In an area less than the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica packs in 850 species of birds, 1,000 types of butterflies and 13,000 different kinds of flora and fauna. Lush rain forests and tropical coast lines make for their diverse home and in the spring of 2003 I decided to make them mine as well.
For my last weekend abroad, I headed to Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast with a few of the students from my host school, Veritas University and a measly fifty bucks. After nearly thirty days filled with museums, shopping and Cacique, Costa Rica’s national drink, my wallet seemed light, but luckily, my time spent had taught me that traveling throughout the country can be quite affordable.
As class let out on Friday afternoon, we emptied our backpacks to make room for travel wear and ventured downtown to San Jose’s Transportes Morales (506-232-1829), Costa Rica’s central bus station.
For 2,400 colones, or about $8.00 in American currency, we bought round trip tickets for the five-hour ride from San Jose to Quepos, a typical coastal town. These reasonable prices had been the staple of all of our travels and with plenty of legroom, the ride was anticipated.
At this point I noticed that the pages of my trusty guidebook were yellow and curling from weeks of rainy season exposure, but despite the ware and tear, I spent the trip reading up on the Manuel Antonio National Reserve, which is heralded as Costa Rica’s most popular national park and only minutes from our destination.
Upon arrival we satisfied our need for gallo pinto, a traditional rice and bean dish, at Cafeteria Kamuk, (506-777-0811) a soda located near the Quepos bus stop. Sodas are a readily available necessity for folks looking to save cash when dining and every vacation destination in the country boasts several. On this occasion we each shelled out less than five hundred colones, or about two American dollars for scrumptious meals that we could barely finish.
Considering the hour, we made a beeline for our budget lodging, a cabina smack dab in the heart of Manuel Antonio. In order to rest up for the next day’s ventures, La Cabina Piscis, (506-777-0046) despite her modest accommodations, suited us just fine. Each of the terra cotta roofed bungalows, during the off-season, run about $30.00 for a double occupancy room.
Akin to its host country, Manuel Antonio National Reserve is home to oodles of different species and this was duly noted the moment we stepped into its boundaries. Snarled roots from the massive Cecropia trees acted as a pseudo-staircase through the winding nature trails leading through the thick of the park.
After a fifteen-minute hike through dense surroundings, we emerged face to face with what seemed to be our own private slice of heaven. Compared to other beaches that we had visited, tourists were minimal here, while the greens of tropical vegetation were abundant. Dozens of iguanas outnumbered the sunbathers and swimmers as they peered out from the hollow driftwood like nosy neighbors curious of who’s come to visit.
During my month long stay in the little eco hotspot, in addition to my weekend on the Pacific coast, I traveled along scenic and mountainous roads in order to witness erupting volcanoes, Caribbean sunsets and surfers breaking the wild waves. I improved my use of the Spanish language, studied the country’s history and did it all on a limited budget.