Planning a good vacation takes time. In this blog we share our own experience with places we did go to, like and suggest. All itineraries are self-guided. The blog expresses our own opinion you may not agree with. You are welcome to comment, but we reserve the right not to publish your comments if we don't like them. If you see prices, such as admission fees, mentioned in a post, keep in mind that they could have changed since the post was published, and simply double check at the origin.
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Manuel Antonio National Park
Several years ago I would suggest to go to the park early in the morning when all wildlife just wakes up and starts looking for breakfast. In 2007, with, or even without a guide, you could easily spot a sloth, at least three species of monkeys, plenty of birds. The guided tour was about $20 and it definitely was worth it.
Recently the park had a major renovation - now there are nice Broadway looking trails with railings, signs and directions. And guess what? Everything comes with a price: when we've been there in March 2018, we did not see even a white faced capuchin which before always were there in big funny companies. Maybe it was bad luck this time but it's not a news that civilization pushes out the wild life, and now all those capuchins seem to be scared out of the park and you can find a lot of them on the nearby beaches like Playa Espadilla or Playa Playitas. So if you want to see monkeys no need to pay $51 per person for an aggressively promoted guided tour, nowadays the guides with telescopes and tripods can probably just show you a couple of frogs or a spider.
If monkeys eventually return to the park, you'll see them, no doubt about that. You still can see them everywhere else.
Well, now there are a lot of raccoons in the park (in 2007 they were shy and rare), especially by the beach, but to find those you don't need a guide: they will find you. Never leave your backpacks unattended, - Manual Antonio raccoons are incredibly smart, they have all necessary skills to deal with annoying tourists. They unzip backpacks, steal all food, money and passports. After sunset they exchange stolen passports and money in the closest restaurant for more food.
Iguanas are also there. They are very shy but curios. You definitely will spot at least one or two if you spend a few hours on the beach. One of them scared the heck out of my wife when fell from the tree in 2 feet from her.
By the way, two Manuel Antonio beaches are different from others in Costa Rica: by some reason the sand here is not that black volcanic looking as everywhere else, and the waves, if any, are gentle and smooth. There are no rocks under water and no rip currents, so compared to other places Manuel Antonio beaches are safe.
There maybe off course an occasional crocodile waiting under water for a free lunch, but relaxing swimming on a Manuel Antonio beach is still one of the Costa Rican must-dos, and we suggest you do it too. But not necessary to go there early nowadays because chances to see morning wildlife are negligible; you can simply go there after lunch and try to relax. Have some fruits, snacks and soft drinks with you because you cannot buy anything inside the park, but watch your backpacks on the beach all the time (raccoons!). There are also a couple of good hiking trails with nice ocean views from the top, definitely recommended.
To get an impression you can look at my pictures taken on several visits in 2007-2019:
You cannot miss it, - it's about 1 hour drive from the airport. You drive on Costanera Sur watching for "Tarcoles" sign, and once you see the bridge with people walking on both sides and looking down at the river, that is it. Park the car before the bridge, or right after it. Before the bridge there are restaurants and souvenir shops, and you can park for free, but don't waste too much daylight - it's still a long drive.
If you are interested, this is a good blog about Doka Estate Coffee Tour, describing all the steps and stations: https://mytanfeet.com/activities/doka-estate-coffee-tour-costa-rica/. I don't remember much about steps, but from myself may add: wear long pants because there are a lot of fleas on the plantation, those of us who wore shorts were bitten all below the knees. Not a big deal, just itchy.
We took this tour on our way from the South (Quepos and Marino Ballena) to the Arenal area. If you plan to do the same, start as early as possible (6AM or so) because the scenic drive is long and you need extra couple of hours for the coffee tour.
About 10 km from Brandenberg there is the Kaiserklamm, or Emperor’s Gorge, a natural phenomenon that was named after the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
As politely suggested by Mr. Garmin, we drove directly to the parking (3 euro for 6 hours)
and then followed the signs.
The signs lead to the bridge which looks nice and for the moment we thought that this is it. We took some pictures from the bridge, walked through it, continued on the trail on another side which I think leads to some famous restaurant in a few miles away (not sure but you can check on Google map), enjoyed the river and met an slow elderly couple on the trail, who appeared to went almost all way till the end of the trail, did not find anything looking like a Kaiser or any other klamm, and asked us where the heck the famous gorge is. We did not want to look like complete idiots and told them that in our opinion the bridge is probably what they are looking for, and it's a nice view at the gorge from it. Apparently…