Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Pressed between Nicaragua and Panama is the beautiful country of Costa Rica and where my first trip to Latin America took me. I stayed in a villa located on the pacific coast in the town of Manuel Antonio. It is roughly a 3 hr drive by taxi from the San Jose International Airport, and full of tropical vegetation and cute little monkeys.
Manuel Antonio is a unique location that offered a blend of tourism and local culture. I went in January which lies in the middle of the high season (December-March). I anticipated a bigger crowd of people on holiday, but was pleasantly surprised. Finding a spot on the beach La Playa Espidilla was never a problem, the catamaran snorkel I went on barely had people on it, and the big attractions weren't crowded at all. The weekends were no different from the weekdays, however during the week at around 2 pm more people started strolling in. Younger kids I assumed were heading to the beach after class to relax with friends and to catch a few waves.
Before we left I never went and exchanged US dollars for Colones, (which was poor planning on my part) but US dollars are excepted everywhere. I don't speak spanish, but I have taken a few classes and what I remember from those and the app I downloaded on my cell phone, communicating wasn't too difficult. I got around by either walking or taking a taxi. A taxi ran me about 4$ round trip and I chose to tip. Tipping wasn't customary, but I wanted to. Tax drivers were very friendly and very helpful.
I stayed in a villa for the first time rather than at a hotel or hostel and it was perfect! The villa slept seven, with two bathrooms, two porches, a patio, laundry accommodations, and full kitchen. The villa was surrounded by a lush and colorful garden and enclosed by a tall metal fence. Many of the nice villas where I stayed were surrounded by tall fencing and fully equipped with security systems. I have to admit at first it was somewhat over whelming, but at no time did I ever feel unsafe. Also, along with the villa came a very nice groundskeeper names Jorge. He did all the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and transportation arrangements. He spoke almost no english and forced me to test my spanish skills, which I really enjoyed. I was not expecting him to do so much, but his authentic cooking was better than any restaurant I dined at while there. I do admit that I felt a little spoiled. All and all the villa was an amazing option and I highly recommend renting one.
While there I relaxed on the beach, went on a guided snorkel, visited the Manuel Antonio National Park, toured a vanilla plantation, and spent time at a spa. Normally I really enjoy doing excursions everyday. I always feel the need to jam pack my days with things to do, simply to ensure that I don't miss out on anything. This however was my first trip while pregnant, and I couldn't engage in some of the activities I originally planned on. I was afraid that I would miss out on some really cool things to do, but I took the time to relax and really enjoyed a true "vacation." Every excursion I did was unique to the area and thoroughly satisfying. I do feel like Costa Rica is some place I will go back to and when I do I will make sure to do the things i was unable to do.