Finally this past week my husband, baby and I travelled to Costa Rica to spend a week on the pacific coast in a magical place called Manuel Antonio. I researched a lot before I went and somehow did not manage to find enough information to help me fully prepare for the trip. Below is my tried and tested guide to Manuel Antonio for those in need of a little bit more than what the travel guides provide you with.
Flight: It was a short 4 hour flight from Atlanta to San Jose on Delta. Once we arrived in San Jose we were transported to the car rental area where we picked up our vehicle. I highly recommend booking your car in advance or you will spend at least an hour or more before all the paperwork is done and you are in your car and ready to go. GPS is a must unless you have an innate ability to travel on foreign roads and not get lost. The drive itself was picturesque and worth the 2.5 hours it took to arrive to Manuel Antonio. We passed through the countryside and jungle, saw small villages and actually got to experience Costa Rica. The other option is to take a 30 minute local flight from San Jose to Quepos. From Quepos there are buses which run along the road to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Hotels: Manuel Antonio is actually a long stretch of road leading from Quepos to Manuel National National Park. The road is windy and positioned on the side of a mountain with hotels located on both sides. One side closer to the ocean with dramatic views, the other in the middle of the jungle and more distant views of the ocean. We had the opportunity to spend time in two different hotels on both ends: Gaia Hotel and Reserve and Parador Resort and Spa.
Restaurants: While both hotels we stayed at had fine dining options we like to get out and see what the locals eat. For lunch on most days we ended up at hole in the walls ordering the typical tico dish, ‘Casado’ which consisted of choice of meat, black beans, rice, salad and fried plantains. The food at our hotel, Gaia, La Luna was not good especially given the price point, the only advantage was the beautiful sunset views from the restaurant and the friendly service. On our trip to our second hotel, Parador, we found Emilio’s Cafe which quickly became a favorite of mine and was frequented on more than one occasion for the food and mind-blowing views of the pacific. Other discovered favorites included the authentically Israeli Falafel Bar and off the beaten path, El Arado (see linked posts for review). Prices in Manuel Antonio are comparable to Miami or any other international destination.
See: The main reason anyone heads to Manuel Antonio is the National Park. Although it is one of the smallest national parks in the country it is the most visited. I can see why given its beautiful pristine beaches, abundance of wildlife and easy accessibility. Before arriving I pictured us trekking through the jungle just me, husband and baby. I prepared for the worst buying all the necessary hiking equipment and preparing mentally for hiking through the jungle with a 6 month old. When we arrived at the gates I quickly realized just how far off I was. There were many tourists lined up at the gates waiting to get in. The park only allows 800 people in so its best to arrive early. Although if you arrive early you will be arriving at the same time as the tour buses and will walk in with a large crowd of loud ‘humans’ thus scaring the wildlife. We arrived around 11 am and found it to be quieter. I highly recommend hiring a guide as you will not see anything without one unless you just happen to be an expert yourself. With our guide we saw a large family of capuchin monkeys, two-toed and three-toed sloths, tree frogs, bats, snakes, butterflies, lizards and much more. A 45 minute walk through a wide paved path led us down to the main beach where the crowds were gathered. Again, I imagined skipping through the water just me and my husband and was let down to see so many people. I guess the secret is out. Still there are many isolated spots on the beach where you can feel as though you are one with nature.
Overall, Manuel Antonio was not as developed as I thought it would be…which is a good thing. It is still authentic and lacks that ‘cater exclusively to tourism’ feel that you may get in other destinations (such as Mexico). Of course, the area is sprinkled with many hotels and restaurants but yet its still rough around the edges and wild. It was an absolute amazing destination for those wanting a little adventure.