If we're not losing ourselves in wild lands, we're getting cozy in a charming town or village somewhere. When looking to choose destinations like these on coastlines, we have one, principal guiding rule: follow the surfers! We don't surf ourselves, but where there are surfers, there are good, cheap food options, reasonably priced places to stay, and a fun, laid back and memorable vibe. In Costa Rica, our research drew our attention to the town of Quepos, named after the indigenous Quepoa people of this region, and now home to a population of over 20,000.
Located on an inlet and backed by rainforest, Quepos is a busy, small harbour town known as being the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Banana plantations fuelled the economy in the past, but when disease and flood devastated the crop, agricultural interests turned to African Palms. This agricultural history brought people from several Central American countries (Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador), creating a diverse mix of cultures that can still be found there.
Today, it's the tourism industry that drives Quepos' economy and vibe. Manuel Antonio National Park is a famous destination attracting many ecotourists. With such easy access to so much, there's plenty to do: scuba diving; canopy tours; horseback riding; kayaking; surfing; white water rafting; sport fishing; and, a botanical butterfly garden. Some like to visit the chocolate, spice, and vanilla farms about 10 miles outside of town, and there are even iguana tours!. There is easy hiking to be had in the national park, and guides know where to find the wildlife. For more challenging hikes, tour companies take people out to the Talamaca Mountain Range, about 30 km east of the town. Two hours away is the highest peak in Costa Rica, Mount Chirripó, which peaks at 12,500 feet.
The Damas Estuery and Mangroves offer wonderful wetland exploration by kayak, boat or paddleboard:
"The mangrove serves as a nursery and home for many different species of fish that use the safe tangled mess of roots of the trees as a place for young fish to mature before going out to sea. Also, the mangrove provide a safe haven for mangrove crabs, shrimp, oysters, and mussels." Creescapes.com
While Manuel Antonio National Park is beautiful, the private Rainmaker nature reserve has species of birds and is rumoured to be more visually spectacular:
"The Rainmaker Ariel Walkway is considered one of Costa Rica's must experiences. Six suspension bridges that are pushing 800 feet (245 meters) long and 25 stories high above the lush and lively rainforest in Quepos. Although its star has faded a bit, the place is still regarded as one of the region’s best. A self-guided trip through the aerial walkway costs US$20 per person. There are short interpretive trails that enable visitors to identify some of the local plants, and some long and strenuous trails into the heart of the 20-sq-km preserve. A large colorful sign marks the turnoff for Rainmaker on the Costanera Sur at the northern end of Pocares (15km west of Quepos). From the turnoff it's 7km to the parking area." LonelyPlanet.com Rainmakercostarica.org
For those looking for a more leisurely time, the area is quite known for its waterfalls with natural swimming pools, as well as two long stretches of sandy beaches.
We'll be visiting during the high season (December to April), but if you want to see a real party, apparently being there for the Festival del Mar in February makes for a lively time. May through November are slow because that's the hot, rainy season - but if all you want to do is dream, think and read, it might be ideal.
Being quite popular with travelers the town boasts a great nightlife and restaurant scene for its size. You can catch the best view while eating at the Mirador resturant in the Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort. What some consider one of the best restaurants in Costa Rica can be found here, Marlin Restaurant. The best seafood in town is said to served by Runaway Grill.
It's a very walkable place with lots of friendly locals. Despite its hum, the town's known for keeping its signature Costa Rican "Tico" feel, a word used affectionately to describe authentic native Costa Rican culture. The term "Tico" illustrates one of the quirks of Costa Rican spanish:
"What is unique to Costa Rica is the use of this suffix to also denote affection. Words ending in -ico, -ica, -tico, -tica do not only mean “small”, but they also depict affection and similar endearing feelings too." Ticolingo.com
Once your time in Quepos is done you might consider a change of scenery for your next destination. If you go just an hour in-land from Manuel Antonio, you can experience the Santa Juana Lodge. It looks like a fantastic way to enjoy mountain vibes. There's a great detailed description on CultureTrip.com.
To learn a bit about the history of Quepos check out this link:
For a well rated Hostel in Quepos, consider:
Here are a couple of more hotels that came up as well-rated in our research into the surrounding area: Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge
More on Quepos: https://en.wikivoyage.org/wiki/Quepos
While there's lots to do in and around Quepos, the village of Dominical is what draws the surfers. This former fishing village has one main road and a reputation for barefoot hippies, but investment eyes are set on it becoming a major travel destination as tourist spillover continues to move south of Quepos.
The only thing that stopped us from staying here were the accommodation options: either very rustic hostels or quite luxurious villas and not much in between. Fortunately, it's only 45 min south of Quepos by taxi (1.5 h by bus).
It's known for having great waves all year round. Many of the international surfers who find their way here prefer beach camping to the hotels or hostels of the quirky village. Swimming, however, is discouraged as strong riptides can be found along the whole beach.
A few kilometers inland from Playa Dominical there are dozens of waterfalls. The most popular trek in the area is to the beautiful tiered Nauyaca Waterfall. The trail is about 2.5 miles long.
Everywhere we looked we found mention of Tortilla Flats. Apparently popular with both locals and tourists, this open-air bar and restaurant is one of the coolest in Costa Rica.
Just north of the city is the well regarded Hacienda Baru, a hotel and wildlife refuge.
A 23 min drive south of Dominical is Playa Uvita. This is a relatively undiscovered gorgeous beach perfect for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, and for whale and dolphin watching. Near Uvita is also the Marino Ballena National Park which happens to be one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot humpback whales. For more info on Dominical: Wikivoyage.org/wiki/Dominical
Places To Stay:
We can't wait to update you with all our cool finds when we're back from our trip!
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