Top 10 Reasons to Visit Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

Do you remember five weeks ago? It’s like a lifetime, I know. The world was a lot different then. So much change in so little time.

Just those few short weeks ago, Corona was A thing, but not THE thing. And certainly not the ONLY thing. I, like most of you, was living a lie. Thinking it wasn’t going to take over the world and we would be safe from its ravishes. Safe enough to continue working, traveling, hugging, and touching surfaces without Clorox wipes.

Throw Back

Here is a little throw-back memory to a lovely moment in February 2020, when I was with my dear high school friends, celebrating our big birthday year, with a week in Costa Rica. I hope you don’t find the timing inappropriate, but I want to refresh my mind of the trip, so it doesn’t fade into the oblivion. I fear that, like post 9/11, we might not recall the beauty of life before the virus.

The truth is, the virus was already rampant in China, as I travelled to Europe in December 2019, and it was escalating in January, when I returned to the east coast. I was a little flu-ish at that point, coughing, sinuses raging, and I took yet another flight to the west coast! At the time, I didn’t feel that was dangerous. I was just sick with a sinus infection and had to get home.

A month later, when I ventured to Costa Rica, I was more nervous about travelling with the large amount of cash I had (for tips), than I was about contracting a virus. I had a flu shot and was feeling fine. Surely, I wouldn’t get sick again! At the airport in Panama City, there were signs at kiosks warning against the coronavirus and encouraging hand washing. The signs were more of a curiosity than a harsh reality. And once we arrived in Costa Rica, our concerns were more about sunburns than illness.

Fantasy Island

Imagine that? And now, travel is completely restricted to Costa Rica. How lucky we were to sneak that trip in before all the madness! I look back and realize it was so risky not to wipe down the tray on the airplane, or to dine in busy restaurants. But wow, what a treat it was to be normal! To be laughing, vacationing, and care free with a group of women who are my perfect friends and travel companions! So, as you read this, plan a fantasy trip in your head, and when this is all over…make it happen!

Here are my Top Ten Reasons to Remember Manuel Antonio, CR

Reason #10. Pura Vida: In Costa Rica, this means, pure life, or, more accurately, their way of life. Costa Rican’s use this phrase for everything. Greeting, commenting, and praising. They are a warm and beautiful people, who in my brief encounter, are very proud of their country, their land, and their culture. While we encountered many interesting ex-pats, we also had great experiences with “Ticas,” native Costa Ricans. I can see why so many people relocate to CR. It is gorgeous, inexpensive (relative to US dollars), and relaxed. Obviously, we were in a high tourist area, where the economy is stable, so my limited view is skewed. That being said, much of the country thrives on tourism, and while there is a significant poverty rate, the cost of living is very low. There is universal health care and, while the public school system doesn’t sound great, there is overall, a very high literacy rate. Check it out, if you haven’t previously considered CR as a vacation destination, you should!

Reason #9. Manuel Antonio: We chose the Manuel Antonio area because it is a one stop shop. Rainforest and beach combined. Literally, the rainforest stops where the sandy beach begins. We wanted to stay in one spot for the whole week and not need a car. We flew into San Jose, about a 3 hour trip to Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio is the home of the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. A relatively small park, it encompasses rainforest, hiking trails, and an exquisite beach. The town of Manuel Antonio is filled with restaurants, shops, and gorgeous rentals for the year-round tourism industry. Some choose to avoid this region when visiting Costa Rica because it can be too crowded. I found it the perfect place to plant five middle age women who wanted a combination of luxury, activity, and relaxation, all the while wearing exercise clothes, bathing suits, and sundresses!

Reason #8. Night sky: There is virtually no night sky pollution in Manuel Antonio, so you can see stars, stars, and more stars. We loaded one of those star gazing apps on our phones and tried to figure out what we were looking at. Not super successful. Maybe if we hadn’t been drinking cocktails we would have been better astronomers. Anyhow, all you need to know is that the nighttime is as beautiful as the daytime. And the howler monkeys come out at night and before dawn. They are eerily loud!

Reason #7. Monkeys and Sloths: Speaking of monkeys. Wildlife is obviously a huge reason to visit Costa Rica, and Manuel Antonio in particular. The National Park is known for its wildlife viewing of sloths and monkeys. The tour guides are highly trained naturalists with PhDs in sloths and such. We learned a lot about squirrel monkeys, white face capuchins, and howlers. We learned about two toed and three toed sloths. We learned about birds, lizards, and ants and what they eat. I won’t bore you with all the detes. Just know it was fantastic. On a daily basis, we had some kind of wildlife encounter that left me quoting my wise husband, “Well, you don’t see that every day!”

Reason #6. Food: I don’t think I realized how great the food would be. It became a focal point of the trip because, thanks to our illustrious planner, all our dinners were organized. The local cuisine is very fish centered. My favorite! Ceviche everywhere you go, and options such as mahi mahi and shrimp. And the fruit!!! OMG!!! The most juicy pineapples, watermelons, and mangos I have ever eaten! Evidently, the intense amount of rain makes for very delicious summer harvests. We hired a chef (suggested by the owner of the Airbnb). Javier and Kathleen came twice to the house and cooked us the most exquisite three course meals! All gluten free (per our request), hors d’oeuvres, fish, vegetables, and deserts. Do you want to see the menus? You will drool! Also, our house was well stocked with breakfast items requested prior to the trip, so we didn’t have to worry about food in the mornings. Lunch was typically taken care of while on our adventure outings. So, the food experience was easy and tasty!

Reason #5. Weather: February is the perfect time to visit the region. Hot but not too hot, (for me), no rain, and no mosquitos. The temperature ranged from the high 80’s to low 90’s . I like the heat, so it was ideal for me. There is shade, breeze, air conditioning, and fans and on some days, we just stayed in the pool for hours! A dream!

Reason #4. Excursions: Costa Rica is all about the outdoors, the environment, and the adventure. There are many excursion opportunities. You can book them in advance, or on the spot. We, of course, made our choices ahead of time. We were able to pay for some of it in advance, as well. The owner of our Airbnb, again, set us up with our tours. One day was a hike to the Nauyaca Waterfall, one day was a tour in the National Park, and one day was a cruise ship and snorkel adventure. All three tour companies picked us up at our house. The tours were well organized, safe and, not that expensive, considering what you see. And they provide lunch or snacks!

My favorite was the waterfall hike with Paddle 9. Our tour guide, Claus, was phenomenal. A highly knowledgeable and interesting guy. The hike felt like actual exercise with the glorious waterfall to jump into as a reward at the end. Yes, the falls were a bit crowded, but it didn’t interfere with the fun. Plus, our guide served us fresh pineapple and watermelon and then gave us each a mud face mask after our swim. Lunch was at a lovely open-air restaurant on the drive home.

The National Park Tour with Iguana Tours was fine. If I gave Claus an A+, I would give this tour guide a B+. Obviously, a brilliant guy with tons of knowledge, but he was a low talker and that made it difficult to catch everything he was sharing. The park was crowded with many tour groups like ours, so that definitely impacted the experience. I’m guessing, if you paid the extra money for a private tour, you would be happier. Either way, you have to have a guide because you cannot find or see the animals without their help and their magnifying scopes. They all text and talk with each other as you wander throughout the park to share locations of sloth and monkey sightings. Following the tour and refreshing ice tea and fruit snack, we chose to stay in the park and not return with the group on the bus. Best decision of the day. We hiked on a trail with beautiful vista lookouts along the way. We saw a mother and her baby sloth in a coastal, coconut tree and had a rare sighting of an Agouti. The most exciting moment was our major capuchin experience! Lots of them, jumping, leaping, staring at us, stealing someone’s juice box, and grooming each other. They look adorable, but are actually pretty intense and aggressive. We also swam at the beach for a while before walking back to the entrance to find a taxi home.

The boat ride with Planet Dolphin was billed as a catamaran dolphin boat trip. We were picked up at the house in one van, then transferred to a bus, then taken to the boat dock. I recommend you use the restroom there, but don’t take too long, because your friends might, albeit unknowingly, leave a fellow soldier in the field, and the boat might take off without you! Not to worry, I made it to the boat in time. It was a gorgeous day for a ride on the sea, but not one dolphin in sight. We were given a very brief, almost nonexistent, tutorial on how to use a snorkel mask. Then off we went! Into the water with the masses! Three other boat loads of snorkelers. Try being quiet and inobtrusive to the fish! I was able to see some really special blue and yellow fish, but the water was cloudy from all the human traffic. It was my first snorkel experience, so it was really fun for me, but I imagine it was not as great as it could have been! Back on the boat was a buffet lunch. And bathrooms with doors that didn’t close, which made for an interesting encounter with a fellow passenger! The guides were not the informative resources our other guides were. They did bring us beverages, though! After snorkeling they offer an opportunity to use the slide off the boat into the water. I do not recommend!!! There may or may not have been a potential law suit situation when my friend collided with a swimmer as she was catapulted off the slide into the water. We all made it back after a day of fresh sea air and swimming. A success, but I would choose a different boat adventure next time. Less booze cruise vibe and more sailing, perhaps.

Reason #3. The beach: My only regret of the week is that we didn’t spend more time at the beach. While it is very close to the house, it is not within walking distance. Our gardener could have guided us down with his machete to clear a path, but that would have been a big adventure, so instead we took the ride with the property manager a couple of times. She escorted us to what felt like a private beach. Literally, almost no one else was there. Except for the women serving cocktails and ceviche! We rented chairs (we needed guidance on how much was reasonable) and sat under the trees when we weren’t in the waves. The temperature of the water is so sublime, I felt like I was swimming in soft velvet. There were real waves and a strong undertow, so we had to be mindful, but mostly is was incredibly fun and relaxing.

Reason #2. The Villa: This is by far the most luxurious vacation home I have ever stayed in. It is not only “as advertised” but “better than advertised!” We rented a six bedroom, dream home, tucked in the rainforest, overlooking the beach. We each had our own bedroom, with en suite bathrooms and balconies. There was even an extra bedroom and two extra bathrooms! The infinity pool wraps around the house and is kept at the perfect temperature. The owner (Lori) and her on-site, property manager (Laura) were phenomenal! They arranged our airport pick up and drop off (with the delightful and trust worthy Oscar), all of our tours, food shopping, and chef-made meals in advance. The property manager was available for many of our needs throughout the week. She offered to drive us to the beach and even dropped us off in town for dinner. The cleaning woman came daily and did our laundry! The gardener and pool maintenance guy were around, but not intrusive. (Just beware, in case you plan to skinny dip in the mornings!) The house is at the base of a very steep driveway accessed by a road that the tour vans and taxis can drive on. We were able to walk from the house up to the main road to go to dinner and shop at a near-by grocery store. The house is modern, well designed, and very clean and comfortable. It feels very private and safe. We had some bat droppings by the front door some mornings and an occasional lizard, and one large bug sighting, but no real “nature” problems. The squirrel monkeys came leaping through the trees to us on our first day. They jumped on the deck and drank water from the pool while we were swimming! SUPER cute and friendly! Sadly, we didn’t see them again until our last day, but I was happy they came to say goodbye! We saw a toucan in a tree at the end of our drive way and had Walter the blue iguana living on the property with us. I kept my camera close by at all times, just in case.

The #1 Reason to go the Costa Rica: Being with your best friends. Well, I’m sure it is obvious why this is my #1 reason. If it wasn’t for these friends, I might never have made it to Costa Rica. These are women whom I have known most of my life. We are close in ways that only old friends can be. Now that we have travelled together for so many years, we have aged into our friendships in even stronger ways. That’s all. They are the best, and this was the best trip because of them!

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