We said our goodbyes to Jenn and the staff at Hidden Canopy Treehouses and joined our driver for the ride to the Pacific coast.  We will miss the superb view at breakfast and sunset and especially those banana pancakes!

Our driver, Edgar, spoke excellent English and with 2 stops we arrived in Manuel Antonio after the 4 hour drive.  What a blast of heat after being at higher elevation!  Our boutique hotel, La Mansion Inn, sits high above the national park overlooking beaches on both sides.  What an incredible view!  Since the hotel sits on the hillside, our rooms were a trip past the pool, through hallways and stairwells.  I loved the view from our balcony and also enjoyed sitting out there at night and listening to the ocean.

After settling into our rooms we met on the pool deck for drinks and a late lunch.  The pool deck quickly became our favorite spot to hang out and enjoy the views.  The food was very good and our waiter, Anthony, made the best drinks.  He really took care of us those few days.  The food we had in Costa Rica was so fresh.  Fruit really tasted like it’s meant to taste and I will be forever ruined for fresh fish.  It tasted like it was caught that day.

While on the pool deck we saw a flock of squalky colorful macaws.  Later our guide explained that they are being reintroduced to the area.  I also heard howler monkeys off in the distance.

Our guide, Mega, picked us up around 6pm for a nighttime boat tour through the mangroves.  We saw frogs, toads, sleeping shore birds and many bats.  There was too much moonlight to see phosphorescence.   It was a quiet, serene ride through 4 different species of mangroves.  Skip and I have seen mangroves many times in the Bahamas.  It was a first for Jen & Bill.

On the way back, we stopped in Quepos for an included casada dinner with one of their delicious fresh fruit drinks.  We tried fruit smoothies in several restaurants and loved how fresh they tasted.

After reading so much about the need for bug protection, I was surprised that we haven’t encountered any swarms of mosquitos or biting bugs.  Maybe the wind kept them at bay in Monteverde.   It wasn’t buggy at all in the mangroves.

Our guide, Berny, arrived early the next day for our private tour of Manuel Antonio National Park.  It’s the most well-known and visited park in Costa Rica and we can see why.  Our guide was yet another young local guy who knew so much about wildlife and plants.

We finally got to see sloths and monkeys!  Monkeys were everywhere as we got close to the beach.  Visitors aren’t supposed to bring in any food because the white-faced monkeys know how to open backpacks and steal food and they can be pretty aggressive.  It was so funny to see the monkeys running along the sidewalk with us down to the beach.

Some monkeys were trying to get into backpacks that 2 girls had left near the beach.  As they shrieked at the monkeys, the monkeys shook their fists and shrieked back!  The park is closed on Mondays so I imagine that the monkeys are pretty annoyed that their entertainment hasn’t shown up!

We also saw howler monkeys high up in the trees.  The sloths, once spotted, are easy to watch and take pictures…they’re sloths!  We saw a mama and baby.  So cute!

Other sitings were toucans, a red-eyed frog, a Jesus lizard (it runs across water!), agoutis, a crocodile, a white-tailed deer and the most beautiful iridescent blue butterflies called Morphos.

Berny was so nice and informative.  He was planning a trip to Yosemite and Yellowstone so Jen & Bill were able to give him lots of advice since they’ve lived and backpacked there.

At the end of the tour, we enjoyed fresh fruit and a smoothie.  It was hot there!  Bernie told us that 6 minutes in the midday sun with no protection will give you a fierce burn.  It’s as humid as it is in Florida but the sun is a lot more intense as Costa Rica is 10 degrees from the equator.  At 7 am in the morning, the sun was as intense as midday in August in Florida.

We had lunch again at the pool deck which sits high above Manuel Antonio and has such a beautiful view of beaches on both sides.  I got a big surprise when a rather large lizard tried to jump in my lap to get at my lunch.  You can just imagine the shriek!  He was not phased and kept trying to sneak back.  He even brought a bigger friend to intimidate us.  We later learned that the waiters feed the lizards fruit and they all have names.  This one was Juan Carlos.

Later we enjoyed a delicious Tican meal at El Arador, a popular local restaurant.  It had to be the freshest fish I’ve eaten since out trip to Croatia.  My dinner was fresh seafood over linguine with a light white sauce.  We shared coconut flan for dessert while a trio of local musicians played.  It was truly a wonderful meal.  One of our guides had recommended places where the service was exceptional and welcoming and this place exceeded our expectations.

Great dinner at El Arado
Great dinner at El Arado

Skip and ‘the kids’ topped off the evening sipping rum on our balcony while enjoying the warm, clear night listening to the ocean.  I forgot to mention that the first thing Skip did when we landed in Costa Rica was to wander into a duty-free shop and buy a bottle of rum.

We met our kayaking guide at a not so terrible hour of 8:30 in the morning.  Skip decided to stay at the hotel and rest.  It was a good idea since it really was strenuous.  They had a special surprise at the marina; a sloth (2-toed) was perched on a railing, just hanging out and looking at all of the curious humans.  Even the Ticans were excited to see one so close and took turns taking pictures and selfies.

Sloths have such gentle, happy faces just like the many Ticans we’ve met.  I think it’s a reflection of their beautiful country.  When we got back from our kayak trip (about 3 hours) the sloth had moved about 10 ft.  Hence, the name!

Jen & Bill did a 2-person kayak and did very well for newbies.  Our guide, Caesar, led us out into the Pacific ocean with gentle swells and a light breeze flowing.  The sun was intense for 9am!

These 2 are quick learners
These 2 are quick learners

After circling some rock formations and looking at sea birds (mostly pelicans) perched in the trees, we headed across to an area where we tied up the kayaks to a mooring and swam and snorkeled.  It was just one small reef, not real impressive but nice.  Getting back into the kayak from the water was challenging!

Caesar had some fresh pineapple for us to snack on before our return trip.  The fruit here is so amazingly fresh.  You forget what fruit is supposed to taste like since most of ours comes from far away, picked green and has to ripen.  Even in Florida, we don’t get really fresh produce.  It’s a shame…

When we got back, they took us to their tour headquarters (Toucanes Tours) for a lovely meal of fresh-cooked casada for lunch along with fruit smoothies.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our happy place by the pool, sampling boat drinks.  I tried a Dirty Monkey but piña coladas were the best!  For dinner, we went to Si Como No, recommended by 2 friends, for more fresh fish and banana flambé for dessert.

Our last full day in Manuel Antonio was a full day of leisure.  Breakfast was included at our hotel and their french toast was so good I had it every day.  Skip, Jen & I walked down the hill to Shana, a sister hotel, to check out their beach and pool.  Skip went straight to the pool while Jen and I trekked down to the beach which wasn’t much.  It was  a public beach full of locals and vendors selling lounge chairs very close to where we snorkeled the previous day.

Jen decided to head back while Skip and I stayed by the pool where it was nice and peaceful until a family of kids showed up.  I liked that our hotel was kid-free.  Jen & Bill finally got to see monkeys from their balcony and by the pool.  It never gets old!

They came back to Shana for lunch and we all gladly took a golf cart ride back to ‘our’ pool.  Those hills are steep and the sun is blazing!  Anthony, the bartender, kept us hydrated with water and piña coladas.

After an evening drink on the pool deck we revived enough to taxi to La Luna at Gaia resort for more delicious fresh fish.  I think I’m spoiled for fresh fish after Costa Rica!  By the way, all of our taxi rides cost $8.  Most gave us a card to call for a return ride but the restaurants were all happy to call us a ride.  I’m glad we weren’t driving because the hotel driveway was winding and narrow and there was no room to turn around at the top; the drivers either parked at the bottom and waited for us or they had to back down.

Ahhh, our last day in paradise.  One last french toast breakfast, a piña colada at the pool bar and trying to soak up as much of the beautiful views as possible.

Our ride arrived around 3pm to take us to the ‘airport’, a tiny shack next to a dirt runway.  Our entertainment was watching the big lizards clamber on the walls.  The local airline, Sansa, weighs everybody and their luggage.  They have a weight restrictions which caused me to bring a lot less than I normally do.  In the end, I didn’t miss anything.

Our tiny plane went up and down in about 20 minutes…so much better than a 3 hour drive!  We stayed at a Hampton Inn near the airport.  Sadly, we said our goodbyes to Jen and Bill.  We’ll see them again in a couple of months for spring training baseball in Phoenix.

Our experience with Costa Rica Expeditions was exceptional.  All of the guides and drivers were wonderful.  I really liked having private tours and I also liked using a local company instead of an international tour company.  I’m so glad we did the colder, more adventurous activities first before the sunny, more relaxing phase of our vacation.  This is one of my all-time favorite vacations ever!

Bailey gets a monkey
Bailey gets a monkey