Costa Rica Expeditions - Rain and Cloud Forest Odyssey - part 2
On day 4 we left Tortuga Lodge for our 3 night stay at the MonteverdeLodge & Gardens. After breakfast we boated across the river to the airstrip to catch our flight to San Jose – there were quite a few of us leaving Tortuga the same day so CRE had chartered 3 planes for us. There was only one other couple going to Monteverde (the couple I mentioned earlier) so we had a plane to ourselves. After a 35 minute flight, we were met in San Jose by yet another excellent CRE guide (who also happened to be named Jonathan) for our 3 hour van ride to Monteverde Lodge & Gardens.
We arrived at ML&G around lunch time (the only meal not included in our package) and check in was a bit chaotic since a large tour group had arrived at the same time. We were given our room key and the luggage guy took us to our room. This is where some of the problems started – the room was small and did not have 2 beds (at least we did have the balcony upgrade that we had paid for). I went downstairs to see about changing our room and reception was still a bit chaotic – lucky for me I overheard one of the tour group folks complaining that he had requested a room with 1 bed but he had 2 beds instead, I quickly went over to him and we exchanged rooms – a good thing since the hotel was fully booked. I told reception that we had changed rooms so they could update their system and I also asked for an ashtray for our outdoor deck – now remember that when I asked the main office in my initial emails that we specifically wanted to upgrade since we were smokers and were told no problem – we were told that a few weeks earlier a guest had complained that someone was smoking on the balcony so they said no one could smoke on their room balconies anymore – did not make much sense to me since the balconies are private and fairly distant from each other – they said there was a bench outside the front door where we could smoke (we were not the only smokers at the hotel either). When we went back to our room, I discovered a brochure on the desk for the lodge and on the front page it was stated pretty clearly that this hotel was nonsmoking – the brochure was obviously printed more than a few weeks ago – so why did reception say that smoking on the balconies was stopped a few weeks ago due to a guest complaining and why didn’t the person in San Jose know anything about these policies since I specifically told her we were smokers – lack of communication here!
We had as earlier mentioned that we were celebrating a special occasion (our 25th wedding anniversary & my birthday) and while looking through the brochure, I discovered that we could have had a special day where all our meals would have been privately served out in the gardens – this would have been nice had the lodge been told of the special request. At this point, I did not even want to bother saying anything to the reception folks. The other couple who were on the same tour also had problems – they had booked directly through CRE and their Tortuga portion was fine, however, when they booked they were told that ML&G was full so they were put up in a nearby hotel in the area. Their tour was identical to ours – all meals included and the tours in Monteverde were to be the same also. Somehow this was not communicated in Monteverde – the other hotel had no idea they had included meals and the couple was not told they could come to the ML&G for their meals and on the 2nd day, no one in the main CRE office in San Jose knew anything about their 2nd included tour – they ended up paying for all their meals and their 2nd tour. They were on the tours with us and on the 2nd day, we invited them to ML&G to have dinner with us and they accepted so we made a reservation for 6:30 (when the lodge is full you need to make a dinner reservation). The 4 of us also met a Canadian guy who was traveling through CR alone and was staying at ML&G, so over pre dinner drinks we invited him to join us for dinner since he also had a 6:30 dinner reservation – he was quite happy not to have to eat alone again. MY husband went up to the restaurant manager and told him there would be 5 of us instead of 4 and the hubby was told very rudely “no way, could not be done” The hubby said we have a table, this other guy has a table – just put them together – you would think it would be easy but again were told “no way”. I finally went to the reception desk but the reception lady (Cindy) said she had no control over the restaurant manager. By this time, we were all pretty upset, so I resorted to telling Cindy that I was going to write a review and this was no way to treat their guests. She then told me to wait a few minutes and the manager would come over. Julio the hotel manager, who turned out to handle the situation in a very discreet and capable manner, soon had our table for 5 set up – thank you Julio! When the other couple went to pay for their dinner, to their surprise and our, they were told no charge since all meals were included both at ML&G and at the hotel they were placed in– we all wondered why they had not been told this when they arrived. They also mentioned they had to pay for their 2nd tour and after a few calls to the main CRE office, they were told reimbursements for the meals and tours were in order. Again there seems to have been some problem in the communication chain. This was not the only dining room incident we had, 1 morning for breakfast we were the 2nd couple seated but after others came in we were ignored and ended up being the last to order and the last to get served. To make matters worse, there were ants all over the table (we were sitting at a table near the wall and a few ants are to be expected in a jungle area) we lifted up the table linen and there were swarms of ants. We showed the waiter, when he finally came over, and he just laughed and brushed some of them off the table. In a place that is supposed to be upscale, we should have been shown to a different table or at the least; he should have cleared the table, wiped it off and re set it. I for one do not like ants crawling about in my food.Another strange thing was that I asked for salt & pepper and the waiter said “why – the chef already seasoned the food” – I just replied “please bring me some salt and pepper” and he finally did – they seem to have 1 pepper mill and 1 salt shaker, so if you like to use these condiments, you will need to ask at every meal – never experienced this before. The dining room was fine, however it is brightly lit in the evening and for some reason they had a radio playing all the time during meals so in between the smooth jazz you heard annoying commercials – a CD player would have been a better option. Menu options were varied and the food was actually pretty good. Bartenders were good and there was a varied wine and cocktail selection. If you need breakfast before 6am, you just need to let them know the night before and they will prepare a light breakfast for you.
On to the lodge description…… after the room change we had a good size room with 2 beds, a desk and chair with a coffee maker. The small balcony has 2 uncomfortable chairs and a table with a wonderful view of the forest. There is also a large bathroom and sink area and a large closet. No air conditioning but there is a ceiling fan; however, in this cloud forest climate air conditioners are not needed. If you ever stay here, definitely upgrade to a 2nd floor balcony room since the ground floor rooms have a large corner window with not much of a view. The public areas are nice and there is a large fireplace which is lit in the evening, however, when the hotel is full, there is not enough seating and a few times, I thought there would be a fight to sit near the fire – much jockeying around for the few chairs available. There is also a nice 15 person Jacuzzi in an airy atrium – you kind of have to walk through the reception area to get to the Jacuzzi so it would have been nice if the lodge had provided robes in the room.
The lodge gardens are very beautiful and we spent most of our time outside in the gardens when we were not hiking around or on a tour, however, there needs to be more seating in the garden areas – just a few metal benches scattered around and the patio area has 2 chairs and a love seat. There are no TVs in the room but there is a conference room where we watched a video on the Monteverde Cloud Forest with fruit drinks and popcorn provided – this was a nice touch. There is also a private sanctuary reserve next to the lodge where we went on our night tour – excellent tour and guide and if we had been told the sanctuary was right next door, we would have spent a day there also to hike around.
ML&G is a nice place – they describe it as “rustic elegance” – I don’t quite agree with this description. A nice, comfortable lodge with beautiful gardens but if we were to go to the Monteverde area we would not stay here. The lodge is showing its age and needs some maintenance work. My husband is in the construction business and noticed many things that I did not – poor quality materials, roof overhangs missing their under coverings, laminate wood flooring instead of real wood – most of these things the average person would probably not even notice but he said for the prices charged here, I should mention this stuff since better quality should be expected at a supposedly upscale lodge.
In conclusion, CRE is a good tour operator with excellent drivers, guides and tours. Tortuga Lodge is fantastic and we would go back there any time – informative and very friendly staff and an all-around fun experience. Monteverde Lodge & Gardens on the other hand is in a beautiful area and has wonderful gardens and their tour guides are very good, however the other staff, especially the dining room staff, needs some customer service training.
Link to ML&G pictures