Itinerary: San José, Volcán Poas, Montezuma, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo
Time of travel: March 2016, 3 weeks
We started out in San José. We spent the first day strolling through the city and relaxing at the pool of our hostel Costa Rica Backpackers. Since the city isn’t exactly high up on the must-see list, we got up early the next morning to get out of there.
First stop: picking up Jimny, our litte white Jeep and companion for the following 10 days. We really enjoyed having our own car. Besides the total lack of road signs, driving in Costa Rica is quite easy and definitely recommendable. Check out where you want to go before you hire a car though, since a lot of the streets are only passable with a 4WD (e.g. Montezuma). We didn’t know in advance and ended up paying a lot more for a last minute upgrade.
Parque Nacional Volcán Póas
Jimny took us to the charming little cabins of Hotel Cabinas Las Fresas on the brink of Parque Nacional Volcán Póas. The place was quite, spacious and clean. The owners were very nice and checked the weather (clouds) up on the volcano several times for us before we went up there. We were very lucky and had a nice view.
Other than that the volcano does not have too much to offer. You drive up there with your car, pay $15 per person and walk 15 minutes up a concrete street – not much flair there. You can however take a 1h walk in the area, which is quite nice. To start look for the wooden stairs to the right of the volcano and just follow the path. You get to see beautiful plants, some nice birds & butterflies and end up right at the parking lot.
The Way to Montezuma
From Poas we took our car to Puntarenas. It was quite an adventure since there are basically no signs leading the way and we did not have a navigation system. After about 4 hours on the “scenic route” we arrived. Driving though the mountains was nice, but I would recommend the much faster highway, even though you have to pay for it. Costa Rica has so much to offer so you should not waste your time in the car.
Puntarenas is located on the mainland opposite the Nicoya Peninsula and it’s where the ferry takes off. We arrived there at night to take the ferry the next morning. We stayed at the Hotel Cabezas (Avenida 1 between Calle 2 & 4), it’s nothing special, but it’s sufficient for a night and the owner is very friendly. We parked the car right in front of the hostel and had the nightguard watch it, since the town is a bit dodgy. At night we took a walk along Playa Puntarenas and had dinner in one of the seaside restaurants. I can tell you: it’s hard to be a vegetarian in Puntarenas – so unfortunetely I have no recommendation in that department.
The next morning we got up early and had the best coffee on our trip. I don’t remember the name of the place, but if you come out of the hotel, cross the street, go to the left side and take a right turn on the next corner, there is some sort of bakery on the right side. The coffee was magic.
We took Jimny to the harbour, bought our ferry tickets from a little booth right in front of the ferry gate and waited for the ferry to take off. Everything is very well organized, the men working at the harbour speak English and know exactly what you need and where you want to go. There ferry goes to Paquera several times a day (see timetable) and takes about 1,5 hours each way. Enjoy the view, the birds accompanying you and the wonderful sea breeze.
After another 1,5 hours with the car we finally arrived in paradise – the small town of Montezuma. We stayed at the Hotel Moctezuma, right on the beach. We had a spacious room, with a private bathroom and a shared kitchen. The locals in Montezuma are very friendly, laid back and happy to get in touch with the visitors.
We spent our days walking and swimming on the many beaches, hiking up to a waterfall, taking a snorkeling trip to Tortuga Island and walking through the water to Isla Cabuya, a cemetery island about 10km from Montezuma. We had 4 days in Montezuma, but we easily could have stayed longer. For more details on what to do in Montezuma continue reading The Adventures of Montezuma.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
After a magical time on the Peninsula Nicoya it was time to hit the road again. Next up: Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. The beach within the national park might well be one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen quite a lot. But I am getting ahead of myself…
After dropping off two of our newly found friends at the bus station in Puntarenas, we continued driving along the coast until we reached Quepos, a small town a few kilometers from the national park. Our gorgeous Hostel Plinio is situated right on the street between Quepos and the national park. The hostel is truely one of a kind: nice view, lush greens, a pool, great breakfast and a lot of outdoor spaces to get to know fellow travelers.
On our first day we went to Playa Espadilla just outside of the national park. The entrance to the beach was quite crowded and we had to pay $3 to park our car. But as you walk toward the right side it get less packed and you can lie in the shade of some trees. They also have a nice little beach bar there, where you can sit on stumps in the sand below palmtress. The food is good, although nothing special and pricey.
The next day we finally went to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. We took the bus just s few meters from the hostel. The park is the final stop, so you cannot miss it. Some people in the hostel told us that it would be good to get a guide to walk through the park. At first we were not sure, but we decided to pay the extra money and did not regret it. There were four of us, so we negotiated a fair price and split the costs. We were really lucky and got to walk the park with the chief of the guides, he spottet animals we would never have seen without him.
The tour lasted about 1,5 hours. After that we arrived at the marvellous Playa Manuel Antonio. It’s pure magic. The water is clear, the sand is white and soft and you get to watch monkeys as you swim.
But beware of the monkeys, they like to take anything from you they get their tiny little hands on. This is also why you cannot bring certain food (like nuts and chips) into the park and you cannot buy anthing inside. So bring sufficient food and water with you for the entire day.
After relaxing on the beach, swimming and taking lots of pictures we started walking through the park on our own. There are many little paths and we almost walked them all. There are signs everywhere and you get a little map at the entrance, so you will have a very hard time getting lost.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Thinking that it could not get any better than this, we took Jimny (our car) back to San José. By now we had two additional people in the car – we met two Canadians at the hostel and they decided to join us for our next stop at the Carribean Coast. On the way we stopped to see some crocodiles and a lizard eating french fries. From San José we took a bus to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It takes 5 hours, leaves from the Terminal de Autobus Atlantico Norte, which is located on Calle 12 between Avenidas 7 and 9 and makes a half hour stop in Limon. Be sure that you are going to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca not Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí.
We arrived around 21h. We did not reserve a room beforehand, since I had my mind set on the Pagalu Hostel and it’s not possible to reserve a room there. Usually I like to know where I am staying the night, especially after a long journey, but in this case I am more than happy that we took the chance. We were very lucky and got the last double room, other than that they were fully booked. Pagalu Hostel is most easily one of the nicest places I have ever stayed in. If you want to read more about this heavenly place continue reading here: Costa Rica – Places to Stay.
We originally planned to stay for two nights and then head to Bocas del Toro in Panama. But after two days in this wonderful hostel, in the sweet little town with the most amazing beaches and lots of sporty activities to do, we decided to stay for an entire week. To find out what to do in Puerto Viejo continue reading Puerto Viejo: Caribbean Paradise (coming soon).
Costa Rica isn’t cheap. So if you’re on a very tight budget it might not be the right place for you. But if you’re willing to spend a little extra, national parks, wildlife, wonderful accommodations, and friendly people will be waiting for you.