I finally did it. After years of sitting, waiting, wishing (did you catch that Jack Johnson reference?) I finally made my way over to Costa Rica for a belated 30th birthday getaway. I already knew what a good time I was in for after hearing about the awesome trips my friends have made either for honeymoons, bro getaways, Teaching English stints, etc. And even so, amidst my pure joy after arriving I almost broke down into tears when I realized I left my Canon Rebel back in New York. Nooooo, but the SLOTHS. I must capture the beauty of the slow-moving beasts that I love so much! After whimpering for 20 minutes or so I got over myself, because I was in rainforest paradise after all, and I proceeded to have one of the most relaxing, yet active weeks of my life. Ahh, where to begin?
We decided to spend the full week in Manuel Antonio, the destination that my bestie Dory raved about from having spent a month in Costa Rica last year. I must admit that I was a little skeptical about this plan – what about the volcano in Arenal, the Caribbean vibe on the east coast, the wildlife at Tortuguero!? Won’t we just get bored sitting in one place for the entire time? This place better be frickin’ amazing. And well, it was. First of all, I absolutely loved the laid back vibe and how friendly everyone was – it reminded me of a certain Costa Rican classmate who always had a smile on his face (miss you, Fernando!) It was also very cool to meet some expats – the majority of those I met being American – and hear their stories about what brought them there. We chose to stay at Mango Moon, a boutique hotel up the hill in Manuel Antonio. The owner is an American expat who’s lived in MA for the past 6 years and she is absolutely wonderful. And what did I mean when I said the week was relaxing, yet active? Well, even though we had our fill of beach days, we also did plenty of activities. Since tourism is such a big part of Costa Rica’s economy, it was very easy to set up tours of pretty much anything we wanted to do and have the tour companies pick us up at the hotel. The only tour we set up in advance was with a well known guide that leads nature walks through Manuel Antonio National Park, but we had no problem planning the rest of the week once we got there. And even though we only arrived at our hotel around 9pm and were exhausted after a full day of travel, we were up at 7am the next day to greet our national park guide and start on the week’s adventures. The walk through the national park itself is not too far, but since there is so much to see on the trails we spent 4 hours with Johan, mesmerized by all that was there to see but would have been impossible to spot if we were on our own. Our guide parted ways with us at one of the park’s beaches and we spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and beach bumming to our heart’s content. The rest of the week was similar with kayaking through the mangroves one day, rafting through the Savegre River and even taking an intense hike to get to the beautiful Nauyaca Falls. Up at 7am each morning to start our day with breakfast with a view, off and exploring by 7:30, and back and in bed by 10pm to start it all again the next day. It was my first time both rafting and kayaking and I had a blast. My favorite day trip was the trip to the falls, which I heard is the biggest and most impressive waterfall in the area. We worked up a sweat getting to the falls and as soon as we arrived we awarded ourselves with a nice long dip in the natural pool.
Manuel Antonio is best known for its national park, and for good reason. In addition to being able to spot all kinds of wildlife, there are several trails that lead to different beaches. As I had mentioned before, you absolutely need a guide the first time you go so they can point out all the animals, plants and insects for you, and then from then on you can always go back just to relax and swim at the beach. We actually ended up there 3x over the course of the week, taking different nature trails and hiking over to different parts of the park. And what kind of wildlife did we spot? I just so happened to keep a list throughout the walk. And yes, I did get my sloth sighting, complete with fuzzy pictures and all!
Red Crowned Woodpecker
Eyelash Pit Viper & Fer De Lance
Helmet Headed Lizard
Golden Web Spider
Green Tree Anole
Lesser White-Lined Bat
White face (Capuchin) Monkey
Basilisk (Jesus Christ Lizard)
Tips for Manuel Antonio Nature Park: Make sure to get a guide in advance. We found Johan Chavez through Tripadvisor and he was a very sweet, knowledgable guy. It’s obvious he loves what he does, which is so refreshing to see. We ended up running into him each time we visited the park, and once he went out of his way to show up a pit viper that was just spotted on the trail. Also, while Manuel Antonio beach is the most picturesque, if you want to have the beach to yourself take the trail that leads to Espadilla Sur. We spent hours in the water and felt like we had the place to ourselves.
As if that wasn’t enough wildlife, we had frequent visitors at the hotel every day too – the adorable Titi monkeys.
And finally, we ended the week with an awesome 20 minute flight from MA back to San Jose to catch our flight back to NY. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
So if you haven’t yet been out to this amazing country where the people are so warm and friendly, plans are made depending on the tides, and the raccoons are actually kind of cute, maybe now’s the time to get on that. And while peak season brings more days of sun, I loved going in July when the rain was welcomed by didn’t ruin plans and the sun wasn’t as harsh. Of course, now I feel the need to go back and visit the other parts of Costa Rica. See you next year? Pura vida!
Where to eat: Coming from NYC, we weren’t exactly heading to Costa Rica for the food (yes, I’ll admit that we are spoiled in New York.) That being said, we did have a couple good meals and of course indulged in the seafood. Best meal of the trip hands down was dinner at Emilio’s Cafe, which fortunately for us was just up the street from our hotel. The great food was also well complemented with a live Latin band. Splurge for the tuna trio!
Where to stay: It seems like there are a lot of great options for hotels depending on your budget. Mango Moon was perfect for us because it had fantastic views and was clean yet still super affordable. And really, the friendly owner and staff make the place as great as it is. Even the dog who couldn’t be bothered by my presence warmed up to me by the end of the week.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker
Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis