I started writing this about 4:30pm Thursday afternoon. We are done for the day except for dinner and Ash is napping so it’s a good use of time. We’ve had a wonderful day but both of us are pretty tired from the week and have a long travel day tomorrow. We’ve checked in and have our boarding passes so all of that is done.
I was up this morning before 4am and was about done with the blog when Ash got up at about 5:30am. There’s coffee in the room but filters are needed (they acted like we were crazy when we asked for them – I swear there’s supposed to be a re-usable filter in the machine that’s missing!) so this afternoon Ash rigged it by using paper napkins. Worked pretty well!
But I digress.
Breakfast isn’t until 7am and we’d decided the night before we would go for a walk early. The coffee shop opens at 6am so we got drinks to go and made our way to the beach. It had rained quite a bit the night before and was still cloudy, with a cool mist coming up on the ocean by the shore. Note it’s about 73 degrees at this point and pretty humid.
We were the first ones at breakfast so got the best table in the corner facing the pool and the beach beyond that.
Our breakfast came with fresh fruit – apple, watermelon, papaya, pineapple banana (I’d eaten half of it before I remembered the photo!), a strawberry and 2 different kinds of grapes.
We both got the same dish, now I can’t remember the name of it, starts with an M :) Eggs and a spicy tomato sauce, peas and cheese over tortilla chips with fried plantains. Very similar to chilaquiles.
The plan for the day was Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s considered the best park in the country, and the surest way to see animals in their natural habitat. Once we learned about this, we decided to skip all of the many eco-parks we’ve come across over the last few days, so all of our bets were riding on this. And a deal if it worked: $16 per person vs. the over $50 per person we would have had to spend at, for example, the Sloth Park in La Fortuna. The reviews on TripAdvisor were super helpful: you must buy your tickets online and avoid all of the hustlers that will try to make you park early for crazy prices and force a guide on you telling you there’s no other way into the park and/or to guarantee that you’ll actually see wildlife. So we were braced.
We bought our tickets for a 10-10:40am entry and got on the road about 8:15am. We had some rain but otherwise an easy trip and made it withing the 90 minutes that Google said we would. We knew we were close when a monkey crossed the road right in front of us! And sure enough, lots of very official looking guys who were too aggressive to be actual workers that we just kept waving off until we got as close to the park entrance as we could. Then we encountered Carlos, who was very nice, said he could point us to the way to the only place left to park for just $5, and agreed that a guide wasn’t necessary. So we took that and all of it worked. If there was an official place to park, we never saw it.
We were so focused on just getting in that I forgot to take photos of the entrance, etc. You had to present passports which, suggested by Carlos, we did just using photos of them so we could leave the actual ones in the car. And they took them along with the screen print of our tickets and we were in. Ash was excited as you can see above.
Pretty early on in the main trail we saw a side one for a waterfall, over half a mile away. We decided it was a good way to get our steps in (and ended up over 6 miles for the day – less than we usually do when we travel but the most on this trip!) and it was a beautiful walk with moderate inclines.
As waterfalls in Costa Rica go it was pretty unimpressive, but we didn’t regret it, the scenery was gorgeous.
And a nice stop for a photo.
We went back to the main trail and then soon saw another side one called “Sloth Trail.” Well, that was a big reason we were here so why not?
We didn’t see any sloths, but we did see these interesting land crabs. And a turtle.
This was a raised wooden trail that eventually ended by connecting to the main one.
And to the left of the end of that trail was the main trail and a little snack bar. And monkeys. If you look closely you can see one in the tree just left of center and several on the roof.
We spotted two different families – a couple with a baby – and a handful of others, just climbing about and for the most part avoiding the people but certainly aware of us.
Here are a few video clips of the monkeys. The first and the last ones are of the family above; the middle just shows all of them climbing around on the roof.
We stopped for some tea and split a slice of pizza. Ash did not know there was a monkey just behind and above him in the tree.
If you took a right at the end of that sloth trail you would go downhill a bit and come across this beach on your left. This is the Manuel Antonio Beach, the main one. You can see a good number of swimmers above and below.
I did go into the water for a bit just to see how the temperature was – and it was perfect.
Ash had no interest in going in the water but took this when I came back.
If you go to the right instead of left at the end of that trail, and another hundred feet or so through the woods, you encounter another beach.
Above and below is Cathedral Point Beach – pretty empty although just as gorgeous if not more so.
There was a path you could take all along this beach back to the main entrance. But we still had more things to see – so far pretty much just monkeys, and I was promised (not exactly but almost) by many (especially on TripAdvisor) that iguanas were plentiful and that we’d one sloth for sure and at least two. So far, just the monkeys.
And just as I was thinking that I turn around and there’s an iguana on a log I’d just walked by. And the first of 5 we would see as we made our way back out of the park.
When we got back to the top of that trail there was a monkey sitting pretty on this sign. From our left, this gaggle of tall shirtless men coming walking up off the wooden trail we’d been on earlier. They were entranced by this monkey; I think unaware that there’s lots more over to the left of them.
We took the main trail all the way back since we’d sidetracked it before on the wooden one. Ash was apologizing for not seeing any sloths since that was sort of the point of this trip. I said “it ain’t over yet.” And he’s like “yes, it is.” Me: “No, it’s not. We are not out of the park yet, anything is possible.”
One of the reviews in TripAdvisor said, “sloths are easy to find – just look for a bunch of people looking up at a tree.” And a couple of hundred feet after I said the above, we saw just that.
Between the 5x zoom and the cropping after this is as good as it gets. But you could see him moving – slowly of course – and that was pretty cool. On one of the signs we read we learned they move slowly because their stomachs are huge – disproportionate to the rest of their bodies – and it takes a long time to digest food and slows down their metabolism. They also only come down from trees once every 8 days to defecate – and always under the same tree, as if to fertilize it – and then back up. They are also nocturnal, so you often don’t see them during the day. But here you go.
A pretty little stream not far from the entrance. We’d passed over it on the way in but didn’t see this view and it got my attention.
And not far from that we saw another group of people all staring up at a tree. Enter sloth #2. Again, sorry for the blurriness but in real life this one was actually easier to see than the other.
So that’s a bunch of monkeys, 5 iguanas, 2 sloths. Mission accomplished.
I took a shot of the map on the way out, mostly because I wanted to show that area where the 2 beaches are separated by a small slip of land. The yellow line I drew on approximates the way we walked through the park.
It was about 12:30 when we made our way out and we were hungry. We’d passed a ton of places on our way in; Ash wanted to try one of the Indian places we saw so here we are.
It was literally just off the road. There’s just enough room to pull your car up to the front of it and that’s it. When you leave, you’re backing into a pretty busy road.
We ordered a coconut curry dish and paneer tikka masala. Ash gave it 3 stars out of 5. Definitely about what we expected for these parts. But worth a shot.
We went to dinner around 6:30pm and I’d written this much of the entry by then – all but the food photos and a few others from Ash which I’ll incorporate now. It’s Friday morning, approaching 4:30am, and this is our travel day home. Oh, and I have coffee this morning using the paper napkins as a filter. Life is good.
When we were leaving the hotel Thursday morning, I’d asked Ash if he knew where the name “Croc’s” came from. He said probably because this area is known for crocodiles, something I hadn’t heard of. Plus, he said, there’s a big crocodile in the pool. Huh? We walk to the balcony and he shows me. I’m often not so good with details!
We went to the same restaurant for dinner that where we ate breakfast, and the same table in fact. Just spruced up with a tablecloth, etc.
Ash had the salmon carpaccio, with pistachios, red onions and a type of arugula. The salmon was gravlax – cured with salt, giving it an almost smoky flavor, which worked well.
I had a shrimp and avocado salad on watermelon. This was incredible and something we want to try at home.
Ash had shrimp cooked in cognac with mashed plantains.
Continuing my affair with beef (which I rarely eat at home), I had the tenderloin with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and a mushroom demi-glace. A simple but classic dish done superbly – this was definitely the best beef I’ve had on the whole trip.
For dessert we split a warm brownie with vanilla ice cream, and they put it on 2 plates for us.
We went back to the room and watched a couple of episodes of The Sinner (still on S3 – it’s been slow and weird but finally got really interesting) before going to bed around 9:40pm.
Today is just the way home: a 1.5-2 hour drive to the airport in San Jose, a connection in Houston to San Francisco. We will leave here around 9am and get home around midnight local times. So I’ll make this my final entry, although I haven’t thought about it too much.
This was the first time in Costa Rica for both of us – puts Ash at 58 countries he thinks – and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. As I said on the first entry, we’ve known lots of people to come here and without exception talk about what an amazing time they had. I was a little bit afraid that it was too hyped and wouldn’t live up to expectations. But it did.
- First of all, with tourism the number 1 industry here, it is super easy travel for Americans. The local currency is colon (pronounced more like “cologne”) but literally everything has 2 prices: colon and dollars. Everyone seems to trade in both. We never even got local cash, just used the dollars that we brought with us when we weren’t using credit cards or charging to the room. And I think we only encountered 2 people that didn’t speak English, both times in the middle of nowhere when we were asking for directions.
- This is the closest I’ve been to the equator and boy can you feel it. It’s November and the temperature range was 72-83 the whole time we were here. In Arenal it never got above 76 or so, yesterday it was 83 at the park. And Humid. I wouldn’t come here during the summer that’s for sure.
- Pura Vida is Costa Rica’s version of Aloha. The literal translation is “pure life”, but they use it in a similar way to how Hawaiians use Aloha – for everything – but most commonly in a “don’t worry, be happy” sort of way. We actually didn’t hear people use it all that much, but it’s on billboards, shirts and hats everywhere. And you feel it even if you don’t hear it. Everyone we met was absolutely lovely, easy to talk with, happy to see us and help us (“it’s my pleasure” we heard a LOT), and just genuinely enjoying life.
- This is definitely an outdoorsy kinda place. We didn’t take advantage of all there is to do but are very happy with our choices. We would definitely come back and do more rainforest stuff and check out the Caribbean side of the country. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen and lived up to that hype.
- The honeymoon aspect of the trip made it extra special. We used that to justify some things we might not do otherwise and that’s OK. But the truth is we probably would have made the same choices anyway. We like to take advantage of whatever we can when we travel. And all of the locals we encountered seemed genuinely happy for us on that aspect. Gay marriage was legalized here in 2020 and we felt very safe and welcomed here without exception.
- This was also the first time that I had stayed in resorts where it was easy to just hang out. I admit I missed doing a bit more local stuff than we did but at the same time it felt luxurious to be treated as well as we were – especially at The Royal Corin – and to be in great places to be lazy and do nothing, which we did a fair amount of.
Between the nature, the wildlife, and the people, there is something very Alive about this place that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Pura Vida, I guess! I highly encourage you to come check it out,
Next up: we will be doing a long MLK weekend in NYC, then a week in Puerta Vallarta in February. This will be my 5th time to PVR and Ash’s first, believe it or not. We’re looking forward to all of that and will see you then. Thanks for coming along and have a great Thanksgiving weekend.