From Costa Rica Travel Guide: Vacation and Travel tips
Costa Rica'a first major ecotourist destination was Manuel Antonio, and it remains one of the country's most popular beach area destintations; composed of three long strands of magnificent white sand beach, bordered by rainforest on one side, and by the Pacific on the other. Overlooking these wide, pristine beaches are tall cliffs covered in thick jungle vegetation and the views from the hills overlooking Manuel Antonio are spectacular. In fact, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the few locations in Costa Rica where the primary forest comes down to the water’s edge in places, often allowing bathers to swim in the shade.
Pristine sandy beaches, cliffs, points, ravines, rainforests, diverse wildlife and an extremely hot climate are some of the features of Manuel Antonio Park. Manuel Antonio National Park is located just south of Jaco, along the pacific coastal highway, which makes it a highly accessible destination. One of the most popular parks in Costa Rica is also one the smallest. Although small, the park’s 683 hectares boast some of the country’s most varied and breathtaking scenery with ecological treasures on every hiking trail. Enclosed by lush and very wet tropical forest, the park’s trails offer sightings of white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, iguanas, snakes and many bird species. The park is also home to the Costa Rican squirrel monkey, which is endemic to Manuel Antonio, but also endangered. Manuel Antonio is a must for any traveler with an eco-conscience agenda.
Manuel Antonio National Park came very close to becoming a resort in the early ‘70’s, but was saved by various local eco-friendly interest groups. The park has become a popular destination for its picturesque beaches and diverse ecology and at one point started to become overcrowded. This problem was soon alleviated when park officials decided to enact a maximum number of visitors who would be allowed into the park each day.
Adventure opportunities are around every corner in Manuel Antonio. Surf shops offer rental boards for use on the local beaches, and provide lessons for beginning surfers. The sunset at Manuel Antonio is truly unbelievable and there are local guide outfits that provide sunset sailing tours for an extraordinary ‘sunset’ experience. Local dive centers give lessons and guide their guests to some of the most inaccessible yet pristinely beautiful places on the globe. Other scenic sites in Manuel Antonio are: the tombolo at Cathedral Point, a long, sandy strip that connects what was Cathedral Island to the mainland; the cove at Escondido Harbour with blue-green waters bordered by underwater caves and cliffs pounded by the surf; and the magnificent beaches where sometimes olive ridley and green turtles come to lay their eggs.
You can’t mention Manuel Antonio without mentioning its nightlife as it has numerous bars and nightclubs. The nightlife there can accommodate to anyone’s social interest as it’s one of the few places outside of San Jose that openly caters to its gay clientele. So, whether you want to drink late into the night at one of the local bars or discos or you’re looking to have a good conversation over a couple of drinks, you will be able to find it at Manuel Antonio.
Once a significant banana shipping port, Quepos is now something of an inexpensive dormitory town to its more popular neighbor Manuel Antonio. This small diverse fishing town is located on the pacific coast, just 4 miles north of Manuel Antonio National Park. Often utilized by backpackers or travelers on a budget, Quepos provides many economical options for food and lodging accommodations.
Situated just four miles north of the nearby Manuel Antonio Park, this conveniently located sport fishing town is a natural meeting point for people planning to visit the park. Quepos offers numerous moderately priced lodging options for travelers. Several restaurants throughout Quepos offer visitors a taste of the local cuisine, and if you’re missing your trendy coffee bars and internet cafes, then they have those as well.
Quepos provides the traveler with places to party, with its many local bars, nightclubs, and discos that will cater to any nightlife interests. Of course, there are many local Spanish-speaking establishments, but at the same time there are also several foreign-owned English-speaking places too.
Located just north of Quepos is a hot spring and wilderness retreat that offers the weary traveler a chance to bathe in hot (120F) mineral waters to rejuvenate the mind and body. A trip to the springs is a truly unique experience that only a few are privy to.
Maybe you just want to visit Quepos in order to search for the seven hundred tons of gold supposedly buried there. Legend has it that a massive amount of gold was once exported by the church in order to escape being stolen by the infamous pirate, Henry Morgan. Unfortunately, or may be conveniently, all records of the treasure’s location were destroyed in a fire; concealing the whereabouts of the bullion. Local myth has it that the treasure was hidden somewhere in the area surrounding Quepos. Don’t forget your shovels.
Jaco is a fun-loving coastal surf town conveniently located about two hours by bus away from Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. Jaco Beach has a party-time, beach town atmosphere, with hammocks slung between coconut palms, and plenty of cold beer. Shaped in a pleasant curve, its four-kilometer-long beach is bordered by hills at either end making this picturesque surf town one of the most visited beaches in the country, by both Costa Ricans and foreigners alike. Because of its close proximity to San Jose, Jaco has been developed in a way that differs greatly to other Costa Rican tourist destinations. The local Costa Ricans have had much more influence on the direction of Jaco than outside interests have, which in
effect has created a home-grown, laid back feel to the entire area.
Since the town is located on a beach that has consistently strong surf, Jaco draws a large surfing crowd. The wet season (May-November) is generally considered to provide the better surf breaks, but there is still great surfing during the dry season as well. Jaco also caters to the eco-tourist who is more interested in exploring inland. There are horseback riding guide services that lead visitors up to the nearby mountain tops and mountain biking tours with exotic jungle destinations led by local Jaco eco-tourist guide services. If you’re looking for a naturalist’s perspective of the area, there are ecological guides led by local University of Costa Rica ecologists.
Looking to go a little more upscale, then just north of Jaco, along the coastline, are a series of exquisite beachside villas, offering the visitor a truly luxurious and pampered beachside experience. Compared to many other Costa Rican lodging options, these accommodations are somewhat on the expensive side, but one truly does receive top notch services which is probably the reason this area has become an increasingly popular destination for newlyweds.
It should be noted that for travelers who are seeking to improve their Spanish skills, Jaco hosts language immersion schools. This method is obviously much more effective than lecture-based classes conducted within the student’s home country.
Along the coast some two miles from Jaco is Playa Hermosa, which boasts a long, 10-kilometer beach that features strong and continuous waves, making it one of Costa Rica’s most preferred surfing beaches. Playa Hermosa, which means
Not only surfers, but Playa Hermosa is a very popular location for swimmers as well. The water is very warm and the beaches are wide and extensive. If scuba diving is your thing, there are local dive centers that can cater to what you are looking for, and in this pristine setting, you can rest assured it will be ‘all that’ and more.
Birdwatchers will not be disappointed because Playa Hermosa is also a place where there is a variety of wading birds to observe: great white herons and snowy egrets; and great blue, little blue, tricolor and little green herons. Jacanas, walking on lily pads with huge yellow feet; and black-bellied whistling ducks may also be seen here.
In and around the communities in Playa Hermosa, the sea is a way of life since it provides food, pleasure, and an economic means. You will find its influence ranging from your day’s activities to your dinner plate at night.
Accommodations are located throughout Playa Hermosa, and room pricing is considered moderate by Costa Rican standards. You will have access to many beachside cafes and restaurants that allow one to taste the native foods and cooking styles of the area. Playa Hermosa supplies the visitor with a well-rounded mix of culture, environment, and activities.
Noteworthy: This beach town is also home to the recently created, Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge, which comprises the strip of beach where the mangrove swamp is located. Birds and nesting olive ridley turtles may be seen here.
Due to its very aggressive surf, Dominical is a favorite destination among surfers. In the past few years, many surfers have drowned in the waters off Dominical, so it is important to note that the currents and surf can sometimes become tremendously strong. Although surfing is by far the most popular water activity in Dominical, there are also guide services that lead visitors on sea kayaking excursions in and around the surrounding coastline. Please note that during the dry season Playa Dominical’s weather can be impossibly hot and breezeless, and the landscape barren.
Dominical is also very popular among visitors who are seeking to take trips into the surrounding mountains and rainforests. This is an ideal environment for hiking excursions. There are also horseback riding services that lead their clientele up into the surrounding rainforest-covered mountains. Almost anywhere you want to explore, the Dominical tour-based services can guide you there. And what a perfect way to discover the ecological jewels of Costa Rica as the treasures are often found off the beaten path.
Dominical offers an array of accommodation options for the traveler on a budget. Whether you are looking to stay in a cheap beachside cabina or are interested in being spoiled by an upscale hotel, Dominical can oblige you. There are also a variety of different restaurants and eateries to choose from in Dominical and it is said that the area has a distinct French flair.
Just north of Dominical is a working cocoa plantation which is a great option for the traveler who wants to do a little more exploration of the area. This plantation provides visitors an up close and personal look at the day-to-day operations of a working plantation. You also may run into many interesting animals that call the plantation home, as well as housing several archaeological sites. It is a perfect daytrip for visitors staying in and around Dominical.
Surfers- The currents and surf can become excessively strong, so you should never go out alone and may want to consider attending one of the local professional surf schools or camps.
Many people view Puntarenas as merely a place to pass through so that you can get somewhere else, such as to the islands of the Gulf of Nicoya, or when taking the ferry to Bahia Ballena, Tambor, and Montezuma. If you agree with this view, it’s worth reconsidering – slow down and take some time to discover this port town. Puntarenas is an eclectic seaside community with a unique mix of cultural appeal and is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Puntarenas is a perfect starting point for any number of water based activities offered in the area.
Puntarenas is just four meters above sea level and sits on a three and a half mile long narrow strip of peninsula that has long been home to a thriving deep-water seaport. Founded by the Spanish Conquistador Fernandez de Cordova, the peninsula grew to be an extensive exporting port for the international coffee trade. Although Puntarenas used to be a bustling, noisy place, filled with longshoremen, sailors on leave, prostitutes, and businessmen, those days are over, as the growth of the port of Limon and, more recently, the opening of the modern deepwater port of Puerto Caldera have turned Puntarenas into something of an anachronism as far as seaports go. Today the town is a popular tourist destination largely due to its close proximity to Costa Rica’s central highlands.
Puntarenas is the ideal starting point for a variety of maritime activities. Various guide services will take visitors on excursions to see and explore the surrounding mangrove swamp areas which are also a perfect opportunity for bird watchers, due to the high number of different bird species found in the area. A visitor can also board the local ferry to the nearby Isla Tortuga, where they have an opportunity to frolic in the surf, snorkel, have lunch, and explore the quaint little island for the day.
Puntarenas takes great pride in its vibrant and colorful seaside street section know as the malecon. Here, there are a lot of vendors selling local foods and ice cream, playgrounds, picnic areas, strolling families, and if you’re a people watcher then this is also the place to get a feel of the local culture. There are also several souvenir shops that sell their wares to the incoming cruise ship crowds. Other noteworthy attractions include the town’s church, an art museum, and a local maritime history museum.
In Puntarenas there are several beach resorts and hotels throughout the town that can provide for anyone’s lodging needs. Whether you’re looking to be pampered, or traveling on more of a budget, Puntarenas can accommodate you; although the town does becomes very popular during the high season (December through May) so plan accordingly.
If you’re in Puntarenas on July 16th, you will be able to experience the festivities surrounding the annual Fiesta del Virgin del Mar. Legend has it when four local fishermen were caught out at sea during a violent storm, they prayed to their patron saint, St. Carmen, asking for deliverance from the storm. The men were willing to trade and promised to hold a massive boat procession and festival dedicated to her in exchange for their lives. Needless to say, the men lived happily ever after and now there is an annual festival much to the delight of any tourist lucky enough to experience it.