We are reaching the end of our trip.
We made it to Tamarindo (our final destination). Chelsea leaves tomorrow, assuming Storm Jonas doesn’t cancel her flight. I will stay in Tamarindo for another month, teaching yoga at DreamSea Surf Camp.
We have been meeting lots of people in Tamarindo and they all have the same question: what was your favorite place in Costa Rica?
I have always hated when people ask me to pick a favorite travel place. How is it possible to pick one single moment out of so many amazing experiences? Even the little things, like dining with the 73-year-old Italian man in the hotel room next to us last night and struggling to recall my Italian vocabulary, stand out as highlights. But to say it was better (or worse) than any other part of my trip....?
I usually run away from questions about favorites, whether it is travel or color or anything in between, but for once that is not the case. When people ask Chelsea and me what our favorite part of Costa Rica was, Chelsea and I both have an answer ready in a heartbeat: Manuel Antonio.
It was the kind of place they write poetry about
It was too early.
Our breakfast was not good.
The taxi driver over-charged us.
The admission tickets were too expensive.
The sun was too hot.
Then we stepped inside the park and all of the complaining stopped. In fact, all words stopped, because we were both entirely speechless. Everywhere we looked, vibrant plant life overwhelmed our view. Trees, vines, rivers, rocks, flowers, etc. came together to create a one-of-a-kind environment.
I have hiked a lot of places, but I have never hiked anywhere like Manuel Antonio. I was completely overwhelmed by the park. If my older brother hadn’t ingrained in me the “horror” of being a “cry baby”, I probably would have had tears in my eyes.
I ran around the park like a little girl pointing to every swatch of moss and burst of color, yelling at Chelsea to come look. I couldn’t blink; my eyes were glued open as I stared in awe at this perfect example of Mother Nature’s infinite brilliance and beauty.
Go where other people don’t… even if it’s on accident
Chelsea and I accidentally took the wrong trail (I am notorious for misreading trail maps… I blame my mom). But it ended up being a blessing in disguise as we walked in the reverse direction as everyone else and practically had the park to ourselves.
We took all the side trails, avoiding the big gravel trail that was crowded with tourists, and because of that we got to see so much more. We didn’t have guides telling us where the birds were, but we also didn’t have tourists scaring them off, so we got to see tons of raccoons, birds, agouti, etc. By the time we reached to beach (yes, the hiking trails here end at beaches) the only thing we hadn’t seen were monkeys.
The main trail dead ends at the shore and everyone immediately disrobes and splashes into the ocean. I don’t blame them; at this point Chelsea and I were both dripping sweat and I was pretty sure my body would soon dry up due to the sheer quantity of fluids we were losing.
Still, we did not follow. The map showed that if we crossed the beach we would reach another trail head: Cathedral Point Trail. We were one of three people we saw do this trail, and if any of you go to Manuel Antonio, please, please, do the climb.
The minute we stepped onto the trail at least half a dozen white-faced capuchin monkeys were running towards us on either side of the trail. We saw so many monkeys along the rest of the trail that I lost count. But the monkeys weren’t the only thing that made this hidden trail worthwhile.
Neither were the cute boys we passed or the bright birds that flew in and out of the trees. The real highlight of the trail were the views. There were three viewpoints and each one offered breathtaking vistas. We stopped every time and gaped at the waves crashing against the rocks below. In the end I think the only reason we left the viewpoint was because the call of the ocean was too strong.
The trail ended at a fork in the road. One took us back to the original beach, which was covered with tourists, and the other was an unassuming trail that didn’t seem to lead to much of anything. So obviously we took the latter. Our prize? A beach all to ourselves. Well, we shared it with 6 other people, but compared to the 60 people across the way, it felt like a win.
Why our day was NEARLY perfect
With everything working in our favor, you are probably wondering why I hesitate to say it was a perfect day. After hours of hiking we swam and played in the warm water for at least another hour. In those moments, it really did feel like a perfect day. And honestly, for me that never went away.
Chelsea was the one who had to pay the price for all our fun. I have been blessed with my father’s skin which means when I get a sunburnt I get slightly red for an hour and then I just become darker brown. Chelsea, on the other hand, has Russian skin. Which means spending hours sweating and hours playing in the ocean does not sit well with her body.
We thought we reapplied religiously, but apparently we were not devout enough, because when we left the park, Chelsea’s skin had a hue reminiscent of a 49ers t-shirt that’s been washed one too many times.
“It’s not that bad,” I suggested, thinking of my own skin’s way of handling the sun.
Chelsea scowled. “Just you wait”. And she was right. The next day her skin was bright as a tomato (which, up until then, I had always thought was a hyperbole). She couldn’t wear her backpack without grimacing and actually showed signs of sun poisoning at dinner.
She’s fine now and we are back to playing in the ocean (this time with a greater commitment to our sunscreen), but the experience taught us an important lesson: fun has its price… but it’s generally worth paying.