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.
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:
One week in Drake Bay - this was our plan for end of February 2020. A year before, in January 2019, we explored another side of Osa Peninsula (Puerto Jimenez), and we liked it. "Wild life everywhere" statement of our guide Carlos was a bit of an overstatement back then, but we did see plenty of monkeys, coatis, lots of scarlet macaws and other things. At the same time, it was a comfortable stay and we hoped that Drake Bay would be even more exciting. Day 1: one night stay in Jaco It's a long drive from San Jose to Drake Bay, and the last leg of the road can be done only with 4x4, so we decided not to drive all way through at the 1st day because crossing rivers in darkness can be challenging, but to stay one night in Jaco which is 1.5 hour from San Jose. We stopped at Hotel DoceLunas in Jaco and liked it very much. I suppose during weekend it may be busy, but we were lucky to be there on working day, and everything was just nice and quiet: reception,
Lake Louise Inn The Weather network was trying to scare us all week long, but the 1st and only bad day in fact was our day at Lake Louise. We woke up with the news that it's gonna be 30 cm of snow today, and it seemed to be true once we looked through the window. Svetlana did not feel very well, and we decided to take advantage of the nice hotel room and wait it out. As a matter of fact, we actually consider ourselves lucky with the weather during this trip, because apparently heavy snow storms and road closures are very usual thing for Banff and Lake Louise in the beginning of June. This time it was only this one questionable day, but even this day wasn't actually that bad because after 3PM the snow finally stopped, and we decided to try to complete our Lake Louise program at least to as much as possible extent. Morain Lake It was already deep afternoon, and as we kind of already took a brief look at the Lake Louise yesterday, we decided to re-prioritize and
Day 3 - Banff The plan for the next full day in Banff was to take Minnewanka Lake Cruise, which was the second adventure we purchased from Pursuit. As early birds, we again had some spare time before 10AM, when the first cruise board departs, and decided to make a few stops on the scenic route on our way to the marina. The first one, with a little bit of detour, was Johnson Lake. Johnson Lake Early in the morning, when there are no crowds yet, Johnson Lake is very secluded. There is a hiking trail going around the lake with plenty of nice views and some very busy wild life but we thought that we didn't have much time and had only a brief walk not very far from the parking lot because expected to see more on the next couple of stops before the departure. Two Jacks Lake Next stop was Two Jacks Lake and we were surprised that even early in the morning it was already rather crowded. At 8:30AM people were unloading kayaks, bags and boxes with food, coolers wit