Nineteen years ago I came to Costa Rica for the first time, as a visitor; little did I know that I would soon be back and would stay that long!
Manuel Antonio was one of the places I visited. Quepos was nothing but a sleepy fishing village, and Manuel Antonio consisted of shacks and a handful of hotels. Today, there are more than 300 hotels to choose from and just as many restaurants, without counting the villas and condominiums. Scary, yes, but somehow, Manuel Antonio has kept its tropical hideout air, and it certainly still looks so beautiful.
Located on the middle Pacific Coast in the province of Puntarenas, Manuel Antonio is easy to get to; by road, it takes between 2 and half to three hours, or if you prefer to fly, you’ ll be there in less than half an hour.
Officially declared National Park in 1972, with its 683 hectares, it is the smallest biological peninsula of Costa Rica, yet it has an outstanding variety and a spectacular beauty that it is unmatched anywhere else. The magic of it is that you do not have to be particularly looking for the animals to see them. The endangered Squirrel monkeys, the Capuchin monkeys, the White Faced monkeys, Coatamundis, Raccoons, Hummingbirds, Red Macaws, Pelicans, Toucans, Black-Collared hawks and Iguanas seem to be everywhere. The laid back monkeys are usually resting lazily in the trees above the hotel rooms and along the beach while the mischievous Capuchins chase each other noisily.
Manuel Antonio still has a primary forest, a rarity even in this country, a secondary forest and a large Mangrove swamp covering about 45 acres, with a variety of Red, White and Bottonwood mangrove. This unique combination of Rain Forest, Beach and Coral Reef in such a small compact area is unequalled anywhere else and this is what makes it so popular amongst tourists. Added to this that it has now some of the finest hotels and restaurants, the jungle experience doesn’t need to be an adventure anymore for those who prefer a little comfort.
Most of them are located on the little road leading to the Park, offering stunning views over the dark blue sea and crimson sunsets. The dazzling exuberance of the lush green tropical vegetation, the howling of the monkeys and cries of the exotic birds is as enchanting as it is mesmerizing. For those who lost touch with the beauty of mother earth, this is the place to be.
The path leading to the Punta Cathedral is paved with millions of small brightly colored crabs and iguanas will run away from you as you walk by. Punta Catedral used to be a small island but is now connected by a short trail from which you will be rewarded with a stunning panorama. On each side of the point are the two best beaches. With its unique location and shape, Manuel Antonio has a series of small beaches and bays surrounded by luscious rainforest: South and North Espadilla Beaches, South Manuel Antonio Beach, Puerto Escondido Beach & Playitas Beach. They are all absolutely safe for swimming although little precaution should be taken as always, in case of currents.
For those who like a bit of action when they are on a sight seeing trip, Manuel Antonio has everything to please. Hiking comes first and offers hours of joy, however Manuel Antonio sometimes hots Surf Tournaments, and you will also find kayaking, white water rafting, canopy, and sports fishing.
It is hard to choose amongst the hotels-restaurants, here however are a few that are worth a visit:
Barba Roja, or Red Beard, is a favorite for sea food and sunsets drinks.
The restaurant is opened seven days a week and offers a scenic view over the ocean for a tequilla sunrise or a pina colada. The seafood includes Blackened Tuna with Soy Sauce, Shrimp Burriots or Sea Bass in garlic Butter and herbs.
Do not miss El Avion! An old Nicaraguan Army plane now serves as a bar and grill where you may enjoy a late night snack and drinks, and of course a stunning view over the sea. Try the French Onion Soup, the Chef Salad or the Nachos. Cocktails are superb.
Si Como No is a Resort Spa and Wildlife Refuge. This is really the where you can experience the jungle in total luxury, perfect for families or single couples, it has spas, pools, tropical adventures, amazing food and four star accommodations. The Eco-design of this nature resort and spa actually won a prize; it really represents what is now referred to as barefoot luxury. The view is of course sensational.
The Gaia Hotel, is unique and teeming with wildlife. It used to be the called Jardin Gaia and was a center for the conservation of native Orchids and for the protection of endangered species. Today, those lucky enough to be a guest there can take a tour of these precious grounds. The hotel is for adults only, the accommodations are luxurious with terraced suites offering the best panoramic views, and is surrounded by lush green jungle. The Hotel Gaia also has its own restaurant, a spa, a gym and a unbeatable swimming pool.