The small yet booming port town of Quepos (pop. 12,000) is the gateway for travelers heading to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, seven kilometers (4.5 miles) south over a sinuous mountain road lined with hotels, restaurants, and bars. Banana plantations were established in the nearby flatlands in the 1930s, and Quepos rose to prominence as a banana-exporting port. The plantations were blighted by disease in the 1950s, and the bananas were replaced by African palms, which produce oil for food, cosmetics, and machines. The trees stretch in neatly ordered rows for miles north and south of Quepos.

The mangrove forest at the Río Damas estuary is home to crocodiles, monkeys, pumas, coatimundis, and wading and water birds by the thousands.Quepos is sportfishing central, and was so even before the 196-slip Marina Pez Vela (tel. 506/2777-9069) opened in 2010. Half a dozen or so sportfishing outfits are based here.

The waters off Quepos’s El Cocal beach are contaminated—no swimming! There’s little of interest to see in town, except perhaps the dilapidated fishing village of Boca Vieja, with rickety plank walkways extending over a muddy beach; and the equally dilapidated old residential compound of the Standard Fruit Company in the hills south of town.

White-faced monkey at Isla Damas. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

White-faced monkey at Isla Damas. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Estero Damas

The mangrove forest at the Río Damas estuary is home to crocodiles, monkeys, pumas, coatimundis, and wading and water birds by the thousands. Isla Damas lies on the ocean side of the estuary, which can be explored by boat from the dock two kilometers (1.2 miles) southwest of Damas, which is four kilometers (2.5 miles) north of Quepos on Highway 34.

Chino’s Monkey Tours (tel. 506/2777-0015) offers two- to four-hour boat tours (from $25) from the dock; Chino, the owner, also offers fishing trips, kayaking, and night tours. Iguana Tours (tel. 506/2777-2052) and Kayak Lodge (tel. 506/2777-6620) offer similar trips from their own dock; the turnoff from the highway is by the soccer field in Damas, where the Hotel Kayak Lodge (tel. 506/2777-6620) offers kayaking tours of the mangroves.

Río Naranjo

Rancho Los Tucanes (tel. 506/2777-0775), near Londres on the banks of the Río Naranjo. about 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Quepos, offers ATV tours, white-water rafting, and horseback rides to the 90-meter (300-foot) Los Tucanes waterfall in a private wildlife reserve.

Rafters passing through lowland rainforest on the Río Naranjo. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Rafters passing through lowland rainforest on the Río Naranjo. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

En route you’ll pass Villa Vanilla (tel. 506/2779-1155), at Buena Vista, 10 kilometers (6 miles) east of Quepos, an organic spice farm with three kilometers (2 miles) of trails. It has fascinating two-hour educational tours (9am and 1pm Mon.-Sat., 9am Sun., $20) that include a hike to a massive ceiba tree.

Buses run from Quepos to Londres six times 4:30am-6pm daily.

Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour

Deep in the Fila Chonta mountains, inland of Quepos, the community of Santa Juana is at the center of an ambitious ecological project established by Jim Damalas, owner of the Hotel Villas Si Como No in Manuel Antonio. Community members are engaged in ecotourism projects, such as breeding butterflies, reforestation, and growing and making products for use in local hotels. Meanwhile, the 1,000-hectare (2,470-acre) terrain is a pristine mountain sanctuary with trails, waterfalls, and natural swimming pools. The Santa Juana Rural Mountain Adventure Tour (tel. 506/2777-1043, $125 pp) grants access and provides an educational “farm experience” (such as picking coffee or citrus) that includes a campesino lunch. An INBio biological station is planned, and there’s a butterfly garden and a snake exhibit. The tour can be combined with a canopy zip-line safari.

Sports and Recreation

For guided horseback tours, try Finca Valmy Tours (tel. 506/2779-1118); you can even overnight on a six-hour round-trip ride into the mountains and Santa María de Dota. Fourtrax Adventures (tel. 506/2777-1829) and ATV Quad Adventures (tel. 506/2777-6600) specialize in ATV tours. You can rent boats from Tres Niñas Boat Rental (tel. 506/8305-0041) for whale-watching and fishing.

Segway (tel. 506/2777-5151), at Marina Pez Vela, offers tours around town and at Isla Cocal aboard Segways. Surfers are served by the Tropical Surf School (tel. 506/2774-0001).

For a one-stop adventure experience, head to ADR Adventure Park (tel. 506/2777-0082), at San Antonio de Damas, with waterfall rappelling, a zip line, a waterfall zip line, a 4WD safari, and more. An all-day experience costs $130.

Canopy and Canyoneering Tours

For adrenaline-driven zip-line canopy tours, contact Canopy Safari (tel. 506/2777-0100) or Titi Canopy Tour (tel. 506/2777-3130). If getting soaked while rappelling a waterfall sounds like fun, call Quepos Canyoning (tel. 506/2779-1127). Midworld Costa Rica (tel. 506/2777-7181), a 30-minute drive from Quepos, also has zip-lining, rappelling, a Superman line, a high ropes puzzle course, and ATVs on its own forest reserve in the mountains.

Kayaking, Rafting, and Water Sports

Iguana Tours (tel. 506/2777-2052) offer sea-kayaking trips, boat tours of the mangroves, river-rafting trips, and horseback rides. H2O Adventures (tel. 506/2777-4092), a franchise of Ríos Tropicales, has similar tours; Quepoa Expeditions (tel. 506/2777-0058) has inflatable kayak (“rubber duckies”) trips; and Amigos del Río (tel. 506/2777-0082) offers kayaking and white-water rafting on the Río Savegre. Safari Mangrove Tours (tel. 506/2777-7111) specializes in kayak trips to Damas.

Whale breaching off Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Whale breaching off Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Planet Dolphin (tel. 506/2777-1647) has a boat tour in search of whales and dolphins ($65, includes snorkeling), plus a catamaran adventure to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio ($65). Sunset Sails Tours (tel. 506/2777-1304) and Blue Pearl (tel. 506/2777-2516) offer sailing excursions by trimaran. For diving, contact Oceans Unlimited (tel. 506/2777-3171).

Sportfishing

The Quepos region offers outstanding sportfishing for marlin and sailfish, December through August, while the inshore reefs are home to snapper, amberjack, wahoo, and tuna. The many operators in Quepos include: Frenzy Sportfishing (tel. 506/8851-0935), Quepos Sailfishing Charters (tel. 506/2777-2025), J. P. Sportfishing Tours (tel. 506/2777-1613), Reel Deal Sportfishing (tel. 506/8869-2522), and Bluefin Sportfishing (tel. 506/2777-0000).


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.