Rancho Armadillo Estate Newsletter
A Big Thank You To All of Our Guests
We are pleased to announce that we have been inducted into the 2015 Trip Advisor Hall of Fame, awarded for receiving the certificate of Excellence for 5 straight years. Along with the highest award from Trip Advisor, the"Travelers Choice Award" for 2014, this award is presented based on the outstanding reviews that you, our guests have submitted, this award is These awards are special because they are based on unsolicited reviews of our guests.We have been Trip Advisor's #1 hotel for the past 9 years. Thanks to all of our former guests and new friends. Pura Vida!
Testimony of the Month
"Believe Me ~ It's Magic"
Enchanted evenings and dazzling days – that’s a vacation at Rancho Armadillo.
This place is a destination in itself, an amazing property that I kind of hope remains undiscovered. Everything positive stated in the other reviews is true, and more.
Rick is one of the great innkeepers of the world, and we feel lucky to have found him. Every recommendation Rick made was accurate, and the do-it-yourself breakfasts were amazing.
We arrived at night, and were greeted by an enchanted fairyland with strings of colorful twinkling lights and lanterns everywhere. It was a magical first impression, and the spell continued the duration of our stay. Daylight revealed countless statues, artifacts, and other décor strategically placed to surprise, delight, and charm you. The grounds are lush and spacious, the rooms comfortable and private. From the dining area, you can gaze out onto the shimmering sea over the lush treetops.
This is a meaningful place for a family gathering. There are countless birds, insects, and critters - Rick knows about every single one. Older children will love it here – the dining area with its wall hangings and artifacts and rustic lunch counter lends itself to relaxing conversation and unhurried time. The lazily swinging hammocks upstairs are a fine place to while away a few hours with a good book between swims. This place is rich with its own history: a hat rack filled with ball caps from all over the United States, a bookshelf of weathered books. This is the stuff that memories are made of.
Playas del Coco is not for everyone, and thank goodness for that. Yes, it’s a run-down little beach town. A great place for divers, but not for those who secretly want everything to be just like everywhere else they go. But then, those people won’t be reading this.
Thank you, Rick. Pura Vida!
A note: you do need a car here. We rented from Adobe through Rick and had it delivered – the transaction was seamless.
Adventure Hotels Of Costa Rica
Rancho Armadillo Estate is also a member of Adventure Hotels of Costa Rica a group of small and medium sized owner operated hotels located throughout Costa Rica. Although we have not been to all of the hotels in the association we are confident that all meet the standards that were required by the founders of this group. Please visit our Recommended Hotels page for more information.
The following is an article published in the Costa Rican National English Language News Paper "Tico Times"
The kindest hotel owner in Costa Rica
Posted: Friday, May 25, 2012 - By Ashley Harrell
Rancho Armadillo owner Rick Vogel will make you a piña colada and do your dishes.
Tucked back in the mountains above Playas del Coco and surrounded by tropical dry forest, there lives a Detroit-bred Gringo with a long, gray ponytail, and he will make you the best piña colada(s) of your life. He’ll also give you everything else you could possibly want while you are staying at his charming but modern six-room estate, Rancho Armadillo. His name is Rick Vogel, and his rancho es su rancho. He’s the kindest hotel operator in the whole damn country.
While it’s easy to find Vogel’s place on TripAdvisor – his property is the top choice in the area and has nearly 100 effusive reviews – physically getting there can be a little trickier. A couple of miles from the beach, there’s a turnoff before some pink condominiums into an unassuming residential area with only a knee-high, white boulder pointing the way to the rancho.
Through the neighborhood and up a dirt road, visitors finally reach Rancho Armadillo’s 25 jungle acres and collection of funky little casitas, pool area and open-air lounges and kitchen. Upon arrival, the ponytail man materializes, offers refreshments and gives a grand tour.
Each of the six rooms are spacious and brightly painted, with tropical hardwood furnishings, brightly colored Guatemalan bedspreads and unique adornments, many of which come with stories. In my room, one painting was created by a Vietnam vet named John English, who died from complications of being exposed to Agent Orange, Vogel told me.
When English arrived in Costa Rica to spend his final days, he told Vogel that he loved to paint but didn’t believe he’d do it again. Vogel bought English paint supplies and talked him into giving it a shot. When English died three years later, his paintings were displayed all over Playas del Coco.
An expat of 13 years, Vogel’s got lots of stories, and he likes to tell them by the pool, over piña coladas. He did this on the first evening of my stay, and he also brought out his Meade telescope so that we could look at Venus and the moon. As it happened, that was the night of the super moon – the fullest, closest moon to earth of the year. Vogel also summoned the Rancho Armadillo housekeeper and her daughter to behold the spectacle, then regaled us all with trivia about astronomy and creatures of the night. Apparently, Venus has phases just like the moon, and bats dip their chests in the pool when they fly over, then lick the water off.
Spread across two open-air lounges, Vogel’s got all kinds of board games, books, hammocks, indigenous relics and miscellaneous curiosities, and he seems to enjoy being mysterious about their origin. When asked where he got something, he inevitably responds, “men and trucks.”
Should anybody get lucky fishing, Vogel is happy to fry up the day’s catch as part of a five-course, gourmet meal. He creates a menu to go with it, and here’s one example of Vogel meal: patacones and baked brie Grand Marnier (appetizer), mango sorbet (palate cleanser), mango capresse with fresh baked bread and roasted red pepper butter (salad), broiled dorado with ginger Dijon lobster sauce, grilled portabella mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant and rice pilaf (entrée) and chocolate liqueur sundae (dessert).
Vogel also serves a complimentary breakfast for his guests, and it includes some of the best waffles I’ve had. He keeps a wide selection of waffle fillings – I chose chocolate chips, strawberries and orange zest – to be mixed with batter and then cooked in a waffle-maker. For other meals and snacks, the kitchen is open 24/7 to guests, and Vogel pledges to do any and all dishes.
A longtime expert on not just Playas del Coco, but much of Costa Rica, Vogel has elaborate packets of information on tours and restaurants that he shares with guests. His recommended activities include a nearby canopy tour that costs only $25 a person (because Vogel does not take a middleman’s cut), a hike to Bagaces Waterfall and Wild Cat Rescue Center, an indigenous pottery and tortilla factory, a pre-Columbian petroglyph site, a coffee plantation tour and various sea-bound adventures. Although the nightlife in Coco is pretty rollicking, spending a boozy night by the Rancho Armadillo pool has my vote.
In addition to regaling his guests with stories and doing their dishes, Vogel also has built his neighbor’s 5-year-old an outdoor playhouse and planted the family a garden. He also pays for several local children to attend private school. He likes improving the lives of those around him, guests included.
When Vogel found out that I’d be catching a very early bus back to San José, he insisted on doing something pretty much unheard of. Despite my protests, he woke up at 3:30 a.m. and drove me five minutes to the bus station
Click here to view the Tico Times article with photos
How to find the cheapest fares
Finally, there’s a scientific answer to that magic number of days before a flight when tickets are at their cheapest. The answer? Are you ready? Are you reeeally ready? The folks at CheapOair spent the last year analyzing over four million flights last year. They tracked ticket prices from 320 days before takeoff all the way up until the day before, calculating precisely which day each one hit its lowest point. Air travelers tend to believe they’ll find the lowest of low prices when they book “at the last minute.” This, according to all present data, is one hundred percent false. The researchers found that, on average, a ticket was at its highest price on the day before the flight. The second-highest price was two days before the flight, the third-highest was three days before… and so on, all the way to 13 days before the flight. This pretty much solidifies the rule that you should NEVER book your ticket within two weeks of a flight… a mistake that 36% made made when planning their trips. While the researchers found that 54 days was indeed the magic number for booking on average, they’re quick to point out that this isn't a hard fast rule: your flight’s “best price” window depends a lot on the specific trip you’re taking.
The Magic number for booking a cheap flight to Costa Rica is : 80 days before your flight
New Flights into Liberia
United out of Denver
U.S. carrier United Airlines will open two seasonal flights between Denver and Costa Rica from December to April. The route to Liberia will operate on Saturdays from Dec. 19 to April 30. Flights will leave from Denver at 9:55 a.m. and arrive in Liberia at 4:15 p.m. Departures from Liberia will be at 12:30 p.m. and will arrive in Denver at 5:05 p.m.
Southwest Air Lines out of Houston
Southwest Air Lines has announced 5 new flights into Liberia out of Houston.
Alaska Airlines begins flights in November 2015 from Los Angels
Apple Vacations Charter
U.S. travel agency Apple Vacations will add two new charter operations to the Airport in Liberia,
Flights will be seasonal and will be scheduled within dates that allow U.S. travelers to take full advantage of holiday periods,
XTRAirways will offer a charter flight from Chicago once a week between December 25 and August 5 starting next year.
The same carrier plans to launch a seasonal charter next year between St. Louis, Missouri and Liberia, from March 18 to August 5
Sun Country Airlines will offer flights on the Minneapolis-Liberia route from December 19 to April 9. This will be the fourth weekly flight on that route
New Cheap Flights from Europe,
Norwegian's Ridiculously Cheap London-To-U.S. Flights Take Off
The time has come: budget airline Norwegian has launched its much-hyped, low-cost transatlantic flights. Here's everything you need to know.
Norwegian announced its new cost-efficient flights last October, and promoted the options as affordable alternatives to the pricey seats on most UK to U.S. routes. Right on schedule, the first flights took off from Gatwick Airport on July 3rd, almost all of the 291 seats on the airline's 787 Dreamliner have been booked on every inaugural flight between Gatwick and the three U.S. destinations -- New York, Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles. Flights between London and Los Angeles will operate twice a week, with prices starting at £199 (about $340) each way. Flights between London and Fort Lauderdale will also operate twice a week and start at £179 (about $306) each way. The thrice-weekly London-New York flights begin at £149 (about $255) each way.
According to Skyscanner, the cheapest flight from London to New York last month cost $718. Enough said. Sound too good to be true? According to The Guardian, the airline is offering far fewer super-budget seats than you might expect. Last week, only four of those mythical £149 tickets could be found between July 2014 and March 2015 (the furthest ahead that flights can be booked). The airline also charges £35 (about $60) each way for an "amenity package" including food and a checked bag. The Guardian also admits that pretty much every other flight out there is significantly more expensive, so Norwegian's cheaper base fares do pay off. And if the idea of flying budget across the Atlantic gives you back pain, don't fret. The Telegraph's Soo Kim experienced the flight firsthand and reports that the flight was comfortable, with a user-friendly in-flight entertainment system and generally good service. Norwegian, which was named the best value airline in a May Skyscanner survey ahead of easyJet, British Airways and Ryanair,
British airline adds Liberia flight
Thomson Airways http://flights.thomson.co.uk/en/index.html says it will add a direct flight from London, England, to Liberia starting in November. The weekly flight will have 291 seats and leave from the Gatwick airport.
Wireless Internet available at Rancho Armadillo
We installed wireless internet connection so that our guests can check their flight status, hotel reservations and moms & dads can keep tabs on the kids while they enjoy their second honeymoon. Some guests might even be tempted to check their work emails, but mixing up a batch of pina coladas usually quashes that temptation. No need to bring your lap top, we have a computer for our guests to use not only for the internet but also to down load pictures onto a memory stick or send pictures of the great time they are having in Paradise to all their friends. We have SKYPE, so now our guests can make international phone calls for free.
We are in the second year of the worst drought in recorded history, so subsequently, it's blue skies and sunshine all day long and great star gazing at night.
Music at Rancho Armadillo
Our Apple iPod is loaded up with over 12,000 songs covering almost every musical taste (we still won't allow Rap or Hip-Hop) So if you have an iPod feel free to bring it along with you.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica is now a Breeze!
With so much to see and do with in a hours drive from the Estate that we highly recommend that you rent a car. In the long run it will be much cheaper than hiring a taxi or a guide to chauffeur you around plus you will be able to set your own schedule and not be confined to the schedule of tour guides. Don't believe the stories you hear about driving in Costa Rica, the roads are in good conditions, and it's no different than driving in any major city in the USA.
After doing extensive research I have found that Adobe Car Rentals have the best rates and great service with offices around the country should you encounter any problems. They recently purchased 200 new cars continuing with their goal of having the newest fleet of cars in Costa Rica. We have teamed up with Adobe to offer our guests direct on line booking, guaranteeing that you get the best rates possible; also for our guests who book through our web site you can still rent a cell phone from Adobe for $10 for the entire rental time period. You need to request the phone in the comments box on the rental form. Please visit our Car Rental page for more information.
2015 Escuela de Coco 6th Grade Girls
Outdoor Soccer Team
Escuela de Coco 6th Grade Girls
Indoor Soccer Team
After seven months of putting up with our beach front being disrupted with the sounds of backhoes and cement trucks, the local government finally completed the long over due boardwalk / beachfront park. This had been promised for over 6 years, it finally took a local election to get it started. The park consist of a basketball court, a volleyball court, benches and a paved walkway covering the center part of the beach.
Every six months we have our pool water tested and the latest results were spectacular! Our pool water is cleaner than the Crystal brand bottled water sold here in Costa Rica. We use the ionizing method of cleaning our water and have cut the chlorine level to less than 1/8 of the chlorine that is generally used in a pool our size.
Spotlight on Tours
Rincon de la Vieja wakes up
Precautions urged for those visiting Volcán Rincón de la Vieja
The Volcán Rincón de la Vieja appears to be waking up after a 13-year nap.
When volcano experts checked the data from sensing equipment at Volcán Rincon de la Vieja they found two unreported small eruptions. One took place Feb. 19,2012 and one took place Feb. 20, 2012 The volcano is in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja about 25 kilometers or about 15.5 miles northeast of Liberia in Guanacaste. The area is sparely populated.As a result of an inspection the national emergency commission is urging park officials to restrict tourist access to the upper part of the mountain and adopt more security measures. The Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias noted that Rincón de la Vieja is one of five active volcanoes in the country. Last October, after a larger eruption that dumped ash into a local river, the commission
The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica reported small eruptions in the crater lake, evidence of thermal activity there and the death of fish in nearby rivers. The volcano threw out some material Sept. 16, 2012 that appears to have affected fish as much as 18 kilometers (more than 11 miles) downstream, the observatory said. Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja is about 25 kilometers or about 15.5 miles northeast of Liberia in Guanacaste. The volcano is 1,916 meters high or about 6,286 feet. It is part of the mountain range that is the spine of the country. The mountain is tall enough that it shares two separate climates. On the west side, it experiences the dry climate of Guanacaste. To the northeast, the climate is similar to the Caribbean and the northern zone, according to the observatory.
The observatory said that the first reported activity from the volcano was in 1850. There was an explosive eruption in 1863 and more activity noted in 1912, 1922, 1940, 1955, 1963, 1965 and 1966. Park officials have closed off the 13-kilometer (7.5 mile) hiking trail to the crater.
Arenal Volcano - No Eruptions Since July '10
In 2011 we have had some pretty remarkable geological events here in Costa Rica. The Rincon de la Vieja, Poas, Irazu and Tirruballo Volcanoes started erupting and the always active Arenal Volcano has not had an eruption since July 2010. The Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica has finally gone public with what everybody has been guessing, the following is an article that appeared in the local online newspaper AM Costa Rica.
Experts think that it may be bedtime for Arenal
Over the last four decades, Arenal Volcano’s dramatic explosions and lava flows transformed the surrounding farmland in north-central Costa Rica into one of the country’s hottest tourist destinations. But 16 months ago, the activity subsided, leaving hundreds of hotels and businesses without their premier attraction. “It’s a pity, but the volcano decided to take a break,” says Eliezer Duarte, volcanology research professor with the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory of Costa Rica (Ovsicori). To put Duarte’s statement in perspective, scientists believe that the previous “break” of this kind – no explosions, lava-spewing, or interior activity – lasted more than 500 years.
Although the volcano is still considered active and occasionally belches gases, area entrepreneurs in recent months have been coming to terms with the prospect that Arenal may not erupt again in their lifetime. The volcano’s quietude has raised questions about long-term tourism viability in the Northern Zone, but it appears that the industry has quietly, smoothly transitioned into a still-lucrative, post-eruption era. Whether that success has been driven by misleading signage, a plethora of other excursions, or tourist indifference remains to be seen. But this much is clear: Business has gone on as usual. Each day on the streets of La Fortuna prominent signage instructs tourists to “See Lava!” Restaurants, shops and tour operators display insignias of exploding volcanoes, and red Christmas lights snake around the wooden columns supporting a bar called the Lava Lounge. Inside, a video of an erupting Arenal plays on repeat.
“They’re hiding it,” says tour guide and map designer Álvaro Arce. Seated at one of the tables in Lava Lounge, he’s talking about his town’s reluctance to remove outdated and inaccurate signage and web material. He estimates that 75 to 80 percent of the tourists he encounters expect to see lava, and he believes that eventually this will create problems for the area. “The customers are pretty smart,” he says. “When they come here and they don’t see [anything], they’ll go back to [the U.S.] and say, ‘It’s not true.’ Then people will start going somewhere else. ”
Regardless, many tour entrepreneurs would prefer that realistic expectations become a priority. Some would like to promote the area as a rain-forest-adventure destination rather than an active-volcano experience, but to do that, businesses would need to bring their marketing materials up to date. Many seem uninterested in doing so.
The Red Lava Tourist Service Center website still offers a “Sunset Volcano Experience” in which guests drive to “the most active part of Arenal and watch the lava rocks fall down. (A man who answered the phone at the agency said that sunset tour no longer runs.)
Also not helping matters are the guidebook publishers who haven’t gotten the memo. “Waiting for and watching Arenal’s regular eruptions is the main activity in La Fortuna and is best done at night when the orange lava glows against the starry sky,” Frommer’s Costa Rica Guide misinforms readers in its 2012 edition.
The volcano woke up violently with the tragic 1968 eruption that sent rocks the size of Volkswagens miles in all directions and destroyed much of the area livestock, agricultural land and several communities. The mountain has been among the top 20 most active volcanos in the world. Since 1968 the mountain has spewed out more than a half a cubic kilometers of lava, the university experts said they estimated. That is enough to build a road around the earth four times, they said.
Experts track a volcano's activity by the local earthquakes that frequently are continual. In the case of Arenal, these movements have decreased to nothing, the experts said. The volcanologists Gerardo J. Soto, Mauricio Mora and Guillermo E. Alvarado, have been tracking Arenal for 20 years.
Arenal Volcano online for viewing by public
The Arenal volcano is now under 24-hour electronic watch by scientists at the Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Costa Rica. Keep in mind it is cloud covered 60% of the time. Access the web cam click here.
More Fun than a Barrel of Monkeys
A must do favorite of all of our guests is The Congo Trail Canopy Tour, one of the original canopy tours in Costa Rica, about a 20 minute drive from here. You have to understand that canopy tours are an amusement ride not a study in nature, but that does not mean that you won't be able to view nature in it's purist form. We recommend that our guests go in the late afternoon, leaving here around 2:30, that way you will have missed all of the tour busses and you stand a great chance of being in the trees with monkeys, as they travel though on their way to bed down for the night.
The tour has 11 platforms (one line that is 800 yards long.) After the tour stop by and visit the Congo Trail serpent display, containing a variety of snakes and frogs local to the area. After a visit with the snakes you can easily convince the guides to let you play with the resident white face and spider monkeys. The monkeys can get a bit inquisitive, searching pockets, purses and even climbing down your shirt. Guests of Rancho Armadillo pay only $25 for the tour instead of the normal $35, a bargain considering most other canopy tours run from $45 to $85. Having been on over 15 canopy tours around Costa Rica, this is definitely one of the best, the guides are the key that makes it one of the best.
More Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys
Stand Up Paddleboard / Snorkel Tour
They will pick you up and bring you back to Rancho Armadillo. Winds will determine starting point. This is an early morning tour, usually starting around 7:00am. 3-4 hours you generally go from one beach to the next i.e. Coco to Ocotal, sometimes out to Turtle Island. $55pp . If you want to snorkel along the way the cost is $70pp
Includes all equipment, brief lesson, transportation, beverages, fruits and homemade snacks. Digital photos by the staff are included.
The Sea Bird
Another Sail Tour new to the Coco area is the Sea Bird, a 45 ft sail boat, they go out almost every day and only require a minimum of 4 passengers. For couples we can call ahead and see if they have a sail going out that you can join. Included in the tour the Sea Bird offers an open bar, non alcoholic beverages, snacks and snorkel equipment.
Jungle Waterfalls, Volcanoes and Jaguars
Llanas de Cortez or locally known as the Bagaces waterfall, one of our favorite tours. The waterfall is 60 ft high and 40 ft wide and empties into a white sand pool around 5 ft deep. Swim up to and under the waterfall.
Combine a trip to the waterfall with a stop at the oldest wild cat rescue center in Costa Rica and an optional river float trip down the Corobice river to see crocs, monkeys and lots of birds.
Even though it has been here for thousands of years it's new to us. We recently visited the area near the Miravalles Volcano. More specifically the Hornillas Crater, about a 1 1/2 hour drive from here. This crater is unique in the world, it is an active crater on the side of the 5000 meter high volcano featuring boiling mud pits, emerald green springs and fumaroles that emit steam and other gasses. Here you can follow a path that will allow you to get up close and personal with these natural wonders.
At one spot along the way you can stop and actually hear the "heartbeat" of the volcano.
After the short hike you sit in a natural sauna and get your pores open before you lather yourself up with the mud from the mud pits, once the mud has dried you shower it off in a hot shower with water taken directly from the boiling hot springs. Makes your skin feel 10 years younger. Then relax in any of the three hot spring pools.
Tortilla's & Pottery
Guatil, an indigenous Indian village where they make pottery the way their ancestors have for 100’s of years. Each home has their own kiln and you can buy pottery from the artist or from a co-op in the town. After Guatil you can stop for lunch at a local tortilla “factory” great local food, and you will probably be the only non Costa Rican’s there.
In the middle of dense tropical forest lies a hidden jewel of Costa Rica. It starts with a walk through the jungle at Tenorio Volcano National Park. Every step in this forest is more inviting than the last. During the rainy season, the smell of wet earth permeates the air, droplets of rain fall constantly, and the sounds of exotic birds accompany hikers.
After about 15 minutes of walking in the jungle, a new sound becomes audible: Water is flowing and falling somewhere nearby, hinting at one of the park’s treasures. The main trail splits, and a path leads leftward to a steep descent down muddy steps made of sections of tree trunks. After an unexpected turn, the river finally makes an appearance in the form of an impressive waterfall. The Río Celeste’s color is a true natural wonder. Local legend says that when God painted the sky, she washed her blue brushes in this river, and that is how its waters obtained their magnificent blue color.
The steep, sometimes difficult descent to the waterfall is worth it.If you’re lucky, blue morpho butterflies may flit over the water, giving rise to the whimsical notion that perhaps they dove into the water to get their wonderful color, or were born behind the falling cascade.
Lucky hikers may even spot a group of rare tapirs while walking the three kilometers of trails. Past the falls, the trails cross a natural blue lagoon and continue to the place where all the magic takes place: Los Teñideros, where two clear-water streams merge to form a larger current. When their waters combine, the water turns blue in front of hikers’ eyes.
Thermal Hot Springs &
Pre-Columbian Petro glyphs
A new Thermal Hot Springs called Middle Earth has opened about an hour's drive north of here up into the rain forest near the town of Las Lilas. They have 5 pools that are fed naturally from thermal hot springs and the river that flows through the 700 acre reserve. They offer hiking trails through the transitional forest where you will see flora & fauna from both the dry tropical forest and the rain forest. Spotted along the trails are howler, white faced and spider monkeys, tapirs, sloths, deer, and numerous species of birds. they offer lunch packages and coming soon horse back riding. You can combine you trip there with 2 locations featuring pre- Columbian rock carvings dated from 1,000 - 800 years ago. The first set is located next to a natural spring where the locals have built a retaining pool for the kids to swim in, in the bushes next to the spring are 2 large boulders with carvings of faces and symbols. In front of the local grade school is another boulder that has been identified by University of Costa Rica's archeology department.
The second set of petroglyphs is a bit outside of the town hidden through a cattle gate, down a two track road behind some houses, where one of the residents has built a small butterfly garden. After a quick tour of the garden you walk down a path that has three different groups of petroglyphs. These have been studied and identified by the University of Costa Rica's archeology department The boulders are located along a river bed that during the dry season is pretty accessible, Below are pictures from the first of the three sites.