Visiting Costa Rica

Costa Rica – Pura Vida, Part I

Note from The Independent Tourist: While tourist travel during this time of the coronavirus pandemic is unrealistic, I think we can safely assume that one day the virus will be under control and we can resume connecting with the world again via personal travel. In fact, there may be a pent-up demand for tourist travel once things settle down. Let’s use this downtime to do our part to protect our loved ones, reduce the spread and stay safe, while demonstrating our hope for a fun-filled travel future through continuing to learn about great destinations! 

After four great days in Guatemala, we flew to San Jose, Costa Rica. We had two primary destinations picked out for our few days in Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio National Park (near the Pacific coastal town of Quepos) and Arenal Volcano, near the town of La Fortuna, located in the interior of the country. These two spots were a perfect introduction to this beautiful part of Central America. Costa Rica has a very different feel than Guatemala, more “Hawaii-like”. Guatemala felt more like a ‘foreign’ country while Costa Rica felt more like the U.S. – lots of tourists, with many US expatriates living here. Costs in Costa Rica are generally higher than Guatemala too.

The town of Quepos is almost directly south of San Jose and on the map it doesn’t look very far – only about 80 km (50 miles) as the crow flies. But by car, you have to take a circuitous route of 163 km (101 miles) to get there. Most of Costa Rica is very mountainous with few fast or straight roads, therefore it takes a lot longer to get where you’re going than you might imagine. Our drive to Quepos was about 3 hours, with a couple of stops along the way.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

Jaco Beach, about halfway between San Jose and Quepos, where the road drops out of the mountains and follows the beach to Quepos.

Also along the way we stopped at the famous Tarcoles Bridge, known for the crocodiles who gather here.

Tarcoles Bridge, Costa Rica

The view from Tarcoles Bridge. Those are some friendly crocodiles enjoying the sunny day in the river!

Costa Rica Tarcoles Bridge Crocodiles4

A bit closer view of the crocs.

Quepos

We arrived in Quepos and found our Airbnb house, just outside of town along the narrow and hilly coastal road that connects Quepos to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Costa Rica Quepos House 1 2

Our Air bnb house in Quepos. It was a great spot for our family to call home for a few days–two bedrooms, a large kitchen, living room and pool!

We did not have a car, so we either walked or used the local bus system to get back and forth from Quepos to Manuel Antonio Park. The bus worked great, it was $2 for each ride and a good option since there was little parking available along the narrow, hilly streets – cliffs or coast line on one side and mountains on the other.

Quepos, Costa Rica.

The town of Quepos, with lots of restaurants, shopping markets and tour offices.

Quepos, Costa Rica

A park in Quepos along the Pacific coastline.

Manuel Antonio National Park

The narrow stretch of road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park is dotted with restaurants, boutique hotels or guesthouses, and shops. We had lunch at the famous El Avion, a restaurant that is built in and around a C-123 Fairchild Cargo plane–no one can tell you how it mysteriously ended up here, but it is a great conversation piece. There is a story posted near the plane about the scandalous 1980’s Nicaraguan Contra affair – and the smuggling of weapons and drugs. Perhaps this plane was involved? We may never know.

El Avion, Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Inside the airplane is a bar, and the restaurant surrounds the plane, with great views of the coastline.

Costa Rica Quepos El Avion6

The El Avion bar inside the plane.

Costa Rica Quepos El Avion2 2

View of the Pacific Ocean from El Avion restaurant.

From the restaurant we made our way down to the Park and beach. The Park entrance is a bit tricky – they only allow so many people into the Park each day, no food may be brought in (they check you very carefully – I assume they don’t want you feeding the animals), and the Park (including beaches) closes at 4 pm (I have no idea why since it’s light until at least 7 pm). The Park is a nature preserve, with boardwalks through the jungle and posted information pointing out the flora and fauna and various jungle animals (we did get to see a sloth).

Costa Rica Beach Area Manuel Antonio2

Shops near the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park; there are lots of restaurants near the beach for a sunset meal after a day in the water and sun.

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio Map

A very simplified map of Manuel Antonio Park – Quepos and El Avion would be to the left just off the map.

Playa Manuel Antonio Beach and Park, Costa Rica

Playa Manuel Antonio. A lovely beach that we got to enjoy for a couple hours before being chased out of the water and the Park at 4 pm by staff with loud whistles.

Playa Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica

Playa Espadilla Sur, just on the opposite side of Playa Manuel Antonio. Since this beach is not in the Park, it’s open all day.

Other Activities in Quepos

In addition to the Park, we enjoyed a couple other activities in Quepos – jet skiing and a zipline adventure.

Costa Rica Jet Ski Tour8 2

Jet skiing off the coast near Quepos. The water was warm and we had a blast, as my son and daughter will tell you!

Zipline, Quepos, Costa Rica

We did a zipline adventure in the mountains near Quepos. It was a lot of fun.

Zipline, Costa Rica

My wife, Robyn, zipping across the jungle canopy. There were 7 segments, and some of them were over a half mile long – and fast!

Costa Rica Quepos Zipline Tour53

After the final segment, you get lowered to the ground via a harness – a great way to end the adventure. This was a half-day trip – they fed us a meal at the end and transported us back to our guest house.

As the Costa Ricans (or Ticos) say when greeting you, “Pura Vida!” – which means “simple life” or “pure life” – it’s way of describing the local attitude and laid-back way of being here. Life is pretty good in Costa Rica – let your troubles go and just enjoy the ride!

My next post will cover Arenal Volcano – another great adventure!