Sunday, January 3, 2016

Costa Rica 2016 - Post 3: Accommodations, Part 1

See my other posts to follow along on booking our Costa Rica Trip!     Post 1     Post 2

We haven't even been to Costa Rica yet, & already I am trying to talk James into moving there. I started reading a book today about a couple who did just that - quit their jobs, sold their stuff, left the U.S., & moved to Costa Rica. The book is called Happier than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, written by Nadine Hayes Pisani. It's giving me all sorts of crazy dreams in this wondering mind of mine. James says "Let's just take our trip there, first, before you get too excited." I'm like that guy in the movie Up, except, I'm not an old man, not grumpy, & my house isn't attached to a boat-load of balloons. That would be so cool if it was. Instead, those balloons are attached to me, & when I have all these crazy thoughts & ideas, those balloons get pumped up with more air, & I began to lift off the ground & float in the sky. James always seems to pull me back to the ground, keeping me stable. I realize I steered away from referring to my brain as balloons filled with hot air. My grade school teacher would chuckle at this.


"Whatchu lookin' at?"

But he's right. James, not my grade school teacher. We need to visit Costa Rica for ourselves. We need to go there & soak up the culture, the nature, the ocean, the land, the food, the ambiance, the customs, the people, the vibe. So I made sure to keep those things in mind when choosing our accommodations.

Before we even booked our flights, we knew we wouldn't want to stay in one place while in CR. If we were going to spend a two-week vacation somewhere, we had to see as much of it as possible. Even on our one-week vacations, we like to drive all over the place. It's the best way to experience a destination. That's also the big reason why we decided to rent a car in CR, rather than travelling by bus or taxi. 

So Day 1 was going to be partially taken up by flying. Our flight leaves Minnesota at around midnight, we land in Fort Lauderdale at 4:40am, spend our 6-hour layover gallivanting around the airport, and eventually land in CR at about 12:30pm. James & I both agreed that the first day we should stay within an hour from the airport, as we might be tired, have jet lag, be a bit culture-shocked, & may experience some chaos as we try to navigate the airport, find our rental car, & figure out where we're going. 
We got this FREE 2015 Costa Rica map from Ray & Sue at Costa Rica Guide
So I turned to my all-time favorite accommodations booking website, Airbnb. For our first night, we had a few things in mind: 
1) One night was all we needed in this area. 
2) Keep it cheap, so we can spend more on places near the ocean. 
3) Keep it within an hour of the airport.

We just wanted to stay somewhere for one night the first night. We knew we had a big, big list of places to see, & the airport/San Jose area wasn't high on that list, so we could only afford to give this area one night for now. We I did my research & noted that the airport was actually in Alajuela, not the capital of San Jose. So I entered "Alajuela" into Airbnb's search, entered the dates for 2 people, & began looking for places to stay on the cheap. I'd have to say this was a very quick booking, maybe even our quickest for the whole trip. Why? Because we found a place for super cheap, right away. Enter Apartmento Independiente Amueblado


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Near the airport, check! Right off the bat I noticed the price - $25/night. Keep it cheap, check! Second, the pictures were gorgeous. Third, I noticed the reviews, or lack-there-of. Normally, I wouldn't stay at an Airbnb place unless it had numerous reviews. This place only had one review, & it was translated into spotty English. I'm surprised I didn't click right out at that point, but those pictures were just darling. After further inspection, I realized they were Verified Photo's, meaning, Airbnb sent a photographer there to take the pictures. That had to mean something good, right? And then I stared at the pictures some more. The first photo is a picture of a room with a piece of decor on the wall that said "Villa Rica Guesthouse." I really wanted to stay at this place, so I typed those words into Google. Google brought me to a Tripadvisor page. It was the same place, with even more pictures and another review! The pictures were taken by the reviewer. This person gushed & gushed about the place, from the breakfast, to the cleanliness, to the fresh flowers in their room, to how nice the hosts were. 

SOLD. 

I hit "Request to Book" and sent the request along with a little message: "Hello! I'm Ashley and I will be traveling with my boyfriend, James. We are flying into Costa Rica and will be traveling all over the country for 2 weeks. We need a place close to the airport for one night to rest up after a day of flying.  We read a review about your place on TripAdvisor, and think your place sounds great! Hope to hear soon." 

It's always polite to send a message along with your Airbnb booking request. 

That same day, I got a reply: "Hi Ashley: Really good to hear from you!! We are very close to the airport and we would like to host you both. In case that you need us to pick you up at the airport let us know so we can organize everything. It is really nice to know that you take as reference TripAdvisor. We are sure that you will enjoy your stay here. Hope to hear from you soon. Best regards, Tonny!"

Tonny approved us to stay there, & the first night in Costa Rica was BOOKED! Whew!


My Airbnb confirmation email.

My excitement & energy was high, so I was ready to keep rolling & book the next place. After looking into things & trying to map out our route as best I could, I decided to make the Arenal Volcano our next stop. There are so so so many things to do in the Arenal Volcano area, like seeing the volcano, hiking, zip-lining, river rafting, river tubing, & more. I read a few reviews that said to stay in this area for at least 3 nights. After searching Airbnb & not finding anything that really jumped out to me, I turned to Orbitz.com. I had a few Orbucks to use, and Ebates was doing a sale for 8.1% cashback. (Ebates does not do cashback for Airbnb.) The cheapest place to stay in La Fortuna (town near the volcano) was Hotel Mayol Lodge. We wanted a few things if we were going to stay at one place for 3 nights:
1) A pool.
2) Breakfast included.
3) Close to the volcano.
4) Good reviews.
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Hotel Mayol Lodge had a pool, breakfast was included, it was a quick drive to the volcano, & their reviews said they treat you like family. Many reviews mentioned a lady named Maria who makes the breakfast & how she is the nicest person in Costa Rica. 

Little details like that... I'm sold. Again. 

It came out to $40/night. Our Ebates icon on our screen was on already, but it also had a drop down message that said "4 Coupons Can Be Applied." Of course, I wasn't paying attention & almost booked the place until James yelled "Wait! It says it has 4 coupons to apply!" So I hit that, and it took $24 off the total. Here's our receipt:
$105 for 3 nights with everything we wanted & Maria? Alleluia! And, on top of those other savings, we still get 8.1% cashback on the total, which comes out to about $8.40. V-V-V-Victory!

Okay, it's time to make dinner. I'll be posting the rest of our vacation accommodations soon! Stay posted & in the meantime, here's a picture of Jack, our dog, being all sorts of cute & maybe a little sad about us going to Costa Rica for 2 whole weeks.




Warm wishes,
Ash

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