map of Costa Rica. With your $12 purchase they will also include a free PDF-format road atlas of Costa Rica. Their map and atlas both have far more detail than you will find anywhere else. The free atlas is not available in print, so you'll need a computer to study it, and possibly to print out a few key pages. If you buy the map through Amazon, you can download the atlas if you take the dashes out of your Amazon order number and use it here.
Now that you have a good map, a travel partner who happens to be a expert navigator can read the map, so that you won't have to stop at every intersection when you're looking for your next turn. In addition to your printed map and human navigator, we recommended a GPS. It will save you time and frustration, and usually will help you to avoid getting lost. As in the USA, the GPS maps are not 100% accurate, but they sure beat nothing. With few road names and numbers, you'll use landmarks instead of addresses in your GPS. You'll search for "Poas" to find the Poas Volcano National Park, or "Santa Barbara" to find Casa Cielo's home town, and check the fast food section of "restaurants" to find, yes, the nearest McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC, or Quiznos.
If you need driving directions, ask a taxi driver. They know how to drive everywhere and many speak English. Costa Rica has cheap public buses that go everywhere in the country, so many Costa Ricans have never driven a car. Because someone else does all the driving, they often cannot provide accurate directions.
Drive defensively! Traffic law enforcement is minimal and tickets are rare, so many drivers simply ignore the traffic laws. Costa Ricans are usually very polite and friendly. But when they get behind the wheels of their cars, some become aggressive. Motorcyclists squeeze between cars where there is literally just inches of clearance; be sure to watch for them. So get a good map or GPS, be careful, and enjoy Costa Rica's beautiful sights!
If you don't want to rent a car in Costa Rica, here are some alternatives that you can mix and match:
In Costa Rica (and most of the world) your best defense is to make yourself an unappealing target for theft. Do not wear jewelry, expensive clothes or expensive shoes. Never display your electronics in public - computer or tablet, music player, cellphone, etc. Never leave anything in your car that might tempt a thief to break in. Conceal your cash in a money belt. And whenever you must leave valuables unattended, secure or hide them as well as you can.
For your protection, Casa Cielo is gated and equipped with security cameras and alarms.
We will provide specific driving directions (English and Spanish) to Casa Cielo after you book your stay, including precise GPS coordinates and a link to Casa Cielo for viewing on Google Earth. The blue pointer on the Google map below identifies the bus stop in downtown Santa Barbara, one mile from Casa Cielo. You can zoom in or out and re-center the map to see our location in more or less detail. Costa Rica's San Jose Airport (SJO, 25 minutes from Casa Cielo) is located in the lower left (sourhwest) portion of the map, in the town of Alajuela.
Casa Cielo is 10 degrees north of the equator, and 84 degrees west of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in the UK - the international zero-longitude reference line or "Prime Meridian". If you've read this far, you probably know that Costa Rica is not an island. It's part of Central America, bounded both by the Atlantic (Caribbean) and Pacific Oceans - and by Nicaragua on its north and Panama on its south. It's possible to drive here from the USA, but impractical!
For more information about tourism and sightseeing in Costa Rica, start with these websites:
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All text is Copyright © 2012-2013 Brian Raub, and Casa Cielo LLC. All rights reserved.
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Website Created by Brian Raub on Feb/17/2012; last updated Nov/10/2013.