As we first entered Costa Rica and members of the Intrepid group started to discuss their onward travel plans with locals, Manuel Antonio often came up with a detectable glow of affection… Ahhh… “Manuel Antonio” people would say with a warm contented smile. We were excited about this as, following a month in Costa Rica last year Laura’s daughter Zoe had also recommended a few days there which we had already booked…
Manuel Antonio, a three hour drive west of San Jose has a small nature reserve located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica so, following a hectic 17 day whirlwind tour through Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica it seemed an ideal base for a few days to relax and explore at leisure.
Once our Intrepid tour ended in San Jose and Annabelle was on her way home, planning our own hotels, excursions and transport was down to us again. Fortunately booking a bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio was cheap and easy. The tickets for the 3 hour journey with Tracopa were only 4,500 Costa Rican colones (£6.30) each and for this we had a comfortable 52 seater bus with allocated reclining seats and a receipt for storing our case in the trunk of the bus.
We left San Jose at midday in a thunderstorm but the weather soon became sunny as we headed west through emerald green valleys and onwards towards the coast.
Manuel Antonio National Park
This is the smallest national park of Costa Rica located on the Pacific Coast and 157 km from San Jose. Many species of flora and fauna live in the humid tropical forest.
Manuel Antonio National Park has an entrance fee of $16 per person and you can pay in cash or by Visa (not MasterCard). The park is open each day from 7:30 am to 4 pm but closed on Mondays.
There are several short marked trails. The park is very well maintained with concrete paths, wooden bridges over the mangroves and streams and picnic benches.
There are four beaches within the national park peninsula. We walked along the trails through the shady trees to three of them:
Playa Manuel Antonio Beach is a beautiful stretch of soft golden sand surrounded by dark green tropical foliage thus giving the impression of a castaway desert island… that is if you have a good imagination and are able to imagine this gorgeous piece of paradise minus the people! (And you take your photos from a strategic position whilst managing to avoid them…). So yes, this stunning beach does get pretty crowded. Onto the next one…
A little further along the next trail and we came to Gemelas Beach which is home to many different beachside species such as crabs. This was a lovely little beach with hardly any people and some impressive volcanic rock formations.
Playa Puerto Escondido Beach is the furthest beach we walked to and means ‘Hidden Beach’. There is a steep climb down several wooden steps which lead to a viewing platform.
Below are some pictures of the wildlife we spotted. Monkeys are resident in the national park but were elusive on the day we visited as we didn’t see any.
We were pleased and excited to see a sloth high up in the trees (hanging precariously from a small branch) in the National Park. Two types of sloth exist in Costa Rica, the 2 toed sloth and the 3 toed sloth. They feed on leaves and have low energy levels and a slow metabolism. As a result sloths move at an extremely slow pace in order to conserve their energy. Below is a video of the moving sloth…
We had a wonderful day in the Manuel Antonio National Park and with its spectacular oceanside setting and abundance of animals and wildlife consider it to be one of our favourite places this year.
Manuel Antonio village
The village is spread out along a single road and a few km’s south of Quepos. Buses terminate at the end of the road next to the national park. There are many bars and restaurants however they tend to charge relatively high prices with the average meal costing around £35 for two mains and two drinks.
However… Budget tip: we visited D_Tapas Spanish restaurant where we shared an ‘XXL Mega Vege Burger’. This was huge and delicious and filled us both up at half the price!
This is the reason we didn’t see any monkey’s in the national park… they are too busy hanging around the bars and restaurants of Manuel Antonio!
El Faro Beach Hotel
We stayed in the El Faro Beach located next to the national park entrance. This is an eco hotel the rooms of which have been constructed using shipping containers! Many containers have been bolted together to form the rooms. This sounds a little bizarre but it’s a brilliant concept. We had a container room directly in front of one of two pools. The room was clean and minimal with excellent AC, a large bed, a sofa, table, fridge and hanging space. There was also a large bathroom at the back with a powerful shower with consistently hot water. The bed had a memory foam mattress and rates as one of the most comfortable beds we’ve had all year.
The El Faro Beach hotel also has restaurant which serves breakfast (included in the room rate) lunch and dinner and has a superb view of the ocean. Adjacent to the hotel is the El Faro Hostel which also has a third pool.
Throughout the 10 days or so we’ve been in Costa Rica we’ve found this country to be one of the most environmentally friendly countries we’ve visited this year. The beaches and national parks are clean and rubbish free and each of the 4 hotels we’ve stayed in has had separate bins for recycling.
Another gorgeous sunset over Playa Espadilla, the main public beach of Manuel Antonio. The sunsets over the Pacific from the west coast of Central America have been some of the most spectacular and colourful we’ve seen.