It was so hard to leave Arenal, but we knew that Manuel Antonio would be just as amazing in its own way. We chose the Pacific Coast for the second half of our trip due to the beautiful turquoise waters and opportunities to see wildlife. We were awestruck with both of those and more!
On the 4 hour drive from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, we took some of the craziest roads, and were so thankful for our diesel SUV. We also stopped at the croc bridge – those guys are absolutely huge! For whatever reason, the crocodiles always gather here, where the Rio Grande and Pacific meet. Thankfully, the bridge is far above them, so we had nothing to worry about.
We chose to split our time in Costa Rica at Arenal Springs Resort, and a Costa Verde bungalow. Upon arrival, the Costa Verde staff guided us to our new home, a cute 3 bedroom bungalow tucked away on a cliff above the Pacific. We loved the character of our new place, and the kids were excited to spread out a bit. We stocked up the fridge for our stay, and the Hoffpack was excited for a homecooked meal that night! Perhaps the best part of this stay was the amazing private grill area!
We woke early to the sound of howler monkeys and the boys sat outside on the patio waiting for them to pass by. When we arrived late the night before, we had no idea what an amazing view we had!
We spent the next couple hours exploring the grounds of Costa Verde. We loved all the planes converted to rooms and restaurants, reuse of glass bottles and more, and so many options! Costa Verde even offered 3 pools for guests.
Our first priority was visiting the national park, but after driving down to the entrance, we were accosted by locals asking us to pay to park in their lots. It was quite confusing, and we wanted to find out more information, so we opted to check out Biesanz beach for the day instead and save the national park for another day.
Biesanz Beach is known as a local spot with fewer tourists, although the locals have set up shop there renting chairs, kayaks, snorkel gear, and more. One guy stands out by the road asking visitors to pay him to “watch their car.” What we initially thought would be a morning swim turned out to be a full day of snorkeling, racing crabs, checking out monkeys and relaxing by the beach. There was even a local sloth who spent the whole day watching beach goers while we watched him.
By the next morning, we had done some research and had a plan for the national park. Before we left, the chaos in the canopy coaxed us outside bright and early to see what all the ruckus was about. We found that monkeys do not move alone, but where there was one, there were maybe 100 more. What a treat!
Next, we headed to the national park. Our plan was to get there early, get all of our hiking in right away before it got too hot, and spend the rest of the day on the pristine beaches of Manuel Antonio. There are lots of locals up for hire outside the park for those interested in a guide. We wanted to have our own experience, so we chose to do without. Little did we know you could not bring in snacks – sandwiches were allowed, but no granola bars, etc. We didn’t understand why, but brought all that back to the car as we were entering. Talk about culture shock as we walked through the shops outside the park entrance with monkeys jumping from one building to another and locals selling souvenirs and services!
We spent the whole morning hiking all the trails of Manuel Antonio National Park, viewing wildlife, trekking up stairs to amazing viewpoints, and getting ready to relax on the beach. As the morning progressed, the trails got hotter and hotter! The kids had decided that our Costa Rica vacation was going to be different than our typical Hoffpack adventure, and that we would be doing what normal people did on vacation – relax. All this hiking was not part of their plan, but they managed to come around to our way of thinking, mostly.
The wildlife was incredible, and as we got further out on the trails, the crowds slimmed down. We saw frogs, crabs, lizards, deer, birds, sloths, and more.
One of the beaches we checked out had the scariest lizards! The lizard above actually bit a guy on the leg while he was eating his sandwich. Apparently, he was quite jealous! Some of them definitely have an attitude problem, and we thought of them more like small alligators than the lizards we are used to in the US.
As we got closer to the beaches with all the tourists, we began seeing tons of monkeys! They put on quite a show for us, and as we continued to watch them, we saw them going through tourists bags to retrieve any unattended food. Now we understood the no snack rule.
Some seemed curious, while others had quite the anger issues.
As we played in the water, a pack of raccoons went through my camera bag and began tossing everything across the beach even though we had already eaten all our food. Thankfully, we caught them before they ruined anything!
The water here was so warm, it was almost like swimming in a bath, definitely not the Pacific we are used to up in North America.
We could never tire of watching the monkeys, but with little water left, and too much time in the sun, we decided it was time to head back to Costa Verde.
The hike out was definitely hot. In the US national parks, we are used to driving in. Here, everyone parks outside the park in private parking lots and hikes in to see the trails and beaches. There was no running water inside Manuel Antonio National Park. We couldn’t wait to get back to the bungalow for a little R&R.
Back at the hotel, we picked the pool with the most shade to spend the rest of the afternoon. On our way there, we saw the monkeys tearing through the trees once again. While we were swimming, one of the monkeys decided to come over to the pool and hit Laney on the head. You would think should we be scared (I certainly was), but this girl felt like she won the lottery that the monkey picked her to hit on the head!
While we swam, the monkeys continued to terrorize the area, and we even heard screams from the balconies above. I’d hate to know what they did to those people!
Back at the bungalow, we enjoyed a delicious barbeque, and what Laney thought was a watermelon seed ended up being a lost tooth. She was so excited to get Costa Rican money from the tooth fairy! The fruit down in Central America was absolutely delicious and we even tried a few new ones.
We spent the next couple hours watching the sun set over one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and couldn’t have felt luckier.
The next morning, we evaluated options. There are so many wonderful tour opportunities in this area, including horseback riding to waterfalls, kayaking through a mangrove forest, dolphin cruises, and more. Having done several tours in the Arenal area, we opted to spend our last full day in Manuel Antonio exploring the town, shopping for souvenirs, and spending our last afternoon and evening on the amazing beach. After checking out several area resorts, we decided we were quite pleased with our decision to stay at Costa Verde. We spent the last of our Costa Rican currency on souvenirs.
One of the families we met recommended a restaurant right off the beach for our last dinner in Manuel Antonio. We were quite pleased with the options, and what beats $10 meals of fresh ocean fish?! This was one smart lizard who decided to position himself on the roof below, waiting for hand outs.
From here, we had seen a great little hotel and outdoor restaurant right on the beach that was offering free local music. We ordered after dinner slushies here, and watched the monkeys in action once again. This time, one of them tried to throw coconuts at us from above! They can be such naughty little creatures!
On the beach, the boys went for a run (the only time they could really run with the super hot daytime temps) while the rest of us played in the water and watched the sun set in awe.
I can’t say we have seen a prettier sunset ever, and the surroundings made it that much more amazing.
The next morning, we explored one of the abandoned planes on the property, took our last swim, and said our goodbyes to the Pacific and our little bungalow. We would come back to Costa Verde in a heartbeat!
On the way back to San Jose, we stopped for a chocolate tour, and enjoyed a very thorough presentation of how chocolate is made. We learned to appreciate the process of getting just one cacao plant from mosquitoes pollinating flowers. We were the only ones on the Alajuela Chocolate Tour, so Ethan was able to crack open the cacao plant, and start the process of taste testing the precious insides. We were led through the whole process of drying out the seeds, separating and crushing the insides, and how chocolate and white chocolate came to be. The end result was the most delicious chocolate we have ever tasted. Little did we know what a small fraction of real chocolate is in a Hershey’s bar and the like.
Our last night was spent at the Terrazas de Golf Hotel. We returned our rental car, relaxed in the luxurious suite, and were able to use the local country club for a swim, workout, and dinner.
Terrazas de Gold shuttled us back to the airport, and we had the best time sampling chocolate at the airport. We checked 2 bags and carried on the rest. We ran into Julius Peppers in the airport and had great flights with Avianca into Guatemala and then back to Chicago. We loved the built in tvs/video games to pass the time.
This was such a great trip, and we can’t recommend it enough! We will definitely return!