Immediately southeast of Quepos, a road climbs sharply over the forested headland of Punta Quepos and snakes, dips, and rises south along a ridge for seven kilometers (4.5 miles) before dropping down to the evolving beachfront community of Manuel Antonio, consisting of a handful of hotels and restaurants catering to the visitors descending on Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, immediately south. The entire region south of Quepos is referred to as Manuel Antonio. The beachfront by the park gets jam-packed.
Manuel Antonio Nature Park and Wildlife Refuge
The 12-hectare (30-acre) Manuel Antonio Nature Park and Wildlife Refuge (tel. 506/2777-0850, 8am-4pm daily) is a project of Hotel Villas Si Como No and features multilevel trails that wind through a netted butterfly garden (adults $15, children $8), natural poison dart frog exhibits, and a crocodile and caiman lagoon (adults $20, children $15 extra). The forested reserve is excellent for sighting monkeys and other endangered wildlife. Hourly guided nature walks ($10) are offered, as is a Jungle Night Walk (5:30pm daily, adults $39, children $29)—the trails use ultraviolet lighting to show off insect markings normally visible by night to other insects with ultraviolet vision. It has guided bird-watching tours by reservation at 4pm and 6pm daily.
For drinks, the always-lively Marlintinis (tel. 506/2777-7474, 11am-1am daily) has live music and DJs, plus large-screen TVs and killer cocktails.
El Avión (tel. 506/2777-3378, 2pm-10pm daily) is named for the Fairchild C-123 transport plane now turned into a bar. It has live music Monday-Saturday. The aircraft-bar, opposite Casitas Eclipse, dates from 1954 and was used by the CIA to run arms to the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s. According to the posted spiel, when shot down by the Sandinistas, a sister C-123 was responsible for “breaking open the ‘Contra affair’ that exposed the story and the Reagan administration’s illegal and secret scheme.”
The Bat Cave (tel. 506/2777-3489, 7pm-midnight daily) at La Mansion Inn is a piece of Tolkien fantasy, not least because it is entered by a Lilliputian door. This limestone cave-turned-bar has fish tanks inset in the walls, and a stupendous polished hardwood bar top. For live music, head to Bambu Jam (tel. 506/2777- 3369, 6pm-10pm daily), with live Latin music Tuesday and Friday.
For cocktails, Karolas (tel. 506/2777-8880, 7am-10pm daily), at Los Altos Beach Resort, is the hippest lounge-bar around. This urbane open-air space draws a sophisticated crowd that prefers martinis to Budweiser.
Football fans should head to Billfish Sportbar & Grill (tel. 506/2777-0411) at the Byblos Hotel, which screens football games on Monday nights. Friday is ladies night, with free drinks for women 8pm-midnight.
Manuel Antonio also offers nightlife directed at gay and lesbian visitors. Above Restaurante La Hacienda, Cockatoo (tel. 506/2777-5143, 4pm-10pm Fri.-Sun.) is a prelude to sexy fun at Liquid Lounge Disco (tel. 506/2777-5158, 8pm-2am Tues.-Sun.), near the beach. Theme nights include oldies on Tuesday, margarita night on Wednesday, and Latin music on Sunday. Go on Friday for sexy live male and female dancers, and on Saturday when a DJ spins the hottest sounds. This place is primarily gay, but straights are welcome. Mogambo Lounge (tel. 506/2777-6310) is another option for gay nightlife.
How about a movie in a surround-sound theater? Head to Si Como No (tel. 506/2777-0777) for dinner, and you’ll also get free entrance to the nightly movie at 8:30pm.
Sports and Recreation
Manuel Antonio Surf School (tel. 506/2777- 4842) offers surf lessons; it has a beach outlet. For white-water thrills, check in with Quepoa Expeditions (tel. 506/2777-0058), which has inflatable kayak (“rubber duckies”) trips; or Amigos del Río (tel. 506/2777-0082), which offers kayaking and white-water rafting on the Río Savegre. New in 2012, the Tennis Club Quepos (tel. 506/8666-4212), in the Palmas Pacífica residential resort, is open for nonresidents to play 6am-6pm daily.
For quality art, head to Regalame (tel. 506/2777-0777, 7:15am-10pm daily), at Hotel Villas Si Como No; or Galería Yara (tel. 506/2777-4846, 9am- 9pm Mon.-Sat.), in Plaza Yara.
The place for breakfast is Café Milagro (tel. 506/2777-0794, 6am-10pm daily), opposite Hotel Casa Blanca, with a full array of coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches, and Nuevo Latino fusion dinners to be enjoyed on a tree-shaded patio.
Worth a short but rugged journey (one km west of Quepoa Expeditions), Ronnie’s Place (tel. 506/2777-5120, firstname.lastname@example.org, noon-10pm daily, $2-10) is the place to enjoy simple but tasty local fare, including seafood. Try the caramelized pumpkin in cane juice, best washed down with a piña colada served in a pineapple, or the house’s famous sangria. Plus you get ocean views.
The rustic but hip palenque at Bambu Jam (tel. 506/2777-3369, 6pm-10pm daily), one kilometer (0.6 miles) south of Quepos, is a fabulous venue. The French-run restaurant serves the likes of beef stuffed with gorgonzola ($15) and mahimahi with almonds and lime ($12). Leave room for the profiteroles ($5).
For romantic elegance and tremendous nouvelle cuisine, head to the open-air Claro Que Si (tel. 506/2777-0777, 6:30pm-10:30pm daily) at Hotel Villas Si Como No. I enjoyed fried squid ($6), roasted bell peppers, olives, and avocado salad ($7), stuffed ravioli with seafood and spinach ($10), and chocolate ice cream pie. Equally romantic by night is the Sunspot Grill (tel. 506/2777-0442, 11am- 10pm daily Nov.-Sept.), at the Makanda by the Sea hotel. This classy spot serves bocas such as calamari, mussels in chardonnay broth ($7-9), quesadillas, sandwiches, and huge salads for lunch. Dinner is a romantic candlelit gourmet affair; the menu includes gourmet pizzas, scallops with blackberry and balsamic reduction ($20), and divine focaccia with homemade herb butter. The extensive wine list includes many California reserves.
I enjoy the hip, torch-lit, open-air ambience and gourmet fusion fare at Karolas (tel. 506/2777-8880, 7am-10pm daily), in the gardens of The Preserve at Los Altos. The urbane decor includes pewter floors. Lunch might mean a chicken wrap ($8) or burger. For my dinner, I chose wisely: a superb tuna tartare appetizer ($7) followed by Thai chicken with rice and macadamia sauce ($12). Ocean views are a plus.
La Luna (tel. 506/2777-9797, 7am-10pm daily) at Gaia Hotel and Reserve, three kilometers (2 miles) south of Quepo, also offers worldclass service as well as mouthwatering dishes. To start, I recommend the gorgonzola and sundried tomato tart ($6) followed by tequila-lime scallops ($25) or ginger and panko-crusted tuna ($18). Sorbets are served between courses. Go for the Sunday brunch ($20).
For fine fusion dining, I also like Restaurante Kapi Kapi (tel. 506/2777-5049, 4pm-10pm daily), where a starter of Thai chicken lettuce wrap might be followed by sugarcane skewered prawns with coconut, tamarind, and rum glaze.
A Manuel Antonio institution since 1975, Barba Roja (tel. 506/2777-5159, 4pm-10pm daily) has superb ocean vistas and is known for great surf and turf. The Jungle Juice (tel. 506/2777-7328, 7am-5pm daily) bar serves delicious fresh smoothies. Nearby, Salispuedes Tapas Bar (tel. 506/2777-5091, 7am-10pm daily) has a great ocean view and gets packed, especially at sunset. Shared plates include such treats as sashimi and frijolitos blancos (white beans stewed with chicken).
Gato Negro (tel. 506/2777-1728, 6:30am- 10am, noon-6pm, and 6:30pm-10pm daily), at Hotel Casitas Eclipse, has a warm ambience, conscientious service, and superb Italian cuisine, such as tagliatelle and salad niçoise, carpaccio, and pasta. You could be forgiven for dining two nights in a row at Victoria’s Gourmet Italian Restaurant (tel. 506/2777- 5143, 4pm-11pm Mon.-Sat.), another fantastic option for the pasta grill, gourmet pizza, and divine Italian fare such as tuna chipotle and jumbo shrimp. The number-one Italian restaurant in town, it hosts live classical guitar.
Speaking of pizza, Pizza di Marco (tel. 506/2777-3473, 11am-4pm Mon.-Fri., $5-25), at Plaza Yara, is a lovely contemporary-themed open-air space serving satisfying fresh-from-the- oven pizzas.
There’s even a Israeli restaurant, El Wagon (tel. 506/2777-0584) in an old railroad carriage opposite Hotel Costa Verde. Oddly, it pitches its Middle Eastern fare with English beer.
Information and Services
The Cafetal Café (tel. 506/2777-0777, 7:15am-10pm daily), next to Hotel Villas Si Como No, offers Internet service, including Wi-Fi, as does Espadilla Tours & Internet (tel. 506/2777-5334), by the beach. Lavandería Lucimaria (tel. 506/2777-2164), near Gaia Hotel, is a laundry.
La Academia de Español D’Amore (tel. 506/2777-0233), about three kilometers (2 miles) south of Quepos; Costa Rica Spanish Institute (COSI, tel. 506/2777-0021); and El Paraíso Spanish Language School (tel. 506/2777-4681) have Spanish-language programs.
Public buses depart Quepos for Manuel Antonio and the national park ($0.60) every 30 minutes 7am-10pm daily and will pick you up (and drop you off) along the road if you flag them down. A metered taxi from Quepos to Manuel Antonio will cost about $7.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.