I was SO looking forward to my visit to Manuel Antonio. Tony had spoken so highly of it and it's his family's beach of choice so he goes whenever he's home and the family goes regularly. It was also listed, in addition to many other places we visited, in my Lonely Planet guide as a not to be missed natural beauty. So, when we were at The Springs resort at Arenal and overheard a group of 20 something girls whining that Manuel Antonio was not at all what they expected and the water wasn't as clear as they were told and so on, I was confused. I'd heard and read only amazing things about Manuel Antonio and could only assume they didn't go into the actual national park beaches. But having not been there I tucked their words into my back pocket and figured I'd know soon enough if they were nuts or not.
Thanks to a new highway (that was recently completed 32 years late) the trip to Manuel Antonio from San Jose is only about 2.5 hours. Not bad at all! Oh, and no 4x4 required.:) Tony's mom had packed us some sandwiches, snacks and drinks for the beach so we loaded up the car and got on the road right after an early breakfast so we could be there close to 8am when the park opens. The park is only open from 7am-4pm and not on Mondays so you want to make sure to get there as early as possible and get in line. The word "line" to get into a beach isn't a good sign usually, right? Well, the line is actually for the entire Manuel Antonio National Park. They moved the ticket booth to this entrance a year ago or so and so now you're standing in line with people that want to get to the beach as well as those that want to see the park itself and take a tour. The line was a bit long but it was made worse by the fact that the park rangers only let in a certain number of people every 20 minutes. I felt like a prisoner smashed up against the wrought iron gate hoping to get let in. As a non-resident I paid $10 and residents paid $3. Not bad. We got our tickets and immediately turned back around and went out the way we came so we could re-enter at the "exit" since we didn't really have time to go through the park itself and we were eager to get to the beach.
The exit/back entrance to the beaches is just off the main street in Manuel Antonio and at high tide you take a little canoe across the flooded path to get to the park. The canoe service is tip based so it's not a bad deal. At low tide you can just wade across. The picture below is as we were leaving when the tide was lower and we could just wade. When we came in we had to take a little boat.
The fourth beach is THE beach to go to. Not that I spent any time at the other ones but Tony's family has scoped it all out in the past. I didn't argue. We walked from the path into the clearing on the beach and all you can do is smile and take it all in. It's lovely!
It's in a cove so most of the waves break long before the beach making for a very safe and relaxing swim. Heck, I could float on my back undisturbed for quite a while whereas at most beaches that'd be impossible! The water is turquoise blue and clear as a bell. It's hard to capture how clear the water is in a photo. All I can really do is describe it as best I can. Basically, you'll be able to see your feet as far out as you can go before your eyeballs are submerged. I have no idea how far our you could actually go where it'd still be clear but I assume it's that way all the way out to the open ocean. The temperature is like a luke warm bath. Perfect, really.
I don't know who these girls are but it's the best photo I've got showing how clear it is!
I wanted to be in this water all day long, which explains why I don't really have as many photos as I'd like. I just wanted to be in the water!
The sand under your feet is a golden brown and there aren't a lot of shells or sharp things to worry about as you hang out in the water or stroll along the beach. There are some bigger rocks in the sand that do get exposed as the tide goes out so watch out for those, but overall this beach is perfect. The surrounding landscape itself is breathtaking with large juttings of rocks and preserved jungle all around.
Anyway, we settled in immediately under a perfect shade tree where we could be protected from the sun, hang our stuff, and have a front row show if the stars of Manuel Antonio decided to show up! Who are these stars, you ask? Monkeys! White faced, adorable, thieving little monkeys! And raccoons, and hermit crabs, and iguanas, and an animal that looks like a rat kangaroo called an agouti. But back to the monkeys! It's a national park so these animals are living in the wild but are accustomed to people. The monkeys in particular will not hesitate to steal whatever you don't bother keeping an eye on. Over Christmas they stole Tony's cold meds from his mom's purse! This visit we were very vigilant and nothing was swiped by monkeys but boy was it a show! First comes one hopping through the trees followed shortly by the rest of his gang. I have no idea how many monkeys were around us at one time but it was a lot including a mommy with a baby on her back that I couldn't catch on film. And these monkeys aren't in the distance. They are right above you or in front of you or even next to your hats in some cases. :)
These little guys were right by me, and these photos are not zoomed in!
This one is slightly zoomed but he was only about 10ft away!
I desperately wanted him to steal one of those hats!
I loved the monkeys! They made many appearances during our day at the beach and every time they attracted a crowd. Well, what crowd there was anyway. The beach was not full at all. The people settled in closest to us were probably 25ft away. Just how I like it!
The sound of the water and the perfect temps in the shade were super relaxing. When not awakened by monkeys or in the water this is how Tony spent his day at the beach. :)
I slept some too, I have to admit. Usually that's a no-no for my pale ass but the tree provided enough shade to keep me comfortable and protected from the sun.
I choose to go and do some random yoga poses on the rocks when the tide receded a bit! I couldn't resist. It's not as easy to do Natarajasana (Dancer pose) on a rock as it is on a yoga mat, that's for sure! It was kind of slippery from the water that had been on it not long ago, my feed were sandy, and it was uneven (of course). But hey, I've got balance! So, don't judge if the technique isn't perfect...I was trying not to face plant onto the rocks! :)
I honestly have no idea what those chicks at The Springs resort were talking about. I can only assume they visited the public beach and not the national park beaches. The public beach is not as nice and the water is rougher and so it stirs up more sand as it comes to shore. The views are still incredible with the rocks and jungle, but I can see where they'd be confused if they were expecting what I saw inside of the park itself. So there's your lesson. Do your research! :)
I loved this beach. Everything about it. I want to go back there RIGHT. NOW. *sigh* Maybe someday!
As we were leaving the park at closing time we got another show! A whole gang (What do you call a group of monkeys? I call these gangs because they steal shit.) of white faced monkeys ran back and forth across the trail and were fighting with each other in the trees. There were also giant iguanas and a very upset sounding Howler monkey. It was 4:05pm, so perhaps he was pissed we were still there after his shift was supposed to be over. :) Oh, and here's that rat-aroo thing. The agouti. Now, the facts say it's the size of a cat. This one was probably about knee height...way bigger than a cat thank you very much!
After the beach we went to a place called El Avion to try and catch the sunset. It's got a great view and a C-123 Cargo plane in it! And the story around it is really cool, too. Basically, it's an Iran-Contra relic that was abandoned at the San Jose airport after cargo missions were suspended. It's now known as Olly's Folly (Olly being Oliver North, of course!). Take a look at the story, it's pretty cool!
Unfortunately, during rainy season the sunset isn't in viewable from the lovely open-air bar with a stellar view at El Avion. I learned on this trip it's damn hard to catch it anywhere either due to placement or clouds. Boo to you rainy season but I thank you for smaller crowds and better temps! :)
So, we finished our delightful sangria and headed to our hotel to shower off the sand and freshen up for dinner. We decided to follow the guidebook's advice and splurge at Kapi Kapi. Good idea! It was a very nice restaurant with great food. But the highlight of the dinner was dessert. Thank you foursquare users for posting tips about the Mandarin Lime Pie! I was totally full but had to order it based on tips and I practically inhaled it. It had a macadamia nut crust, mandarin lime magic filling, topped with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of homemade raspberry sauce and whipped cream, garnished with star fruit. OMG. Just trust me and try it if you get the chance. This photo will be going on my TripAdvisor review for sure!
Now about our hotel. I had chosen the Hotel Plaza Yara based on TripAdvisor reviews. Admittedly, it wasn't my first choice but I loved it! It's an all suites hotel/art gallery. AND it had A/C and I could flush the TP. *angels singing* The room was MASSIVE and had a little kitchenette, full balcony with lots of seating and a fan, two queen beds, and a giant bathroom.
Also, since the hotel is an art gallery there are pieces of art all over the hotel that you can buy to take home. I bought one of these frogs since they were in all of the rooms and hotel and I fell in love with them. $40 isn't so bad!
Oh, and this hotel has a kitty! I can't remember his name because I couldn't pronounce it but I loved him! He was so affectionate! I sat on the floor and did the international sign for pettings (if you have a pet you may know what that is!), and he crawled into my lap and started kneading. I loved it and he made me miss my kitties! We cuddled for a bit and then I had to go get my stuff ready to checkout.
After checking out we headed to Jaco which is between Manuel Antonio and San Jose and is also home to Tony's favorite pizza in the whole world. Apparently, it used to be this tiny shack were a couple of surfers made pizza. It got purchased by some guy and the recipes went with it since the popularity lied with the pizza. Well, it didn't taste the same and the guy was pissed because the recipes were part of the deal! The surfer dudes had no idea why the guy's pizzas didn't taste like theirs, but then everyone figured it out. The surfers made the pizzas after surfing. Salt fell out of their HAIR and onto the pies as a sneaky seasoning. To this, I say "eew!" But, the new guy started adding sea salt to the pies and lo and behold they tasted right again. This place used to be called Killer Munchies but is now Rioasis and it's been expanded. I thought it was certainly decent pizza and the cheese bread had blue cheese which was cool, but it wasn't the "world's best pizza" as Tony claimed. He threatened to break up with me. ;)
I had intended to take a yoga class in Jaco as well but the studio had changed the schedule but hadn't updated the info available online. I was initially irritated because I usually do yoga several times a week and without this class I'd be down to only one class in the entire two week trip! Oh well, I chose to enjoy beer and pizza instead. :)
Have I mentioned I love Imperial beer? And it's a government run beer company. Go figure.
After lunch we headed back to San Jose. We had another early morning the next day as we had booked a flight on a tiny plane to go to the Nicoya Peninsula!