Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Sunset at the beach 
Nickle Tour:  Manuel Antonio is an a-mazing national park in Costa Rica and you should go.  Albeit, “when I was there 10 years ago things were different!” you should still go.  You’ll see a wide array of wildlife, gorgeous beach and won’t be disappointed.  However, if you’re looking for solitude, go elsewhere.  The secret is out and the area is crowded.

Travel Tip:  While you can stay in Quepos and take a $.50 bus to and from the beach or through the main (only) road, I’d recommend staying along the main road.  If you do, you can walk to restuarants, bars, the beach, etc.  You’ll feel kind of isolated in Quepos, even though it’s only 7km to the beach.  But, you came to see Manuel Antonio, not Quepos so stay close to the park.

Also, hire a guide to tour Manuel Antonio – it’s well worth your money to have a trained eye pointing out camouflaged wildlife, and isn’t that why you came?

See: In addition to the Park (more later), we took a sunset cruise which shoved off at 3pm, included drinks, snacks and snorkeling before settling in to dinner and the beautiful sunset.  At $70 pp, it’s a splurge (for backpackers) but otherwise a great deal.

The Park, of course, is a must-see

That dark spot is an agouti

No joke!
Capuchins rule the beach

Alligators on the drive to Manuel Antonio
Mapaches (racoons) checking out tourist loot
An Ibis in the park and Pelicans on the beach

A three-toed sloth hangs out

Across from the Avion bar (the giant plane sticking out of the mountain), there is an Italian place we stopped in because it had half-priced food on Sundays.  Check out this bacon-wrapped shrimp!

El Avion Restaurant & Bar

Sleep: There are an overwhelming number of hotels along the main stretch ranging from hostels to 4-star resorts.  So, look around and you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes. But, once again, I’d recommend staying closer to the beach than in Quepos.

Family Time in La Fortuna & Arenal, Costa Rica

La Fortuna at night with Volcano Arenal in the  back
Tree through the cloud forest at La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna town square

Nickle Tour: Nestled in the cloud-forest highlands, the town of La Fortuna transformed rapidly in the last 30 years as Costa Rica marketed Volcano Arenal as a tourist destination.  Since then, visitors can enjoy the views of the volcano erupting (when it’s not clouded over, which is every day), many of whom do so in thermally-fed hot springs fed by the magma running underground at numerous resorts in the area.

Travel Tip: While Tabacon hot springs is “the place” most go, it’s also the most expensive.  Baldi is about half the price ($40ish for half-a-day including dinner) and just as hot.

La Fortuna waterfall is tucked in the cloud forest.  You can swim, but not under the waterfall as you’d get crushed.  It’s also quite a hike up and down, so wear proper footwear and prep for sore thighs. 
Baldi Hot Springs
Hot Springs: A must do!  Soak in any of the area’s hot springs.  There are plenty of resorts featuring the springs, with spa services, restaurants and bars for your easy enjoyment.  It’s also a good place to soak your bones after a day of hiking or rafting.
Hike!  Volcano Arenal has good hiking but you can’t go all the way up because it might ‘splode on you.  No beuno.
The Fam getting ready to Ride the Bull (Rio Toro)
Rafting!  We did a family trip with Desafio Tours and it was fantastic!  Whether you’re 15 or 65, you’ll have a great time, feel safe and ride great rapids.  The river has class 3-4 right after another which is great fun.  About halfway through you’ll get to stop and much fruit.  And, the guides will happily point out wildlife (howlers, toucans and a sloth) along the way.  We can’t recommend them enough.
Fresh fruit snack on the raft/table
Beth rides the bull!

Sleep: We stayed 2 nights at Hotel La Fortuna (a certified green hotel) courtesy of Mom, so it’s not really a backpacker place, but it’s very nice . . . everything you’d expect from a standard American-style hotel.  I’d recommend it for those who want to be comfortable without staying in an uber-resort or hostel.

Eat: There are several good places around town, but nothing really stuck out.  Explore the main strip and you’ll be satisfied.

New Year’s in Nosara, Costa Rica

Hotel Nosara
Beach biking

Nickle Tour: Nosara is a special place in Costa Rica: a small surfing village with plenty of gringo resources and expats without the big hotels and crowds.  I hesitate to tell you how wonderful it is because those who love it don’t want the word getting out! 

Travel Tip: Nosara town and Nosara beach are about 15km apart.  You want to stay on Nosara beach.  Getting to Nosara by bus is no small feat – and that’s probably part of why it’s so safe and quiet. For those who can, I’d recommend getting a $80-100 plane ticket from San Jose if that’s where you originate.  And, for those who may consider stopping in Samara – don’t.  If you’re more into a laid-back surfer vibe than the party scene, Nosara is your pick over Samara.

See: You can easily walk around Nosara but after a few days, you may want to get some wheels (rent a bike or a quad to explore the area).  We drove up to Ostional and lucked out to see turtles laying on the beach.  

Sea turtles on the beach at Ostional

In the same day, we explored some outside of Nosara town and found a hidden waterfall which relieved us from the midday heat. 

We also were treated by our friends to a morning of sport fishing and if you get the chance, we can’t recommend it enough!
D getting lunch
Kitty likes sashimi, too!

And, of course there is plenty of surfing to be had by beginners and advanced surfers, alike.


At the end of the beach is Hotel Nosara – a can’t miss spectacle.  Rumor has it this sprawling estate has been home to wild parties, has a “batman-esque” lair under the pool and the owners recently turned down $17 million from the Four Seasons to finish it.  The reason they turned it down: because if it’s finished the owner will have to pay its investors back -something they’re not interested in.  So, it sits, in its Studio 54 glory slowly being overtaken by the jungle.

Finally, if you are lucky enough to be in Nosara when The Black Sheep (same owners as the Hotel Nosara) is open (once a month), run, don’t walk!  It’s a Playboy Mansion type place where they brew beer, a bridge traversing a pool and stunning views of the Pacific.

Sleep: While many folks splurge for the Iguana, we camped in the Carnie Tent at Solo Bueno, a surfers hostel for $26 per night, which includes a kitchen for cooking.

Camping Treehouse Gardens

After a few days, we moved over to a private tree-house room at the Camping Treehouse Gardens which was $20 per night and also included a kitchen.

Eat: Iguana has yummy meals that are infused with local seafood and a beach flair.  There is an Italian place in town with UNBELIEVABLE lasagna, quite possibly the best we’ve ever had! The Thai place was good, too.  You can also get most staples at any of the mini-supers in town.
Drink!  You must make the trek up Almost Paradise for sunset and try the Granny’s Juice aka a white sangria with vodka – now that’s the way to start your evening.