Costa Rica days 5 & 6: Quepos to Jaco to Arenal Volcano

On Wednesday we packed up all of our stuff for our last ride down the crazy hill that our condo was located on and headed to the beach town of Jaco, about an hour drive north. During the trip we pulled over to take a look at Playa Hermosa, a black volcanic sand beach with huge waves.

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After checking into our condo we walked around Jaco for a bit, checked out the beach, and then had lunch at the Tacobar.

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The condo courtyard

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Playa Jaco

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Tacobar has swings you can sit on along the bar, and a salad bar for extra taco fixings

During a later afternoon walk, Carl and I finally saw some Macaws! There were 6 of them sitting in a tree near the beach until Carl got too close and scared them off. They sure do squawk a lot!

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We also found a microbrewery in Jaco called Puddle Fish. We later went to the attached restaurant, Side Street for dinner.

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On our way to dinner we went through the town park and took in the Christmas lights. Dinner at Side Street was good, but they were out of many menu items and almost all of their house brewed beer due to some holiday party they hosted the night before. Needless to say, Carl was disappointed.

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On Thursday we left Jaco after picking up some pastries from a local Panaderia and headed north again, this time towards La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. On our way we paused at the Crocodile bridge, a place where many crocodiles apparently hang out. This fearless white bird just stood in the middle of them until one came too close and it would flutter to a new spot about 10 feet away.crblogjacotoarenal-8

We stopped for a short nature walk at Carara National Park. Immediately after I stopped for this photo of me and an anteater statue Carl pointed out a live one! It took some patience to get a photo of him through the trees in the light, but eventually I did.

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Anteater! Furrier and cuter than I expected.

The next part of our trip was quite an adventure. We were using a combination of offline Google maps and Maps.Me for GPS navigation and both sent us on a very rough back road towards Arenal Volcano. We got some lovely views up in the mountains.

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The road turned to gravel at some point, and had some very steep inclines. Eventually, not too far past the photo below, we came to a section that our rental car absolutely could not make it up due to the incline and ruts in the road. We had to turn around and head back to a more established route, no thanks to Google or Maps.Me.

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After driving most of the daylight away we finally arrived at the Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa just in time to watch the sunset. We kept our fingers crossed that the top of the volcano would show itself, but the cloud cover would not go away. Our cabin did have a nice little porch with a view of the volcano. The resort has hot springs on site so we made sure to take advantage of that amenity in the evening.

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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica days 1 & 2

Early Saturday morning we boarded our flight from Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica. After an hour delay, we were on our way. After arriving in San Jose, we picked up our luggage and rental car and hit the road to Quepos. After some exciting driving getting out of San Jose, we were on the toll road for a while before stopping for lunch at a roadside stand selling authentic Costa Rica food – we all had rice & black beans, plantains, and either meat or fried cheese.

Upon arriving in Quepos we met the manager of the AirBnB property I booked and took a truly terrifying drive up a steep and curvy hillside to our house with an awesome view.

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Rental house up a steep hill

 

We settled in, hit up a local supermarket, and then had birthday dinner for Mom at La Luna at GAIA Hotel & Reserve. The food was good and I imagine that the view would have been good if it weren’t dark outside.

Sunday we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park for hiking, beach time, and to meet the monkeys. The hiking trails were well maintained with a ton of steps. We saw a ton of wildlife at the park: white faced monkeys, squirrel monkeys, three toed sloths (including a mamma with a baby), leaf cutter ants, iguanas and other lizards, coatimundi, and agouti. The white faced monkeys were particularly numerous and excited about people, we definitely saw people feed them when they shouldn’t!

Beach at Manuel Antonio Park

Beach at Manuel Antonio park

Viewing the fish trap built by natives a long time ago to catch fish at low tide

White faced monkey

Squirrel monkey

Coatimundi (similar to a raccoon)

Iguana

Leaf cutter ants

We stopped for lunch at El Avion and enjoyed a great view and good food next to an old airplane converted into a bar.

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Carl enjoying some seafood curry

After that we went on a bike canopy tour… which basically is a little carriage hanging from a cable amongst the trees and you use a throttle to go fast / slow down. The bike part is simply that there are bike pedals that you can put your feet on but don’t do anything. It was pretty fun to slowly move amongst the trees, even if only one of us saw a sloth. I did see a vulture with a red head.

We watched a lovely sunset from our porch and then eventually headed back down to Quepos for dinner at Runaway Grill in the marina area.

Our porch view

 

Saint Martin vacation days 1 & 2

Arrival Day

Lots of flying but we made it. Crazy airport, of course, and slightly scary driving.
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After finding our cute little apartment on Orient Bay, we hit the market for some essentials (like wine) and then had dinner at Le Piment, a short walk from our apartment. The salads and pizza were amazing. Check out the plating on Carl’s Salad!
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Day 2: Sunday driving tour

On Sunday we woke up early and took a stroll down Orient Beach, which is about 100 yards from our apartment. Unfortunately, this is the time of year where high winds blow in off the Atlantic so the surf on our beach is quite rough. The walk was nice, we saw the other place we considered staying and are glad we picked this apartment. We also found the nude beach. Yep. People were walking on it. Nude (older) people.
View of Orient beach from the north end, after hiking up the hill a bit:
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After deciding that it was too windy to stay at our beach, we took a driving tour of the island. The first stop was at the north end of the island, Anse Marcel. We quickly learned that driving on Saint Martin is scary, with very narrow and extremely hilly roads. It didn’t help that our rental car has no power and is laughable trying to make it up the really steep sections.
Anse Marcel is a little sheltered beach, with only a few hotels. The water was calm and gorgeous:
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Our next stop was Grand Case, the culinary capital of Saint Martin. We walked the length of the town and then had lunch at Talk of the Town, a “lolo” which is a street side stand supposedly, but seemed like a restaurant to us. I had some rum punch ( of course) and a whole smoked red snapper. Head and all. It was amazing!
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My whole red snapper:Evernote Camera Roll 20150629 220047
The beach at Grand Case:
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We then headed to Marigot, but just drove through because the tourist office was closed.
Our next stop was Baie Rouge, an amazing beach that we will definitely return to lounge and snorkel.
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We next looped around by Mullet Beach and Simpson Beach, but parking near both was overflowing so we didn’t stop. However, we were able to stop at Little Bay Beach, where I took my first iguana photo. The beach itself was very nice so we decided to come back.
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We entered the beach through a hotel. The flags show you the wind:
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And in Philipsburg we ran into the PwC building!
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Our last stop was at Dawn beach, but we basically walked out, turned around and walked back to the car. We then returned back to our apartment and rested up for dinner.
There are a number of interesting restaurants right down near the beach where we’re staying so we opted to go there for dinner. We ended up at Cote Plages, a French restaurant. Everything is so wonderfully plated here, but I neglected to get a photo of the starter, which was a mushroom and spinach pie with a salad and cold soup.
Carl had a duck shepherds pie for his entree and I had a creole mahi mahi dish. We finished with a dessert called pineapple carpaccio, which we came to realize later is quite common here. All of my dinner photos aren’t high quality because I used my phone. Flash photography with my Canon DSLR in a restaurant is beyond my skills.
Creole mahi mahi (Good flavor, but not enough spice and the fish was a bit overdone):
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Carl’s Shepherd Pie with duck – he says it was good:
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Pineapple carpaccio:
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We also learned that its customary for restaurants to give you a digestif of house infused rum to finish your meal. This place gave us passion fruit and strawberry, and passion fruit was the clear winner.
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I made friends with the restaurant cat, giving her little bits of my fish.
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