The Pura Vida Way

9 Sep

It’s a nation sandwiched between two massive continents in the Americas—though, technically speaking of course, it’s in the north. It has however earned its place (rightfully so) as a dominant force in what we refer to as Central America.

Costa Rica is endlessly fascinating: The versatility of its microclimates, its people’s enthusiasm, richness in culture, etc., are all endearing characteristics that leave visitors utterly charmed. It’s no wonder throngs descend upon the country every year.

Alas, with limited time to explore, I was only able to merely scratch the surface on a recent journey. This feature mainly focuses on San Jose, the capital and its environs and, to the southwest, straddling the Pacific, the vicinity of Quepos, particularly Manuel Antonio.

First up: San Jose. It’s easy to snub (as most visitors to the country do) this capital city. To be sure, on the surface, it doesn’t immediately grab you; however, much lies beneath and you may do well to spend at least a couple days here.

Arrival by air is at Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), roughly around 12 miles on the outskirts of the city center. Transfers into town are fairly smooth and seamless via shuttle service or taxi. My choice for accommodation in San Jose was the centrally located Aurola Holiday Inn San Jose  which offers decent value for money. Buffet breakfast is included in your reservation and the hotel offers other amenities such as wi-fi access, three onsite restaurants, a pool and concierge. See my review here: Decent Choice for a Short Stay in San Jose.

While in town be sure to check out several of the area’s gems: the 112-year-old Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation, Poas volcano and the Volcán Poás National Park, plus the nature and wildlife park, La Paz Waterfall Gardens. I found Costa Rica Connection to be a very efficient and professional travel agency that helped me package customized tours that included all the aforementioned. They were also very instrumental in organizing transfers to/from the airport and other parts of the country. I highly recommend their services.

Manuel Antonio is simply an oasis by the sea that first time visitors should consider including as part of their Costa Rican itinerary. It’s one of the nation’s national treasures of course along with other fan favorites, Monte Verde, Guanacaste, etc., and it’s by and large easy to connect to via a 30 minute puddle jumper or, (better yet, in my case), a shuttle bus which takes roughly about 4 hour. Not to worry, however, it’s a mostly scenic journey and you get breaks along the way — as such, it makes an otherwise lengthy trip somewhat seamless. InterBus is a reliable service and pretty efficient company that runs this route.

Being a tourist hotspot, Manuel Antonio has lots to keep vacationers quite occupied from leisure to the most daring outdoor activities. In fact, it’s a prime location for those who enjoy nature and the outdoors.

Accommodation is plentiful and quite varied. Opt for a hotel/B&B in the area around the park for convenience and more variety. If it is not possible, the nearby town of Quepos (the municipality Manuel Antonio is in) is easily accessible to the park and environs.

El Parador further up the hill is a good choice. The views from the property’s outdoor infinity pool are quite magnificent; the staff very friendly, rooms sparsely but adequately appointed, and the free breakfast buffet features a variety of local and American selections. Don’t miss the happy hour specials from 6-7 PM daily (subject to change). It’s a very kid friendly hotel as well, so if that’s not your lane, beware. See my review here: Tranquil Sanctuary in the Middle of the Jungle

Gaia, an ultramodern 5-star property a short distance away from The Parador is another excellent choice. No doubt it’ll cost you but fret not, if not within your price range, there are plenty of other options that are more budget friendly around. Even if booking at Gaia isn’t a possibly, make your way there for sunset cocktails (the view is spectacular) and hang around for dinner at La Luna. Alternatively, you may also head to the neighborhood bar and restaurant, Barba Roja, for cocktails, a meal and spectacular views. Arrive early to grab a spot in the outdoor adjoining bar. Watching the sun go down from here is simply breathtaking.

If you particularly enjoy wildlife and the outdoors, you would love Manuel Antonio. Staying at El Parador (as I would imagine most other hotels in the area) arranging Park tours and other excursions is fairly easy. Options run the gamut from zip lining, whitewater rafting, to horseback riding, etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and can’t wait to return. Give it a whirl — your ‘Pura Vida’ experience awaits.

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