BootsnAll Travel Network

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio – Dec 26,2011

Urgg, what a disappointment. The town of Manuel Antonio is a dirty little beach town. The one street in and out of here is lined with the usual mix of bars, restaurants, and gift shops you see in other beach towns. Some beach towns are interesting and fun in their kitchyness – not Manuel Antonio. It is dirty, disorganized, full of traffic and angry people (more on that later), and littered with the usual douchbags who loiter the streets of beach towns looking to scam, pick up, or otherwise profit from the tourist trade.

There is of course a beach but it is also disappointing. Dirty – it looks like a commercial about the risks of Hepatitis A. There are clumps of garbage on the beach, horses tied to trees, dogs running on the sand. We were later told by a guide that the water that runs from the streams that feed into the beach is runoff from the hotels – he recommends not using this public beach.

The highlight of Manuel Antonio is supposedly the park. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central America known for its high concentration of animals and “rainforest-backed tropical beaches”. “It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve died and gone to a coconut filled paradise” (Lonely Planet). We were not impressed. Maybe we just came at the wrong time of year. But if you come during the Christmas break you are setting yourself up for frustration and major disappointment. Firstly, be prepared to wait between between 1-2 hours for an entrance ticket to the National park. I showed up at 6:45 am (the park opens at 7) and I still waited an hour before getting to the ticket counter. The tickets cost $10 a person for a day pass and you have to buy them the same day; you can’t buy them for the next day – we had tried to do that the previous day when the line died down in the late afternoon. You also can’t buy them elsewhere, only at the lone ticket counter.

We took a guide, along with 5 other tourists, into the park ($20/person for a 2 hour tour). The guide was a friendly young guy and he pointed out trees and plants as we followed the ‘tourist trail’ through the park. We came upon a few beaches that were nice, much nicer than the public beach in town, but quite unspectacular. We also saw a few animals; raccoons, capuchin monkeys, an iguana, a basilisk, a few sloths. We were told that there were crocodiles and caimans in the mangroves of the park. But we didn’t see much – which was no surprise considering the tourist hordes tramping through the park: teenagers in their sandals heading to the lackluster beaches, bored snot-nosed kids wailing and crying, frustrated parents yelling and pulling their brats by the arm. Filled with visions of a tropical paradise where they could relax in nature, see animals, while also giving their kids a cultural experience, you could feel their disappointment and anger. In the 2 days here we haven’t seen many smiling faces.

We were lucky and smart to have booked a hotel right next to the park entrance (more below). But imagine; having to drive to get here through the traffic that builds up very early in the morning, finding a parking spot, waiting in line 2 hours plus to get an entrance ticket, then being shepherded like a herd of sheep through the park. We had it easy but I felt bad for the unhappy families I saw.

Note: the bus that does the 7km between Quepos – Manuel Antonio doesn’t make it into town when there is too much traffic. You get to walk the hilly, narrow road, which has almost no sidewalk (only in a few stretches) and deal with the aggressive drivers who want to get to the park. What a fu***** mess.

Manuel Antonio was a major, major disappointment and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I just don’t understand – what is so spectacular about Manuel Antonio? I just don’t get it. What am I missing? We have made the best of it though – 2 days here, we’ve walked and explored in the mornings and spent the afternoons in a bar overlooking the main road/beach drinking beer and watching people struggling to keep it together. Despite everything we are starting to get into holiday mode.

[ To our relief, we met a few people towards the end of our trip who had the same opinions about Manuel Antonio. Peak season had something to do with it, but a few regular visitors to Costa Rica also mentioned that the town has grown too much for its own good and has gotten progressively dirtier over the last few years.]

There are 2 hotels right next to the Park entrance and we got to experience both. We stayed at the Hotel San Bada the first night because we couldn’t get 3 nights in a row at the Posada Jungle. We had opposite experiences at the two hotels. I don’t usually go into much detail about where we stay, but in this case I had very strong feelings about each. You’ll see our Tripadvisor details below.

Hotel San Bada (I give this hotel a 1 star out of 5 – the worst rating I’ve ever given)

• Nice location close to park
• Nice view from 6th floor, good place to see sunsets
• Two comfortable beds in room, good AC

• Incredibly overpriced for what you get ($242 /night including taxes)
• No amenities like coffee machine, free wifi, or minibar (they had a mini fridge in room, but was empty and not even plugged in). Only the basics, which at that price is inexcusable.
• Room feels rundown and an odd collection of outdated furniture. Showerhead broke off and hit Lissette in the arm, bathroom floor flooded (from I don’t know where), no water pressure in toilet or shower. Don’t get room 112.
• Hotel itself feels rundown; have nice facilities which all have to be upgraded and/or finished off. Nice pool on 6th floor with bar – but nobody working at bar (except during happy hour) and you have to go to reception on ground floor for towels.
• Horrible restaurant. Overpriced and just horrible food. Also terribly slow service. The 2 for 1 Happy Hour is no deal – $20 for 4 medium sized Pina Coladas.
• Coffee – I’ve previously mentioned my disappointment with Costa Rican Coffee. San Bada’s coffee was even more watered down than other coffee we’ve had. We had it after dinner and it was insipid. Was slightly better the next morning at breakfast.
• For $242 a night there is no porter to help carry your luggage or even open up the door – they’ll stand there being useless. I don’t mind paying that kind of money for an experience, but I get very upset when everything from A-Z is wrong with a hotel.
Overall, this place was a total rip off in every way, very disappointing.

La Posada Jungle (I give this hotel a 4,5 out of 5 – one of the best ratings I’ve ever given anywhere).

This is not a luxury 5 star hotel. My rating is based on best value for money and the overall experience. The staff at the Posada was incredibly helpful, friendly, organized, and the owner knows how to cater to a traveller’s needs and to make them feel comfortable. Fantastic. Highly recommended if you have kids.

• Great value for the Christmas period ($113/night including taxes for the Posada room)
• Room was like an apartment with a full kitchen facilities including fridge, coffee machine, stove, sink, a large bathroom, a separate room for clothes and baggage. Comfortable bed, slept well here.
• A TV with DVD.
• Free wifi
• Quick and inexpensive laundry service
• A free to use computer in the central area. Also, FREE calls to the USA and Canada if you need to make them.
• Incredibly helpful staff who help you with your bookings even if they don’t profit from it. Can’t say enough good things about them.
• They have a small kitchen and will prepare simple meals like pizza for you. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays they make a special meal and have a ‘movie night’ where they show a movie in the dining area – on the Tuesday we were there they made a nice baked spaghetti, with salad, corn, bread, and a nice sundae dessert. All for $7/person. Sometimes a traveller just wants something simple, quick, but healthy. It was perfect for us.

• Room could use a bit of a paintjob and a little extra deep clean. But I’m being picky.
I wish every place we stayed could be as enjoyable and easy as the Posada Jungle. If it wasn’t for this place I would have really, really hated Manuel Antonio. Because of it I only detest it.

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