Costa Rica days 3 & 4: Day trips around Quepos

On Monday we headed south from Quepos to Dominical and Uvita to check out the beaches. We first stopped at Dominical, navigating the extremely rough dirt road to check out the beach where the river Rio Baru meets the ocean. It had good surfing waves.

We then drove down to Uvita to visit Ballena Marine National Park and walked along the expansive beach to Isla Ballena, a small little sand bar type island only accessible during low tide. During low tide when the sandbar and connecting sand bridge is visible, it’s shaped like a whale’s tail – hence the word Ballena! Well, they also say that whales migrate past this beach in the winter, so maybe that’s also a contributing factor.

After taking a dip in the calm waters sheltered by the sandbar, we made the long walk back to the car, during which we spotted many sanddollars on the beach. Afterwards we went to Dominical for lunch, stopping at the rather disappointing Patron’s Bar and Grill.

We then drove back south to take a quick stroll at Playa Hermosa before returning to view the sunset from our porch once again.

We dined at Emilio’s Cafe which had delicious food, good service and a live jazz band. We topped the night off with some awkward family photos on the porch.

On Tuesday we drove north to Rainmaker, a rainforest conservation project. We took the self guided river walk and suspension bridge canopy tour. The tour was more strenuous than it sounded, but we saw many waterfalls, little pools you can swim in, and the suspension bridges were pretty awesome. After climbing many stairs on the tour, we enjoyed local craft beer Perro Vida, brewed on site. It was quite good. A hummingbird visited us while we were hanging out.

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We then headed back down south to Playa Espadilla, which is the beach just outside Manuel Antonio Park. We had lunch at Marlin Grill, another disappointing lunch spot but at least that had a view of the beach. After lunch we headed to the beach for some lounging under a beach umbrella and strolling down the beach.

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The tide was coming in right before sunset, so we packed up and headed back to El Avion for a drink at the bar while viewing a particularly lovely sunset. For dinner we went to the Marina and tried Z Gastropoda, where the food was good, souls vide chicken was on the menu, and my kale salad was missing kale.

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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 last day: Watching planes land at Maho Beach

Tuesday was our last day in Saint Martin. Our flight back to the states wasn’t until 3 pm so we had some time to enjoy some final sights. I started out with a run again, but this time on the beach. I went to the north end of Orient Beach, where some studio apartments we had considered renting are located. So glad we didn’t rent those! The seaweed smell down there was intense and there was no beach bar. Obligatory beach run selfie:

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After I returned and we finished packing, we walked down the street to a little bakery / creperie for breakfast. I had an apple beignet and a croissant. Croissants at the french bakeries were delicious, so much better than I’ve ever had in Austin.  Carl loves crepes and I finally talked him into a breakfast crepe. He had one with apricot jam.
  After we loaded everything into the car we headed to Maho beach to watch the planes land while hanging out at Sunset Bar & Grill. We got great views of the planes coming in to land right over the beach.  The big, most exciting fight of the day is a KLM 747 from the Netherlands.
  It’s the one you see in all the photos.   So I got some photos too. None of the planes came in as low as they sometimes do, but it was still cool to watch.
 After that we drove around a bit and did some final shopping before going the airport to wait in the longest, slowest lines for everything. When we landed in Atlanta, we were able to very quickly breeze through customs because of the global entry program we’ve both signed up for. I highly recommend it if you are a frequent international traveler!

Saint Martin day 10: Kayaking to Ilet Pinel 

On our final full day in Saint Martin, I started out with a short run, just to be able to upload a GPS track from Saint Martin. I first ran on the flat roads but then headed up a hill from some lovely views that I stopped to photo and then instagram:

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Once I was back, we decided to go back to our favorite beach, Ilet Pinel. This time, we decided to rent a double kayak and kayak our way over there. The beach where you get the ferry or rent kayaks had a huge amount of seaweed washed up on shore. Which then rots. This entire corner of the island smells awful because of the seaweed. Luckily, the wind blew into Saint Martin rather than towards Ilet Pinel, so we were quickly able to escape the smell after we paddled a bit beyond the seaweed.  As we were paddling hard into a very stiff headwind, this kiteboarder was standing on a shallow section in the water before he started riding.
  A pelican on the rocks near Petite Clef, a tiny little island on the way to Ilet Pinel.  We made it eventually. It was definitely an arm workout because of the high winds.
    This time, we lounged at the other beach bar, called Yellow Beach. There’s a good reason all the things we read talked about Karibuni beach bar, which we did on our first trip over. The food we had for lunch seemed to be frozen stuff they deep fried. Everything was plain, boring, and way overpriced 😦
  We did see the iguanas. all sizes of them… they were taking food from people’s hands!   In the early afternoon, the server started putting out tables in the water – they had giant pointy ends that he would work into the sand and then leave a bucket of ice with a bottle of wine. It was great to watch these people get progressively drunker.
  For dinner, we stayed close to home, eating at La Voile Blanche. Carl started off with a giant salad.  I had the creole tasting menu, and once again my dinner wasn’t very exciting. I started with a trio of smoked fish. It was giant for being a starter.
  Carl had a lamb shank, which he says was very good.  My conch fricasee was not exciting. Not spicy, the conch was very tough, and there weren’t enough vegetables. 
  Dessert was fantastic through, bananas flambe again. This one was paired with a delicious macaron. 

Saint Martin day 9: Pic Paradis and Loterie Farm

On Sunday we ventured up the steep, narrow, and windy road to the highest point on Saint Martin, Pic Paradis. We were told if we headed for the radio tower off to one side of the peak, we’d find a trail to hike up the ridge. It turned out to be a short trail but the peak had amazing views. 

The view of etang aux poissons (a salt pond) and Le Galion:
  Marigot:

After coming back down the hill a bit we stopped at Loterie Farm, an old plantation that has a micro climate that is wetter than the rest of Saint Martin. It has hiking trails, extensive zip lining, a super fancy pool you have to pay to access, and two restaurants on site. We were there to hike and did a relatively short hike through the trees and past some springs.
  After climbing up jumbled rocks for a while we came to a great overlook with a view of Marigot.  
  After making it back down we stopped in the Tree Lounge for refreshing frozen drinks of course.  
The we headed into the Hidden Forest Cafe for lunch. I had the salad special which was very good.

Carl went for a fish sandwich, but it wasn’t as good as the one he’d had at a beach club previously. 
   
After lunch we headed back to Orient Bay and lounged on the beach chairs there. The visibility was the best it had been all week and the color of the water was gorgeous, despite the high winds. 

  That night we went to Philipsburg for dinner. Before eating we strolled along the boardwalk but most places were closed because it was Sunday. We did pause at a little bar with a few locals and had some rum punch.

I took a few long exposure shots along the boardwalk. I love the one below because the dog laying all alone on the beach was a common sight, the island has a high number of wandering dogs.  
  For dinner we went to Chesterfields, a place our Fodors book claimed is a hit with tourists and locals. We found the food good, but once again, not great. I missed a photo of our conch appetizer. Carl had a steak and I had grouper.  
 

Saint Martin day 8: Hiking to Petite Cay from Anse Marcel

 On Saturday we started with breakfast at the little French bakery and cafe across the street from our apartment. We both ordered breakfast sandwiches which were served on an entire half of a baguette. We also had delicious croissants so half of my sandwich went back as leftovers.     

On our bike tour guide’s recommendation, we headed to a trail head in Anse Marcel to hike around Pointe des Froussards to Petite Cayes, a secluded set of beaches.
The first part of the hike was a gravel road that took us above Anse Marcel with a view of the marina there when there was a break in the brush. Next came some single track trail with interesting plant markers along the way. There were giant air plants which are apparently related to pineapple, this one was growing on a rock:

  

After climbing some rough trail for awhile we were rewarded with fantastic views of Petite Cayes.  

But then of course we had to scramble down some huge rocks to get to the water.      

We found a nice shaded bench to hang out on, read, and eat lunch. We explored the coast line and Carl swam in the waves for a bit before we hiked back out.   

We obviously deserved frozen fruity drinks after our hike so we stopped at a little bar on Anse Marcel beach and had some delicious drinks.  

Then we swam in the calm waters before heading back to our apartment.   

That evening we went into Grand Case for dinner at La Villa. The main waiter was super friendly and started us out with a free glass of champagne and an amuse bouche of tasty cold vegetable soup.

We started with an appetizer from the special board, baked Brie cheese with asparagus and a side of salad, all very good.  

For my meal I ordered the scallop appetizer, not realizing how tiny the scallops would be. At least they were delicious, paired with avocado, tomato, and sweet potato. Many of my much larger meals were not nearly this good.   

Carl had duck breast for his dinner and says it was very good, one of the better meals he had on vacation.   

Our dessert was a pear tart paired with a cold pear compote and caramel ice cream. Caramel ice cream isn’t my favorite, but the tart and compote were amazing. 
    
   

Saint Martin day 7: A guided bike tour and Le Galion beach

On Friday we went on a guided bike tour. We were the only people on the tour since it’s slow season. Our guide was enjoyable to chat with and showed us some great sites. We started in Simpson Bay and crossed over the large bridge, pausing at another border monument.  

From there we headed to Marigot and rode down along the bay. Apparently this ship was grounded in 1995 when hurricane Isaac hit the island. 

We continued west from Marigot on the small spit of land that goes by Baie Nettle. We paused to fill up on water.   

Our guide the took us off the beaten path to explore an abandoned resort.

Obviously we weren’t supposed to be there, but plenty of people had been there before us. The fancy bar:  

The entrance courtyard:

The view of the ocean behind some of the rooms. 

We continued around Simpson Bay Lagoon over near the airport. We took a break by the airport at Maho beach, the famous beach where giant planes come in so close you can almost touch them, or so I’m told, since I haven’t seen it happen  yet.  

We took in the view at Sunset Bar and Grill and enjoyed the beach view. Around that time we noticed that traffic around the airport was stalled. We quickly learned that there was a bomb threat at the airport, closing down the only road back to where we started.  

Our guide proposed a different route that involved pushing our bikes along Simpson Beach for a few hundred yards, past the airport runways. It was the hardest part of our ride, the bikes were super heavy in the sand and there was a very strong headwind working against us.

But at least the view was good.   

We eventually made it back to our car. After a delicious and healthy lunch at Top Carrot in Simpson Bay we headed away from the airport to avoid the traffic jam and stopped at Le Galion, a kid friendly beach (obvious from the number of children in the photos). It was supposed to have snorkeling but we didn’t find it. Behind the beach club was some sort of abandoned building, something you see quite often on the island.

    

That night we headed to dinner at the “most romantic” restaurant on Saint Martin, Sol e Luna. It has a restaurant and guesthouse on a road off of the route to Cul de Sac. The restaurant itself definitely had a lovely ambience.

And our meal started off right with a delicious champagne mojito.   

The amuse bouche was a chilled asparagus soup with creme fraiche and the bread was lovely.

Our starter salads were simple but good. 

My entree was surprisingly disappointing. It looked lovely, but the fish wasn’t good and the veggies weren’t anything special.
  

Carl’s steak had a tasty mushroom topping, but the same veggies and a bit of potatoes.

The dessert was amazing, strawberries with fresh whipped cream and layers of pastry. 

Unfortunately like many of the expensive restaurants here, the food didn’t match the price. We could have had super amazing dinners at some of our favorite Austin restaurants for the same or less money.