One Day in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Beach

Orientation

We spent a month driving round Costa Rica and of all the places we visited, Manuel Antonio was my absolute Favourite. This little town, which lies around 100 km south of San Jose is reached by exiting the highway (Costanera Sud) near Quepos, then taking Route 618, which runs all the way to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Route 618 is lined with numerous hotels, bars and restaurant. At the end of the road, is the national park and the glorious 2 km jungle lined golden sand which is Espadilla beach. Go to Manuel Antonio for the national park, but make sure to stay for sunset and cocktails overlooking Playa Espadilla.

Manuel Antonio National Park

f If you’re planning to visit, buying tickets in advance online is highly recommended. We purchased entry tickets and explored the park on our own. If you prefer a guided tour, this can be booked online – alternatively, there are plenty of guides touting for business near the entrance.

PlaceManuel Antonio National Park
Opening Times7-4 (closed Tuesdays)
Price$18.08
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park
Road to Manuel Antonio National Park

An online ticket reservation gives you an entry time slot (ours was 9-9.40 am). No food is allowed in the park, although there is a small café where you can purchase drinks and snacks. No single use plastic is allowed inside the park, but if you bring your own water bottle, they will refill it at the kiosk with very welcome ice cold water for 500 colones. There are plenty of cafes and shops lining the road leading to the entrance. We had breakfast at one of the street side cafes on our way to the park.

Manuel Antonio National Park Map
Manuel Antonio National Park Map

Upon arrival, there is some admin to deal with (you need to bring your passport), bag checks to search for food contraband, temperature checks, compulsory hand washing. It took us a while to get through the formalities.

Sendero Perezoso

Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance
Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance

There are several trails and three beaches in the park. We opted to start with Sendero Perezoso (sloth trail) which takes you, either along a trail or a boardwalk, through the rainforest to a clearing which contains the cafe, toilets and access to some of the other trails.

Sendero Perezoso
Sendero Perezoso

We didn’t see any sloths on the ‘Sloth Trail’ but we did, however, spot monkeys. At first we were excited, peering up into the trees for a closer look. But as we approached the park kiosk, we realised there were hundreds of them, absolutely everywhere. The closer you get to the kiosk, the higher the concentration of monkeys!

Monkey

Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio

From the kiosk, take the Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio, which leads you, not surprisingly, to Manuel Antonio Beach. There are lovely beaches both inside and outside the park, so you are spoilt for choice. As we were staying close by, we opted to spend the morning walking the trails in the National Park, then collect our swimming gear and go to public beach in the afternoon, so we had less to carry. At the end of the trail, you can climb an Observation Tower which is more like a monkey living room! And they certainly were not shy of humans, coming over to check us out.

Manuel Antonio National Park Observation Tower
Observation Tower

Playa Manuel Antonio

Walking the trails of Manuel Antonio is a hot, sweaty business. Take some time at the beach to cool down before tackling your next trail.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Sendero Punta Catedral

Once you’re suitable refreshed, continue on the steep, circular trail (approximately 1.4 km) round a rocky peninsula called Punta Catedral. It has a lot of steps and a lot of gaps where steps used to be. Climbing it was quite a mission in the heat and humidity.

Sendero Punta Catedral
Sendero Punta Catedral

We arrived at the top to find the viewpoint cordoned off (it had been destroyed by monkeys) and continued along the steps/ex steps back towards the beach.

Monkey viewpoint takeover

Punta Catedral

View from Punta Catedral
View from Punta Catedral

Finally, as you continue the circular trail onwards and upwards, you are rewarded with a view over the bay, before descending back towards the beach.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Once back at the beach, I went for a paddle to cool down but the water wasn’t like the bracing sea water of Bournemouth, it was more like stepping into a warm bath.

Playa Espadrilla Sur
Playa Espadrilla Sur

Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur

From here, you can either retrace your steps (if you want to visit the cafe) or take the Sendero Espadilla Sur which takes you towards the exit alongside the beach.

Playa Espadrilla Sur
Playa Espadrilla Sur

Bahia

As you near the exit, take the boardwalk through the mangroves to Bahia beach.

Mangrove boardwalk

At this beautiful beach, you can watch pelicans diving into the rock pools for their lunch.

Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio
Pelicans at Bahia Manuel Antonio

There are other trails, in the park, but our route covered over 5 miles, which in 32 degree heat and 80% humidity, I found was sufficient and decided it was time to retire to the beach!

Manuel Antonio National Park Bahia Beach entrance
Bahia beach entrance

Playa Espadilla

Where to Stay?

We stayed at the Hotel Manuela Antonio. This motel style hotel has large, clean rooms with balconies overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s literally at the end of the road. Route 618, which brings you to Manuel Antonio, concludes in a turning circle near the park entrance. The hotel is on this circle and literally backs onto the National Park. (When we arrived, there were deer peering over the fence between the National Park and hotel car park). As it’s adjacent to the park and opposite the beach it’s really conveniently placed. In addition, it has ample, free guest parking.

Hotel Manuel Antonio
Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio
Room at Hotel Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 26 – San Jose

Today has gone belly up before we’re even out of bed. We receive an email from British Airways that our flight, which was originally at 6.40 pm will now depart at 7 am tomorrow. So, instead of a leisurely brunch before going to to the airport to check in, we book an airport hotel for our ‘bonus’ night in Costa Rica. We toy with idea of one final sightseeing trip this morning, but rapidly lose interest. The old man settles down to crush candy, while I decamp the pool for one last swim/blast of sunshine.

Breakfast of champions

After brunch (yesterday’s leftover Chinese – who doesn’t love cold sweet & sour prawns for breakfast?) we swap hotels. There is mention in the email from British Airways that if we go to the airport (at an unspecified time, to an unspecified location) a member of staff will assist in booking a hotel. The old man remains unconvinced and makes a reservation at Hampton Inn and Suites as it fits all our requirements; beds to sleep in, an airport shuttle to get to the airport and a pool to entertain me until BA get their act together.

Hampton Inn

After check in, I relocate to my second pool of the day (this one has other people found it, which is disappointing – I was kind of used to having a pool to myself at Casa Conde).

Hampton Inn Pool

For dinner, we walk round the corner to a fast food chicken joint, Rostipollo. We buy a sharing platter (a súper piqueo) which consists of fried chicken, plantain, cheese and tortillas with a selection of dips. I’m not sure how many it’s supposed to serve, buts it’s enormous. We manage to finish it with the help of a stray dog who appears under the table just as we are running out of steam. And so, when we should actually be half way across the Atlantic, we are sitting in a diner by the side of a motorway sharing chicken nuggets with a dog.

Rostipollo Super Piqueo

Then it’s back to our room for a (very) early night before our 5 am check in. The noise as we approach the hotel is deafening; there are hundreds of parrots congregating in the trees outside. It’s quite a sight – I try to take a video, until two parrots poop in my hair and I have to take an impromptu shower before a slightly-later-than-planned early night.

Birds on a wire

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 25 – San Jose

Today is the last full day of our trip and we’re going into San José for some culture. We spent a day sightseeing in the city last week, but it was a Monday when everything is closed. So today we plan to visit the museum and art gallery.

We take an Uber into town and find a spot for breakfast; Restaurante el Patio del Balmoral. We order the del Patio breakfast – gallo pinto (fried rice and beans) with fried cheese, fried eggs, fried plantain and fried bread. In case that wasn’t sufficient calories, it comes with a side of sour cream! And a pint of orange juice.

Breakfast del Patio

Once we have consumed a zillion calories, we head to the National Museum, which is housed in the former Bellavista Fort, HQ of the Costa Rican army until 1948, when the army was abolished. It is peppered with bullet holes from the Civil War, also in 1948.

National Museum

After paying the entry fee ($11 each) we enter through a glass atrium which is described as a butterfly house. There aren’t any butterflies flying around, however there is a rack full of chrysalises from which a couple of butterflies are emerging.

Butterfly garden

The museum details the history of Costa Rica. Some parts (the auditorium, jail cells) remain closed. This leaves the Pre Colombian History room, the History of Costa Rica room and two temporary exhibitions; White, Blue and Red 1821-2021 (which celebrates the bicentenary of Costa Rican independence) and Nests & Eggs (which is a collection of nests and eggs).

National Museum

My favourite part (because I’m a big kid) is at the end where a series of time lapsed screens allow you, if you run from side to side, to appear on several screens simultaneously. The old man is not impressed…

Fun at the National Museum

Once I have finished running up and down the museum like an idiot, we walk to our next destination, the MADC (Museum of Contemporary Art and Design). It’s always risky taking the old man to an art gallery, especially if it contains the word ‘Contemporary’ in the title. He tends to walk round muttering; ‘Call that art?’ a lot. To be honest, this time he has a point. It costs $4 entry – cash only, no change given. So we end up having to pay $10 to get in.

MADC

The first exhibit we see upon entering is literally a bowl of rotting fruit. Seriously? We’ve paid $10 for someone to shove some rotten fruit in a recess and call it art? Much of the rest of the space it taken up with chairs hanging from the ceiling. There’s also a map with some stickers on and a room where everything appears to be made of cotton wool, which is somehow indicative of covid! I can think of better ways of spending $10. The best bit about the museum is the building (a 19th century former liquor factory) but when I try to take a peek outside, a security guard is quick to intervene.

MADC

After we have paid $10 to look at a rotten pineapple, some hanging chairs and a room covered in cotton wool, we return to the hotel where I get my afternoon sun/pool fix while the old man deals with that pesky candy.

Rotten fruit as art

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 24 – Panama City to San José

Today sees the first leg of our journey home. There are no direct flights from Panama to London, so this afternoon we fly back to Costa Rica. After the obligatory trip to the breakfast buffet, I blow the last of the Balboas on fridge magnets before heading for the airport.

A tactical error; I finished my book this morning. An error compounded by the fact that the airport wifi is limited to 30 minutes. An error further compounded by the fact that shortly after boarding commences, it stops again and the passengers who had already boarded reappear. Apparently, a member of crew has fallen ill. They promise to let us know what’s happening in 30 minutes.

And so afternoon drifts into evening with alternating additional delays and gate changes. At one point vouchers are issued and I join the scrum in the food court. Finally, 4 hours and 3 gates later, a new crew member has been flown in from Colombia and we can depart. The moral of the story is; don’t fly a budget Colombian airline (Wingo) between Panama and Costa Rica. Or maybe, just don’t fly a budget Colombian airline…

We are spending our final two nights at Casa Conde – the quasi colonial villa on the outskirts of town where I spent my isolation. We had booked a hotel in the city centre for convenience, but were won over by the fact that Casa Conde provides apartments rather than rooms. I am particularly persuaded by a) the pool and b) the washing machine!

When we finally arrive, 4 hours later than planned, it is too late to use the pool and the washing machine is broken. The latter is easily remedied – reception give us a key for another room and I can wash my pants before I go to bed.

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 23 – San José

It’s our last day in Costa Rica (for now) and as I’m feeling pretty much back to normal, we can take an Uber into town for a wander. We decide to start to the north of the city centre in Barrio Amón, which Lonely Planet informs me is a “pleasant, historical neighbourhood, home to a cluster of 19th-century coffee grower mansions. Recently many of the area’s historical buildings have been converted into hotels, cafes, bars, and offices, making this a popular district for an architectural stroll.”

Barrio Amon

Our driver pulls up at our chosen location. He looks a little worried and checks that we really do want to be left here! We do, so off we set on our architectural stroll. First, we head in the opposite direction as the old man has spotted a fire station with some fireman sculptures outside. A real fireman sitting outside points north and says; ‘That way is dangerous, go the other way.’

Fire Station

We walk through Barrio Amon taking pictures of buildings and street art, finally reaching the more touristy centre of town without incident, despite the driver and fireman’s misgivings.

Jardin de la Paz

There’s not a huge amount to do in San José on a Monday (all the museums etc are shut) other than wander aimlessly through the city. So we wander and take photographs for a couple of hours. In a park, we find a sculpture of a man with a dangly willy holding out a hand. The old man asks me to photograph him high fiving the sculpture. I point out that for the sake of symmetry, he really ought to get his willy out and let it dangle, but he refuses. The old man has no sense of adventure!

Parque Morazon

I have a challenge for my running club to complete which involves taking as many photos of cafes as possible in one hour, so that keeps me occupied for a while. Then I run out of steam and want to go back to the hotel, but the Uber App is down. So I just sit on a bench feeling sorry for myself for a while until we can finally book a car to pick us up.

Parque Nacional

After a restorative nap and some restorative chips, I go for one last swim before it’s time to pack for tomorrow morning’s flight. We should have departed four days ago, so I’m excited we’re finally (almost) on our way.

Goethe Institut

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 22 – San Jose (La Sabana)

It’s release day and we’re going to the park. After breakfast, I put on my shoes – they feel weird – I haven’t worn shoes in a while! We catch an Uber to La Sabana Park. La Sabana was San José’s original airport, but is now a park and home to the National Stadium. The former terminal building has become an art gallery.

La Sabana Park

We take a stroll round the park and round off with a visit to the gallery; Museum of Costa Rican Art. Entry is free, if a little fiddly as you have to complete an online questionnaire first, and it takes a while for the wifi to load. I have a slight panic on entering the museum when the security guard produces a thermometer, but I pass. Its official; I’m (a) Covid free and (b) not hot!

Museo de Arte Costarricense

In addition to picture galleries, the walls of what was once the VIP lounge (the Golden Room), are covered with a 150 square metre bronze mural depicting the history of Costa Rica. Apparently it was supposed to “offer travellers a private and inviting space whose walls informed them, in an artistic and educational way, of events in the history of Costa Rica”.

Museo de Arte Costarricense – Golden Room

Outside is a sculpture garden (who doesn’t love a sculpture garden?) with some interesting pieces.

Museo de Arte Costarricense – Sculpture Garden

My overall favourites are the sculptures of Leda Astorga; I’m sure there’s a much more artistic way to interpret her genre, but basically her work depicts fat people having a good time!

When we emerge from the gallery, it’s all kicking off outside with a big political rally, both on the streets and with dozens of cars adorned with flags parading round the roads. We call an Uber, which fails to make it through the rally and cancels. Eventually, a second car comes and takes us back to the hotel.

Museo de Arte Costarricense – Covid self portrait

After lunch, time for a quick swim/sunbathe (working on that Covid tan). After my swim, I exit the pool next to where I thought I’d left my flip flops, but there’s no sign of them. After looking in all sorts of obvious and weird places, I eventually text the old man (back in the room playing candy crush) and ask him to bring my trainers. I’m totally confused. Since I had Covid, I’ve had a bout of brain fog. I feel rather discombobulated, my flip flops have disappeared, despite the fact I have been alone all afternoon. Eventually, we find them floating upside down in the pool; the soles are grey and there are tiles missing from the pool floor exposing grey cement, thus the flip flops were camouflaged. Relieved that I (a) am not going mad and (b) haven’t lost the flip flops (which if we’re honest, I’ve kind of borrowed from my daughter), I return to the room to shower, eat dinner and Google Covid brain fog – apparently it’s not uncommon. Who knew? Obviously not me!

Museo de Art Costarricense

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 21 – San Jose

Another day of isolation. The morning is sunny, so I can escape to the pool, which is totally deserted again. A couple of swims, a nap and a couple more swims take up most of the day. The final swim was a bit much, leaving me totally exhausted, despite the fact it was only 10 minutes.

Casa Conde pool

As my step count since I got ill has been pitiably low, I decide to kill two birds with one stone and take a walk around the hotel grounds, photographing some of the stained glass windows en route. Living the Covid dream!

Casa Conde window montage

Then, it’s time for tea (with 3 nights left in Costa Rica, the old man has bought a 1.8 kg sack of rice), FaceTime with family and bed. That’s my 7 days of isolation up; tomorrow I am allowed out – hooray!!!

Casa Conde pool

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 20 – San Jose

Today is another fun filled day of isolation. I wanted a room with a private balcony and ended up with a room overlooking the car park and a wall covered with 45 km of barbed wire. On the plus side, after 3 days of feeling absolutely terrible, I have woken up feeling heaps better. As outside appears to be deserted, and it has been a full 5 days since my first symptoms, I decide to don a mask a take a walk round the hotel grounds. It’s my first time outdoors (unless you count getting in and out of the car) since I tested positive 3 days ago. It turns out Casa Conde is a quirky hotel with courtyards and fountains and stained glass windows.

Casa Conde pool

The best news is the pool, which is in a courtyard garden, is completely empty – I can self isolate by the pool – yay! This is an unexpected turn of events and I return to the room and collect a book and towel.

Casa Conde Pool

I spend the rest of the morning lazing by the pool. I even manage a couple of short swims, although I’m totally drained after 15 minutes. Eventually, a man turns up and I figure I should go, but he keeps coughing. He sounds more like he has covid than me! So I stay a while longer, until the old man appears and announces he’s bought lunch.

Casa Conde pool

After lunch and a nap, I return to the pool for my own special form of self isolation – this time it’s just me and the birds. I manage a couple more swims, although to be honest I’ve overdone it a bit.

Casa Conde

I return to the accommodation completely exhausted, reheat some leftover chips and go to bed.

Casa Conde

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 19 – Uvita to San Jose

We decide to stick with our original plan to drive to San José this morning. There are several reasons for this 1) the hire car is due back; 2) we are 60 miles from the nearest hospital if either of us gets ill and 3) it gives us the opportunity to book a hotel more conducive to self isolating. I’ve only been stuck in this room one day and I’m already going stir crazy!

Casa Conde reception

First, it’s time for breakfast – a bit of a mission when every time I swallow is excruciating. I manage a couple of fork fulls of scrambled egg and a few chunks of pineapple whilst the old man hovers, waiting for any scraps. Then it’s time for the 4 hour drive north to the capital. Instead of our original plan to spend a night at an airport hotel, convenient for tomorrow’s scheduled flights, we drive to our newly booked destination; Casa Conde in a rather rough looking suburb of San José, for 5 nights to see out my period of isolation.

Casa Conde

I’m not sure what to expect – all the reviews I’ve read give it either 5 stars or 1 star; it’s a kind of marmite hotel. I fall in love with it immediately. It’s a rambling, colonial style complex like something out of a film set. It’s a bit shabby chic (leaning towards shabby) but it’s set in beautiful gardens, there are murals on the walls (and who doesn’t love a mural) and it has a good size pool in a tranquil courtyard. It’s just what the doctor ordered! The suites have 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a living/dining area and there’s even, joy of joys, a washing machine.

Casa Conde

I take a nap after the journey, while the old man deals with the car, then do 43 tonnes of laundry and try to decide what to eat. The old man wants pizza. The nearest pizzeria; Marinara is 100 metres away and has excellent reviews. I choose a Mexican pizza, which turns out to be the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. The old man returns with burger and chips. I asked him why he changed his mind? Apparently he realised the pizzeria was vegan!

Vegan Mexican pizza

We spend the rest of the evening replanning and rebooking the remaining two weeks of our trip, working out a way to fit in most of what we wanted to do. This is mainly achieved by replacing two long bus trips with flights – extra expense, but freeing up some time to replace what we have lost from having to isolate for the next few days.

Casa Conde room

Costa Rica Travel Diary Day 18 – Uvita

Today is not going according to plan. I had such a sore throat in the night I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been feeling ill for 4 days now, so I take another Covid test. This time it’s positive. Well that explains the sore throat! We have flights booked to Panama for the day after tomorrow. I guess that’s not going to happen! I check the isolation rules for Costa Rica; 7-10 days from the date of testing positive. No chance to backdate to the date of first symptoms. It’s going to be a long week…

Positive test

The old man has a whale watching tour booked this morning, so he departs early, leaving me alone with a bottle of warm soda water. He has asked for breakfast to be brought to the room, which finally arrives some considerable time later. The waiter obviously suspects what’s up. He’s wearing a mask and gloves and hands the plate over at arm’s length and runs. I’m so hungry, but each mouthful is like eating razor blades coated in crushed glass, so I soon give up.

Breakfast in bed

The only outside areas at this hotel are communal, so I spend the entire day in my room, reading and coughing and reading and coughing, counting the hours until I can take more painkillers. Eventually, the old man returns with a cold drink and food; jalapeño bagels with jalapeño cream cheese. He mutters a lot about how spicy it is – so I guess I’ve lost my sense of taste!