Once the enclave of the Quepoa people, later colonized by Spain and then the center for one of the biggest banana industries on the continent, the Quepos story is woven from many different elements. Today African palm oil has replaced the long gone banana exports, the coffee plantations in the surrounding areas supply the world with some of the highest quality coffee beans on the planet and a lovely new marina plays host to super yachts.
Quepos’s biggest draw is its close proximity to the magnificent Manuel Antonio National Park whose wildlife numbers are so high it is practically impossible to come here and not have encounters with some of the species which call it home which include monkeys, sloth, tree frogs and an astonishingly large variety of birds.
While exploring this incredible protected park environment tends to be at the top of most visitors list of things to see and do it is far from being Quepos’s only attraction. The charming and sleepy town preserves an authentically Costa Rican feel and has several interesting historical leftovers to explore. Other options within easy access include mangrove forests, a wonderful rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary which sprang from the vision of two 9-year-old girls and an exceptionally beautiful natural environment made up of waterfalls, estuaries, rainforest and idyllic coconut palm-backed beaches.
The ways to get acquainted with these jewels of nature are as diverse as the places themselves. Hiking is perhaps the most popular way to do things but you can also soar above the canopy on a zipline, head off into the rainforest on horseback, kayak your way silently through tiny mangrove channels or hop on board a boat. Also on the activity menu are surfing, white water rafting, sport fishing and snorkeling.
Quepos may be small but there is enough to see and do here to keep its visitors occupied for weeks at a time as well as offering a wonderful array of cafes, bars and restaurants to keep them fed and refreshed in between their adventures.
A Morning in Quepos
The port town of Quepos is tranquil and charming and small enough to be easily explored on foot. Because it has retained a typical Tico town feel a stroll around is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to it all and makes for a great start to your day of discovery.
After a coffee break you can head off into the mangroves by kayak or boat to start getting acquainted with some of the area’s incredible and exotic wildlife. Alternatively you can visit an amazing sanctuary that is working hard to impress the importance of preserving the rainforest habitat on both the country’s visitors and the Costa Ricans themselves.
Exploring Quepos Town
Tranquil Quepos is not big so it is easily explored on foot and with several points of interest and a population known for being especially warm and welcoming this is an ideal way to start your day.
Originally an area occupied by the Quepoa indigenous natives, later under the control of the Spanish conquistadors from around the 1500s and then from the 1920s an epicenter for the banana industry, Quepos has several leftovers from its colorful past.
When the US-owned United Fruit Company took over control of the town’s banana production in the 1930s the face of Quepos changed dramatically as it became one of the biggest fruit operations of its kind along the Pacific coast. Thousands of workers arrived and as a result the facilities needed to meet the needs of the suddenly increased population – such as hospitals and schools – sprang up. This area, built upon reclaimed mangrove land, became known as the ‘American Zone’ and is today downtown Quepos where you can see plentiful leftovers from this bygone era.
Also around downtown are several art galleries and a range of shops selling everything from spices to cigars and are interesting to browse even if you are not specifically on the hunt for souvenirs and gifts.
For an authentic Tico experience head to the Farmers’ Market if you are in town at the weekend. This colorful market is typically full of locals stocking up on seasonal fruit and vegetables along with handmade cheeses, jams and spices. Soak up the atmosphere of this vibrant place and refresh yourself with a coconut juice served straight from the shell as you wander the alleys of stalls selling everything from flowers to hand-crafted jewelry.
Quepos has several churches although none perhaps is as distinctive looking as ‘La Luz del Mundo’ (Light of the World). This break-off Christian religion originated in Mexico where its flagship temple is located. Quepos’s super-modern blue and white version is a surprising inclusion in an otherwise traditional part of town.
The newest addition to Quepos is its very modern and quite lovely Marina Pez Vela located a little south of downtown. Almost circular in design, this marina is home to several restaurants and shops and the views here make for a pretty place to stroll, passing by luxury yachts as you go. If you feel like getting active the marina offers a host of activities too such as fishing charters, catamaran trips and stand up paddle boarding.
Morning Coffee in Quepos
Quepos may be small but it has a plentiful supply of cafes to choose from once you decide it is time for a pause in your morning.
As a coffee producing country you can expect high quality generally but arguably the number one choice for coffee connoisseurs is Cafe Milagro. This roaster’s main cafe and restaurant is a few kilometers out of down but they also have a simple cafe choice in downtown Quepos.
While quality is a given with this well-respected roaster’s single-origin and blended offerings you can also enjoy your coffee knowing the company has high ethical and sustainable sourcing standards too with 1% of all profits handed over to worthy environmental causes.
If both quality coffee and a great choice of sweet and savory treats take equal priority for your morning break check out the Brooklyn Bakery. Freshly baked on-site are any number of mouth-watering treats, all created from old traditional recipes, with muffins, bagels and doughnuts particular specialties. Partially opened to the street, this cute cafe is a light and airy space filled with wooden tables and chairs and a general air of cheerfulness evident in both the décor and the attitude of the staff.
Touring the Mangroves by Boat
No matter in which Costa Rican city or town you find yourself the country’s incredible wildlife and pristine nature is never far away and Quepos is no exception. Just a few kilometers north of the town is Damas Island and its estuary which are an extraordinary and totally nature-made system of canals and channels, flowing lazily around numerous islets. These mangrove areas are a highly complex and fragile environment created by a mingling of fresh and salt water. Such surrounds have given rise to exceptional biodiversity and are simply teeming with life from the depths of the waters to the tops of the trees.
Only small-sized boats can truly explore this beautiful area and give you some incredible up-close wildlife encounters. The mangrove forest itself is fascinating, made up of trees which have evolved to survive in an environment which regularly floods them at each high tide. Normal trees would soon die with their roots permanently underwater but the mangroves grow aerial roots which are exposed at lower tides and allow them to take in air when the water levels recede.
These root systems are themselves micro eco-systems, colonized by crabs and in which caiman seek shelter during daylight hours. As you float calmly along, passing beneath natural tree tunnels, your boat guides will explain the various relationships between flora and fauna that has developed in this amazing environment and which allows everything to flourish as a harmonious whole.
As with so many other places in Costa Rica the wildlife is bountiful and the chances are especially high of seeing all kinds of exotic birds ranging from the tiny and insect-sized to large species such
as frigate birds, spoonbills, herons and egrets. Other commonly seen wildlife includes iguanas, snakes and monkeys with the white-faced monkeys having developed the habit of actually jumping onto tour boats to the delight of all on board.
Tour lengths vary with those that go the deepest into the mangroves requiring a whole morning and which also will typically include a lunch.
It is also possible to kayak the mangroves and the bonus here is that these smaller craft can enter channels where larger boats can’t and so increase your chance of wildlife spotting.
A Morning Alternative – The Kids Saving the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary
Seeing wildlife in its natural habitats is the number one reason why most people travel to Costa Rica and experiencing the country in this way never fails to deliver wonder and excitement. The encounters you will have at this incredible sanctuary just seven kilometers from Quepos however are rewarding for reasons far greater than just the joy of seeing Costa Rica’s amazing bird and animal life.
The not-for-profit Kids Saving the Rainforest was begun in 1999 by two Manuel Antonio girls aged just nine who decided to raise funds for reforestation by making their own simple paper mache and painted crafts which they then sold at the roadside. Since those first seeds this wonderful organization has gone from strength to strength with a guiding mission to educate both locals and visitors about the importance of preserving and protecting the rainforest. Their programs include scientific research along with continued reforestation and conservation work such as their scheme developed in conjunction with electric companies to provide wildlife bridges to keep injuries and deaths of wildlife to a minimum.
Part of their overall work is the rehabilitation of sick and injured animals and in order to achieve this a sanctuary was created which is today open to the public to tour. Quite what animals you will see during your visit can change on a daily basis as the goal here is to return as many animals as possible to the wild once they have made full recoveries. Between 100 to 200 animals can pass through the sanctuary every year with species including sloths, squirrel monkeys, marmosets, kinkajous and coatis.
The sanctuary does have around 50 permanent residents however – those animals which for various reasons would not survive if returned to their native habitats through reasons of age, infirmity, disability or simply because they were kept too long as pets and have no idea how to fend for themselves in the wild.
During your guided tour you will learn of the incredible efforts and at times the extreme lengths the staff at the sanctuary have to go to in order to give their vulnerable patients the best possible care.
For example, some of the injured animals which arrive here have very specific diets which might mean heading out to hand-pick the leaves or vegetation they need while others need very precise kinds of habitats in their enclosures to thrive or relearn the skills needed before they can be released. Other challenges might include, for example, teaching a monkey kept for years as a pet to interact appropriately with other animals of his species and so develop the behaviors needed to ensure he will be accepted into a monkey group once back in the jungle.
The passion and dedication of the staff is part of the joy of any visit here and their eagerness to answer all the questions thrown at them will add considerable value to your experience.
Everything here is about the animals and their welfare and part of the sanctuary’s aim is to educate visitors as to unethical animal tourism practices so you can be sure that any choice you make has no negative impact on any animal involved.
At the end of your tour you can browse the lovely souvenir shop and make any purchases knowing anything you spend goes to an incredibly important and worthy cause.
Lunch in Quepos
Quepos is small but that doesn’t stop it from delivering a surprising multitude of restaurants, cafes and eateries and what’s more the diversity is far greater than you might expect to find; from tiny venues which are nothing more than a room opened in a local’s house to internationally-flavored fine dining affairs, Quepos truly manages to cater for all-comers.
If you want to lunch on more traditional fare while also keeping the budget in check the wonderful array of sodas will give you just what you need. Sodas are small-scale no-frills places serving simple, locally-flavored plates which tend to be of the tasty and large portion variety. Quite what is available may change on a daily basis as these venues tend not to have set menus but rely on whatever is available on any particular day. Your choice might include empanadas, plantain and rice dishes, soups, salads, various spices and sauces and all kinds of meat and fish treats.
Soda Sanchez is the Quepos soda which tends to get the most attention but there are many others such as Soda Come Bien near the market whose specialty is a fresh fish dish served in a citrus sauce.
Soda Come Bien
Av 3, Provincia de Puntarenas, Quepos
De la Finca
Another wonderful choice for those who want to try the local dishes is De la Finca. Somewhat tucked away this is one of those places which you either very luckily stumble across while a little lost or only hear of by word of mouth. Once you do locate this little gem however you will find yourself wondering why everyone isn’t here and how it manages to remain something of a secret.
It is hard to find a review for this restaurant which doesn’t mention the freshness of the food, the great value and the incredible taste with several happy diners declaring it the best meal had during their whole time in Costa Rica.
De la Finca offers a highly varied menu and while its setting is humble the ambiance, attentive service and food quality easily match the best of anything else you might find in the area.
If lunching with fantastic views are your aim you might like to check out La Lambretta. This pizzeria is a little out of town but very close to Manuel Antonio Park which is where your afternoon will begin so is perfectly placed.
Serving up gourmet thin-crust pizzas in an incredible number of varieties, your view here from the lovely wooden deck is over rainforest and then out beyond to the sparkling Pacific. La Lambretta is well elevated in the hills so your ocean panorama is unobstructed. This may not be the cheapest lunch choice but million-dollar views such as these are beyond value.
Another gorgeous lookout can be had from a restaurant close by called El Avion. Spanish for ‘the plane’ this is exactly what you get here – a C-123 Fairchild cargo plane to be precise.Quite how the plane arrived here at all is a story of intrigue and scandal centered around the Reagan US presidential era and the Iran-Contra affair. As one-of-a-kind settings go this is about as unique as you will find anywhere with the bars and restaurant spaces utilizing the plane interior as well as being built around and over it.
Head up to the open-sided deck upstairs to feast on seafood while soaking up bird’s eye rainforest and ocean views as you dine.
An Afternoon in Quepos
Costa Rica has almost 30 national parks scattered around the country but none has quite the draw of Quepos’s neighbor, Manuel Antonio. Stunning in the extreme, you can spend your afternoon here walking the trails or combine the wildlife spotting with some swimming and sunbathing time at one of the parks idyllic beaches.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Just 7km south of Quepos can be found the smallest of Costa Rica’s national parks but which despite its size is its most famous. Made up of lush jungle and idyllic tropical beaches Manuel Antonio is jaw-droppingly beautiful but that, as such, is not that rare in Costa Rica. What makes this small park the jewel in the national park crown and such a popular tourist magnet is the almost ridiculously large numbers of wildlife here. So packed is this area with animal and bird species it would be almost impossible to visit and not encounter one or more of its native residents.
Most famous for its white-faced capuchin monkeys, two species of sloth and toucans, Manuel Antonio is actually home to more than 100 species of mammals and almost 200 bird species while insects, reptiles and amphibians are found in quantities too numerous to count. To that you can also add 1,000 flora species.
The densely-forested park is criss-crossed by a number of different trails some of which suddenly open out into spectacular viewpoints of the island-dotted ocean. It is impossible to forget as you stroll surrounded by bird song, a chorus of insect sounds and the call of monkeys that you have arrived in the tropics.
Many of your wildlife sightings might be quick glimpses as monkeys move through the trees, sloths hang from high tree-trunks and all kinds of brightly plumaged birds fly past in a flash of color. At other times your encounters may be much more intimate and prolonged as deer casually trot past inches away or a howler monkey sits watching you from a branch within an arm’s reach of your head.
As if this wasn’t already enough Manuel Antonio also has four beaches within its confines. At each of them the jungle spills right down to the soft white-sand edge which in turn leads into perfectly still aquamarine waters. These are truly lovely spots to cool down after a hot tramp through the jungle and for that reason can get a little busy at certain times of the day. The quietest beach is Playa Biesanz which is a bit of a hike and then involves a rocky walk – two elements which keep the crowds away.
Wildlife is so plentiful and the trails well-enough maintained that many choose to guide themselves through this amazing environment. However, if you want to learn more about the delicate eco-system and the species you are seeing guided hikes are popular. Additionally, these guides who are highly familiar with the terrain will be able to lead you straight to hot-spots as well as being able to help you sight harder to see species with the help of a telescope.
While Manuel Antonio is far and away the principal gem of the region it is not its only jungle environment choice. Because Manuel Antonio is small and so popular you are not likely to have it to yourself whereas other options may give you a less-crowded experience.
One such is the private family-owned 200 acre Esquipulas Rainforest which has been made accessible to visitors who want sustainable and ethically-driven wildlife experiences of ultimate tranquility. Although the human species here are far fewer this area of primary jungle scattered around with crystal-watered creeks is, like Manuel Antonio, also filled to bursting with wildlife.
Additionally, as this family’s primary income source has always been generated from coffee production, you can also experience a plantation tour and learn of the processes involved in coffee production during your visit.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner in Quepos
When considered in relation to its size sleepy Quepos has an incredible choice of places to eat and drink. It can appear there is a bar for every few paces you walk and the restaurants range from the modest serving homely and hearty fare to the decidedly elegant which would satisfy even the most discerning diner.
For fantastic views and arguably the prettiest marina in the Central Americas head to the sparkly new Marina Pez Vela where you have a choice of bars and restaurants.
Some of the best ocean sundowner views are found at the Marina Pez Vela and the most sophisticated spot here is the Z Gastro Bar. With a great cocktail and wine list, Z Gastro means you can choose something which is either a well-loved classic or a whole new experience and then sit back on one of the comfy couches and enjoy the beautiful vista of marina and ocean. If the sun has already set – and night comes early in the tropics – you won’t have missed out on lovely views because the marina lit up beneath the stars is also exceptionally pretty to gaze upon.
Also offering a lovely view is the Mira Olas bar of the Best Western Hotel. From three floors up you get the benefit of both unobstructed lookout and a cooling breeze. The hotel also has a seafood restaurant and a mini casino so if you don’t want to make too much effort you can see your whole evening out here with all your drinking, dining and entertainment needs covered.
When it comes to dining there are several areas which you can choose from. First there is downtown Quepos itself, then just south of the center you will find the lovely marina with its dining choices or you can hop in a taxi and head toward Manuel Antonio for even more options.
For those looking for an intimate meal for two there are a few contenders for the title of the area’s most romantic restaurant. One of these is La Luna, part of the Gaia Hotel, which gives you alfresco dining surrounded by flickering candlelight, the tropical night chorus of the jungle as a serenade and the Pacific Ocean off on the horizon.
La Luna even offers a ‘Romance Menu’ – a 7-course feast for true celebration – or a special wine pairing menu. Otherwise expect a menu packed with both international and more typical local cuisine choices.
If you prefer to stay in town the Z Gastro Bar where you might have enjoyed sunset cocktails has a well-respected seafood restaurant. Another marina-located seafood choice is Gabriella’s which is not short of appreciators who will tell you this is the best restaurant around for miles.
The veranda here is especially lovely, offering marina and ocean views while the menu is monopolized by fish, shellfish and steaks and wine fans will be especially happy to know Gabriella’s collection is the most extensive in the region.
If you leave a little space after your Gabriella’s feast you can pop next door to the lovely Amorosi ice-cream boutique which is open until 10pm to round off your Quepos dining experience.
An Evening in Quepos
During the day Quepos is a sleepy place but after dark things spark up. Live music is found all over town depending on the night of the week while places such as El Patio, a little out of town, offer something regardless of the day. For those who still have some energy after a day of exploration the Latino beats you’ll hear also come with some dancing possibilities such as at Bambu Jam where salsa and merengue dominate.
For evening entertainment of a very different kind head to the Best Western Hotel whose casino is small but offers all the usual try-your-luck choices such as roulette, slot machines and poker.
Quepos’s proximity to the stunning Manuel Antonio National Park is part of its draw for visitors and the opportunities for enjoying this remarkable habitat continue into the night. Even if you have already visited this special place in the day returning after dark offers an entirely different experience. Not only will the sounds and smells have changed but also the kind of wildlife you can spot. Many animals only become active at night including a multitude of lizards, snakes and frogs along with mammals such as sloth, anteaters and armadillos.
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