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Not that there was larks. More like up with the howler monkeys!!
Manuel Antonio was where I first fell deeply, madly in love with Costa Rica. But like any good romantic comedy, I had to feel some hate before I could feel the love. I’d already had issues with my hotel booking when the twin room we’d booked suddenly showed up on the booking described as a ‘student room’ and when I looked it said it was bunk beds. I contacted them and asked what the hell had happened as the booking had changed. We went back and forth for a while and they were frankly really rude, but finally agreed to a terrible discount to upgrade us to a budget double. We could have made do with bunk beds to be honest, but the size of the room it showed was tiny and as we were there for 5 nights and I wasn’t feeling too well, no room to swing a cat seemed tedious. I wouldn’t normally name a hotel I had issues with as it often comes with the budget you’ve spent and things are no big deal but this hotel was just so freaking awful and as I (and many others) have slated it on Trip Advisor, I feel it’s fair to warn people about Waterfront Hotel Verde Mar. Not because of the shabbiness, or even bad customer service, as that stuff doesn’t bother me so much. It was just them not giving a care at all – not even making the least effort to be decent. That riled me. When we arriving we found the hotel reception was pretty nice but the rest of the hotel was, as mentioned above, on the shabby side. But we had a large room with a proper bed so we were happy enough. We were more than happy when we ventured out the back of the hotel and discovered one of the most beautiful beaches going. The gorgeousness of the beach (Espadilla) was obviously why this hotel could get away with being such arses. When we came back from dinner we welcomed by a dripping ceiling. There had clearly been a leak from above for quite a while and one side of the bed was soaked. We, of course, went to reception and thus ensued a lot of faffing and not much helping. Mark eventually knocked on the upstairs room as the staff didn’t. It was all very weird and the staff offered us a free breakfast for our inconvenience, expecting us to stay in the room. A free $5 breakfast was not really going to help us with a drenched bed. If the leak had been elsewhere in the room, we’d have put up with it. So they put us in another room, which was a ‘deluxe room’ which narked them as they kept pointing out it was more than we’d paid for. It was a quite nice suite to be fair but they just gave us the key and buggered off and didn’t help us move to the room which was a flight above. They said our new room would be ready the next day around 3. In the morning, when Mark went to check, they said we had to check-out of the room we’d moved to, even though no-one else was moving in. He told them in no uncertain terms this wasn’t going to happen. But it was still a dud of a day waiting around to move rooms. Once we moved to a room in a weird gloomy building we were at least settled and could get on and enjoy our stay at last. But seriously – this hotel sucks on so many more levels that I won’t even go into.
On a positive note, one thing I loved about the place was the curtain and bedspread fabric. Clearly had been put in back in the days when someone gave a damn, but along with some of the bamboo furniture (in the fancy room we got kicked out of I might add), had a nice warm, tropical vibe. I should have just nicked some fabric when we left as compensation 😉
As I mentioned before, Espadilla Beach, behind our shoddy hotel was simply glorious – as were its surrounding areas. The Pacific waves are pretty strong, so obviously it is loved by surfers. So, not really my cup of tea for much more than paddling. Particularly after I got knocked by a wave so hard, from behind, that one breast fell out and my new sunglasses fell off. I opted to save my dignity, not the glasses. A decision I still regret. They were great glasses.
As you near the park end of the beach the jungle which hugs the beach is so green that it looks like it’s been filtered by Instagram.
At the end of the beach it turns into mangroves on the edge of the national park. Here the clear water pools from the jungle, headed out into the sea with some interesting cross currents.
Manuel Antonio Park
Annoyingly even the articles which specifily were entitled something like ‘Manual Antonio Park entry tickets 2019’ had the wrong information about the current entry. This was really annoying, especially as it was only January 2019. People should really double check their information before trying to win the internet and updating their site content so it’s seen in a new year. Every site had old information. The ticket purchasing has been moved and is currently available within the bank which is directly opposite the park gates. You can buy a ticket the day before. The bank doesn’t really have helpful signs outside saying ‘buy your tickets here’ (in any language), which seems a bit odd, but it is in there. There are people outside, at most times, though not that many early morning, selling packs of fruit which you are able to take into park. Beware. We took some in and the pack leaked and an agressive monkey jumped on my backpack as it reaked of lovely smelling juice. If you can avoid taking anything it’s better, but Mark has blood sugar issues so we thought we had to take something to last that many hours. In the end we realised that the cafe which is central in the park, would have been enough, so I would not say it’s worth taking anything in. They will check your bags before you go in ,by the way, so don’t try to sneak in anything other than fruit. Don’t anyway – the rules are there for a reason! And you definitely get the feeling many tourists don’t care and like to feed the monkeys. And that’s what makes them aggressive. The monkeys we encountered here were the most aggressive of our whole trip. This is the little bugger that leapt on me.
I’d seen a lot of articles which said that Manuel Antonio is like Disneyland and don’t go. I wouldn’t say that at all. It is a great place and easy first experience and it depends what you do within the park. We took the advice to go really early which was definitely a winner – crowd and heat wise. Also, we found that the majority of people coming mainly seemed to want to hang on the main beach. That’s strange if you ask me, but all the better for the rest of us who go off on the park trails. Most of the trails are pretty straightforward, but some are pretty steep (if you’re going up rather than down like we did) – they are hard going for non fit types like us, but were soo worth it because there are so few, if any people and this is where we saw the most things. We saw a Coati here which was incredible to me because I’d done a school project on these funny little creatures when I was about 9 years old and even since then it’s an animal no-one seems to have heard of.
The beach is indeed beautiful, and it is indeed croweded. Monkeys and raccoons roam about after food from the humans and the bins. People wanted their shot with the monkeys and were prepared to behave inappropriately to get it. The usual story. But we just walked quickly past this hubub of people and bizarrely found, round the corner another equally beautiful, but pretty deserted beach. Go figure!
There is also other secluded beaches deeper in the trails. This beautiful little rocky beach was home to a ton of basking iguanas and hermit crabs.
One advantage to being in a busy part of the park, with or without a guide (we are always without), is that there’s a chance if you miss something, someone else, usually someone else’s guide – will have spotted it. You can’t see it in this picture, but this beautiful lady had a baby with her. She was so very high up in a tree, it was only when we looked at the photos later we saw her gorgeous face up close, it was mostly making out figures, made easier with the baby as it played and swung about.
Food and drink
There’s not an awful lot of places at the park end of Manuel Antonio village. Enough to keep you happy for a week. It does get dark early and you’re advised not to walk on the beach after dark, so it’s not somewhere that feels great to stay out late, if your accommodation is up the hill. We were generally happiest heading home by 8 pm if we were walking. Also, because most of the customers are park visitors, the prices are fairly high.
This is where we first discovered that Costa Rica is home to a lot of craft beers. This is where we also noticed that tax is added at the end of your bill and things can come out being a fair bit more expensive than you realised.
The restaurant we ended up going back to partly due to its great value and partly due to its friendliness and chilled out vibe, was in Art Hostel Costa Linda. This was found down the road towards the park. The only downside is the toilets were in the hostel themselves and had kind of saloon glass doors on the cubicles and I had quite an interesting experience with a drunken young man showering in the ladies bathrooms, oblivious to his mistake but having a nice sing-song.
It was here that I grew to love a Costa Rican breakfast of Gallo Pinto – flavoured rice and beans. This is on most menus as breakfast ‘Tipico’. I liked it best with eggs and a bit of bacon. It was strange that I liked this so much as I usually hate beans or lentils of any kind. I think it worked for me as I like quite a plain breakfast. I definitely don’t like a sweet breakfast. It just always felt that a breakfast including Gallo Pinto set you up so well for the day. I was also super chuffed when I realised everywhere did eggs just how I like them. Described as scrambled but they are like messy eggs – cooked more and are my ideal eggs, as I’ve found they do them in Bali and Fiji. Happy days for me.
Manuel Antonio Village
I think if (when!) I return to Manuel Antonio, I would stay up in the village as it has lots of amazing food and drink available as well as the great views from being so high up and it’s easy and quick to get down to the park. Staying down by the park was great for a first time but it is limited in regards to food and drink – early closing times and the whole area becomes quite deserted early on. There is also no ATM down there. I had again miscalculated the ease of getting around by not taking into account gradients. The many restaurants up in the village looked like a 20/30 minute walk on google maps, but they were impossibly steep and impossibly dangerous to walk in places, so taxis were the only way to get up there from Espadilla Beach.
I love this place. Sure it’s touristy, sure it’s pricier than some other places. But not only is it a great ‘theme’ with the real aeroplane sat in the middle of the restaurant containing a bar and seating of its own. The story of the plane itself is intriguing, even if some of it is an urban legend. The plane is of an age when the design was at it’s most glorious.
Even without the plane, the position of the building meant the views, particularly at sundown, were drop-dead awesome, in the old skool sense of the word.
El Avion’s sister restaurant, setup around an old train carriage. A great place as well. These people know what they are doing. Great, simple food and fab atmosphere.
It’s tricky to get decent Thai food outside of big cities in Europe or the Americas but we were pretty impressed with this place. Nice open space, really friendly and most of all – suprisingly darned good Thai food.
El Patio de Café Milagro
Barba Roja Restaurante
Didn’t eat here but popped in for a drink and quickly realised this was another amzing sundowner spot. With the sun going down so early, sundowners are a big thing here. The views were beatiful and dramatic and this is where we were treated to a continuos show of eight scarlet macaws swooping around for their evening dance, until the sun went down.
Generally the wildlife outside the park was the most amazing that we experienced. Our first sloths were literally stumbled over, or rather under, while walking back from eating one night. There were two sloths making their way up the road on the phone/electric wires. It was a magical first encounter and it is all the more special for not being contrived.
Capuchin monkey troops descended onto the hotel, racoons scampering around the beach after dark, iguanas basking on rocks in the sun and best of all, while having a drink on a cliff top bar, watching the wild Scarlet Macaws flocks. It’s disturbing that I never realised parrots hung out in small flocks. You’re so used to seeing the odd one – a pair at best, in captivity or even in films on TV. I was also surprised to find them hanging about by the sea at all – again my perceptions of them had been set and I thought they were to be found only deep in the jungle.
Finding my one true love
A couple of days into our stay at Manuel Antonio was the first time I heard the very loud, very eery and very enchanting sound which turned out to be howler monkeys. We saw slight glimpses of them high up in the tree in the park, but really it was the sound that won my heart at first and made waking up at 5.30am worthwhile. This was the start of my holiday love-affair with the howler monkeys.