Volcanoes, zip lining, horseback riding and ATV excursions. It sounds like the premise of an action movie, but in reality it was just the beginning of Michele and Leo Ochoa’s adventure-packed Costa Rican honeymoon.
The couple spent six nights in the lush tropical country after their April wedding, dividing their time between the Hotel Royal Corin in Arenal and the all-inclusive Westin on the Playa Conchal.
After a four-hour drive from the airport in San Jose to Arenal, Michele and Leo didn’t spare a second before heading to the spa for a relaxing massage.
“We got a 90 minute couples massage … it was right below the volcano, right outside our huge room you could see the volcano,” Michele said.
For Michele, the main perk of the Royal Corin was the many enthralling excursions it provided. The only thing more exciting than the excursions for her, however, was just how easy it was to book them: pick an excursion from the list, pay the concierge and done. With great service and great prices, all there was left to do was go on as many adventures as possible. The couple started off by horseback riding through a waterfall, and then zip lining through the canopy of the rain forest.
“We went on the tallest and longest zipline in the country. There were nine zip lines that you could go down, so you start at the top and you kind of just zip line your way down through the canopy. It was just amazing. ”
After three days packed full of adrenal and adventure, Michele and Leo left Arenal and drove six hours to the Westin in Playa Conchal. And at that moment Michele wished she had thought about the English translation of that name.
“Playa Conchal for anyone who goes, the beach is named ‘beach of shells’ [in Spanish]. So it’s not the most romantic place to have a long walk on the beach,” Michele explained after discovering her sandy beach was really more of a rocky terrain. “Leo wanted to [walk on the beach] a couple times and I’m like ‘my feet are going to bleed if I walk on this!'”
Unfortunately, the problems didn’t end there. Michele — who’s no stranger to all-inclusive resorts — was less than satisfied by the customer service at the Westin.
“The pool area was great and the food was decent and everything was pretty great but the service … it was just horrible,” Michele said.
From their first day at the Westin, Michele and Leo had problems: being locked out of their room for an hour, no Wi-Fi and not being able to get into the restaurants.
“I was used to going to all-inclusives and just walking into a restaurant whenever, but here you have to make reservations,” Michele said. “There were six different restaurants and … by the time we got there three of the restaurants were full and we couldn’t eat [where we wanted].”
Even with less than satisfactory service, Michele and Leo were able to enjoy the remainder of their Costa Rican honeymoon and even squeeze in another excursion.
“When we were at the beach we got to ride ATVs and then lounge around the pool, and we had a good time,” Michele said. “My favorite excursion was the ATVs … we got to go on this big motorcycle machine along the ocean, and then they stopped us to snorkel, and that was a lot of fun.”
The Planning Process
The couple decided on their Costa Rican honeymoon after a change in jobs cut Michele’s vacation time from one month to a meager six days.
With neither Michele nor Leo ever having vacationed in Costa Rica before, Michele was hesitant about the planning process. Afraid of being ripped off by discount travel sites, she booked the two hotels directly from their websites. Michele decided on the Royal Corin in Arenal for the first part of their honeymoon, as it provided a luxurious hotel experience without the hefty price tag of the other resort in the area.
“When you go to Arenal you think of volcanoes and zip lining and all those things, but most of the hotels are little bed and breakfasts — unless you want to go to this one hotel called The Springs, which is like $1000 a night and where they filmed ‘The Bachelor,'” Michele explained. “We wanted something a little more luxurious. Even though we were going to Costa Rica I didn’t want to see a gecko in my bedroom. As quaint as that sounds, it didn’t seem ideal for a honeymoon for me.”
After booking the hotels herself, Michele gave Leo free reign to make the flight arrangements after he found “a really good deal.”
“He got an overnight flight that stopped in Houston at about four in the morning. And the flight to Costa Rica didn’t leave until 9 a.m.,” Michele said. “So we had a five hour layover at 4 a.m., after we already had our wedding the night before and gotten no sleep and then took a red eye so that was kind of terrible. He’s not allowed to book flights for us anymore.”
Advice for future Costa Rican honeymooners
Even with an exhausting red-eye flight and only a month of planning for the honeymoon, Michele and Leo pulled off a fun-filled trip. Looking back though, they had a few pointers to offer up to future Costa Rican honeymooners.
“I would plan more in advance and I would locate a travel agent that is reliable and trustworthy and able to book everything for some security in case anything changed,” Michele said.
Michele’s most crucial piece of advice, however: avoid driving.
“Everyone says it’s so convenient to drive, but the roads are scary!” Michelle said. “You can drive fairly easily, most of the roads are paved … but the embankments are really steep and the roads are narrow and there are lots of narrow bridges, so it’s scary. I would not recommend driving at night and I think we ended up paying more than $500 for the car that we hardly used.”
And for packing purposes, Michele warned future honeymooners not to forget basic items at home — not because they aren’t available on the island, but because of the astronomical prices the resorts charge for them.
“We brought a bunch of little things of sunblock but not enough … [so] when we got to the Westin, we thought we’d just go to the store there and pick some up,” Michele explained. “It was $35 for a little thing of sunblock and I was like, ‘I’d rather fry than pay that.'”
While local resorts may gouge tourists with hefty rates and prices, Michele said that the one thing they do not tolerate is putting their guests in danger.
“In Costa Rica you’re really safe. Tourism is their number one industry and there seems to be an understanding that everyone protects tourists.”
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