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 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 Manuel Antonio National Park , immediately south (the entire region south of Quepos is referred to as Manuel Antonio). The beachfront by the park gets jam-packed!
This 12-hectare nature refuge (tel. 506/2777-0850, www.wildliferefugecr.com , 8 A.M.–4 P.M. Mon.–Sat.) is a project of Hotel Si Como No and features multilevel trails that wind through a netted butterfly garden ($15 adults, $8 children), crocodile and caiman lagoon ($20 with the butterfly garden), and natural poison-dart-frog exhibits ($30 with other exhibits). The forested reserve is excellent for sighting monkeys and other endangered wildlife.
Guided nature walks (hourly, $10) are offered, as is a Jungle Night Walk (5:30 P.M. daily, $35)—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 4 P.M. and 6 P.M.
El Avión (tel. 506/2777-3378, 2–10 P.M. 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 and, according to the posted spiel, when shot down by the Sandinistas 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, 7 P.M.–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 bartop. For live music, head to Bambu Jam (tel. 506/2777-3369, 6–10 P.M. daily), with live Latin music Tuesday and Friday.
For cocktails, Karolas (tel. 506/2777-8880, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. 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 8 P.M.–midnight.
By midnight, it’s time to head down to Liquid Lounge Disco (tel. 506/2777-5158, 8 P.M.–2 A.M. 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.
How about a movie in a surround-sound theater? Then head to Si Como No (tel. 506/2777-0777) for dinner, which grants you free entrance to the nightly movie at 8:30 P.M.
Manuel Antonio Surf School (tel. 506/2777-4842, www.masurfschool.com ) offers surf lessons; it has a beach outlet. For white-water thrills, check in with Quepoa Expeditions (tel. 506/2777-0058, www.quepoa.com ), which has inflatable kayak (“rubber duckies”) trips; or Amigos del Río (tel. 506/2777-0082, www.amigosdelrio.net ), which offers kayaking and white-water rafting on the Savegre River.
For a relaxing massage or health treatment, check into the Raindrop Spa (tel. 506/2777-2880, www.raindropspa.com ); or Serenity Spa (tel. 506/2777-0777, ext. 220, www.sicomono.com ) at Hotel Si Como No.
For quality art, head to Regalame (tel. 506/2777-0777, www.regalameart.com , 7:15 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), at Hotel Si Como No; or Galería Yara (tel. 506/2777-4846, 9 A.M.–9 P.M. Mon.–Sat.), in Plaza Yara.
A metered taxi from Quepos to Manuel Antonio will cost about $7.