Manuel Antonio – Pura Vida

On our flight from Miami to San Jose we meet a guy named Dave and got talking about our plans for Costa Rica.  He was full of good advice on where to go and what to see.  He also mentioned that he owned a hotel in Manuel Antonio National Park, which was on our list of places to visit.  We promptly looked up his hotel in our Lonely Planet and immediately realized that staying there was outside of our meager budget and in good jest informed Dave that he was way to expensive for us.  He promptly replied that he’d sort something out and gave us his email address for us to contact him in a day or so.

Upon clearing customs we needed to exchange the last of our Euros to Costa Rican Colones so we made tracks to the first Bureau de Change we found at the airport.  We were promptly ripped off with a terrible exchange rate (which we only discovered later that day).  It surprises me that an airport authority would allow such business practice to operate like that.  It wasn’t a small sum of money either but our fault for not doing our due diligence.

The other bum note for our first day in the country was that I had pre-booked our accommodation for the next two nights and needless to say, my research prior to booking was less than thorough.  I have still failed to master the fact that all organisation should be left to Trina.  Anyway, we checked into our hostel, which was dirty and really below the standard expected these days but as we had already paid in full we didn’t want to change accommodation.  The hostel did however have a decent bar, which provided a sanctuary and a chance for some card and board games.  Dominic soon took over as DJ and was knocking out some classic ‘90s rock – much to the pleasure of the staff there (and his Dad).

During our depressing stay in the San Jose hostel we did email Dave from the flight who quickly responded with a very generous offer.  His hotel, Arenas del Mar, is an extraordinary beachfront and rainforest eco-resort that is carbon neutral and the first Costa Rican hotel to be awarded the Five Sustainability Leaf award.  Happy days again!!!

We’ve rented a car for the first month of our two month stay in Costa Rica and quickly made our way out of San Jose and headed down to Manuel Antonio National Park for four nights courtesy of our new friend.  Our arrival to the region was greeted with a torrential downpour (this is the wet season or as the Ministry of Tourism call it, the Green Season).  It became apparent that the mornings provide perfect weather and the afternoon gets very wet.  It pays to get the activities done early and then relax with a drink during the rainfalls.

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The first night at Arenas del Mar coincided with a visit from the resort’s Executive Chef who is based in the States.  He put on a seven-course degustation menu complimented with wines from Chile and Argentina.  We had a fantastic two-hour dining experience, which was greatly enhanced by two very well behaved boys.  A monetary incentive for good behavior is much easier in Costa Rica when the exchange rate is 500 colones to 1 USD.  The boys think they are getting a fortune!

Breakfast the next morning was taken beside the pool and the view down the length of the beach was spectacular.  We were lucky to get a visit from some squirrel monkeys that were playing in the trees right next to the table. The abundance of wildlife around the resort was a real treat.  We also had sightings of massive iguanas and lazy sloths high in the trees.  The boys were fascinated.

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We were able to organise surfing lessons for Dominic through the resort and it was a huge success.  The instructor started him on a long-board but quickly reverted to a 5 foot 11 short-board and in no time he was up and off on his own.  He was even taught a few tricks such as switching his stance.  He managed to do this quite well on his first attempt much to the disgust of some adults also learning to surf.  I think we’ll be spending a lot of time in the surf during this leg of the journey.  He appears to have a natural talent for the sport.  Callum was very patient and was quite happy playing in the sand.

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Manuel Antonio National Park has numerous walking tracks of varying length and difficultly.  We chose a 6 kilometre walk through the rainforest and out onto to a fantastic beach, which was populated with monkeys and raccoons.  The raccoons were into everything including trying to grab Callum’s biscuit directly out of his hand.  The look on Callum’s face when he turned and saw the raccoon so close was priceless, have never seen him move so fast.  The boys found the antics of the capuchin monkeys hilarious especially when they managed to open a rubbish bin and empty the contents.

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On the way back from the park we stopped by a restaurant for dinner (our only meal away from the resort).  The view over the rainforest was spectacular and with howler monkeys in the trees it made for a very special place to chill for a while.  The restaurant was called El Avion and its bar and restaurant area is located inside and around an American plane, which was allegedly shot down over Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra Rebels scandal and the infamous Colonel Oliver North.  The plane was dismantled into seven parts and transported to its current resting place.  It made for an interesting focal point.

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Both the resort owners (Dave and Jeremy) were on-site for the duration of our stay and we quickly built a nice rapport with them both.  Dominic made himself known to Jeremy who would often seek Dominic out for a chat about his day’s activities (and to check that he had done his homework – thanks Jeremy!).  We also spent some time over drinks with the Executive Chef and his wife so we felt very welcome.

It was a great way to spend four days.  The hotel was brilliant, the staff and service was first class – perfect.  We were really lucky to get the opportunity to stay at such a fantastic resort.  As the locals say “pura vida” which translates to “pure life”, and it certainly was.

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