This is the first of three trip reports following our recent visit to Costa Rica.
Having arrived in Costa Rica we spent a few hours driving down to the central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. We headed straight through the buzzy surfing hang out cum holiday resort destination of Jaco (way too commercialized - I’m glad we skipped there) and headed straight for the Quepos area, which is right next to Manuel Antonio National Park.
I had visited Quepos & Manuel Antonio 12 years ago – it has changed a lot since then. I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed by what is one of Costa Rica’s most highly regarded travel highlights. There are pros and cons to visiting Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.
Pros include the great range of easily spottable wildlife, whether in the National Park or in the area/roads immediately surrounding it. We saw sloths, various types of monkeys, various rainforest rodents (gibnuts?) and the like – they all seemed very accustomed to humans snapping photos of them! The mountainous rainforest scenery descending into the undeveloped beaches of the Manuel Antonio National Park was beautiful and reminded me of the country I now live in (Colombia – more on that later). There’s wildlife, undeveloped beaches and a tourist industry to suit all budgets that has sprung up over the last 20 years – something so suit everyone and all tastes and budgets can be found in the Quepos area of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Costa Rica - this pic is from a beach at Manuel Antonio Park
On to the cons of this part of Costa Rica, which is only a 3 hour drive from the capital San Jose. The first con is that the area is now besotted by a mind boggling number of distinctly average looking hotels. My footprint guidebook suggested that many where high range, but I only saw mid range hotels, and far too many of them. Tourist infrastructure overdevelopment has reached this part of Costa Rica and it was sad to see. There are plenty of tourist traps that have come with the too many for my liking number of tourists. Having said that, the level of development is still tolerable – any more and it would be Mexican-like unbearable!
Upon driving towards Manuel Antonio National Park, people dress up as Park Rangers and aggressively try to halt you in the middle of the road, waving you into their private car-park (and subsequently over-charging you) whilst pretending they are the local authorities. Intimidating it could be, thankfully our hotel told us to ignore the cowboys and drive past them a couple of miles to the actual parking zone. Cheeky b**tards! In the park itself, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the awful signposting and the fact that the maps that were displayed had certain pieces of useful information etched/rubbed out - clearly by the local guides, hoping to confuse tourists and increase their own business, had done the damage to the signposting.
The pacific beaches in the Manuel Antonio National Park area are very pretty, whilst those outside the park and in the surrounding public areas are good (dark sand) without being special. I couldn’t help but compare it all to Colombia’s Park Tayrona. Colombia’s Tayrona National Park is similar in nature – with rainforest backed beautiful beaches- except the sands at Tayrona are white, the sea much bluer and the scenery more spectacularly idyllic and beautiful. It all reminded me quite how special Colombia is, and I hope that it’s most beautiful coastal National Park doesn’t go the way of the over-developed and comparatively over-hyped Manuel Antonio National Park.