Ahhh… the ocean… one of our favorite places on earth!!! During our recent trip to Costa Rica we spent 4 nights/3.5 awesome days on the Pacific Coast and loved every minute… fun, sun, fantastic sea food, snorkeling, wildlife, hiking, the beach, great people, and the magnificent ocean created a truly unique experience.
Costa Rica is blessed to boarder the Caribbean Sea on the east coast and the Pacific Ocean on the west coast. There are TONS of beach options to pick from when planning a trip. Since we had to pick one, we looked for the top spots for families that include wildlife/hiking options (experiencing the animals of Costa Rica was really important to Daniel).
We love the Caribbean… crystal water, calm seas, and tons of reefs and marine life. However, the Pacific Coast met more of our criteria. Specifically, Manuel Antonio National Park is the home to tons of wildlife and is located right by the beach. In fact, the hiking trails lead to multiple beautiful beaches… it was too perfect for us to pass up!
Visitors can reach the Manuel Antonio area from other areas within Costa Rica via car or plane (though we assume there are boat options from other coastal areas, we haven’t verified or looked into them). We opted for the car option and as we drove south down the coast we were amazed at how much of the land is occupied by cattle, palm, and rice farms… there are very few hotels, developments, etc.
Just north of the Manuel Antonio area is Quepos Town, which is below sea level. An impressive protection system has been built that also serves as a boardwalk and area for the townspeople to congregate for activities.
Where to stay
The Manuel Antonio area is the hill area between Quepos Town and Manuel Antonio National Park where most of the hotels are located. The hotels have amazing views of the ocean from up on the hill. However, none of the hotels are located “on the beach”. Guests can access the public beach via bus, taxi, and some hotels have shuttles. There is one hotel that we know of that has a private beach, but it is small and is only accessible by shuttle.
We originally wanted to stay at Tulemar, which has great reviews and a small private beach. However, Tulemar was booked and our dates were not flexible, so we opted to stay at Hotel Si Como No. How was it? Really fantastic!
When we walked into the Hotel Si Como No lobby we were in love… the lobby overlooks the ocean and built in a shape of the boat… the “bow” hangs over the hill and gives the feeling of being suspended over the ocean.
Our room included a king sized bed, a couch that folds out to a bed, a coffee station, a small refrigerator, a really large bathroom and a beautiful balcony with two lounge chairs and a great view. The room was very clean and comfortable.
Hotel Si Como No has 2 pools… an adult pool and a family pool, which creates a great environment for all guests. There are so many activities available in the Manuel Antonio area that most families were busy during the day and early afternoon and congregated by the pool for a break late afternoon. The family pool had an awesome vibe with all the kids playing together and families trading stories and giving recommendations for activities. There’s a swim up bar for the adults and a waterslide for the kids! The family pool is right next to one of the hotel’s two restaurants and food is available poolside all day.
We loved the location of Hotel Si Como No… about 10 minute drive to Quepos Town to the north and Manuel Antiono National Park to the south, and 5 minute drive to the public beach to the south.
What to do
There is a TON to do in the Manuel Antonio area… visit the National Park, play at the beach, snorkel, fish, zip line, and horseback ride are some of the most popular activities. We spent time at the public beach, visited the National Park, and went snorkeling…
Hotel Si Como No offers shuttles to the public beach, however the times didn’t work out and we took a bus to the beach and a taxi back. For one-way trips, the bus was only $2 USD for 2 adults/1 child and the taxi was $8 USD.
The public beach is beautiful and lots of fun, but it’s important to be prepared for the experience…
There are no places to change or facilities, other than in the restaurants, so it’s important to arrive ready for the beach.
The minute we got off the bus people we hustling us for beach chairs, umbrellas, handicrafts, food, etc. We went with the flow and it really didn’t bother us.
After hanging out for a little while we met “Butch”… sort of the local beach concierge. He was definitely into the hustle, but was very helpful and a funny and lovable character. Butch offered to help us get hooked up with a couple chairs and an umbrella (which we really needed) for $10 USD for the whole day. He also had a laminated card with food and drink options… he would be our runner to the local restaurants if we needed anything. We didn’t take him up on this option, but the group next to us did and had a steady stream of buckets of ice cold beer!
The waves were pretty big and Daniel really wanted to boogie board… one of the shops had boogie boards, but they were $32 USD and looked like they would break on the first wave. So… we put Butch on the case… he came back with a great boogie board for us to rent for $10 USD for the whole day… deal!
We had a great time swimming and playing in the waves, but as the tide came in we felt the undertow and had to stop. That was OK because our skin hadn’t been exposed to sun in months and we were starting to get burned.
Before going back to the hotel we got food from Marlin and ate it on the beach. Todd and I had a fish, chicken, beef, and calamari sampler with tortillas and salad, and Daniel had chicken fingers… the food was great, but it was quite expensive.
Manuel Antonio National Park is a beautiful wildlife park with very well marked/maintained trails that go through the jungle on the way to a couple really beautiful beaches. We visited the park in the morning which is recommended because it gets very hot in the afternoon. We were picked up at the hotel and met a guide at the park.
When we arrived, the park was VERY crowded and the trail got very congested. Overall, the first part of the visit was pretty underwhelming… most of the wildlife was not visible to the naked eye and the guides set up magnification devices for guests to look through… at one point we were looking at a grasshopper…
However, the beach was another story… there were monkeys and raccoons everywhere. We had a blast watching moneys play and run around… one monkey even found a bag of Oreos, opened it, and was eating the cookies! (Some guests must not have followed the rules about trash and food in the park!)
By the end of our visit we tallied up a pretty impressive list of wildlife… howler, spider, squirrel, and white-faced monkeys, 2 and 3 toed sloths, butterflies, frogs, raccoons, a toucan, and land crabs.
We talked to other travelers and compared visits… the guide is really a key. Our guide was so-so, some people raved about their guides, and one family left their guide on the trail!
There are basic facilities at one point on the trail and at the beach. Also, it gets really hot and it’s very important to bring water. There are no food or water vendors anywhere in the park.
We love snorkeling and were excited to snorkel for the first time off the Pacific coast. We inquired about snorkeling and found 2 options. The most well-known/publicized option is a large catamaran that takes big groups out to snorkel and tour the coast. We aren’t fans of large group snorkeling trips, so we looked for small group options and found Safari Adventure Snorkeling. We had a fantastic experience!
For $205 for 2 adults/1 child we were picked up at the hotel, taken on a 2 hour snorkeling and dolphin spotting adventure, and had lunch at a little restaurant in Quepos Town. We were the only family that booked for the time slot, so we had a private trip!
The trip left from the Quepos Town marina, which is quite impressive… very new and lots of big yachts. The snorkel boat is about 30 feet and has a canopy over much of the seating area. Our guide, Gilbert, was very polite, knowledgeable, and was great with Daniel.
We went to two snorkeling spots and saw a decent number of fish… angelfish, parrot fish, pufferfish, hawksbill turtle, and sea cucumber. The visibility wasn’t great and the coral and marine plants are not comparable to the reefs the Caribbean or South Pacific. However, we were prepared for this and were happy to have the experience.
After snorkeling we took a quick ride to see if any dolphins were playing. The dolphins were hiding so we headed back to Quepos town for a traditional Costa Rican lunch at a little restaurant in town.
We were really pleased with our Safari Adventure Snorkeling and highly recommend it!
Where to eat
The road that leads from Quepos Town through the hills and to public beach is dotted with all kinds of restaurant choices… sea food, traditional Costa Rican food, pizza, and burgers and bar food are the most prevalent and many restaurants have a multiple types.
We ate at poolside at Hotel Si Como No a couple times and really enjoyed the lunch menu by the pool… the nachos with shrimp added are awesome and the kid’s chicken nuggets are great quality chicken fingers. Daniel also loved the brownie sundae!
The day we went to the public beach we were pretty exhausted and wanted a very easy option… we walked about 2 minutes north from Hotel Si Como No to the Pizzeria at Byblos Hotel and picked up some pizza and salad to take back to our room. The pizza was really good and our salads were super fresh and tasty. We had a little bonus while we were waiting… a group of monkeys were playing outside the restaurant!
Cafe Agua Azul is a 3 minute walk north of Hotel Si Como No… it has great reviews so we had to check it out! Agua Azul Restaurant is located on the second floor of a small store and is open all around. When we walked in we were blown away at the amazing view. The atmosphere is lively and very casual… perfect for us!
How was the food? Absolutely amazing… so good that we went back for lunch the day we left! Our favorites were the tuna tostadas, plantain tower with shrimp and avocado, and Daniel loved the “Son of a Big Ass” burger and brownie sundae.
Something to note… Agua Azul Restaurant does not take reservations and is really small. We walked right in for dinner when we arrived at 5:30, however there was a 45 minute wait by the time we left!
Wrapping it up
We had an awesome time in the Manuel Antonio area of Costa Rica… it’s a fantastic place for families and people of all ages… we will be back!!
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