Costa Rica

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

I know I said I had a love hate relationship with the J.W. Marriott; I felt forced to stay on the property, but we certainly didn’t want to leave either. The hotel may be very expensive, but at the same time it is a beautiful property. All is not lost though, as another wildlife cruise awaits, this time with crocodiles! Read on about Puntarenas Province in Costa Rica, a “Natural Paradise Tour” Which is the name of the tour by the tour company.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

About this blog post

This is an account of the “Natural Paradise Tour” by Caravan.com. It is journalistic, however this information can be taken if you wanted to self guide. One of the major complaints people have about Caravan is that you are cooped up on a bus, so if you can’t stand that, it can certainly be done by car. You won’t offend me by taking my guide and self guiding. That is Caravan’s problem, and they aren’t paying me so whatever.

Sunset at Manuel Antonio

I can almost guarantee you will end up paying more though (if you book all the same hotels and side tours). Say what you will about Caravan if you don’t like them, but their tours are popular because of the price. They get such good deals because of the huge volume. When you fill a big percentage of a hotel every day, you get deals nobody else can, it’s just fact.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Table of contents

Leaving Guanacaste Province to Puntarenas

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

But First Lunch

After another really long drive though beautiful scenery, you stop to have lunch. I mention this restaurant because it is an official stop on the tour. It is one property that isn’t a hotel or a tour operator, it is a restaurant that the tour company has partnered with. I thought that lunch here was excellent, and I even thanked the staff in Spanish: I rubbed my belly and said “Mucho Bueno!” and the staff were very happy :). As I have said before, it is not required to learn the language, but it is always appreciated, and even more so if you thank people for their efforts in their language.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

An abandoned building somewhere in Puntarenas ( I saw it out the bus window and said “Oh cool”)
Info on the Restaurant

The restaurant itself is an odd duck, in the sense that there is a bunch of plastic dinosaurs on the grounds outside. There’s no rhyme or reason behind the dinosaurs, as there are no prehistoric bones discovered on site or anything logical, they just happen to be there. Kids like dinosaurs I guess? As I said, lunch was pretty excellent. If I was going to go to Costa Rica and self guide, I would go back with no regrets. I won’t link to the website, because for some reason there is a warning from Firefox. I will just tell you the name “Restaurant Monteverde” Look at their website at your own risk, I did and had no negative consequences, but I still feel I should let you know. (It could be because they have a cheap website provider?)

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Another long bus ride

The one major downside of the tour is the long time spent on the bus. It is absolutely necessary, but if you really can’t stand being on a bus for several hours then you should probably think twice about this tour. It is a necessary evil, and if you were to self guide yourself in Costa Rica, you would spend several hours in a car instead of a bus. The tour director does a pretty good job of keeping her speeches about the local information relevant and interesting, which breaks up the monotony. By this time the scenery might become a little stale, making this a good time to catch up on your z’s. Especially if you spent the night before star gazing on the beach like I did, and do recommend. Tips for star photography here.

Tarcoles River Cruise

One of my favorite days. This is probably one of the best side trips for bird watching. The real reason for this cruise is for crocodiles, and the cruise does not disappoint. If you come from a place where crocodiles roam, then you might not be impressed. I however, come from a place they are not so I find them fascinating.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Bird and Crocodile Watching

If you really like bird watching as I said earlier, you will like this river tour. There was an abundance of birds on this one. There were many larger type birds such as herons, egrets, ibises and similar species, as well as smaller types like swallows, kingfishers and sandpipers. A really cool thing happened while we were there, but I can’t guarantee it will happen for you. While the wildlife guide was talking about the various birds he started talking about the tiger heron, and mentioned that this bird is the natural enemy to the crocodile. Not fully grown crocs but tiger herons eat baby crocs. Just as he said that we came upon a tiger heron who literally just then stabbed a baby croc in the head, as if it was scripted. Nature can be cruel sometimes, but then nature is nature. There were a lot of people grossed out on the boat. Admittedly, it was a little gross, but also fascinating to witness.

Be warned the next images are gross. If you don’t want to see a baby crocodile being killed skip it by clicking here





This is a buffer zone









You have been warned

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
Killing it’s prey. Poor baby croc 🙁 but that is the harshness of nature.
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
I don’t know how it thinks it will get it in its mouth, we didn’t stick around long enough.
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
If the croc was full size the tables would be turned.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Scarlet Macaws

The Tarcoles River is also where the scarlet macaws came very close. Scarlet macaws are the quintessential pirate bird, and possibly one of the most striking in the animal kingdom. Again, I can’t guarantee you that you will see a macaw, but this park is a good place to see them in the wild.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
2 beautiful scarlet macaws flying above the canopy
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
Aren’t Scarlet Macaws beautiful?

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Manuel Antonio: the Town

After another long bus ride from the river cruise, you end up at the second last destination of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, near the town of Quepos. Our hotel was right beside the park, and street vendors had set up along the road. The area outside the hotel is rife with con artists and aggressive souvenir shops. It didn’t stop us from venturing out, it just left a bad taste in our mouths. I do recommend not going through the area alone, especially at night. While I’m not entirely sure the area is dangerous per se, but I would still remain cautious.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
Many souvenir shops in Manuel Antonio, many are quite aggressive though, be careful

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Parking scams in Manuel Antonio

You don’t really have to worry about the parking scams because you are on a bus, but they even tried to con the bus driver, but Roli (the driver) told them to get lost in Spanish (albeit in not so nice of words).

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

If you don’t take the tour with Caravan and decide to self guide, there is a parking scam that goes on here: there are men who hang around outside the Manuel Antonio park and tell you that the parking lot is full (it isn’t) and you can park in their affordable spots (they aren’t); you will end up paying a hefty parking fee. When we walked past, I witnessed them trying their scam on a few people, and the ones who drove past them were cursed and yelled at. The police did show up at one point, and the scammer ran away, only to be replaced after the police left a few minutes later, by a different scammer. So I repeat: please exercise caution in this area.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
The town outside the park is a bit shady. I wouldn’t say dangerous, just shady.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Hotel San Bada

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand the hotel is the least fancy on the outside, and so are the rooms inside. The flip-side on the other hand, it is in the prettiest location. Don’t get me wrong, the hotel is not a dump, it just isn’t as fancy. There is one big advantage to the hotel though: the rooftop bar. Wow what a view! There was another surprise advantage Caravan let you drink for free for the first hour! I knocked back as many guaro sours as possible, an excellent drink that I highly recommend. Then we watched the sunset as we got our drink on, a perfect ending to a pretty good day.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
The hotel San Bada’s rooms
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
They even used eye stickers on their towel art
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
Not 1 but 2 towel artworks, this one in the bathroom. We both laughed at the googly eyes.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

Manuel Antonio: the Park

First we woke up very early to catch the sunrise. Also for early breakfast. Check out my latest Youtube video

It is quite a beautiful park in a stunning location. At first I stayed with the group but since the park itself seemed safe I ditched everyone and went out on my own. The wildlife at the park was a little slow, and after a couple of hours it got ridiculously hot and humid. I did see a few more animals I have never seen, plus I got to witness a turtle laying eggs in the sand. She was a little turtle only the size of a football, but it was a sweet moment. A valuable tip for this park: bring more than 1 water bottle to this park! I was so hot when we went back for lunch I had to change my shirt because I was soaked with sweat, and also got a headache from dehydration.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
This momma i slaying eggs in the sand.
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
A streak-headed woodpecker

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

A Warning About the Monkeys

We didn’t get to see the Capuchin monkeys that live in the park, but they were definitely around! Our tour guide was sitting at the beach, waiting for some of the group, when a monkey came up to her and tried to go through her purse! The are used to being fed by humans (strictly prohibited in the park), and will go through your things looking for food! Word of advice: don’t leave your bags lying around, a monkey just might take off with it and dump the contents looking for food!

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
A dragonfly in the park
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
Hotel San Bada rooftop sunset
Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
An iguana on the beach

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Final Day 🙁

Another really long bus ride back to San Jose. I started to get sad because I did not want to leave Costa Rica. While the bus rides do get long, it is really the only downside to the trip.

I Scream for Ice Cream

Before we got to San Jose, we stopped at a rest stop that sells ice cream. They had the usual flavors for the unadventurous, but I decided I would be adventurous. I mean you are on vacation why not, what’s a couple of bucks? I tried their fig ice cream and OMG it was delicious! They will let you sample anyways, so if you don’t like a flavour don’t get it, just give it a try, what’s the harm? I’m sad because for the life of me I don’t remember the name of the place we stopped, because I would gladly go back if I were to self guide. If anyone reading this has done the tour and can remember the name of the shop, I would be very appreciative.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
San Jose from the bus window on the drive into the city

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Final Hotel: The “Real InterContinental Hotel”

You aren’t left with a whole lot of free time this day, but you are left with some; We chose to go to the local mall, which is an obscenely large mall, across the street from the hotel. If you haven’t gotten enough shopping in, here’s where to do it. You need to be competent in your Spanish though, as not many in the mall speak English.

The hotel is another really nice property, elegant and sophisticated. We were too tired, but there is a very nice pool on the property. There is some fine food offered for room service and various restaurants and bars inside. If I had more time I would have tried some out.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
The view of San Jose from the hotel room. The mall is in the foreground

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Last Dinner.

You get one last dinner at the hotel, which is a fancy plated dinner instead of the usual buffet. It is quite good, I might add. This is followed by entertainment, which consists of a 2 Spanish dancers, doing a traditional dance routine, followed by a conga line which you don’t have to participate in, yet everyone did.

The following day. Technically Caravan offers one last breakfast, but our flight out was too early in the morning. This leads me to one last piece of advice for you. Even though Caravan offers free transfers to the airport, I recommend that you stay a few extra days and self guide. We kicked ourselves when we were departing, as we really did not want to leave, we even contemplated taking the airlines offer to buy a seat from us, bu they were only offering a single seat, if they offered 2 we would have taken it.

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour
A view of the “Multiplaza Escazu”

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

The Wrap Up

Sadly this brings us to the end of Costa Rica. This post is Part 4 of a series. If you arrived here without reading the others please consider reading those too. Part 1 Part 2 and part 3 or the review of the tour provider (Caravan tours) Here

Puntarenas Province Costa Rica a Natural Paradise Tour

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Any comments are greatly appreciated.