Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio and Playa Ventanas

We had an alarm set to wake up this morning so we could get an earlyish start on the drive to Manuel Antonio National Park. We had breakfast at our Airbnb (fruit, yogurt, and granola) and then began the hour-long journey to the park.

Just outside the park entrance, we were waved into a parking lot by someone wearing an official-looking vest and badge. He showed us where to park and then started rattling off prices for parking plus park entry and explained that it’s better to do a tour so that we could skip the line to buy tickets. We went to pay him what he quoted us but then realized we didn’t have enough cash. “No problem”, he said and he introduced us to someone who could take us to a cash machine. As we followed this new guy, alarm bells were going off in my head. I looked at Google maps, and I could see that where they had pulled us over to the park was about 600 metres outside of the park entrance. I was feeling sketched out, wondering where this guy was taking us (and started to think it could be to a card skimming ATM). It was then that I remembered that I didn’t have my ATM card with me. I mentioned it to my friend, as well as my reservations about where these guys pulled us over, and she called out to him to tell him that neither of us had ATM cards on us. He turned around, and took us back to where our car was. We asked him how much for parking only, since we could not afford the tour, and he said 5,000. When we got back to the car, they initially did not give us the correct amount of money back, but we eventually got it sorted out (I think that was more of a miscommunication regarding how much we had already paid).

We walked to the entrance, alone this time, and finally arrived at the line to purchase tickets. I was on high alert by this time and wondered if this was the actual ticket place for the park as it looked more like a bank or money exchange (it was called Coopealianza). So I walked over to the entrance to see if it looked like they were selling tickets there. Another person, in the same official look outfit from before, told me that we had to purchase tickets before entering the park. Since I didn’t see anyone selling tickets at the entry, I decided to believe him and rejoined my friend in line. I later looked up the official park website (or at least what I think is the official park website) and it does say that tickets are sold at Coopealianza.

It took a little while to snake our way through to the front of the line. The wait wasn’t too bad, time-wise. What made it unpleasant was the heat. After a little more language-barrier-induced confusion, we got out tickets and made for the gates.

They checked our bags for food (to keep people from feeding the animals), stamped our tickets and let us in. This is a very accessible park. Most of it was on boardwalks or paved paths. There was at least one gravel trail, but it appeared to run mostly parallel to a paved one. However, there were some stairs down to a lookout.

It was so hot that we opted not to explore all the trails. We just made our way to one of the lookouts and then back again (here’s the route on ViewRanger).

The boardwalk portion of the path (other sections were paved)
View from the lookout

We had seen a bunch of monkeys when we first entered the park and then we didn’t see any for a while. We noticed some tour groups looking at a sloth, but it was so high up in the tree you needed binoculars to view it. It was starting to look like this trip was going to be a complete bust, but then, on our way to the lookout, we saw a few people looking at a sloth that was visible to the naked eye!

The first slot that I was able to see without squinting!

On our way back to the entrance, we saw another group of monkeys. Unlike the sloth, they’re so fast I had a hard time getting a picture of them.

How many monkeys can you see? 😆

We made our way back to the car. It was great to get out of the heat and into the air-conditioned car. We went back to the Airbnb and had a little rest before heading out again.

Our next outing was to Playa Ventanas, roughly translated to Windows Beach in English, it gets its name from the two ‘windows’ that have been naturally carved into the mountains at the beach. We had heard that when the tide is low, you can explore naturally formed caves. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road. This has been pretty common here. The difference with this one, however, was that we had to drive through a stream. We stopped when we got to it, not sure if we were going the right way or how deep it was; then, we saw a couple of cars drive through in the opposite direction, so we continued.

There was a little ticket booth where we had to stop to pay for parking (this also seems to be pretty common here) and then we arrived at the beach. There were loads of canopies and tents set up under the trees as well as stands selling food and renting chairs and umbrellas. We walked down to the beach and swam in the waves for a bit. The view back towards land was a spectacular mix of nearly everything I’ve experienced in Costa Rica: blue sky, beach, rocks, palm trees, jungle, and fog/cloud covered mountains.

Playa Ventanas

We stayed there a while waiting for the tide to go out further to see if we could explore the caves. There was one spot where every so often, a wave would crash into the rock formations in such a way that it would release a puff of spray after. Sometimes a small puff and sometimes quite a significant one. We also noticed that if we sat still and watched the beach, you could see loads of little crabs running across the sand, eating, and popping down into their little hidey-holes. Before leaving we did check out some of the small, hollowed out rock formations, but the tide wasn’t low enough for us to walk through the caves.

We made our way back to the Airbnb to clean up and then drove into Dominical for our last dinner in Costa Rica. We decided to try Fuego, as it was one of the places that had been recommended to us. There is a sign for it on the road, and then you walk along a short driveway into a parking area. It’s a modern open-air structure, and it was lit up with coloured lights. There is a ramp to walk up to the restaurant and a little coffee/gift shop at the entrance. Upstairs there was lots of seating on the dining patio. They had a list of their craft beer on tap by the bar.

I ordered a piña colada made with fresh pineapple, coconut milk, and topped with shredded coconut meat. My friend ordered a flight of their beer and it was served on a fish skeleton shaped wooden tray that was a piece of art unto itself. We shared an order of patacones (fried plantain slices served with creamy black beans, cheese, guacamole, and salsa).

Patacones

For my main course, I had the mushroom tacos. I’ve only recently started eating mushrooms (after years of not liking them) and I wouldn’t call myself a mushroom fan, but these tacos were delicious!

Mushroom Tacos

After dinner we stopped in at the coffee/gift shop and picked up a couple souvenirs (inluding some coffee to brew at home). Then we walked around town for a little bit before driving back home for the night.

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