During our time in Costa Rica, we stayed in the town of Manuel Antonio, which I had researched as being the best area for both beaches and adventure. We rented a condo at the Shana Hotel from Manuel Antonio Rental Properties and were happy with it for the most part. There was no air conditioning for the first four days and no water for the first two, as well as a few cockroaches, but made the best of the situation and we were welcomed with a basket full of fresh fruit, monkeys hanging from trees just outside of our balcony and a sweeping ocean view and the property owners compensated us for the inconveniences.
Manuel Antonio is on top of a hill above the city of Quepos. The hill is lined with hotels and restaurants, but Shana is up at the top, about 1km down a side road. There were a variety of top-rated restaurants where our side road met the main road, so we ended up walking to dinner most nights. Even though it was all uphill on the way there, we walked because a taxi anywhere around Manuel Antonio is $10 (or 5000 Colones), whether it’s 1km to dinner or a long uphill drive from the beach. Walking home from the restaurants was nice because it was all downhill, but if you plan to walk around at night, be sure to bring a flashlight so the crazy drivers can see you because there aren’t sidewalks.
From Shana, we were also able to walk to two separate beaches. One was closer and all downhill, but that meant uphill on the way home. The better beach, Playa Espadilla, was a short walk up the road then down a trail. This beach was much bigger, probably over a mile long and ended at the Manuel Antonio National Park, so it was surrounded by beautiful trees and lined with restaurants to stop in for dinner after a long day in the sun.
The one issue my whole family had with every place we ate was that there was virtually no alcohol in any of the drinks we ordered. I’m sure they put some in there, actually maybe they didn’t, but either way, you couldn’t taste it. I’m sure they’re just trying to rip off tourists, which makes them money, but it made us want to try other restaurants to see if their drinks were any stronger rather than coming back. My recommendation would be to stick to wine and beer, where they can’t control the alcohol content.
When you eat out, most of the restaurants will have seafood dishes. There are always salad and red meat options as well, but being so close to the ocean, the seafood is deliciously fresh. A meal is also served at the end of nearly every excursion and it is the traditional “casado”, which is a protein with rice, beans, veggies, potato, and fried plantains. It is really a delicious way to end a tour.
What to bring:
- Water shoes – I had Keens because they were good for hiking/ziplining yet also waterproof for protection against sea urchins in the ocean
- Passports – It or a copy should be on you at all times according to the law. Apparently the tour guides are supposed to tell you this, but only one did on the final day of our trip. If you don’t bring it and the cops happen to pull over the car, the only thing that happens is the tour company gets a ticket, as it was their responsibility to require you bring it.
- Athletic style swim suits – If you’re swimming under a raging waterfall, a cute bandeau top won’t work. I mainly brought racer backs, which were still cute thanks to Victoria’s Secret.
We were picked up from our hotel at 9:30am by MidWorld Costa Rica for our ATV adventure. The van made a few other stops to pick up other families, then we headed to the office in Quepos to fill out paperwork. If you plan to go ATVing, be sure to bring your drivers license with you day-of since you are technically driving a vehicle. From there, we drove about 20 minutes to just outside of town where the ATVs were parked and had a two hour tour. Half way through the tour, we were given water and pineapple then walked down a short trail to a river, which we crossed to a waterfall for a swim. The river had a decently strong current, but the guides helped us across. The water was also pretty cold, I think, but it could’ve just been because our bodies were hot from riding the ATVs and increased adrenaline. It’s amazing how quickly we adjusted to the water temperature. Some people were jumping off rocks next to the waterfall, others were trying to swim behind it, but my mom and I just sat to the side while the boys did the crazy stuff. Once everyone in the group had seemed like they had had their fun, we headed back across the river to the ATVs then back to “base camp.” Upon our return, lunch was waiting for us. We had a traditional casado for lunch, and it was quite delicious.
- Wear longer shorts to keep your legs from any heat off the engine as well as water shoes, like Keens, to serve as protection for your feet and allow you to walk through the river.
- There were bathrooms at the office in Quepos and the camp where we began our actual tour and had lunch afterwards.
- The tour had 16 people and a guide placed every 4 vehicles. Because of this large group we went slow. My family likes speed and adventure, so we were disappointed to find out that this was the “private” tour.
- $100 per person for the tour
We were picked up at 8:30am by Amigos Del Rio (ADR) for a day-long zip lining adventure. We had a few other stops to make before heading down the hill to the office to complete paperwork where we were also offered complimentary breakfast while we waited, but no one knew that was an option, so we had already eaten. Once we were all ready, we hopped back into the van drove about 20 minutes down the street onto a palm oil farm, which had dirt roads so we then hopped onto a school bus which could handle the road better up to their “base camp” where we left our gear behind and would eventually be having lunch – casado – upon our return. We put our bags in a locker then took a big mountaineering vehicle, which was used in Germany to transport troops during war, and this is where the ride became quite the off-roading adventure. It was fun and we knew the vehicle could handle it; the views from here were amazing. Once we got to the top of the mountain, we took a short 15 minute nature hike with the owner of the company who had been driving and he showed us all sorts of interesting plants and taught us various uses for them along the way, then we got our gear and were finally off to zipline. The ziplining portion ended up being 3 hours – from 11a to 2p. After we had ziplined, repelled, swung like Tarzan, and free fell into the water, we took off our gear and had a pineapple break. There was another mini-hike back to the vehicle, then a 30 minute adventure down and around the mountain back to base camp. We ate lunch for about a half hour and, once we left base camp, it was an hour drive back to our hotel, including dropping everyone off at their hotels since we were the last stop, but it was probably only about 40 minutes back into town.
- Swim suits are not required, but you drop into the water in your clothes so they will get wet. The drop is near beginning though, so there is definitly time to dry off – we were dry by the time we took off our gear.
- Bathrooms were available at the office, at basecamp, and where you put on your gear at the top of the mountain.
- This casado had the chicken mixed into the rice (which was delicious), then the usual vegetables, beans, and salad. Iced tea was complimentary, but beer and soda was also available for purchase.
- Pictures were available for purchase after for $15 per person or $20 if you want to include the Tarzan swing video, which is quite a ripoff.
- $100 per person for the tour
For Christmas Eve, we went white water rafting with Costa Rica Tropical Adventures. Mel and Damian started this company after working for a bigger tour company and learning that their clients were losing out on the best experience possible due to large tour groups. Both of them were very knowledgable, fun, and truly wanted us to have so much fun. They told us it rained the night before, so we were going to start 5 miles higher on the Savegre River to get better rapids, which equated to 900 feet in elevation.
They picked us up from our hotel at 7:30am then we drove straight to the river. It was quite early, but it was already warm out and we wanted to beat the crowds of the big tour groups. By the time we got to the launching spot and put all of our gear together, it was about 9am. About two hours into our three hour tour, we pulled over and walked to a waterfall to take a family photo. After that short break, we finished rafting and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant ran by Mel’s aunt, so even though the other tours would be stopping by there as well, I’m convinced we got the best meal since we were with family. Then we were back on the road, headed home. We were back by 1:30pm, so just enough time to head down to the beach for the rest of the afternoon.
Going white water rafting was going to be facing one of my biggest fears, because I really did not want to flip over and have to deal with all of the currents or losing a paddle, etc. Luckily, we didn’t even come close to flipping over! There was one area where our guide said we could go “surfing,” which was this little waterfall that we could go under then just sit in the current that kept us still rather than pushing us in any direction. It was really interesting how that worked, until I felt like I was getting waterboarded by the waterfall. It was quite the experience, but I definitely wanted to keep it brief.
- Wear a lot of sunscreen because it will gradually wash off from the rapids. My forearms and tops of thighs were fried.
- There were never any bathrooms until lunch, so be prepared for that.
- This tour was just my family of four, which was exactly what we had wanted all along.
- $95 per person for the rafting then $35 to purchase all of the pictures
For Christmas Day, we wanted to do a waterfall tour because we had heard about this natural waterslide we could go down. I had wanted to go paddle boarding as well, so my mum found a company called Paddle 9 that did both in one day, but because I had been so sunburned the day before from rafting, I wanted to cancel the paddle boarding portion, which was not a problem for Paddle 9 to do on short notice. We were going to be picked up at 8am, but with the cancellation we made, it was pushed back to 9:45am. This excursion was $130 per person, which included lunch at a tilapia farm, or $150 if you wanted to paddle board before. Both prices were a rip off.
We met up with the paddle boarders at the office in Quepos, paid for the adventure, then began our drive, which were quite a ways away – about an hour from Manuel Antonio at the furthest point. The first stop was a cave on a beach that goes through to the other side of the rock. We were able to go inside because the tide was low enough, but it was a little scary because of how dark it was, especially with the waves crashing. Because it was the ocean rather than the river, the waves had SO MUCH sand in them and there was just no escaping getting it in your swim suit. After this we drove on for a bit more then had lunch at a tilapia farm. We had casado and were encouraged to order the tilapia as the protein, but because it is served as a whole fish rather than a filet, my family chose the chicken.
The first waterfall after lunch was nothing special, just a little 20-foot one that everyone could jump off of. After a short stop there, we went to another waterfall that had a rock stuck at the top of it. No one knows how the rock got there, but it’s been there for over 20 years, even through peak rain season where the waterfall flows so strong that it goes over the rock as well. After this waterfall, we went to the natural waterslide. I envisioned something small and not very steep, but in reality it was just a regular waterfall the happened to be smooth enough that you could slide down. It was actually quite intimidating and not everyone on the tour did it because of how high it was. After the water slide, we were supposed to go to one final waterfall that had a Tarzan swing, but the guides decided that we shouldn’t since every waterfall we had visited had been busy with locals wanting to spend their family time on Christmas Day swimming as well. It wasn’t busy at all by our standards, but oh well. The guides asked the guests if they just wanted to go home early or if they wanted to stop in Dominical. My family preferred to go home early because we were sick of the tour and would have wanted more time to get ready for Christmas dinner, but everyone else wanted to stay and majority ruled. So, instead of going to the last waterfall, we stopped in Dominical. In this town, which has a strong riptide that is meant for surfing not swimming, we could shop for trinkets from little carts along the street or grab a drink and snack from a bar. Eventually, we were home by 6:30, and it was a long, exhausting day for not actually doing much.
I think the reason we didn’t enjoy this tour was because the guides seemed to not really care about their jobs. They were very well informed about the area and did a great job asking us all questions to engage in conversation, but they built up the tour so much that the waterfalls were kind of a let down. One guide was a girl from America that just wanted to travel for a while and she was doing this to have some spending money. Another guide was someone who hadn’t cared to shower after the long night of drinking prior which he told us about in the most unprofessional way – ew. The final tour guide was very kind and a local, and you could tell that he wasn’t happy about the other guides he had to work with. Also, they brought along some other nomad. He wasn’t a guide and he wasn’t a guest, he was just someone who one of the guides knew that was able to tag along on our tour. He didn’t have to pay the outrageous price that we did for the tour, but he did have to pay for his own lunch at the tilapia farm.
What to bring:
- Water shoes, like Keens, for walking in water, hiking, beaches, etc.
- Towel to dry off and keep warm in the van.
- This was the one company that told us to bring our passports. Their driver stayed in the van the whole time so our belongings were safe, which was nice.
Anyways, enough ranting about that tour. The best thing to come of it was that the smelly guide had recommended El Lagarto as the place for us to eat dinner that night. We went there for our Christmas dinner and had the most delicious bbq! I had amazing dry rub ribs with garlic pesto butter on top, side of potato with a tasty butter, zucchini, tomato with same garlic pesto butter from the ribs. I followed it with a rum banana split. It was easily my favorite meal of the week.
The following day, my brother and I left for home after an amazing week in Manuel Antonio. If you have any questions or want to know more about a certain excursion, feel free to contact me. I also wrote a bit more about the actual traveling to and from Costa Rica and included some facts about the country as well in a previous post.