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Monkeys, Sloth, Toucans and MORE!! Costa Rica is AMAZING!!!!

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

I love to photograph animals so Costa Rica does not disappoint! I had a blast seeing the monkeys and taking a 100's of photos of both the White-faced Capuchin and the Howler Monkeys. These monkeys just know how to bring a smile to your face! I lose track of time watching them and taking photos!


Our first trip to Costa Rica, we had a time-share exchange to use for a week so we visited one of the more popular provinces, Guanacaste. Guanacaste is located in the Northwestern region along the Pacific Ocean and borders Nicaragua. We flew into the international airport in Liberia and drove to Playa Hermosa. I read different reviews and information about driving in Costa Rica but we didn't have any difficulties. We rented a car at the airport and drove the entire 10 day trip.


Guanacaste is very dry and and not green and lush. There are palm trees and green plants but not like being in Hawaii or on a Caribbean Island. I had to adjust to initially but once I started seeing the monkeys, I didn't care if it was dry and arid or green and lush.


During our time in the Guanacaste Province, we stayed at the Hotel Condovac La Costa on Playa Hermosa. The beach was beautiful but not white sand. It was very gray and course sand. Our pool area at the hotel was awesome. The hotel sat on a hillside and had Howler monkeys in the trees throughout the property. The sunsets were beautiful from the hillside at the hotel. The rooms were average, nothing special and needed updating but the location was good and the entire resort was very clean. We visited in February with temperatures between 88 to 90 every day, so we did spend some time at the pool.


We used Hotel Condovac as our base to visit various beaches along the coast and to take a tour of Palo Verde National Park. We did day trips on our own with a rental car to Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Tamarindo. These beaches are lovely and very wide but are also gray sand and not white sand beaches.


We also would take our car and drive to Mata Palo Beach where the RIU Resort is located. The RIU is private but all beaches are public in Costa Rica so you can walk the beach and at the end of the beach, is where you find the White-Faced Monkeys! The monkeys are used to hotel guests over the years so are not frightened but expect a treat. They love grapes more than they like the bananas.


“Guanacaste is dry and arid but the southern part of Costa Rica in Manual Antonio, is a jungle, with lush tropical forests, monkeys, sloth, and beautiful birds. We loved the Manual Antonio region so much, we returned to Costa Rica a couple years later and spent most of our time in this part of the country."

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE GUANACASTE REGION

The Guanacaste region is laidback and a throwback to days past compared to the lifestyle and pace in the United States. You will see oxcarts on the streets moving farm goods and oxcarts in the river with men dredging sand. It was fascinating watching the men dip under the river water to dig up buckets of sand and pour them into the oxcarts. There wasn't dredging equipment but men with buckets and ox doing this very strenuous manual labor job making no more than $10 a day and they were not complaining or unhappy. They were proud of their work! There were open air trucks with bundles of sugar cane headed to a factory to be refined to the sugar we all know and crave!



HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ARENAL VOLCANO INLAND COSTA RICA

The Arenal Volcano is about 60 miles from San Jose and is an active volcano. We left Guanacaste region and drove to the Arenal Volcano. It was a beautiful drive into the rainforest region of Costa Rica. The Arenal Volcano is the most active volcano

Arenal Volcano of Costa Rica

on Central America. We took the sky tram through the rain forest to get views of the volcano. The sky tram also takes you to the top to zip line down through the rain forest. We didn't zip


line...that is too risky for me! But people were definitely enjoying the zip line...screaming as they descended through the tree canopy. We stayed at the Hotel Magic Mountain near the volcano. It was a great location in LaFortuna, Costa Rica. The property had a lush tropical feel around the pool area and the rooms were very clean and modern. I would definitely stay there again! We did a scheduled river raft ride that we booked from our hotel with the van picking us up at our hotel and taking us to their location to raft down the river. We saw many tropical birds including the beautiful pink Spoonbill and both Howler and White Faced monkeys. We definitely enjoyed the trip and took many photos!


We stayed a couple of days near the Arenal Volcano and then headed south for the Manual Antonio region. I was not thinking about our phones not having cell service and the language barrier with me not knowing Spanish and many of the native Costa Rican's not knowing English! Our destination was San Ramon traveling the inland roads to eventually end of in Manual Antonio. It was a beautiful drive with mountainous views but gravel roads with cows walking on them! This drive definitely added character to our trip and a taste of the real life in Cost Rica!




HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PUNTARENAS REGION WHERE MANUAL ANOTONIO PARK IS LOCATED


The region where the Manual Antonio Nation Park is located is my favorite are of Costa Rica! It is tropical, lush and green. Manuel Antonio National Park, in Spanish the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, is a small national park in the Central Pacific Conservation Area located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, just south of the city of Quepos, Puntarenas, and 132 km (82 mi) from the capital of San José. We did a scheduled river float to see monkeys and birds but we found another boat ride through the jungle area operated by a locally owned family just off the main highway on the way to the Manual Antonio National Park.


As we traveled to this region, we stopped at Jaco to see the crocodile habitat under the Tarcoles bridge. Hundreds of crocodiles reside under the bridge and mid-day come out and sun themselves in the hot sun along the river. It is worth stopping to see!


Our first time in Costa Rica we stayed at Cocomar Beachfront Hotel on the Playa Palo Seco beach in Parrita Puntarenas which was about a 30 minute drive from the Manual Antonio park. It was a fabulous beach with the most amazing sunsets. The hotel was small, quaint and very clean but was very remote.


A favorite white sand beach south of Jaco on the way to Play Palo Seco was Playa Herradura beach. The beach and water was gorgeous. There was plenty of parking for visitors with cars and the Scarlet McCaw birds were everywhere in the trees!


A favorite boat ride for the both of us was off of Hwy 34 past Cocomar Hotel and on our way to Manual Antonio National Park. There was a billboard sign advertising boat rides off of Highway 34 heading south to Manual Antonio. It is a small family owned business and we were fortunate enough to see a sloth right in their trees climbing the tree with its baby sloth. We watched them for quite a while and were able to take close up photos. Just a reminder, all of the monkeys, birds and sloths are wild animals. We are in their home. So, keep your distance. They will bite! I used a 18mm to 400mm zoom on my Canon Rebel camera to get my close up shots. The boat ride was alot of fun. The guide made monkey call sounds to get them to come out of the trees and down to the boat to eat. We had alot of laughs. If this family owned business is still off Hwy 35 between Cocomar and Manual Antonio, I recommend stopping!


HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MANUAL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK AND SURROUNDING AREA

On our first trip to Costa Rica we decided to explore the National Park on our own. I am not sure that was the best choice. We did see a great deal and followed the Park map, but it appeared the tourists with guides learned and saw a great deal more. I would recommend a guide in the park. Our second trip to Costa Rica and the National Park, we paid for a guide and found him right outside the park entrance. While we enjoyed our time in the park without the guide, we were smarter on our second visit to Costa Rica, and hired a guide. The guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out animals we would have never seen without his assistance. We felt way more in tune with the Park having a guide! I would highly recommend a guide to tour the Manuel Antonio National Park.


The Manual Antonio beach in the park is gorgeous! Very wide beach with white sand and palm trees. The White Faced monkeys are all around this area and will steal from your beach bag or back pack if they get a chance. We saw it happen! So, keep your personal belongings safe. Also, do not bring chocolate into the park. Security checks bags as you enter the park and if you have chocolate, they take it. The do not want the monkeys stealing and eating it. It could be deadly for the monkeys. The sand at the beach is very hot on the feet so where sandals! The monkeys are fun to watch and are very familiar with people. But always remember, we are in their home, they are wild animals and keep your distance. They will bite! I used a 18mm to 400mm zoom lens on my Canon Rebel camera for all photos. We saw toucans, sloth and both White Faced and Howler monkeys. The beach outside the park in the town of Manual Antonio is also very beautiful. It is a very wide beach, more of a brown sand, and has gorgeous sunsets! It is a busy beach and limited parking so go early in the day or later afternoon when the mid-day crowd starts to leave.



TIPS TO TRAVEL ECONOMICALLY AND GET THE MOST FOR YOUR TIME AND MONEY

I also get asked many times, "How do you travel so often and keep it affordable?" A few tips are below:

  • For me, planning and researching is part of the excitement of the trip! Visioning is so much fun!!!

  • I plan all of my own trips and research, research, research on the internet. I utilize TripAdvisor, Frommer's, and blogs from other travelers to find the information I need for my trip. I do ALOT of reading and researching. It takes patience to plan a good affordable trip!

  • I have a budget in mind for each trip and challenge myself to stay in the budget. Depending on the location, I typically start planning and booking hotels, cars, etc., approximately 9 months out. Hotel prices usually get more expensive the closer to the trip unless you are willing to do a last minute internet deal. Car rental and airline prices also go up the closer it is to your trip. Occasionally you can get a last minute deal but something else may be more expensive and you are really not saving. I like to plan!

  • For hotels, I use Booking.com, or Priceline.com. I look for hotels with good reviews, pay when you stay, and free cancellation in advance.

  • We have done all-inclusive in a couple of tropical locations years and years ago but found that we do not eat and drink enough to make it worth the extra expense. We like to go off site from the hotel and experience the local cuisine and traditions. We have not done all-inclusive in the last 15 years. However, all-inclusive is wonderful if you want to stay at the resort for all meals, not rent a car, and have the hotel shuttle you to your destinations. That has worked for us in Jamaica and it was very relaxing! But I would not drive in Jamaica so all-inclusive was the smartest option! If you enjoy all-inclusive, the earlier you book the trip the lower the price. Unless you are game and are not a planner, and are willing to travel where the last minute deal is advertised. Then you could get a great all-inclusive deal!

  • If we are flying, I use the Skyscanner app to check airfare prices and I try not to buy until about 60 to 75 days out. There are times where I will by earlier if the price is super reasonable. I usually do not book on Skyscanner. It will tell me the site that is the most affordable to purchase the tickets and if it is a more well known trust site, I go directly to the site to purchase the tickets. Many times Skyscanner will take you right to the airline website. Skyscanner will search all airlines and will sort by price, times, shortest trip, etc.

  • Have a credit card that gives you miles or hotel points. We will use points for many of our trips. We are American Advantage members and have an Advantage credit card. We try to fly American as often as we can to earn points and then use those points for future airline tickets. Our credit card is tied to our Advantage numbers and awards points as well.

  • We exchange our money when traveling internationally in European countries but when traveling to islands, they typically like the American dollar. Costa Rica is no different. You can use the American dollar but they will give you their currency back in change. We try to use a debit or credit card so the exchange is automatic when we travel.

  • We drive if the location is in the United States and we can drive and sightsee along the way. If we need to rent a car, we reserve online using Booking.com, Orbitz.com, or Priceline.com. They are usually the most reasonable. I watch for specials and never book a luxury vehicle! We also have a credit card with a low limit that we use for vehicle rentals that provides insurance as a credit card benefit. We always decline the insurance when we are in the United States. If we are traveling out of the United States, we check with the credit card if the insurance is valid internationally. We have found it is valid in Europe, Canada, U.S. Virgin Islands, but in other locations, we are forced to purchase the liability insurance from the rental car company.

  • While there are free maps online for most destinations, I always go onto Amazon and buy a map of my destination, especially if it is international. I do not buy maps for tropical Caribbean islands. I just get one when we arrive. But for countries like Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, England, Canada, Germany, France, etc., I always purchase a good map. As you do you research, you can use the map to highlight the places you want to visit and the sites you want to see. I have it as a reference later for putting my memories and photos into a photobook!

COSTA RICA ITINERARY


COSTA RICA ITINERARY
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