Sense The True Essnce Of Manuel Antonio
A couple of years ago, Manuel Antonio introduced a new extreme race to Costa Rica: The Reto MAE. In fact, the acronym ‘MAE’ stands for ‘Manuel Antonio Extreme’, and it quickly rose its way to the top of the country’s numerous challenging races.
It’s a 10-kilometer trail that winds along the dramatic coastline between Quepos and Manuel Antonio national park, snaking through the rainforest, over bluffs, along cliffs, and visiting every one of its seven beaches along the way.
Every year, 300 participants zoom along this rocky, viney, root-enmeshed track from the national park to Quepos to the finish line–the Pez Vela Marina. Amazingly, this year’s winner traversed the entire shebang in just 45 minutes!
But all racing aside–the Reto MAE is more than just a competition. It is Manuel Antonio’s newest attraction. Quite simply, it puts Manuel Antonio among the top ten destinations in the world for active nature lovers, and gives the area a feature as appealing as the national park.
When you take your time along the trail, you are treated to spectacular sights and vistas, deserted beaches, and a host of wildlife. This morning I did it in just under three hours at a brisk walking pace, taking time to stop and smell the ‘flowers’ along the way.
You can also break it up into parts, and create hikes of any length. Traversing Manuel Antonio’s principal public beach, Playa Espadilla, alone is 2 kilometers long, and a great way to start the day. One great, hour-long segment is from Playa Bisanz to Playa Vaca–ending up for sunset sangria at Ronny’s Place.
A luxurious 2-hour hike is to start at Quepos and end at the Makanda, to soak your muscles in a hot jacuzzi and take a dip in their pool before having a nice lunch or dinner. Or you can do the whole Reto MAE, and treat yourself to Z’s breakfast buffet at the marina, as I did this morning. Every part of the trail is spectacular, and it’s rare that you’ll see another person hiking along the way.
Each beach also has its own character: Playa Espadilla is long and touristy, with plenty of services. Playitas is where the local surfers go. Playa Bisanz is known for small waves and good snorkeling. Playa Makanda is nearly always vacant, but with great areas to chill out.
Playa Tulemar has all the services of a resort beach. Playa Vaca is rocky… and well, cow-y. Playa La Macha is sandy, but strewn with huge boulders, creating a dramatic scene. Playa Cocal is long, with rough seas, an unspoiled local community, and rarely visited by tourists.
We’re fortunate to have this beautiful, new feature here in Manuel Antonio–both for tourists and locals alike. The Reto MAE has made it possible to simply step outside your door anywhere in Manuel Antonio, and walk to any beach in the area. It has brought all of the elements of the national park to our doorsteps. It is a fantastic way to both appreciate the beauty of nature AND get some exercise.
I cannot think of a better way to sum it all up than with the words of Henry David Thoreau: ‘Walking is the means by which to travel the farthest… in the shortest distance.’
Morning in Manuel Antonio… In the Valley of Pure Life, the rainforest stirs. As the deep blue glow of dawn begins to silhouette the canopy, the denizens of the wood come to life. Slowly, the ubiquitous chatter of the insects diminishes, giving way to the awakening calls of birds and other animals. The silent bats flit by, capturing their last meal of unseen insects before retiring to their dark hideaways. A flock of parakeets passes overhead, sounding like a gaggle of geese on helium. A myriad of birdsongs fill the air, some of which are unrecognizable–but a few of which can be identified: the insistent ‘kiskadee!’ of the flycatchers, the melodious sounds of grosbeaks, and the high-pitched trill of hummingbirds. In the distance, the calls of a dozen scarlet macaws brings to mind the image of a flight of pterodactyls. Above, the last stars fade away into the paling sky, leaving only the Cheshire Cat smile of a moon, and the illustrious beacon of Jupiter.
The air is cool, but perfect for sitting outside on the deck with a cup of hot, Costa Rican coffee in hand. Distantly, I can hear the sound of a motorcycle, as if heralding the responsibilities of the coming day. I breathe deeply; the air is thick, and pure. Its vital essences suffuses me, and fills me with a sense of peace and home. Here, life is sacred and pervasive, as if blurring the boundaries between all living things. Here, one does not need to escape the confines of civilization to be at one with nature.
One of Costa Rica’s biggest attractions is its biodiversity. For a country the size of West Virginia, or Denmark, there is a remarkable amount of life within its borders, as well as vast variety. From the cold, upper-elevation savannas of Cerro de la Muerte, to the mystical cloud forests that dress the Talamanca mountains, to the dusty lowland dry forests of Guanacaste, to the dense tropical rainforests of the southern Pacific, and even the coastal wetlands–there are many habitats for the diverse flora and fauna.
Many people are attracted to Costa Rica because of the great densities of wildlife. Seeing capuchin monkeys raid your balcony, or iguanas begging at the beach is pretty cool. Watching pelicans surf the waves with precision, or a blue morpho butterfly flutter by is a sublime experience. Observing leaf-cutter ants carrying thousands of clippings from yellow flowers, or a resplendent Quetzal fly by in a perfect sine-wave is a gift from nature.
Ironically, one of the most unique and powerful wildlife experiences seems to be largely overlooked by visitors to Costa Rica: Whale-watching. Costa Rica effectively has the longest whale season in the world. In fact–there are 2 seasons for humpback whale migrations in Costa Rica. The first is from December to March, when the northern humpbacks travel thousands of miles from Alaska travel all the way down to Costa Rica to birth their young. The second is from August to November, when the southern hemisphere humpbacks do the same. Occasionally, members of these two groups will meet up in December.
There is nothing quite so powerful as seeing a humpback whale up close. A full grown humpback can be ten times the size of a full grown elephant, yet as gentle as a docile doe. Adults can reach up to 50 feet in length. Their songs are varied and powerful, and can even be heard above the surface of the ocean. To see such a creature throw itself bodily out of the ocean and come splashing down is a heart-stopping event.
Two weeks ago, I was so fortunate. Aboard the 21-foot ‘Minnow’ (‘a three-hour tour…’), we encountered a mother and her adolescent calf in training. For the period of an hour, we watched and filmed the calf playing–barrel-rolling, breaching, and performing his best imitation of a marine bronco. It was the first time I have ever seen a humpback breach!
Three years ago in September, my wife and I had another, different, whale experience, from aboard a 25-foot Dusky. The video can be seen here:
Ironically, while September is in the heart of the low season for tourism–in my opinion it is the best month to visit Manuel Antonio. Prices go down, and there are relatively few tourists. The weather is usually fantastic–cooler than during the high season, and if it rains it’s usually in the evenings. Everything is green and beautiful, but not inundated with the rains of October and November.
And it is the peak of the humpback whale season!
When one lives in Manuel Antonio, it’s easy to begin believing that one lives at the center of Costa Rica. Or the center of the world, for that matter. Not only does this fit geographically to some degree, but the area also encompasses most all of the activities and amenities one would hope to find in a tropical paradise: beautiful beaches, rainforest, wildlife, great restaurants, canopy tours, ocean tours, horseback riding, waterfalls, a national park, adventure tours, eco-tours, and even white water rafting. Why is there any need to leave Manuel Antonio when we have everything here?
I’m happy to be reminded on occasion of the fact that there are some world-class things to do in Costa Rica outside of Manuel Antonio. One of these includes rafting the Pacuare River.
Located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, the Pacuare River is accessed near Turrialba, or Siquirres, and runs from the highest mountains down to the sea. It was lauded by National Geographic as one of the ‘Top 10 River Trips of the World’ due to the sheer natural beauty of the area, and the canyon through which the river passes. The river can be rafted in a single long day–or split up into 2 days, in which case you stay at one of the rustic lodges along the river.
Last week, for the first time in 15 years, I had the opportunity to raft the Pacuare once again–and was reminded of this river’s beauty. It was a two-day trip, with an overnight stay at the Rios Tropicales lodge just before the canyon. Day one was high water–an exciting and swift ride down a verdant rainforest valley, with class III and IV rapids split by calm, serene moments in between, during which one can look around and appreciate the natural beauty of the river. The river itself was a deceivingly cool tone of ‘cafe con leche’, appearing almost orange against the green verdure. Our passing rafts sent birds from their overhanging perches–snowy egrets, toucans, tiger herons and oropendolas, with their hanging nests. It was fantastic to arrive at the lodge–my first time not camping along the river–and enjoying the luxury of a hot shower before dinner.
The next morning was sunny and beautiful. Before breakfast, my wife and I crossed the hanging bridge to a double-tiered waterfall on the opposite side of the river, for a crisp dip in its reviving waters. Then we were off, veritably jittery with excitement. The second day of the Pacuare is the most famous–the Huacas River Gorge, approximately 10 miles of class III and IV rapids, cut through the rock of the valley like some vehement, tropical serpent. Most of the rapids are simple fun, with plenty of whitewater, but not much to get worried about; only a couple of rapids were known trouble-makers, and outside of these there is plenty of time to look around and appreciate the gorgeous scenery. It’s like a combination of Land of the Lost, and a fairytale–sculpted stone, forming dreamy shapes, and dozens of waterfalls forming tributaries to the Pacuare like silver streamers. The largest of these is well placed right between the river’s two most heart-thumping rapids: Upper & Lower Huacas (translation- Upper & Lower Graves!). At one point the river slows to a crawl through the gorge’s tightest crook– a chance to take a swim and marvel at the decrepit, Indiana Jones bridge overhead.
Of course–one of the most gratifying rewards of such a river trip is the Caribbean plate of food at the end! The most famous local dish is ‘rice and beans’ , and is pronounced as if it were a single word. What is the difference between Caribbean ‘riceandbeans’ and the Pacific ‘rice and beans’ you wonder?
Simple: The coconut oil.
Manuel Antonio has no shortage of tours. There is something for everyone: mountain tours and ocean tours, educational tours and adrenaline tours, tours for kids and tours for the elderly. No matter what your interests, there is something here for you. Yet–Costa Rica is also known for adventure and exoticism, and for visitors looking for a little excitement, there are a few adventure tours which stand out above the rest:
The ADR Adventure Park (Full-day, $130 / pp)
Amigos del Rio offers a special tour that is geared towards those people who want to maximize their excitement and adventure. It is a 10-in-one adventure tour: Waterfall Rappelling, a Via Ferrata, Canyon Rappelling, Canopy Zip Lining, Canopy Rappelling, Zip Lining into a Waterfall, a
Waterfall Tarzan Swing, a Free fall into River Pool, a Caving Ladder, a Zip Line Guided Rappel and 4×4 Safari Transportation. It begins with an ascent into the rainforested mountains via a monster of a Hummer. A short walk takes you to the Waterfall Tarzan Swing, where you pendulum out over a waterfall. The Via Ferrata takes you down to a pool in the river, where you’ll zip line through a waterfall into a cave, and then free-fall into the pool below. A series of rappels brings you down to a massive waterfall, where you’ll zip line across its roaring face. From there, a long zip line takes you over the lip of another waterfall, and through the canopy to a high platform in a giant tree. Then the last–rappelling down in free descent to the river and forest below. Warning–this tour is not for the easily-shaken!
Scuba Diving at Isla del Cano (Full Day, $165 / pp for 2 dives)
While Costa Rica isn’t as well-known for scuba diving as the Mexican riviera–there are a couple of sites that are off-the-beaten-path Meccas. Off the coast of the Osa Peninsula is Isla del Cano–a national park and heritage site where only registered visitors may go. There, away from the sedimentary turbidity of the rainforested coast, the water is clear, and the fish abound. It’s an all-day affair: You must drive or take a van to Uvita (1 hour), where you’ll board the boat in Marino Ballena national park. From there it is a 1.5 hour boat ride to the island. The only human-made structure on the entire island is the ranger station, where you’ll sign in and stretch your legs. Then hop back on the boat to go to any of the numerous, great dive sites (favorites include Bajo del Diablo, El Ancla, and El Barco Hundido). Common marine fauna include: white-tip reef sharks, turtles, sting rays, barracuda, parrot fish, puffer fish, green moray eels, dolphins, snapper, and humpback whales (in season). There is also an option for snorkelers, in case you’re not ready to go deep!
Paddle Boarding in the Mangroves (3 hours, $70 / pp)
Take two non-traditional tours, put them together, and you have a special adventure tour! Paddle boarding is rapidly becoming more mainstream, and any visit to Manuel Antonio should include a mangrove tour. The mangroves are literal safe havens for all sorts of wildlife–from colorful crabs, to herons, egrets, kingfishers, monkeys, snakes, anteaters, crocodiles, and also the rare silky anteater. It is an exotic environment we rarely get to experience, and yet one that is fundamental to life in the oceans and coasts. Note: While no one is going to get eaten by crocs by falling in the water, you should have some experience paddle-boarding before you do this tour–if only because the mangrove waters are a bit murky!
Rafting on the Upper Rio Naranjo (“El Chorro” – Class IV) (Half-day, $85 / pp)
For people in good shape and with some experience with rafting, the most exciting tour in the area is the “El Chorro” section of the Rio Naranjo. It is a steep, non-stop technical river with several small drops, and tight canyons. The surrounding scenery is gorgeous, and because it is less-frequented than the lower Naranjo or Savegre rivers, it has a more isolated, wild feel. Also–while the typical white-water rafting season is May – December, the Chorro is only run from January – May, when the water level is safer. A must-do for any rafting enthusiast!
Please contact us at: info@ManuelAntonioRentalProperties.com for more adventure tours!
So… you’ve decided to visit Manuel Antonio! You’ve got your flights to Costa Rica. You’ve got the time off work. You’ve got your vacation rental home or condo reserved. Now its time to find out more about Manuel Antonio, so you can come prepared and make the most of your vacation. But who to turn to for information about the local area? Fodor’s? Frommers? Not recommended–their travel writers spend at best a couple of days in Manuel Antonio before moving on to document the next location.
The best way to get local insight is from a local.
That’s where I come in! I’ve lived in Manuel Antonio for over 10 years, visited every beach, experienced every tour, tasted every restaurant, been to every spa, hiked every hike, and discovered most of the hidden secrets of this beautiful town. I’ve done it in the rain and in the sunshine, with friends and family, by foot and by car, morning, noon and night. And I’d like to share a bit of that knowledge with you!
So here are the Top 10 Manuel Antonio Travel Tips, as opined by a (mostly humble) local:
#10 – When is the best time of year to visit Manuel Antonio?
February through April are the sunniest months–but also the hottest, busiest and most expensive. September through November are the rainiest months (though not as rainy as most people think)–and are also the coolest, least busy and least expensive months.
January is right after the rainy season–which means high season, but also relatively cool and green. May is right after the high season, and starts to cool off with light rains. June, July and August are nice, relatively cool, with a mini-peak of tourism in July.
In the end–it depends on your goals! You can get good deals on vacation rentals in Manuel Antonio in the off months of May, September, October and November. The weather is probably the ‘best’ in sit-me-down-on-the-beach terms in January. In general, the shoulder season months provide the best balance between value, weather and amount of tourism: May to mid June, and mid August to mid September.
#9 – What is the best way to get to Manuel Antonio?
There are two ways to get to Manuel Antonio: by land, and by air:
Land – The drive from Juan Santamaria international airport in San Jose to Manuel Antonio is approximately 3 hours. This can be done either via renting a car (our clients get a 10% discount at Adobe here) or via private transportation, organized through your concierge. Along the way are a couple of nice stops: 1hr 15 min – Soda La Guacima (local food) & Tarcoles Bridge (crocodiles!), 1hr 30 min – Villas Caletas (beautiful sunsets from the amphitheater), 1 hr 45 min – Los Suenos Marina & Golf Resort (lunch at the Hook Up!), 2 hrs – Jaco (lively strip, good lunch options).
Air – There are 2 local airlines that have several daily flights from San Jose to Quepos: Sansa & Nature Air. Both fly out of a terminal right next to the Juan Santamaria international airport. The flight is approximately $85 one-way, and takes 25 minutes. From Quepos, a taxi ride to Manuel Antonio takes about 10 minutes, and costs about $4-5 per person.
#8 – Where to stay in Manuel Antonio?
Hotels – There are a number of great hotels in Manuel Antonio–the Parador, Si Como No, Mariposa, Makanda, Shana Hotel, Gaia, etc. For couples traveling, hotels can be a more economical and easier option
Vacation Rentals – Manuel Antonio is a boutique destination, and tends to cater more towards botique hotels and vacation rentals than large resorts. There is a great selection of ocean-view rental villas, homes and condos throughout town, and for groups of 4 or more, they not only provide more space and privacy–but are also more economical.
Yes–but WHERE in Manuel Antonio?
Manuel Antonio is spread out over 4.2 miles of rainforested hills. There’s not really much of a town center, per se; the area around the soccer field has the highest population density. Also–the enclave of hotels, restaurants and shops down by the beach tends to be less inviting than the options ‘on the hill’. In general, the closer you get to the main beach (Playa Espadilla), the more expensive the hotel / vacation rental.
#7 – When is the best day to visit Manuel Antonio national park?
Not Mondays–it’s closed. Saturday and Sunday tend to be the busiest days–especially in the high season. Any other day is about the same as another! Try to get there early (ie 7:30am) to see more wildlife, and beat the crowds…
#6 – What are the best tour operators in Manuel Antonio?
The best tour operators depend on the tours. We highly recommend you speak with your concierge, who knows the inside and out of the tour industry here, and can best match your goals to the right tour–and operator.
#5 – Is Manuel Antonio a good destination for families with kids?
No–Manuel Antonio is an IDEAL destination for families with kids! (I live here with my family!) It’s one of the most beautiful beach destinations in Costa Rica, is packed with wildlife, and has more tours and activities than you could possibly do in a single trip. It’s also a safer destination than some other beach areas to the north (no names!)–both in terms of theft, and ocean safety.
So bring the family!
#4 – What should we do on our last day in Manuel Antonio?
Hot tip: Don’t pack too much into your last day! Go to the beach, have lunch out, hang out and enjoy the pool at your rental home! Watch sunset from the Barba Roja or Ronny’s Place! Go out for a nice dinner at Kapi Kapi, or for sunset tapas at the Gaia (4-6pm)!
#3 – Should we do the morning or afternoon tours in Manuel Antonio?
Tour times depend on the tour–but for many of the major tours there are often 3 departure times: 7:30am, 10:00am, and 2:00pm. I always recommend the morning tours, if possible–the earlier the better. There are 3 reasons for this: 1) It tends to rain more in the afternoons than in the mornings, 2) It’s cooler, and 3) You get in some great activity and still have the afternoon to chill out at the beach or relax at the villa!
#2 – What is the best way to stay healthy and safe in Manuel Antonio?
Drink lots of water. Wear sunscreen & a hat. Don’t walk around in the rainforest barefoot.
#1 – What activities should we NOT miss while in Manuel Antonio?
The absolute must-sees are the national park and Playa Espadilla (main public beach). Try to also get at least one ocean tour (catamaran, parasailing, jet skis, whale watching, sport fishing, etc.) and one mountain/rainforest tour (canopy tour, ATV tours, horseback riding, Vacation Buggy, waterfall rappelling, etc.). Lastly–one great tour that doesn’t fall into either category, but is something peaceful, beautiful and different: Try the mangrove tour–either by tour boat, or by kayak!
Whether or not you’re staying at one of our rental properties in Manuel Antonio, please feel free to drop me a line with any questions at Kent@ManuelAntonioRentalProperties.com!
Manuel Antonio has MORE than enough to do along the well-trodden path to keep the typical visitor busy and entertained for any length of stay. Yet–for the adventurous soul, getting off the beaten path is a way of life. To feel like you’re going where most tourists don’t go–or experiencing a side of Manuel Antonio that most people don’t even endeavor to experience–adds a pinch of spice to any activity, whether your taste happens to be gastronomy or adrenaline.
I’ve lived in Manuel Antonio for over 10 years, and got the adventure bug early. Through the years I’ve worked as an Outward Bound wilderness instructor, real estate agent, travel consultant, rafting guide, concierge and business owner. Through these experiences I’ve had the fortune of getting to know more about Manuel Antonio and its surrounds than most locals do. There are some great, hidden treasures in this town!
- Ronny’s Place: Located in the middle of Finca Lopez, in central Manuel Antonio–Ronny’s is rustic and local–with a priceless location and sunset views. The menu is mixed fusion and local cuisine, and their speciality is sangria.
- Equina de Sabor: Located in downtown Quepos, the Esquina de Sabor is about as local and cheap as you can get. Pick your dishes from a buffet and pay for what you eat–usually anywhere from $5-8.
- Cevicheria del Mercado – The cevicheria located in the central market of Quepos is a great place to stop, pull up a stool, and enjoy a quick, plastic dish of fresh ceviche. Stay away from the piangua.
- Coqui’s Ribs: For those meat-eaters out there–Coqui’s barbecue pork ribs is a local treasure. You have to drive 15 minutes out to Naranjito to get to the smoky shack where they’re made, but any rib-connoisseur will tell you the bumpy ride is worth it.
- El Arado: El Arado is known as the best grill in town, locally. It’s pricey, but good.
- Quepos Farmer’s Market: Every Friday evening and Saturday morning there is a beautiful farmer’s market down by the waterfront with the best and least expensive produce around. Fresh orange juice and coconut water!
- El Salto Waterfall: From Valle Pura Vida (yes–‘The Valley of Pure Life’), walk 20 minutes down the creek, and it will take you directly to a 15-foot waterfall on Manuel Antonio’s back side.
- Quepos Point: (With permission from the owner of the property) one can walk out past the Parador hotel to a veritable private wildlife park, webbed with trails. As very few people ever visit Quepos Point, it is like having one’s own little national park!
- Rainmaker: A 20 minute drive from Quepos to Rio Seco, at the foot of the mountains, the Rainmaker is a 1500-acre private reserve with hiking trails and hanging bridges, waterfalls, pools–and even a microbrewery on the premises!
- 10-km Beach Walk: Get a local to show you the 10-kilometer hike through every beach between Quepos and the national park: Parque Nahomi, La Macha beach, Lopez beach, Tulemar beach, Bisanz beach, Playitas, and Espadilla beach!
For the Kids
- Parque Nahomi: From Quepos, past the marina, there is a little, poorly-kept park called Parque Nahomi. The attraction is its setting: surrounded on three sides by water, with a gorgeous view of the coastline–it’s a nice picnic spot. (Bring sunscreen.)
- Si Como No Wildlife Refuge: Right in the middle of Manuel Antonio is a nice, little wildlife refuge with both butterflies and crocodiles to satisfy both the girls and the boys. 2777-0777
- Si Como No Movie Theater: Every night at 8:00pm, the Si Como No hosts a different movie in its cozy theater. Eat at either the Rico Tico or the Claro Que Si restaurants and entrance to the movie is free. Call 2777-0777.
- Kids Saving the Rainforest: The KSTR wildlife refuge is located just 10 minutes outside of Quepos, at the Blue Banyan Inn. There are some rescue animals and an information center. A great way to show the kiddos how they can make a difference! 2777-2572
- Playitas Beach: The northwestern end of Espadilla beach, just past the big rock–is called Playitas by the locals. It’s the local surfer’s beach, and tends to have the best and most consistent break. There is great shade, and few vendors. You can also get there down the Quepos Point road, turning Left down the dirt road before Arenas del Mar.
- Bisanz Beach: Bisanz beach is a quaint, cove beach on the northern side of Quepos Point, near the entrance to the Parador hotel. It has become more mainstream in the past few years, which means more people, but is still a great alternative to the big surf at Espadilla beach. Best at low tide.
- La Macha Beach: A gorgeous, little-visited cove beach surrounded by cliffs, La Macha is accessible only via a 20 minute hike down a rainforest trail. Trail head is: turn on to the old road to Quepos next to the Blue Monkey. Take the next Left in front of the Hotel Villa Teca. Take the immediate left down towards Villas Kristina, and park at the top of the hill. Best at low tide.
- Playitas Beach: The Real Playitas beach is located on the southern side of Punto Serrucho, near the mouth of the Naranjo River. Only accessible by boat, it is a beautiful, secluded beach–at low tide only. Guide recommended.
- Cocal Beach: Oddly, one of the most accessible and least visited beaches in the area. From the little bridge at the northwest entrance to Quepos, catch the local ferryboat across to the other side. Cocal is in fact an island, and the beach is over a mile long.
Going on vacation is by definition an indulgence. After working hard for fifty-two weeks of the year, it’s time to set the basket down and enjoy the fruits of your efforts. You deserve it. But the challenge is–where? Where is there a place that has something for everyone to enjoy—whether traveling with a spouse, family, colleagues or friends? And let’s face it–there are a couple of pre-requisites: namely, a beach and tropical weather.
The good news is that Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, IS that place. While there are tons of adventure activities and tours to do such as canopy tours, whale-watching, surfing, parasailing, etc., there are also more soulful, Epicurian activities—to indulge the mind and body. Manuel Antonio has become known not only for its world-class national park and beach, but also for its luxury amenities. It is home to six luxury spas, each with its own unique flavor, ambience, and specialties.
As a vacation rental agency in Manuel Antonio there are certain ‘perks’ to the job. One of them is that nearly any tour, activity or spa treatment is free. Rarely, of course, does one have the time to take advantage of all of the opportunities. However, in an earnest (and indulgent) effort to provide a guide to spa-goers to the area, I decided to buck up, take one for the team, and visit all 6 spas in 6 weeks.
I feel pretty good.
The great thing is—there is no best or worst spa in Manuel Antonio. Each has its own exotic-sounding menu of treatments, with options like chocolate body wraps, coffee exfoliation scrubs, and rain shower massages. Each of the Manuel Antonio spas welcomes visitors with fountains, candles, flowers and fresh fruit juice. Each uses natural essential oils and rainforest products, and puts guests at ease with fragrant aromatherapy.
Many also offer house-call services, and will visit your vacation villa or condo to give you a sensuous treatment right in the comfort of your own home-away-from-home.
The differences between them lie in their ambience and specialties. Here is a brief synopsis of each spa (in alphabetical order):
Cala Spa (Si Como No Resort)
Price Range: $65 to $150
Specialty: The Cala Flor Massage ($80 / 90 min) – The Cala Spa signature treatment, based on Swedish relaxing massage techniques.
House Calls: No
Description: The Cala Spa has a traditional feel, with a welcoming ambience and finishes fit for royalty—and orange and gold color palette with velveteen touches. One of the few spas with ocean views, Cala provides both an ideal atmosphere and suberb service to set their clients at ease.
Holis Spa – Wellness Center (Plaza Vista)
Price Range: $35 – $250
Specialty: Holistic treatments, such as the DEI Holistic Therapy ($130 / 90 min), using various modern techniques to help balance the mind, body and spirit.
House Calls: Yes, no extra charge.
Description: The word ‘spa’ is too small for Holis, which incorporates numerous practices for a holistic approach towards overall wellness. While typical spa treatments such as a Swedish massage are part of the menu, Holis also offers yoga, pilates and modern-day techniques like DEI and craniosacral therapy in order to seek out the source of the problem and provide balance to the mind, body and spirit.
Las Brisas Spa (Arenas del Mar)
Price Range: $45 to $290
Specialty: Las Brisas Massage ($100 / 80 min), a relaxing massage incorporating techniques such as reflexology and stretching.
House Calls: Yes, no extra charge (2 people minimum).
Description: Just the setting of Las Brisas Spa leaves little to be desired—perched upon a bluff overlooking Espadilla Beach and the Pacific ocean. Upon entering, one is greeted by warm smiles and exotic smells. Each massage room has floor to ceiling windows, looking out into the rainforest, and is appointed with modern and organic touches. The entire experience—from arrival via golf cart to post-therapy service, leaves one feeling pampered.
Pacifica Spa (Parador Resort)
Price Range: $55 to $440 ($20 – $35 for ‘mini-treatments’)
Specialty: Pacifica Massage ($90 / 50 min), a relaxing massage for the whole body, utilizing rhythmic movements to increase circulation and reduce tension.
House Calls: No.
Description: The Pacifica Spa is what you imagine when ‘luxury tropical spa’ is said, and prides themselves on being a true ‘pamper spa’. With a beautiful setting overlooking the resort grounds, the Pacifica is the only spa in Manuel Antonio which offers free use of their Jacuzzi, pool, steam room and Swiss shower with every treatment. After each professional therapy, there is also a plate of fresh fruit!
Raindrop Spa (Manuel Antonio Estates)
Price Range: $30 – $300
Specialty: Spa packages, Vichy shower, Ionic Foot Detox and the Rain Massage ($90 / 45 min)
House Calls: No.
Description: The Raindrop Spa is tucked away in a tranquil corner of the Manuel Antonio, and maintains an open-air atmosphere, incorporating the natural elements of the rainforest into the spa’s aesthetic beauty. The architecture is rustic Asian, with Balinese and Thai decor. The Raindrop Spa also offers other wellness services, such as yoga and weight loss. Visitors can enjoy a massage while listening to a sedative, afternoon shower—and even the occasional troop of passing monkeys.
Terra Spa (Gaia Hotel)
Price Range: $90 – $150 ($20 – $50 for ‘mini-treatments’)
Specialty: Thai Massage ($120 / 75 min) & Vichy Shower therapy ($50 / 30 min)
House Calls: Yes, no extra charge.
Description: While most of us can’t afford to stay at the Gaia, their spa—the Terra Spa—is surprisingly affordable. With a modern, top-quality establishment, and highly-qualified therapists, the service offered at the Terra Spa is commensurate with the hotel, and clients always leave well sated. A treatment at the Terra followed by sunset drinks at their restaurant makes a perfect afternoon.
I’m happy and proud to say that we were contacted recently by Taylor White, CEO of IREL (International Real Estate Listings) and the Overseas Property Insider Podcast to record a podcast about the success of Manuel Antonio Rental Properties. The podcast was focused on an insider’s perspective on managing vacation rental homes and condos in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, and the challenges in both owning and managing rental properties in a foreign country.
Check out the podcast! It’s live at:
I’ve lived in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, for 10 years now–and somehow had never made it to Isla de Cano until last weekend. I suppose it’s one of those things–in our treasure hunt for worldly experience, we often overlooks the gems in our own backyard. (Like growing up in Colorado and never having been to the Grand Canyon…) An Isla de Cano dive was one of several things on my ‘local’ bucket list which had been sitting there for years.
It was the end of the high season, and it was nearing the end of the dry sea
son–ie the most ideal season for diving and snorkeling in Costa Rica. Our kids were up at their grandparents, in San Joaquin. Our vacation rental homes & condos were well tended to by our reservations manager and concierge. We had nothing to hold us back.
We made our reservations through CR Dive & Surf:
Tour: Isla Cano Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
Price: $160 per person (2 dives)
Duration: 8 hours
Includes: Boat to Isla Cano, instructor/guide, equipment, drinks & snacks, national park entrance fees
What to Bring: PADI certification card (if diving), swimsuit, sunscreen, towel, ‘wet’ shoes or sandals
The dive began early–we were at the dive shop in Dominical by 6:45am. We packed into an old van and were schlepped down to Uvita (15 min), where we parked at the entrance of Marino Ballena National Park. The boat picked us up within the park–on the southern beach that formed the natural reef formation called the ‘Whale’s Tail’ (which, by the way, really does form a perfect whale’s tail, as seen from above). The boat ride to Isla Cano is approximately 1.5 hours. At first, the seas were a bit rough, and the little boat was jarred with every whitecap wave. Was it raining up ahead? Was our dive going to be dampened by foul weather?
We saw several turtles on the way, and also a pod of spotted dolphins. Such amazing creatures! They followed our boat for a while, dashing just ahead of the bow, and leaping through the air as if to show off. When they finally left, we were approaching the island, and the weather had cleared up–sunny and beautiful.
We stopped briefly at the beach in front of the ranger station–the one, lone building on the island. Hermit crabs were scattered around the shady areas, playing tricks on the eyes. Huge iguanas and Jesus Christ lizards basked in the sunny spaces. An idyllic, sandy shore was flanked by tall rainforest, and broken by outcroppings of jagged rock.
Our first dive was called the Shark Cave. Amazing! I dived a lot on Roatan, in Honduras, but saw few sharks. Here, White-Tip Reef Sharks were as common and relaxed as grouper. We saw a spotted moray eel, boxfish, puffers galore, parrotfish, triggers, jacks, snapper, a scorpion fish, wrasses, angelfish, damselfish and a slew of others. The highlight was gliding over a sandy bed of garden-eels that retracted back into their holes as one approached. It was a magical experience.
Estela hadn’t dove in a couple of years, so she was nervous on the first dive. The second dive, however, was different. The site was called the Shipwreck–named not for any wreck, but rather for the numerous sharks that inhabited the area (and caused shipwrecks?). And sharks there were aplenty–but more than this, it was a fish paradise. Fish were everywhere–everything we saw on our first dive, plus a hawksbill turtle, spider crab, a ‘crown of thorns’ starfish and a huge stingray. But the highlight was getting buried at the center of several schools of fish which numbered in the hundreds. I positioned myself such that the fish completely blocked out all of my surroundings and turned the ocean dark!
(And I never thought I’d be back in school…)
The ride back was smoother, gorgeous, and satisfying. Both the divers and the snorkelers were well sated, and enjoying the sunshine. As usual, my head felt about 2 sizes larger than normal, but slowly shrinking back to normal size and pressure. I had never expected to have such a great dive on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.
All in all–highly recommended for dive enthusiasts and snorkelers alike–especially if you enjoy a longish boat ride.