“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset”. – Richie Norton
Exhausted and achy after 13 hours of travel, we finally arrived at our hotel in Manuel Antonio. It had been an extremely long day, especially for the kids, but we were all in high spirits to finally arrive at our much-awaited destination. I had been wanting to go to Manuel Antonio ever since I first visited Costa Rica in 2011 on a volunteer trip. A group of fellow volunteers had went for a weekend but as a mother of young children, I could not afford to be gone any longer than a week. I had to go home despite a deep unfilled wish of seeing it.
Fast forward 6 years, in the midst of planning our 9 day family adventure in Costa Rica that long seeded desire to visit Manual Antonio National Park arose from hibernation and a little voice kept telling me I had to finally go see it even if it would require a significant amount of time spent in the car driving. As I mentioned in my past post, we flew into Liberia Airport in the north of the country and to reach Manuel Antonio required a long five hour drive down a one-way highway snaking in and out of little beach towns. Yet I had my heart set on seeing Manuel Antonio so the plan was made to get the long drive out of the way immediately on the front end of our trip. I can thank my husband for his wise thinking.
The entire drive down to Manuel Antonio I secretly wondered if I would truly be satisfied by visiting. I had just spent a week in the remote, undeveloped Osa Peninsula in January and literally had the place to myself. Its raw, untouched beauty and lack of mass tourism made it a paradise on earth and supported my mission to travel responsibly by engaging in sustainable, ethical travel. Manuel Antonio would be quite different as it is known as the first ecotourism destination in Costa Rica so the area has suffered over the years with mass tourism, overdevelopment, and unsustainable practices that have negatively impacted the culture, environment and wildlife of this magical place. A complicated feeling of guilt mixed with pleasure swirled around inside my head.
When we arrived in Quepos, the bustling town located right outside of the park, it was clear that it was nothing at all like Puerto Jimenez in the Osa Peninsula. Street after street was packed with souvenir shops, restaurants and an overwhelmingly amount of tourists. My stomach dropped in initial disappointment yet I should not have been surprised based on all I had read.
We drove the 4 1/2 miles (7 km) through town, constantly avoiding cars and people, climbing up the lush green rain forested hills of Manuel Antonio. Resort after resort dotted the tiny road with gates and security guards and pristine landscaping. I confess it was beautiful yet a stark difference between the tiny town of Drake Bay in the Osa whose sweeping views of rainforest and jungle are unobstructed.
We pulled into the gates of our resort and were relieved to finally be there. After much research and careful consideration, we decided to stay at one of the best resorts in town, Tulemar Vacation Rentals. It would be a far cry from my cheap, local lodging in the Osa and would not exactly follow my mission of staying and supporting local travel. Yet it would have some clear advantages over some of the other choices in the area. First, we would have our own private villa with one large bedroom, a large balcony and a kitchen. Second, we would be in walking distance to all the restaurants so we did not need to rent a car. And lastly and perhaps the most essential is that the resort has its own private beach and park reserve. Unfortunately the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio are very small, overcrowded with hardly a place to relax. Having our own beach away from all the crowds to relax and unwind sounded amazing. I just had to fight with that little voice inside my head reminding me I was staying at a gated compound instead of at a locally-owned ecolodge. (Side note: After thinking about this issue extensively, I contacted Tulemar via email with a list of questions about their sustainability practices. I got some excellent information which I will share in my next post on Tulemar).
We checked in, and loaded our luggage into one of Tulemar’s vans to bring us to our Villa. I naively thought we could walk but the complex is huge and the roads throughout it are extremely steep. So steep that my calves ached walking to and from the beach (you can of course take the van but I preferred to walk). It is also quite large with lots of different accommodations and even a few privately owned homes. I hadn’t expected it to be so big! There are even a few different pools within the complex depending on your need (a family, adults only, and the sunset pool).
We reached our villa just as the sun was beginning to make its initial descent. We walked out on the large balcony and were rewarded with an astounding view of the jungle and sea below. It made our long day of travel completely worth the effort.
Inside, we had a full kitchen, living area with a sleepable couch, and a beautiful bedroom with two queen beds and bathroom. It would be perfect for our family of four.
As the sun cast its beautiful hues of pinks, oranges and golds, I popped open a bottle of red wine and watched the sunset with my family. The birds were singing, and a pair of nesting scarlet macaws flew overhead. In that moment, I knew we were off to an incredible adventure in Costa Rica. Our first big family trip was going to be amazing.
Stay tuned….the next morning was an early rise to take a small guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with a highly recommended naturalist (who ranks in the top five “things to do on TripAdvisor” in Manuel Antonio National Park!).