09.04.2011 - 19.04.2011 32 °C
From Montezuma, the bus dropped us off in central Jacó (pronounced Ha-ko) in the pouring rain, with packs on and no idea where to begin; the hunt for accommodation began once again. There is one main road in Jacó that has very touristy stores and restaurants running on both sides. You can find anything from a Subway and Quizno, to a KFC and again we felt we had left the charming Central American towns for a touristy version of the United States. From the main strip there are many roads running down towards the long stretch of beach, but upon asking at a few hotels near the water we realized that prices here are even higher than those in Tama-”gringo.” We worked our way back from the main road until we found a reasonably priced room where we could hide from the torrential downpour and feel comfortable.
The next morning we awoke to a sunny day and went to inspect the beach town. It is hard to describe it as a beach town because, while located along a stretch of beach, it lacks the tranquil laid-back feeling of most surfing towns. The modern buildings and hotels along with countless tourists were really not what we were looking for and we decided immediately that our time in Jacó would be short-lived. The long stretch of beach was crowded on the Sunday with both local families and tourists alike, making the endless stretch of sand feel crowded. We enjoyed time sunbathing and honing our tans.
From Jacó we had to catch another bus further down south along the Pacific coast to reach our next destination –Manuel Antonio. We were told buses ran often, but ended up waiting at the bus stop for nearly two hours for the bus to arrive, making the otherwise relatively short trip needlessly longer. The local bus system in Costa Rica is actually quite well managed with clean buses usually running frequently and cheaply, making travel around the country inexpensive, though time consuming.
Manuel Antonio is a national park in Costa Rica known for its stunning views, wild life and beautiful beaches. The park itself is such a draw that the road running down to the park is full of expensive hotels bringing in the one-week tourists and honeymooners. There is no real town center to Manuel Antonio; rather, the 7km long stretch of winding road between Quepos and the park is littered with countless accommodation options and before the park entrance a few restaurants and stores can be found. From Quepos to Manuel Antonio a bus service runs every fifteen minutes and the 25cent cost makes it an easy way to get to and from the park. The bus winds its way up the hillside to where most of the $300-$500 a night hotels are located, taking full advantage of the incredible views of jungle hilltops and palm-fringed coastline seen from any vantage point along the road. From the peak of the hill the road begins its descent down towards the water’s edge and to the beach. There is one long stretch of public beach. Only a short distance inland from the beach you find the entrance to the national park which is really the reason to visit Manuel Antonio.
We caught the bus from Jacó to Quepos and then transferred buses for the short ride towards Manuel Antonio, getting off 3km before the park entrance. We went to a few of the hopelessly expensive hotels to see the prices and see how the other half live, amazed by the views from these suites and the grandeur of the rooms. Obviously most of the places along this strip were far above our means and we soon realized that to stay here there are only a few options for the backpackers budget; even these are pricey compared to ones we have stayed in along our travels. We found a small suite with its own private kitchen that also boasted a pool and included a simple tea, toast and fruit breakfast for $40 a night. While this price is one of the highest we have paid, the kitchen allowed us to make our own meals which in the long run help our wallet.
For our first full day in Manuel Antonio we packed our day bag with a picnic and decided to explore the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. As the surrounding lands became developed because of the beauty of the region, in 1972 this area was declared a park so as to not be turned into another all-inclusive resort. It is the country’s second-smallest national park at only 16.25 square kilometers, but has so much natural beauty to offer as it bursts with wildlife.
We walked the 3km down to the park entrance, enjoying the scenic views along the entire stretch of road. The entrance fee for the park is $10 per person, but the chance to see wildlife in the midst of the jungle was reason enough to pay the fee. Upon entering there is an immediate quiet as the humidity and heat of the jungle envelope you. Monkeys can be heard grunting in the distance as constant scurrying is heard in the underbrush of the forest. Almost immediately we came upon Sloths, lazily hanging from tree limbs –hardly moving, only to scratch or slowly shift their wait. Neither Andrew nor I had ever seen a Sloth and were excited to have the opportunity to spot many hanging out high above us as we walked further into the jungle. The key to the walk was to stay quiet, go slow and search the trees for movement otherwise it is easy to miss the abundant wildlife. You can hire a guide that is trained to spot the animals, but the $40 price-tag deterred us and we ventured into the jungle alone.
There are trails that circle the small park and we ended up exploring each trail, making it a long and exhausting day of hiking. We found small remote white sand beaches where groups of capuchin monkeys foraged in the overhanging trees. The little white faced monkeys have so much personality and if you stand quietly they will come quite close to you. We watched them searching for food, little ones play fighting on the forest floor, and after their fun we watched as they lay down on tree branches and took turns grooming each other in the hunt for flees. One monkey would put its head on the branch and close its eyes in pleasure as a friend would pick through its hair. After a few minutes they would switch spots, making sure everyone got a chance to be groomed. In this private little beach we sat down to enjoy our picnic and swim around before heading back into the jungle for some more hiking.
We walked up to the mirador –a lookout high in the jungle that overlooked the water and other distant beaches. The trail was actually closed off, but we ignored the sign and ventured upwards regardless. The trail is starting to be overtaken by roots and branches and obviously the park needs to perform some maintenance, but otherwise the 2km hike was relatively easy if not extremely hot. The hike up to the lookout brought us face to face with hundreds of these strange little crabs. Hearing rustling along the forest floor we assumed they were little geckos and lizards, which are visible everywhere, but suddenly these red crabs with large purple pincers came scurrying from the forest and crossed our path. When I bent close to take a photo I watched the defensive pose of the little creatures as they spread out and show off their large purple claws, attempting to look menacing. There were so many that it was important to watch your step lest you stepped on one of them. Reaching the mirador we could look out upon the ocean and far off towards the further stretches of southern beaches. The view was breathtaking.
We came to the main beaches within the park to find pristine white sands and turquoise blue waters in a sheltered bay. The beaches here were so clean and unspoiled by the tourists that visit them that it was like finding an area of Costa Rica untouched by the ever growing tourism industry. We splashed around the waters and laughed as a raccoon came from the forest to brazenly pick through a backpack on the beach to take an apple before running away with its prize. We saw agoutis, deer, and even a red eyed tree frog. These frogs are bright lime green with orange toes and large red eyes, but since they are nocturnal and sleep during the day, we saw it with its eyes closed and feet tucked in as it tried to blend in with the foliage. We would have missed it completely if a kind guide that was passing by didn’t stop to point it out to us.
The following days were spent on the public beaches of Manuel Antonio. Each day we chose a different beach to explore. Our time in Costa Rica is marked by the deepening of our tans and all the time relaxing on white sands. The lazy days blend together with sun, swimming and food.
After three days in paradise we had to move once again, and this time the travel day would be a grueling 12 hours as we headed across the large country to the Caribbean coast. From Manuel Antonio we had to catch a bus to the capital city of San Jose, take a taxi to a different bus station, wait two hours for our connecting bus and then take another five hour bus in to Puerto Viejo.
We arrived on the Saturday before the week long festivities begin for Easter. While we are used to a couple days off work, some chocolate and maybe an Easter-egg hunt, for the people of Central America Easter still holds its religious meaning and is one of the largest holidays of the year. Buses stop running for days and prices of everything skyrocket as local Tiko families go on vacation. We came to Puerto Viejo near sunset to find nearly every accommodation full and outrageously priced. Thankfully, after the incredibly long day of travel we found a clean room, an expensive meal and an early night’s sleep.
Puerto Viejo is a charming little Caribbean beach town, with colourful wooden buildings selling trinkets, rich Caribbean spiced foods and playing Reggae from every shop. Rastafarian souvenirs can be purchased everywhere with Bob Marley T-shirts. Most people are seen riding bicycles up and down the streets, splitting their time between the beach, bakery and grocery store where beers are cheap. There is a bigger backpacker scene in this town since it still retains its peaceful charm and simple life. There are a few stretches of palm-fringed beaches along the coast, where surf boards are rented out and the base of palm trees are painted the Rasta colours of red, yellow and green. One large bay is known as Playa Negra with black sands, yet down the road and around a point the sand changes to a light golden hue.
Our first day in Puerto Viejo was a cloudy rainy day, so we spent our time exploring the town’s center and walking along Playa Negra. The next day, however, the skies cleared and we packed ourselves a picnic, rented bicycles and headed out to explore the coastline. Outside of the town center one main gravel road snakes along the beach-lined coast and dense jungle canopy. Eco lodges are found along the scenic ride, along with cocoa farms where chocolate is made. We rode the 13km coastal route to Manzanillo, passing sleepy little villages along the way. Manzanillo is a small town that is actually part of a national refuge. The stunning trail takes you to a long stretch of pristine beach which stretches all the way to Panama if you continued to follow the coast. We parked our bikes and splayed out on the pretty beach, tanning, eating our picnic, splashing in the waters and enjoying the sunshine. After the sun began to drop in the sky, we hopped back on our bikes and began the 13km ride back towards Puerto Viejo, hearing howler monkeys deep within the jungle and finally spotting toucans in the overhanging branches along the pothole filled road.
With one final day in Puerto Viejo, partially cloudy, we are spending time lazing in the hammock in front of our cabina door, walking the town and the beaches. We discovered a strictly vegetarian and vegan restaurant last night called “Veronica’s Place,” and are biding our time until dinner and another delicious meal. Endlessly spoiled by beaches, hot sun and now some good food, we are loving our time back on the Caribbean coast. As our holiday sadly starts to wind down, we need to continue working our way through Costa Rica and Panama, so tomorrow we move again. We are heading inland to the town of Cartago, about 45 minutes south of San Jose. Here we will be reunited with the lovely mother and daughter duo that we met in Tikal, Guatemala, who are showing amazing hospitality, taking us in over Easter and giving us a local tour of their surrounding area. We can’t wait to see them. We hope to have lots to write about after our visit… until then…
Love to friends and family –we will see you all soon.
Ana and Andrew