My Half-Assed Guide to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

I spent less than a week here, but I’m still going to tell you what to do.

Manuel Antonio is akin to the hot girl at the bar who knows she’s hot, and if you’re going home with her you’d better be willing to pay the price. While I saw some sights that took my breath away, like the flock of scarlett macaws soaring over the jungle canopy overhead, or the pristine beaches I found inside the national park, I was also smacked in the face with exceedingly high prices for everything from food to transportation. Did I enjoy my trip there and think it was worthwhile? Absolutely!! Would I go again? Not sure.

WHAT TO EAT

You must eat the casadas. You can find anything in Manuel Antonio, from pizza to sushi, but the casada is what local Costa Ricans make for dinner. Rice, beans, meat, plantains… they know how to do that better than anywhere else. -drunk Texan sitting next to me on the plane
You betcha I listen to drunk people on planes. This was my casada.

WHERE TO EAT

CAFE MILAGRO

Up on the hill, Cafe Milagro serves a bunch of really delicious food.

I recommend their calamari (it’s sauteed, not fried, and is supremely flavorful) and the ceviche, but everything here that I tried was excellent.

EMILIO’S CAFE

On the last day of our unfuckwithable retreat, Ash Ambirge took us to this little gem nestled in the hills with a spectacular overlook of the ocean, and told us the story of how Emilio’s cafe came to be.

You can find Emilio working in his restaurant on most days, his hipster blue glasses betraying his cosmopolitan, Argentinian roots. Emilios was originally in a tiny location on the second floor of another restaurant, but word spread of his creative, flavorful dishes and before long he found himself growing into a new location. Then he grew more, and bought the pizza place next door.

But even though Emilio’s has grown, that doesn’t mean there’s been a decrease in quality. Emilio bakes his own bread in house (and fuck it’s good), and all of us girls eating there that day agreed that everything we had was amazing.

CAFE MARLIN

Located right off the beach and just a 5 minute walk to the national park, Cafe Marlin is a great place to stop for breakfast before starting your day. While everything I had for breakfast was good, their breakfast burrito stood out the most. On another note, whatever they put in their beans is crack. I don’t even really prefer to eat beans, so, that says something.

WHAT TO DO

MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK

Look, I was only here for a few days. So the national park is pretty much the only thing I did, other than go to the beach.

That being said, it was awesome.

I emerged from the jungle in the park to find beautiful Puerto Escondido beckoning me.

NATIONAL PARK ADVICE

  • Go on a weekday right when they open
    I was going to first go on a Sunday at 11am, but the line to get tickets (yes, there was a line) was SO LONG and so full of loud boisterous foreigners. I skipped it that day and went back on a Wednesday right when they opened at 7am. The result was over two full hours of wandering the jungle completely alone. All the beaches were deserted, and it felt like I was an explorer on an adventure through a remote jungle.
I arrived early, and got this beach all to myself.
  • Bring snacks and water
    Bring water with you, as water vendors outside the entrance will charge an arm and a leg. You can easily spend hours inside the park, and trust me, you’ll be drenched in your own sweat and clamoring for some fresh water and some food.
  • Shut up and observe
    This is another reason why you should arrive right when they open. When it’s just you, you can find the animals by merely listening. Moving monkeys will shake water and leaves from the trees, and other creatures will be easily heard rummaging through the forest when you’re not surrounded by a hundred families all fighting and complaining and basically scaring everything away.
  • Do a night tour if you’re up for it
    A friend brought her kids on a night tour through the park, and her son got to hold a baby crocodile! Enough said.

ZIP LINING

I didn’t do this (I told you, I didn’t really do much of anything), but my amigas who did all really loved it, and I wish I could have gone! Apparently there are series of ziplines that you can do, some as long as a half-mile long, and the guides will let you go upside down on one of them. AWESOME.

WHERE TO STAY

The answer to this one really depends on your budget.

On the upscale end, I’ve heard great things about (and looked enviously at friends staying in) Hotel La Mariposa.

If you’re like, “My life is in shambles and fuck it all, I’m going to Costa Rica!” (aka, you’re pretty broke), you can share a room for super cheap at Hostel Plinio.

I stayed in a cozy little AirBnb and had a wonderful time. That being said, it wasn’t a 5 star hotel and there wasn’t breakfast waiting for me when I awoke, no hillside vistas of rainforests and oceans, and no smarmy security guard watching over my stuff (though I felt very safe the entire time I was in my little apartment). There was, however, a friendly cab driver named Don Johnny who texted me every day asking how my stay was, and charming neighbors who brought me a free beer when I settled into my place.

THINGS TO PASS UP

SAN JOSE

I was continuously ripped off and felt taken advantage of in San Jose. I also found blood on my sheets and bed bugs in the mattress (in a nice hotel, no less!) and paid $20 for the cheapest meal I could find. There was nothing to do, and it was kind of an eye sore of a city.

Of course, I only spent two nights in San Jose and have no real feel for the city other than my own terrible experiences. But I did tell you this was a half-assed guide, and I’m sticking to it.

THAT’S ALL I GOT, FOLKS!

Until the next half-assed guide from a girl who has no authority being an authority on most countries, this is Madi signing off.