During my 10 day trip to Costa Rica, I was able to stop in Puntarenas for a few days. Puntarenas is about a 2.5 hour drive from San Jose and is widely popular due to the National Park it has. Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest of any Costa Rican National Park, but it has the most attendance based off of ticket sales. It was also listed by Forbes (in 2011) as one of the world’s top 12 most beautiful national parks. The park has a bit of everything for everyone, including white sandy beaches, tropical forests with a vast array of biodiversity, and wild passive animals that aren’t scared of humans. At first, when I booked the guided tour through my hotel, I had some hesitations that it could have been something I could’ve done on my own. But once we got to the park, I soon realized I made the right decision. The park opens at 7 am, and we got to the park a little before 8 am. There were already really long lines to get into the park, and as part of the tour we were able to skip most of the line and head towards the front. Another great aspect of having a guide was that he was able to spot all the live animals and insects in park, whereas I wouldn’t have been able to. All the guides alert each other whenever they spot an animal, so it felt like you had more than one guide with you. If you were to walk in the park by yourself, you might be able to spot physically bigger animals like monkeys and deer. But insects and sloths would definitely have been hard to spot. It also helps that the guide carries around floor standing binoculars which lets you see them up close and in greater detail than the naked eye. He also took amazing pictures for us with my Iphone using the binoculars he had, as you can see based on the pictures. The guide does give you a rest break at the beach for about 20 minutes, where you can swim or lay out on the sand. I did not do either since I was not prepared for such an activity, but you should prep to do so when you come. The beach itself was beautiful and I’ve noticed a lot of families that came to make a day of it, picnics and all. The tour overall lasted about 4 hours, including travel time to and from the hotel.
I’m sure you can find many different tour groups out there, but I recommend the one I booked at my hotel, La Mariposa. And I’ll tell you why I think it should be everyone’s go-to hotel when visiting Manuel Antonio. Obviously I have not been to every hotel in the area, so if you think there’s a better option, please let me know. However, based on my experience, this hotel would be really hard to beat! First off, this hotel is very close to the main town. So, if you wanted to explore the town, you are able to do so with ease and comfort. Other hotels and resorts are spread out too far that walking would not be ideal, especially at night when there isn’t much street lighting available. Secondly, the views are spectacular. As you can see from the pictures, whether I was in my hotel room or out at the restaurant for breakfast, the scenery was sublime. I really didn’t think there was any bad view wherever I was at in the hotel. If you love lounging by an infinity pool, there were 3 (main pool, swim up bar, and adults-only pool)! Third, the rooms are huge and air conditioned! It’s very humid in Puntarenas during the dry season (mid-November to April), so having an air-conditioned room is a must. The only downside of the room, in my opinion, was the open aired bathroom that had no ceiling. I reserved a partial ocean view room, only because they advertised it as rooms that are often visited by capuchin monkeys, sloths, and birds. I mean, how cool would that be to have monkeys roaming around on your balcony! However, in reality, I ended up with a room on the first floor that didn’t have any animal visitors during my stay. So, I would recommend asking for a higher floor room so that you have a better chance of the encounter. Regardless of that, out of all the hotels we stayed at in Costa Rica, this hotel stood out as the best for me. And that is why it will be my go-to hotel if I come back to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Another hotel that was on the List to stay at was Arenas Del Mar. I did not stay at this hotel due to our limited time, but instead dined at their restaurant, El Mirador. First off, this hotel is somewhat hard to find in the beginning because it’s located at the bottom of a very steep hill with minimal signage to get there. Please use Waze to get there because Google Maps kept giving me the wrong directions. When you arrive, you have to park at the bottom parking lot and then be shuttled up to the hotel in a golf cart. This hotel had all their buildings so spread apart from each other that I was secretly thankful I did not get a chance to stay there; but if you like walking up steep hills and narrow pathways, then this would be your go-to hotel. You essentially had to be carted everywhere, which would be an inconvenience in my opinion. As the book mentioned, the El Mirador was a restaurant situated right on the beach. The setting itself was romantically beautiful and I highly recommend visiting the restaurant at night. They had string lights up, tiki lanterns all around, and even had a random DJ, which I think could have been there for the New Years Eve festivities. I was not able to try any of the specific dishes that were suggested in the book because it was a special New Years Eve menu. However, I thought the all-you-can-eat buffet spread sufficiently made up for that. All the food was made to order, except for the dessert cart. I was impressed by the commitment and efficiency the staff worked to make the night very memorable for guests. The chefs behind the grill made sure plating and presentation were on par with their standards before the dishes went out to the guests, and it was fun watching them in action as they were cooking right in front of you. The servers were very attentive and would make sure that we were happy with everything every time they came by. The food itself, however, could have been better. It wasn’t bad food by no means, but it also wasn’t amazing. Some of the food options that were being served really confused me too. For example, they were serving ramen as one of the dishes…and I’m pretty sure Costa Rica is not a place you think of to get good ramen. And it wasn’t. I wish they had served more of their native dishes or more American food staples. But, it was to hard to really complain when you had the waves crashing in the background and the nice ocean breeze keeping me cool.
If your plan is to stay in San Jose, I think a day trip to Puntarenas is doable, but not recommended. And if you do decide to stay in San Jose, I’d highly recommend the Finca Rosa Blanca hotel. This was the first blog-related hotel I stayed at on our Costa Rican trip and it set the bar high for me. If you take their free Sustainability Tour, available at 4 pm everyday (make reservations ahead of time), you will know what I mean. I have never been to a hotel that was more eco-friendly and eco-conscious than this one, at least not yet. They grow most of their vegetables and fruits in-house, have hens to lay fresh eggs for your breakfast, they create their own fertilizer, recycle and reuse their building tiles, use natural plants for irrigation, use only solar energy or gas for heating, and have fans instead of air conditioning. The only real complaint I would have is that they should supply guests with reusable canteens to fill water in since water bottles aren’t provided. There are water dispensers throughout the property but really nothing given to utilize it other than glassware in the room. And, for most, it would be a hassle to leave your room every time you wanted a glass of water. I stayed in the Las Aves room (aka Bird Room), which is considered a Junior Garden Suite. There are 18 rooms overall on the property, with most contained in one building (like a B&B home), and I think ours may have been the only one with a jacuzzi. Albeit, It didn’t work when we tried to use it, I would assume they probably fixed it by now!
During our stay, we signed up for the Coffee Plantation Tour & Tasting ($45/pp) to get more of an in-depth look inside their own coffee plantation. And although I did learn a few interesting facts about coffee and the property, I think you can pass on this opportunity. The coffee tasting at the end of the tour was very underwhelming, where they only give you a chance to slurp a tiny bit of freshly made coffee. And after you arrive back at the hotel lobby, they arrange for you to enjoy some coffee and delicious homemade cookies at the hotel restaurant. But guess what? As hotel guests, you are always allowed free coffee and freshly baked cookies at the hotel restaurant from around 2-4 pm everyday. So, it was not worth it to pay the fee for the tour. And since there’s nothing around that is walking distance, you will be enjoying the hotel’s restaurant many times during your stay. Be sure to sit outside on the terrace, because the view overlooking San Jose is quite beautiful.
One thing I must mention in regards to all Costa Rican hotels that we stayed at, breakfast was always included in our hotel rate. We stayed at different levels of hotel accommodations during our trip and we always had the pleasure of being offered free breakfast. It must be a Costa Rican thing.