I heard it was touristy, I knew it would be filled with overpriced restaurants and souvenir shops, but I came anyway. Needing to get out of the city, and more specifically to some warmer temperatures I left San Jose and headed for the coast. I knew to expect higher prices and probably loads of tourists, but I accepted this and looked past it. Manuel Antonio, both the park and beach, is listed in multiple guide books and “must see” destination lists so I figured there must be a reason, and I wanted to check it out.
Somewhat out of character I decided to book a hostel for my full three nights in the area. There are loads of places to stay, but I went with my usual M.O. and chose the cheapest option, which thankfully also had some good reviews. I stayed at Central Backpackers, located about 10 minutes from the Quepos bus terminal, but directly next to a bus stop that will take you to Manuel Antonio beach and park. The good reviews I spoke of focused mainly on the friendly hostel owner, and as soon as I arrived I could see why. He greeted me like an old friend he hadn’t see in years, explained the ins and outs of not only the hostel but also the city and gave me a few bonus tips of different beaches and food to explore. This comes in handy for anyone, but as a solo traveler it’s always nice to have someone go out of their way to be friendly and help you. He urged me not to waste the rest of the beautiful day, so I did as told, put on my suit and headed directly to the beach.
I had heard that Manuel Antonio beach is crowded, but clearly these people have never been to a beach in Korea. Compared to what I’ve had to deal with in Asia this beach was deserted, I found myself a nice quiet spot and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming, reading, people watching, walking and thoroughly enjoying my time on the beach. There were only a few vendors selling things: sno-cones, coconuts and a few varieties of jewelry, but none of them were pushy and I never felt bothered by their presence - another contrast to Asia. I decided to catch the bus before sunset, mostly because my stomach was growling and I planned to get a casado at one of the cheaper places in Quepos, rather than the western food in MA. Unfortunately my timing was about 10 minutes late, causing me to only catch the tail end of sunset on the Quepos boardwalk.
When I returned to my hostel I thought for sure I was the ONLY guest staying for the night, but was later joined by three older travelers: two sisters and one of their husbands, Sally, Susan and Billy. They were all in their late 60’s, but despite the age difference I shared some great conversations with the sisters and ultimately am inspired to still be going as they are when I hit that age.
My second day in town I connected with a Couchsurfing host, not sure why I didn’t find him BEFORE arriving, who agreed to show me around and hang out for a while. Carlos works as a self made tour guide, surf instructor, and airBnB hosts which offers a pretty flexible work day. He was in Quepos for the morning so we met up there and walked along the coast, eventually ending up at Nahomi Park, a great little area with beautiful views, peaceful sounds of crashing waves and a bit of history. Carlos was definitely one of those guys who just knows everyone and everything about a place, filling me with facts and constantly saying hi to those we passed. We got along great and although there was no plan for the day we didn’t part ways until 10 pm. I accompanied him on a few errands in the city before buying some fish and taking it back to his place where we shared with his family.
Carlos’s setup is pretty awesome, he owns the upper portion of a house, with his family living below. His share includes 5 bedrooms, three of which he rents out on AirBnB while the remaining two are for him, one serving as a makeshift bedroom should a Couchsurfer or workawayer drop by. While I was there one AirBnB couple was checking out and it was only a few hours later there was another arriving. Just before the sun was ready to set we grabbed our things and made it to the beach, just in time for one last swim and a plethora of gorgeous photos. Look at my Instagram and you’ll see a myriad of sunrise, sunset and cloud photos, I may be a bit obsessed. I was hoping to have a day with a local feel and that is exactly what I got, We later returned to Carlos’s place and all did are part in preparing dinner together before I eventually headed ‘home’ seeing after all that I was paying for a bed.
I should have went to Manuel Antonio park on my final day in the city, but I’m really bad at following all those ‘should’ guidelines so that didn’t happen. Ultimately I didn’t want to wake up early to pay $16 and walk through crowds with fearless, desensitized monkeys and maybe see a few other bits of wildlife; sure there was promises of a good beach, but I’m in Costa Rica, aren’t those everywhere? Instead, I followed the advice of my hostel owner and ventured to Playa Biesanz. I first dropped by to leave a thank you note for Carlos, even though no one was home and then continued my walk towards the beach. It was much longer than expected, a few kilometers of ups and downs and winding roads, but I didn’t mind as the exercise made me feel I earned my lazy beach time. The last 200 meters to the beach is through the forest, and as soon as I turned off the main road I heard howls from monkeys and rustling in the trees - and I didn’t have to pay $16 for it!
I was told Bisanz would be local and quieter, but that’s not exactly what I found when I emerged from the trees. There was a row of tanning chairs, filled with (what assumed to be, rich) tourists who were playing music and already sipping on cocktails, served to them by the waiter who came around asking for drink orders. I plunked myself in the corner near the rocks, near the only locals I could find and a few other travelers. The beach was kind of rocky, but to be honest I haven’t been blown away by any of the beaches in Costa Rica thus far, but then again I have been to Thailand and the Philippines. I read for a while before the tide pushed me back, amazing how fast that can change. The next thing to roll in were the rain clouds; knowing I had a 20-30 minute walk ahead of me I chose to leave and go find something to eat.
The day before I had eyed the falafel bar and since it was conveniently located at the junction of the main road and the beach access road, I decided to pay the American prices and hope for the best. Everything I was doing in Quepos was turning out perfect, this lunch included, the falafel was awesome, stuffed inside a delicious pita with a substantial salad bar where you could add and refill all you wanted. I stayed until the rain moved on, caught up with some friends and then decided to get a bit more exercise and walk to Manuel Antonio, catching one more gorgeous sunset. My final morning was lazy, I enjoyed breakfast with my new travel companions before they left for Panama and took one final walk around town. I lucked out by stumbling upon the Saturday morning market, complete with fruits veggies and local crafts, I was even inclined to buy something, more abnormal behavior for me. After that I had just enough time to pack my bags and say goodbye, catching a bus to Jaco for one night before running away to paradise.
Packed with Adventure and Adrenaline, a diverse landscape from mountains to cloudforests, oceans, beaches and waterfalls. It's known for being touristy, safe and expensive, but was for me, a great introduction to Central America.