The scenery from the high, winding road through Manuel Antonio is breathtaking.
So is the area’s list of activities.
From galloping horses to racing rapids, smashing four-wheelers to sailing ziplines, this community and national park on the central Pacific coast promises to leave the most action-ready traveler gasping for air.
Manuel Antonio’s outdoor scene is set by its rich natural surroundings, boasting three species of monkeys and lush tropical forest with an incalculable variety of plant, insect and animal life. The park’s marine territory hosts myriad species of sharks, dolphins, fish and coral. Rivers rage through the coastal mountains here, and ceaseless Class III and IV rapids on the Río Naranjo pound the white-water rafts that attempt to traverse them.
Bolstered by the new Marina Pez Vela, businesses here hope the coming high season will provide the perfect stage to showcase their bursting inventory of bustling trips and tours. With this in mind, Expo Manuel Antonio 2010 will unite local, national and international tour companies from Sept. 24 through 26, in hopes of arranging the most exhilarating vacation packages the region can offer (see box).
For Christian Fallas, manager of Rancho Los Tucanes, one of the area’s green-stamped tour and activity providers, the area’s potential is limitless.
“There really are a lot of things to do here, and the best part is that they all work to protect the environment,” Fallas said. “Without the natural beauty, we wouldn’t have these great activities to promote, so it’s important that we preserve it.”
Rancho Los Tucanes (2777-0775, www.rancholostucanes.com) offers the gamut. Course the rugged mountain terrain and forge mountain rivers in the group’s four-wheel expeditions, or trot on horseback through the rain forest, where majestic waterfalls and flourishing plant life meet.
Rafters from beginners to experts can tackle the area’s white-water rapids on half- or full-day excursions. And visitors can hike Manuel Antonio National Park to observe its abundant assortment of snakes, birds, butterflies and monkeys, or laze on its beautiful beaches.
Those who prefer an offshore adventure can stretch their sea legs with Planet Dolphin’s Catamaran Island Adventures (2777-1647, www.planetdolphin.com).
The company’s 37-foot sport catamaran, named Tom Cat, offers daily tours from downtown Quepos that include complimentary cocktails and a fresh fruit and shish kebab meal cooked on board.
From Tom Cat’s deck, keep an eye out for spotted dolphins, humpback whales and giant sea turtles, marine life that often frolic in the boat’s wake. For a more personal encounter, grab a pair of fins, a mask and a snorkel and hop into the Pacific, where stingrays and brilliantly colored fish illuminate the underwater landscape.
Planet Dolphin’s catamaran departs from the new marina in downtown Quepos and can arrange hotel transfers to the dock.
Once the sun has set, the cocktail glasses have emptied and the boat returns to dock, head to town and visit the new COPAZA Theater. The restored warehouse, now complete with a stage, seating area and professional lighting, is a local effort to promote the performing arts in downtown Quepos.
“Quepos is not just a center for drugs (but) rather a place where the youth have various talents, and now they have a place to showcase them,” said Boris Marchegiani, president of COPAZA (Aguirre Canton Association for Prevention, Security and Peace) and owner of Gaia Hotel and Reserve in Manuel Antonio.
On a recent weekend, the theater hosted modern dance performances by the University of Costa Rica’s Danza Universitaria company. For more information, visit Teatro Copaza Quepos’ Facebook page.
For après-theater dinner and drinks, stop by the Hotel Costa Verde’s famous El Avión bar in Manuel Antonio. The structure is a converted Fairchild C-123, a U.S. military plane that was used for controversial U.S. weapons sales to Iran in the 1980s, in part to help fund Nicaragua’s revolutionary war. For more on this story, visit Costa Verde’s website at www.costaverde.com/avion01.htm.
Manuel Antonio offers an adventure for everyone, and with Expo Manuel Antonio in its third edition, the area’s activities and travel packages can only improve.
To get there, contact Transnúñez (2265-6183, www.transnunez.com), a veteran transportation company that boasts 20 years of service in Costa Rica’s tourism industry. Its fleet includes vehicles from 10-passenger Sprinters to 50-seat luxury tour buses. The group offers round-trip service from San José to Manuel Antonio and shuttles around town.
Or drive the new San José-Caldera Highway yourself to Jacó and head south to Quepos and Manuel Antonio (about two hours); take the bus leaving from the Coca-Coca bus terminal in San José (Transportes Morales, 2223-5567); or hop on a 25-minute flight with domestic airlines Nature Air (www.natureair.com) or Sansa (www.flysansa.com).