Week 9 – Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Hi everyone! We’re writing this to you from La Fortuna in Costa Rica. We’ve had a great week of beaches, jungles, wildlife, some sun and more rain than we expected (the name rainforest should have given us a clue!).
Today we woke up early to go to the Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s the smallest National Park in Costa Rica at 683 hectares, but it’s one of the most popular. It was already busy when we arrived at 7:30 in the morning. There were guides offering nature tours, but we decided to go around on our own. After having our crisps confiscated at the entrance (only sandwiches and fruit are allowed – presumably because of packaging?) we headed inside.
The park was laid out with easy trails through the jungle. We were eager to see some wildlife, so were constantly looking up to the treetops or down to the ground while we were walking. Our first success was when we saw a group of capuchin monkeys. It was really cool to see them jumping from one tree to another. They have incredible balance!
As we followed the trails, we realised that we could almost experience the guided tours by watching where the groups were stopping and pointing their cameras. The guides must have had incredible eyesight – we followed the direction of the gaze of one group and eventually spotted an iguana resting on a branch. We definitely wouldn’t have seen it on our own.
The National Park has two beaches, which were just as gorgeous as the public beach in Manuel Antonio. We enjoyed walking along it and paddling in the sea. We saw a family of raccoons sneaking up to people’s bags and trying to steal their food. It was quite funny seeing different people’s reactions. The English tourists found them really cute and a novelty, whereas the Americans obviously dealt with them all the time and kept complaining about the “trash pandas”. I thought they were adorable, although I did keep a close eye on my bag!
We followed a trail around Cathedral Point, which used to be an island before a land bridge formed and connected it to the mainland. We saw some more capuchin monkeys here, and we watched them picking and eating flowers and berries. We also saw some rat-like mammals called agouti, who were well camouflaged with the forest floor and so quite hard to spot until they moved.
One of the trails that we followed was a long set of steps. It was quite tiring! This got us higher up into the canopy, and away from the larger groups of tourists. As we were climbing we came across a small group of people pointing up into one of the trees, and we saw a sloth! I don’t think we’d have noticed it if they hadn’t been there. Sloths are so funny! They move really slowly and purposefully. This one was hanging upside down and kept pulling nearby branches towards him to eat the leaves.
At the top of the stairs was a viewing deck looking over the sea. While we were there we saw a tiny squirrel monkey hiding in the trees. We paused to admire the view, and suddenly we were surrounded by a group of capuchin monkeys! These ones were very confident and came very close to us. They even jumped onto another person’s bag. It was so cool to see them up close. We sat and watched them playing and fighting with one another. One even posed for a photo with me (although it doesn’t look very happy about it).
We’d been hearing the howler monkeys all day but still hadn’t spotted any. Howler monkeys have a really loud cry – you can hear them from three miles away through the jungle. As we were heading down the trail we heard them start to howl again and decided to follow the sound to try to find them. We eventually spotted a family of them sitting high up in the trees. It was amazing!
Because we’d had such an early start, we were finished in the park by 2:30. We went back to our Airbnb for a shower – it was SO hot and humid in the jungle that we’d felt like we were melting – and to relax. In the evening we went down onto the beach to watch the sunset. It was beautiful.
New Year’s Eve! We started today by going to check out a beach recommended by my sister Bethan, who visited Costa Rica last year. Playa Biesanz was smaller than Manuel Antonio’s beach, and inaccessible by road. It was also more sheltered, meaning that the water was calm and really clear. I enjoyed swimming there – the sea in Manuel Antonio is lovely but the waves are very strong!
We’d decided to walk to the beach and back, fooled by Google Maps into thinking that it was close by. It turned out to be up a huge hill and then down the other side. On the way we saw a group of squirrel monkeys playing in the trees. They were running along the telephone wires to cross over the path to the other side. It was great to see them so close, especially as we’d only seen one in the park the other day.
Our plan for the afternoon had been to laze on the beach enjoying the sun, but the weather had other plans and it started to pour with rain, a proper tropical storm. We decided to stay out anyway, and went swimming in the sea. The raindrops bounced off the water and the waves were really big and fun to jump over. It was strange because the sea was actually warmer than the air. It was awesome.
Luckily by the evening the rain had stopped. Quepos, the town along from Manuel Antonio, was holding a firework display to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We decided to head out for a late dinner there and then stay to enjoy the show. We had a really good Italian meal and then found a bar overlooking the sea where we could drink cocktails until midnight. The fireworks were great, and I loved seeing their reflections in the water. It was a great beginning to 2018!
Happy New Year everybody! It feels very special to be starting 2018 in Costa Rica. We had a fairly lazy day, enjoying the beach (the sun came back in force today). It was very busy – I think for a lot of Costa Ricans this was the last day of their holidays before having to return home. We were treated to another gorgeous sunset in the evening. It’s so beautiful here.
Today was very similar to yesterday. I discovered that my new favourite game in the sea is to float over the waves backwards just as they’re about to break. When it works it’s really fun, but if the wave breaks too early you get a face full of spray! We spent the day alternating between the sea and reading on the sand. Some capuchin monkeys came to play in the trees by the beach which was really fun to watch.
Today was our last full day in Manuel Antonio. We had a bit of an administrative morning, booking some of our travel plans for Belize (that’s where we’re heading after Costa Rica). We planned to have a final beach afternoon but it decided to rain again, so we just went down in our swimming stuff and went in the sea.
In the evening we’d booked onto a jungle night tour. We’d been told that the rain would make for good wildlife viewing, so we weren’t too upset when it continued raining as it got dark. We were met at our Airbnb and driven to an area of the jungle in a private reserve. We were introduced to our guide and given flashlights to spot wildlife.
The tour was amazing! Our guide was called Gregory and he was brilliant at spotting animals. Almost as soon as we started he saw the torchlight reflecting off two eyes in the river. We went down for a closer look and saw a caiman. Caimans are a smaller relative of the crocodile, and hunt fish, small mammals and birds. Apparently they’re normally quite shy, so Gregory said it was unusual to see one so clearly on a night tour. They’re also really well camouflaged, it’s hard to spot even in the photo below.
He then took us to a small lake. In the dark we could hear the calls of lots of different types of frogs. He described all of the different frogs, distinguishing them by their calls, and quickly spotted some of them for us to have a look at. I forget all of the types that we saw, but they included a rain frog, a tink frog, a sheep frog (I’m not joking), a snouted tree frog, a red-eyed tree frog, a gladiator frog, a smoky jungle frog and a cane toad. The red-eyed tree frog was one of the most photogenic. Gregory had brought his telescope along and we all got to look down it at the frogs. He even helped us take photos through the telescope.
We saw a deadly wandering spider (considered one of the most dangerous spiders in the world – I kept well away!), a tiny cat-eyed snake, and just to prove his incredible ability to spot wildlife, Gregory found an insect that looked exactly like a leaf. In the middle of a jungle, in the dark. Mad! I’ve found a photo on Google and added it below so you can be equally amazed. We had a great time.
We ended up panicking about transport last night – we read about the bus from Manuel Antonio back to San Jose and realised that most people buy advance tickets. Because of this, we decided it was safer to try to get the earliest bus possible, so that if there were any problems, we could resolve them before it got too late to catch the connection to La Fortuna, our next destination. To cut a long story short, we ended up waking up at 2:30am to catch the 4:00am bus from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. This ended up being really easy, so I think we could have got a few more hours sleep in.
There are no direct transfers from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna, so we ended up spending most of the day travelling in and out of San Jose. Luckily the buses are quite comfortable so I managed to get some sleep.
La Fortuna is a small and very touristy town close to Arenal volcano and lake. It seems to consist mainly of hostels, restaurants, tour-operators and souvenir shops. After arriving and checking into our hostel, we spent the afternoon wandering around the town and looking in the shops. We are trying to buy a bracelet in every country we visit, so we found one here to add to our collection!
In the evening we had a typical Costa Rican meal (rice and beans with meat) before going to bed at 8:30pm. It had been a long day.
Today was our first full day in La Fortuna. We decided to take our hostel shuttle to La Fortuna Waterfall.
The path to the waterfall was down 500 steps to the bottom of the river valley. It was quite an impressive waterfall. Ben and I enjoyed listening to the constant roar of the water and watching the churning pool at the bottom. Just around the bend from the waterfall was an area of river that you could swim in. The current wasn’t too strong but the water was very cold! Luckily climbing up 500 stairs is quite a good way to warm up.
The only problem with taking the shuttle service to and from the waterfall was that it only ran at specific times. We’d been dropped off at around 9:15 and weren’t going to be picked up until 12:15, so we had quite a lot of time to kill. We saw two butterflies in the tiny butterfly garden, and walked around the orchid trail, although none of the orchids were in flower. We ended up spending an hour warming up in the cafe with a cup of tea and a crossword. I quite enjoyed it!
In the afternoon we went into town to book some tours for the next few days. One of the tour agencies was next door to a massage parlour that was advertising a special discounted deal. We succumbed to temptation and spent the next hour being pampered in style. My favourite part was the hot stone massage, which I’ve never had before. It was so good. Ben and I are both now addicted to massages and are already looking ahead for places to have another one!
Our next update will come to you just as we’re leaving Costa Rica and flying to Belize. In the coming week we’re going to be spending a few more days in La Fortuna before moving on to Monteverde Cloud Forest. I look forward to updating you all next week!