No backpacking trip to this part of the world would feel complete without a day or two of taking multiple buses, none of which are air conditioned, for 9 hours, on what would have been a 4 hour journey if we were financially able to rent a car like the other American tourists in Costa Rica do. Chelsea was able to get the full backpacking Central America experience getting from La Fortuna to the coastal (yet somehow mountain feeling) town of Manuel Antonio. From La Fortuna we boarded a bus to San Jose, took a taxi to another bus terminal, took a bus to Puntarena, where we caught another bus to Quepos. Once in Quepos we caught a fourth bus to the small town of Manuel Antonio, where we walked to our hostel, Vista Serena. The journey was a hot one, and, ironically, after being in countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua and only using a steripen to clean our water and eating street tacos, it was in clean, modern Costa Rica that I got sick to my stomach. This long bus day was at the height of my illness and I was extremely uncomfortable, to say the least.
We were extremely happy to get to Vista Serena, named so because of the beautiful view from the large deck, and we were ready to relax. However, due to a lack of funds, finding an ATM took precedence and we were off once again. On the way back we stopped in a store to pick up some food for the next day in the park, as well as some staples (chips mainly) to keep us fed between the hostels free breakfast and dinner (the only meal we paid for while in Manuel Antonio). We finally were able to settle in, eat some nachos, play some cards and recover from the long travel day.
On our first full day in Manuel Antonio we decided to go to the national park, also named Manuel Antonio. The park is home to lots of different monkeys, lizards, birds, insects and other mammals. The trails are not long and besides seeing animals, the main draw to the park are the three beaches. We were advised to take a guide and warned that the park would be crowded, but we decided to be cheap and instead rode the public bus ($1 each way), made our way through the hordes of people on the trails and made it to the surprisingly uncrowded beach. We found that it was extremely easy to see animals without a guide, because there are always at least 50 cameras pointed at the direction of any animal near the trail. We saw lots of monkeys, birds and even one sloth. We also saw TONS of raccoons, or “beach thieves” as we fondly call them now, as we spent the whole day chasing them away from our stuff, which they were trying to steal. Other people had their bags stolen and dragged into the jungle by the raccoons, so we were sure to keep an eye on our things at all times.
We spent most of the morning at the farthest beach from the entrance. We claimed our own little spot away from other beach-goers and swam almost the whole time. Chelsea was very excited to get into the ocean for the first time in a few years (she used to live in Hawaii) and the perfectly warm water combined with the perfect beach temperature made it almost impossible to leave the water. At lunch time we switched beaches and dug into our picnic lunch of chips and salsa, fruit and more chips. In the afternoon we got back into the water, switched back to the original, less crowded beach, read a little, and then caught the bus back to our hostel just in time for a giant plate of nachos for dinner. Manuel Antonio has a bad rep in the travel world for being overly crowded and for the animals being almost tame. We did find that to be mostly true (although in the afternoon the tour buses had left and the beaches were almost empty). However, we also found it extremely beautiful, the beaches near perfect and we had a great time there. We left feeling relaxed and sun-soaked.
As it turned out, we were a little TOO sun-soaked, and all three of us had intense sunburns that kept us hidden in the shade the whole next day. Logan got off the luckiest and his burn was gone in couple days, but Chelsea and I are still peeling (almost a week later). We wore sunscreen at the beach, but being in the water that much makes wearing sunscreen largely ineffective. For our shade day we played more cards, read and talked. In the middle of a card game I looked up, and not 50 feet away from us, hanging from a tree right next to our hostel, was a SLOTH!! It was so amazing to be able to see a wild sloth that close and since they move so slow, we were able to get some amazing pictures!
After our sloth sighting our shade day consisted of very little else, and we decided that since we had been doing so well on our budget, we wanted to splurge on a good meal. I got fish, Logan got grilled squid, and Chelsea got surf and turf (steak and shrimp). It was a delicious meal, consisting of a lot of food, but we were able to finish it all. We waddled our way back to our hostel, hung out for a bit, and then went to bed in preparation for another long travel day to get across the country to Puerto Viejo.