Central America

Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park, Tropical Paradise

Carol, sales manager of Trips Worldwide, our tour operator, knew to leave the best to last. Our 4 and a half day stay at Costa Verde hotel in the Manuel Antonio forest was something special.

The rooms are enormous and Trips Worldwide only use the upper floors as this gives you really spectacular views of the forest, bay and beyond. You can see a 360-degree "video" of a typical room on their website which really does live up to expectations.

Costa Verde Hotel Before we all get carried away it's worth saying that 5-star hotels carry 5-star prices, including the restaurant and bar. Breakfast was included (we could just order absolutely anything off the a la carte menu for breakfast) so we paid no attention to those prices, but lunch and evening meals were not cheap. By Costa Rican standards anyway. And when you're paying for 3 adults, with all those wonderful Margaritas at La Cantina barbeque restaurant across the road it all adds up. Just thought I'd warn you.

A pity then, that our welcome at reception was the poorest experienced on our entire trip. They seemed preoccupied with something really interesting on their computer screen and also had trouble understanding our British accent. However, let's not dwell on what was a tiny fraction (albeit at the time an ever-so-important part) of our holiday, as things rapidly improved from then on.

The rooms are huge, with two queen sized beds, air-con, fans, fridge, sink and cooker. The balcony around the rooms give you nice views of the forest, sea and in-between. Visit the hotel link mentioned above to see what I mean.

The hotel has trails into the forest for you to explore, another restaurant further up the hill built into and around a real WW II bomber aircraft (all documented on their website) and the BBQ restaurant across the only road into Manual Antonio park.

The people here (reception notwithstanding) are very friendly and accommodating. They mostly speak fluent American so I gave up on my tourist Spanish and relaxed. Once again, the young chefs are very good looking, says my daughter, and she flirted with them non-stop.

The "La Cantina BBQ restaurant" deserves a mention. Inside the restaurant is a large, air-conditioned railway carriage. This is the Internet café where my daughter spent some time. Compared with everywhere else in Costa Rica the prices for 30 minutes on the Internet are pricey ($1.50) but in real terms worth every penny (especially when there's a boyfriend languishing back in England...). The bar area of this restaurant was a great place, as it also contained the cash desk with very friendly (non-English speaking) cashier and an unintended, partial view of the galley below. The barman introduced me to Margaritas for which I don't know whether to thank him or curse him, as I now have a rapidly disappearing, large bottle of Tequila, lime juice and Cointreau (Triple Sec) in the cupboard. Cheers!

This would have been useful to know before arriving

1. You can hear the buses and lorries grinding their way up the extremely steep road from the beach from about 5:30am, as workers arrive at the various hotels along the way.

2. Manuel Antonio park (and hence all beaches, bar the treacherous one) is closed on Mondays. Plan your days accordingly! It costs just $7 to get into the park, make sure you go to beach number 3, a 10 minute walk through the park. It has showers and a small shop selling ice-cold drinks and sandwiches.

3. Quepos town (a taxi or bus ride away) can be explored within an afternoon. Prices here are not a million miles from the hotel restaurant prices so you might as well avoid the risk of salmonella and eat in your wonderful hotel restaurant(s). Take the bus (it stops right outside all the hotels) as this is an experience in itself. And it's dirt cheap. Immerse yourself!

4. Load of animals (monkeys, sloths, iguanas, lizards and some birds) abound in both the Manual Antonio park and the hotel grounds. The white faced monkeys appear every day at 17:30 on their route back from the park to their nightly resting place. Do NOT feed them.

5. Recommended tours: Isla Damas mangrove tour (you get to feed the monkeys), Rain Maker conservation project (decent bit of rain forest to trek through and a bridge to cross), and of course the Manual Antonio park itself. Tour guides very knowledgeable, friendly, more or less bilingual and worth every penny. We booked with www.puertoquepos.com/, and Stefano from that firm was our guide for the Isla Damas tours. He came from Italy 10 years ago and would not go back. But he speaks Spanish with an Italian accent!

6. If you come from the UK, you will sweat buckets. Just sitting still you will sweat. As the entire area is built on a hillside you cannot avoid climbing up or down (even to get up to the hotel reception). Use a taxi or the bus whenever possible. Even the Yanks used to the heat had problems. We almost died with heat exhaustion (it felt like it anyway). Eventually, Tropical Paradise or not, we were glad to leave and get normal weather. Just as well the rooms were air conditioned.

7. Yet more details if you're that interested (Pop Up Window).

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