Manuel Antonio Park and the near by town of Quepos is located approximately 4 hours by car from San Jose. This area of Costa Rica has the best of both worlds, beautiful beaches and rainforests filled with wildlife and adventures. We visited two separate nature preserves, Manuel Antonio Park and Rainmaker Biological Preserve, both of which showcased Costa Rica's beautiful flowers, waterfalls, and wildlife. At Manuel Antonio Park, be sure to hire a private naturalist-guide as you will surely miss the camouflaged wildlife without one. We also splurged on a full day ADR Adventures tour which includes ziplining, rappelling, hiking, 4-wheeling and more. From here we made the 4.5 hour drive to Volcano Arenal. Pay attention to the holiday schedule on the Costa Rican freeways. When we visited over the Easter holiday, we barely avoided a traffic nightmare where, despite both sides of the freeway being directed westbound, the freeway was at a standstill. We watched all this driving on a frontage road, eastbound towards Volcano Arenal.
Manuel Antonio Park: This National Park is located within a conservation area and filled with monkeys, sloths, birds, impressive insects, and other wildlife. We highly recommend hiring a private guide as we basically would have missed everything without the trained eye of our tour guide Henry from HP Tours. The visit to the Park with Henry includes transportation, entrance fee, a walking tour of the Park with Henry's impressive naturalist skills, and time on the beach within the Park. (Photo right is a camera shy sloth).
Playa Biesanz: At the recommendation of Henry (above), we spent the afternoon at this quiet beach occupied by locals. Henry also told us to pay one of the guys that watch cars parked along the road near the beach ($5), which we did. This beach is great for swimming and even has a section of shade the runs right up to the water depending on what time of day you arrive.
Rainmaker Conservation Project: This educational park, located in a rainforest, features an easy hike through the forest on a well-marked path. Taking you literally through the canopy on hanging bridges, this park was especially fun to traverse. Bring a bathing suit as there is a waterfall and swimming area about mid-way through the walk.
We selected the self-guided tour that included a traditional Tico lunch at $25/person. As this was our first activity while in the Country, it was the perfect introduction to Costa Rica.
ADR Adventure Park: This definitely falls under the category of "splurge," at $130/person for this all-day experience. However, it was a high-light of the trip and we definitely recommend footing the cost. The day's adventure includes 4-wheeling, hiking, ziplining, and rappelling. Also included in the fees are breakfast, lunch and snacks, as well as transportation. The staff were fun, patient and above-all devoted to safety. As someone afraid of heights, I was surprised how the staff's confidence and focus on safety helped me overcome fears and actually enjoy the thrill of flying through the canopies.
Where We Stayed
Air BnB Listing: Quepos, Costa Rica (pop. 21,000), is just 15 minutes by car to the gates of Manuel Antonio Park. At $125/night, this ocean view residence that sits safely high above the city, is a great value as compared to the tourist strip near the Park. Spacious, clean, and with breathtaking views, we would stay here again for sure. We also walked the central part of Quepos one afternoon which seemed representative of a typical nice Costa Rican "locals," town.
Where We Ate
Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar: Photo right is actually the meal we had at Rainmaker Park (above). We did not take photos of our meal unfortunately but our meal at this Falafel Bar was affordable and quite good with freshly made pita bread. Our other favorite dinner spot closed unfortunately but there are many great restaurants in this area.