Howling with Monkeys in Costa Rica

We decided to start our year of travel with a vacation! You may be thinking, “isn’t your whole year a vacation?”  In some ways, yes- but in other ways, no.  We prefer to think of our year as an intentional nomadship.  Spending hours trying to figure out logistics to save money, build community, meet people, see sites, adopt cultures and volunteer can feel like a lot of work! 

Costa Rica on the other hand was no work and all play.  Kevin’s dad planned the whole Costa Rican trip, giving us time to worry about moving out of our apartment, sell our belongings, store a few precious boxes, and say goodbye to friends.  Costa Rica in January some how came about after a conversation with Kevin’s mother about renting a house on the Jersey Shore this summer.  I love where that conversation went!


We had a very early flight, 6am out of SFO.  We said goodbye to our apartment the evening before, had a last meal with a good friend, and stayed in a small boutique hotel in Chinatown for our last night in San Francisco.  After Otto fell asleep Kevin and I unpacked all of our items to see what exactly made it in our chaotic last few days.  Somehow I did not pack shorts for Otto, or socks for myself, but other than that it seemed we did pretty good.

We downsized a bit more, saying goodbye to Otto’s sippy cup and a shirt that isn’t all that comfortable when I have it on.  We then settled in for 4 hours of sleep after a hectic 18 hour day tying up loose ends with no time to stop and breath.  

Our flight on Virgin to LAX was fine.  Friendly flight attendants and a brand new plane.    As usual we hustled/charmed/begged our way to the last row with an extra seat in the middle.  Unfortunately, despite it being an international flight, we still had to pay for baggage fees, did not get any free wine or food, and all in all generally experienced a domestic flight.  The Alaska flight from LAX to Costa Rica sucked.  Old plane, unfriendly flight attendants and we had to pay for wine.  From my one experience I am not too happy about the Alaska takeover of Virgin America.  I like to start my vacation when I step on the plane, and frankly this felt like work! On both flights, Otto fell asleep too close to landing, and had to be woken up.  Three times in one day, waking a sleeping baby hurt our hearts. 

Once in Costa Rica, the family was there with a hired driver with small bus to bring us to Quepos, 3 hours away.  We stopped at a small grocery store and bought Otto a banana, tortillas, cheese, and a few bottles of water.  He fell asleep again and before we knew it we were at the top of this steep hill, waiting for a 4×4 to bring our stuff to the AirBnB.  Within 3 minutes of being out of the car in Costa Rica I saw a snake!!! 

Our house was epic.  I’ve never stayed in anything like it.  Known as Casa Castilla, it was part castle, and part jungle getaway.  We had an indoor small pool in the living room, a huge screened in wall overlooking the jungle and giant stone steps everywhere we looked.  There were even giant cement monkeys climbing torches in our living room.  The bedrooms were unique, some with spiral staircases, others with beautiful bathrooms and even one that led out over a catwalk onto the rooftop deck.  Ooh, and an infinity pool! Unfortunately nothing was baby-proof!  All uneven cement and stone, at least a dozen staircases with no railings or gates, and an indoor pool with no cover! But after a little creative thinking, moving some cushions and chairs Otto was safely contained in the kitchen and living room area.  

Each morning we were greeted by the sounds birds chirping, and a symphony of Howler Monkeys (did you know they used their sound for the T-Rex in Jurassic Park?).  Each evening, sitting in the infinity pool, we enjoyed a monkey invasion!  Dozens of white-faced monkeys would swoop in all around us eating fruits from the trees and heading in for the night.  

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Quepos is considered more of an upscale, touristy area.  That was likely reflected in the price of restaurants and the amount of “parking attendants” who charged a fee to “watch your car” while it was parked on any number of public roads or lots.  But it was perfect for our trip.  It was safe, with some of us going for a run each morning.  

Manuel Antonio National Park and beach: the key attraction of the area, and one of the only places on earth where you can find both two and three toed sloths!  Just a few kilometers from Casa Castilla, we arrived one morning to see what it was all about.  After paying a “parking attendant” we found a guide, got tickets, and headed into the park with Otto hanging out in our trusty old ergo-baby.  Although there are quite a few trails to explore, the main path is more of a dirt road through the national park.  Our guide did have a professional scope, which gave us great views of multiple sloths, frogs, snakes, and birds.  Otherwise maybe not worth the extra expense.  The real gem of the National park had to be the beach.  Pristine and beautiful, although filled with many other tourists.  It was hard to keep Otto out of the crystal clear, warm water.  We didn’t mind, because thats exactly where we wanted to hang out!  Just beware of the monkeys and raccoons.  They are everywhere and have no problem stealing your packed lunch!  

ATV Tour to the “rainmaker:” One afternoon after hiring a baby sitter through the AirBnB host, who we’ve found to be great resources for such things, we decided to take an ATV tour.  We got in a car and headed out 30 minutes down the road.  After a quick tutorial, we picked out of ATV’s, and were off!  Flying down dirt roads, and through palm plantations, we came to a jungle.  The entrance had a small restaurant and served craft beer (when the brewer decided to show up).  A short, but beautiful hike through single track trails, we arrived to “the rainmaker!”  For such a grand name, it was a pretty small waterfall.  Nevertheless, it was an great place to swim in the fresh (and cold) jungle river! 

 

Tips for traveling with babies in Costa Rica:

  • You can get anything you need, formula or baby food and treats.  But products seem to have much more sugar.  So we just fed him adult food, which we generally do anyway.
  • Otto’s Aunt Kath cut her head open when her surfboard attacked her, and good news, they have fine medical clinics!
  • Bring lots of bug spray, sunscreen and a wide brim sun hat.
  • Otto had some of his best naps on the beach.  Just find shade, you can almost always find an umbrella to rent, change the diaper, cool them off and voila!
  • Fresh coconuts provide a great drink for a little one.  Some sugar but no contamination!
  • Now that Otto is too big for the bassinet we always ask the gate agent if there is any way there is a row with an open seat.  It works 8 out of 10 times.  Having that extra seat for Otto to stretch out almost makes us think about just buying him his own seat.

If you are interested in specific restaurants keep reading! 

Ronny’s Place – It seemed that everyone we asked recommended we got to Ronny’s Place!  We arrived and sat down just before sunset, which was spectacular.  The restaurant is perched on top of a hill adjacent to small, windy road, with unobstructed, 180 degree views of the ocean.  We ordered seafood, seafood, and more seafood, which was all fresh and very delicious.  Oh, and what’s considered to be the best sangria in Costa Rica (it was really good), beer, generous pours of red wine.  We also ordered a “traditional” shot we’ve only found in El Salvador, and blamed on a stomach issue that plagued me and Kevin for months after returning home.  The shot is made by fermenting an olive underground for a year.  This time our experience was better.  It tasted good, and our stomachs took it well.   The food was great!  

Playa Las Gemelas- Our AirBnB host recommended we check out this beach, and we were glad we did!  We arrived by car, and parked on the side of the road, saw a gate, and hiked down a short path to the beach.  The beach was beautiful!  Much smaller then Manuel Antonio and Playa Escondido, but with a lot of space to hang, swing, and do beach-y things.  The beach has two competing groups of people at it who rent out umbrellas and chairs, sell drinks, and even grill up fresh fish.  We couldn’t resist indulging in a few drinks, and one of the most insane seafood platters I’ve ever seen while we were there.  Otto couldn’t get enough of the fresh young coconuts they were selling (as long as he could enjoy them close to his tide pool). Otto loved this place!  He quickly found a tide pool that’s a perfect height for him to wade around in, and we couldn’t get him out of it the entire day.  He met some local kids who he played with, and some adults who’s soccer ball he stole.  He also found a nice little patch of shade to settle down for his most peaceful nap of his Costa Rican adventure!  

 Cafe Milagro – This great cafe/restaurant was right around the corner from Casa Castillo on the main road.  They have live music at night, a great jungle patio, and great coffee in the morning!  Their actually open before 9am too!  Otto loved their Costa Rican breakfast complete with cheese, Gallo pinto (a rice and bean side), eggs, and toast!  

Avion Restaurant- This restaurant is a bit of a tourist trap, but we didn’t care!  The view of the ocean from their patio is amazing, and their nachos are pretty great too.  We sat here one evening with a drink, some nachos, while Otto enjoyed some fried shrimp, chicken fingers, and a drink with a fancy bendy straw.  While we sat monkeys came swinging through, and a toucan pair serenade us with their song.  A few minutes later the sun went down with yet another incredible sunset 

Hotel Selina- At first glance we thought Hotel Selina was a little too trendy and “clubby” for us, but when we walked in we couldn’t have been more wrong!  It’s a phenomenal little hostel/hotel/bar/restaurant that serves fresh, healthy food, house infused drinks, and comfortable places to sit.  Oh, and the people working there absolutely loved Otto.  He wasn’t even on his best behavior, but they couldn’t stop smiling at him!  

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