Jaco and Manuel Antonio, The Two Closest Beach Towns to San Jose, Costa Rica

Weekends in Costa Rica

The first beach I visited in Costa Rica was Jaco. It is one of the most frequented beaches due to its close proximity to San Josè. It’s about a 1.5-2 hour drive away. It’s really easy to get to too, by traveling on toll roads Route 27 to Route 34. You can also get there via shuttle, taxi or bus. The town is small but bustling, with plenty of shops, bars and an abundance of outdoor things to do. The waters are good for surfing, not so much for a timid, open water swimmer like myself. The waters aren’t the prettiest either, rather dark and rocky. In some areas, the sand is white and clean while others are unkept and grimy.

Jaco sign at the top of the hill
Grimy Jaco beach

My first stay in Jaco was with a couple of coworkers. We stayed at Hotel Terraza del Pacifico. On booking.com it’s advertised as a 4 star hotel, more like 3 in my opinion. It is beach front but it is also old. The pool is nice but the rooms are run down. And when I stayed there, half the outside terrace roof was broken and definitely not in safe condition. However, you can spot some interesting wildlife around the resort. I saw large iguanas and for the first time in my life, black squirrels.

Hotel Entrance
Hotel Pool
Broken Hotel Terrace
Hotel Grounds and short walk to the beach
The beach
Iguanas on the prowl
Black Squirrel

In my opinion, Jaco is good for a quick getaway out of the city or adventure seeking activities, otherwise drive about 1 hour further to Manuel Antonio for better beaches and a more posh experience.

Manuel Antonio was the second beach I visited in Costa Rica. This time, a friend and her boyfriend took the ride with me but we stayed in separate places. I stayed at a resort called Shana by the Beach. This resort was more my speed, and closer to a 4 star than Hotel Terraza in Jaco. My room was huge and included 2 King beds, a 5 piece bathroom and a balcony with a jungle view. The resort has 2 large pools, one of which is an infinity pool and adult only. You can see monkeys, sloths and other amazing animals on this resort during your stay.

Room Tour
Lovely room
Infinity pool
Beautiful pool and view

The resort is set up on a steep hill with amazing views and has a path to a part of Biesanz Beach which is a 5 minute walk away. The beach is small and average but somewhat calm. There were some locals there, when I visited, enjoying a leisurely day, some renting chairs and others selling snacks. In the distance you can see private boats sailing as well.

Take a walk with me
The walk to Biesanz beach from the hotel

While in Manuel Antonio, you must visit the amazing National Park by the same name. You don’t need a guide to visit but you can arrange one to point out the hidden treasures or sneak into someone else’s private tour group. There is much to see there. The park is absolutely stunning and even has a beach inside that you have access to with admission.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Whether you decide to stay in Jaco or Manuel Antonio, you will enjoy a natural scenic ride. Don’t forget to stop on Gator bridge and check out the crocs swimming below.

Dirty Fun in Costa Rica

It’s that time of the year again. D and I just celebrated our 11th anniversary on 11/11. We were definitely looking for a fun way to honor this day. We have done ATV riding in the Pocono Mountains in PA several times and we even enjoyed a few occasions of ATV riding in the desert of Qatar so we had to try it in Costa Rica too. I booked us a 3 hour ATV Jungle Waterfall Adventure through Viator and Adventure Tours Costa Rica.

Jaco is about a 2 hour highway drive from San Josè so it was relatively close and easy to get to. This is where our adventure began. The excursion was $95.00 each but let me tell you, it was well worth it. When we arrived, we found out our tour would be private. Alex was our guide. He’s Tico and speaks pretty good English. After watching a safety video and putting on our helmet we rode out.

We headed toward the mountains behind Jaco, through dirt paths and started our ascent. On the way we passed the small waterfall, Cascada del Zorro.

We continued through the rainforest and along the mountain top until we arrived at Pura Vida waterfall. It was quite steep to get to this waterfall and with about 10 minutes left ’til arrival, I gave up. The path was covered with slippery rocks and that downward drive was too much for me. I parked my 4 wheeler and hopped on the back of Alex’s for the remainder of the ride down. Darryl was a trooper, determined to drive his ATV the whole way.

We spent some time at this waterfall. The water was cold and brown but still nice to wade in. Some people were jumping off of rocks and swinging from ropes into the water.

After our visit to the waterfall, I climbed back onto my ATV for the remainder of the ride. We stopped at a Vista Point and grabbed a beer. From this Mirador, on a clear day, you can see Manuel Antonio Park, the Nicoya Pennisula and Puntarenas. Our view was completely blocked by clouds and fog which later gave way to Costa Rica rains which just added to the adventure.

Our descent down included driving through rain, mud, and streets of Jaco, over bridges, slipping and sliding. We traveled at high speeds through streets and up and down mountains. We felt the cool wind, cold rain and dirty mud on our skin. We saw tall trees and beautiful flowers as we whizzed through the jungles. On several occasions my helmet visor was so covered in mud and rain that I could barely see and we had to stop multiple times to wipe it clean. By the time we arrived back at the meeting point, we were completely dirty. It was one of the most exhilarating adventures, we have ever had and one we would not soon forget. Of all the places we have done ATV riding, this was the most fun.

Update with advice: If you decide to do this ATV tour, wear comfortable clothing and be prepared to get really dirty. I suggest long pants and sleeves. I also suggest hiking boots or shoes, a poncho, wipes, waterproof bag, towel, bottled water, wear your bathing suit under your clothes and water shoes. Be prepared to have fun and bring along some tip money for your guide

These Shoes Were Meant for Walking…

…and that’s just what I’ve done. This is the cleanest these shoes have been in the last 3 months. I purchased these Merrill’s for $100+ before I came here at the recommendation of many, to buy hiking shoes for the move. I never imagined I’d get so much use of them. One of the things I have done in this country more than any other is- hike. I never thought I’d be into it, but it’s so beautiful here that I absolutely love it! I can’t get enough of the colorful flowers, large leaves, variety of trees and plants and bird songs. The insects and animals are, and I never thought I’d say this, but, pleasantly abundant.

So far, I’ve completed three official hikes but I’ve also walked miles in national parks and around the city. The Senderos Hike was my first on July 23. It’s located in Ciudad Colon near the University of Peace. It has nice trails for biking and hiking. Pets are allowed too. You do have to pay a small fee for this hike, but I can’t remember the price. It’s a fairly easy hike but can be a little slippery after rain. There are ropes along the slippery paths. I went on this hike with a family and their two children so we didn’t go too far. We saw birds, butterflies, a toad, plants, trees, flowers, a river and insects of course. After our hike, we stopped for lunch at this yummy Vegan restaurant called Tulsi, which is pretty close by. It was a good place to refuel. Enjoy the video and food from Tulsi…

Senderos Hike

The next hike was Las Eolicas de Santa Ana on August 2. It’s basically a walk to the wind turbines and it’s a free hike. Here is the view of the windmills from my apartment.

I thought it would be cool to see them up close and personal since I see them everyday from afar. My friend Shanny and I took this hike together. Neither of us did much research on it, but Shanny suggested we take an uber up and walk back down and that’s what we did. The ride up was pretty steep so we were happy about this decision but you can imagine what the walk down was like. From the top we were expecting to see the windmills unfortunately, we were met with clouds and fog. It looked like we were in a scary movie. Visibility was very low. At least we caught a glimpse of the windmills. The fog hindered the promising views of Santa Ana below too. So we began our descent. Visibility got progressively better as we made our way down. It was a long and very steep hike back down. I think it took us well over 2 hours. Our knees, calves and toes were aching by the time we reached the bottom but the views we caught on the way down were wonderful. The hike was on a car path unlike Senderos which was a nature path. I’ve heard there are several trails to Las Eolicas. (Note: It’s not the safest hike as there have been reports of robberies at the top. We found out about this afterwards but felt completely safe during the hike. I recommend going with a group.) After we made it back to the bottom of the mountain, we walked another 2 hours back into town while stopping and checking out some local shops. Finally I purchased a Casado- a typical Costa Rican meal consisting of rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional protein before heading home. Check out the slideshow.

The third hike, and most commercialized so far was Hacienda La Chimba but it was also my favorite thus far. The school principal brought my husband and I here, when we first arrived, for a coffee tour and lunch. We didn’t do the hike that day but I knew I would return to do it, because of all the Instagram photo, worthy stops on this hike. Along with food and coffee tours, this place also has canopy, zipline, and hiking trails. There is a fee for the activities. The fee for the hike is $12.00 or $8.00 if you have a local ID. It’s a very safe location and monitored, for that reason, I would recommend this trail out of the all three to do alone. However, doing it alone means no company to take those amazing shots of you. The hike is a nature trail with hills and dips, soil and rocks. I don’t think the trail is very hard but it can be a little demanding. I assume that is why children under 7 years old are not allowed. The longest trail spans 9km with several stops and short cuts along the way. Shanny and I made this trek on September 3. We almost opted out because we thought we were going to get rained on, but we went anyway. Pura Vida! We completed a little more than the 5K. You can see from the video how wonderful this hike is…

While hiking, I recommend carrying a backpack with water, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, sunglasses, a hat and rain gear. Wear comfortable closed toe shoes or hiking sneaks/boots. I prefer long pants over shorts so I don’t itch from plants or insects touching my legs. Don’t forget your phone and smart/fitness watch to keep track of your steps because everyone knows it doesn’t count unless it’s recorded. A smart watch is also helpful in the case of an emergency. My Garmin has detected an emergency and alerted my husband on his phone on two different occasions while I was hiking. My heart rate suddenly spiked due to running or jumping and took the signs as an emergency. Thankfully they were not, but it was super to know that this feature worked if I ever needed it. Also for the public walks, exercise caution. Check the weather before any hikes. Morning hikes are often better in the rainy season, which is most of the year, because the rain tends to hold off until the afternoon. Also, if you reach the summit and its cloudy, wait a few minutes, the clouds usually pass with time.

Hiking seems to be the most exercise I’m getting in Costa Rica, due to my work schedule, and I am very much enjoying it. I guess Costa Rica has made me into a nature girl. These Merrills have been great hiking shoes for traction but don’t do much for keeping my feet dry. I guess it’s time to invest in some waterproof hiking boots because I see many more hikes in my future here.

There is a Monster Under My Bed- Surviving my First Earthquake in Costa Rica

It was about 9 pm when I started falling asleep Friday night. It was early but I had a long week and after one glass of Seville and tonic, I was done. I told my hubby, whom I’d been video-chatting with, I love you and called it a night. I’m a light sleeper and any light or sounds awaken me, so I put in one ear plug and covered my eyes with my blinders.

About 4 hours later, something scared me half to death. I was awakened to my bed being shaken. I felt it once and thought I was dreaming until, it happened again. This time I jumped up because I thought a monster was under my bed. Half asleep, I looked over at my vanity to see if anything had fallen over. Perhaps it was an earthquake, but I couldn’t see anything. The dogs outside were barking and then suddenly stopped. I checked under my bed, no demons there. I called Darryl and left him a message. Of course he didn’t answer, he was asleep. It was 1am here which meant 3am there. My heart was beating out of my chest and it took me 2 full hours, and 2 episodes of Making the Cut, to finally fall back to sleep.

Later that day, Darryl checked google for any record of Earthquakes in Costa Rica and there it was. At 12:53am, a 5.0 Magnitude Earthquake occurred in the North Pacific Ocean, 44 km South of San Isidro, Costa Rica. That was the monster that shook my bed side to side, woke me from my slumber and scared the shit out of me. The website www.volcanodiscovery.com provides alot of information on Earthquakes around the world. Check out this reporting from that website on earthquake occurrences in Costa Rica:

Past 24 hours8 quakes | 5 quakes M2+ | 3 quakes M3+
Past 7 days87 quakes | 43 quakes M2+ | 35 quakes M3+ | 4 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 30 days316 quakes | 157 quakes M2+ | 132 quakes M3+ | 18 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 90 days781 quakes | 340 quakes M2+ | 379 quakes M3+ | 50 quakes M4+ | 1 quake M5+
Past 365 days2,944 quakes | 1,148 quakes M2+ | 1,519 quakes M3+ | 226 quakes M4+ | 14 quakes M5+ | 3 quakes M6+
https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/earthquakes/costarica.html

The ironic thing is, we had an earthquake drill at my school just this week and my Director and I were just discussing our experiences with earthquakes on Friday morning. The only other earthquake I had ever experienced was in Philadelphia 11 years ago. I remember that earthquake clearly because I was in training at the first school I ever worked at. It was a 5.8 Mag earthquake that struck in Virginia and was felt pretty far up the East Coast.

I guess now is as good a time as ever to prepare an emergency bag. I had one prepared in Qatar when the Embargo occurred against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and talks of war were everywhere. No matter where you are in the world, it is always better to be prepared. Thankfully, I am ok and this was just an interesting, surprise experience in my new country. I just love my life!

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