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Manuel Antonio has all the glitz and glamour one might seek on vacation, but its touristy vibe can overwhelm those seeking a more authentic experience. The small, charming city of Quepos sits just at the foot of the popular national park and offers a more genuine insight into local life.
Though acting as the gateway city to the highly sought after Manuel Antonio, Quepos has managed to maintain an authentic Tico feel—the first reason on the list of why it’s a must for every traveler. With sodas (family-owned Costa Rican restaurants) galore, and typical houses lining the streets, you get a vibe for what everyday life is like for an average Tico family. The small city is busy with locals doing their grocery shopping at Pali (a Walmart-owned supermarket chain), buying bread at the panadería, banking at the BAC San José, or spending time with friends and family at the waterfront.
There’s a sweet, local bar just a few steps from El Gran Escape de Quepos, which is easily missed if you aren’t paying attention. The door is always closed, but the word “BAR” is inscribed on the front, and a warm yellow light shines through the window—if they’re open that is. The place isn’t much besides mirrors, various half-full bottles of alcohol on the wall behind the counter, and a cooler filled with Imperial beer. If you’re looking for chasers, bring your own because you won’t find them here. But for 2,000 Colones (approximately US$4), you’ll get a shot and a beer. You won’t do any better than that. Then head to Cuban Republik Disco Lounge for a body to body, Costa Rican reggaetón experience, or Bahia Azul if you prefer more space, and a laid back atmosphere.
Friday evenings and Saturday mornings are for shopping at La Feria (the farmers’ market), and a cultural experience all on its own. With a number of stands offering the freshest fruit and vegetables at wholesale prices, you can pick up quick snacks for your day trips. The market is also filled with unique Costa Rican handicrafts that make excellent souvenirs and gifts. Find yourself among a mix of local vendors and try your hand at haggling in Spanish.
Every year, thousands flock to Marina Pez Vela which proudly hosts various world fishing tournaments every year. In addition, the marina caters to the world’s elite with their upscale dining options, boutiques, luxury yachts, and top-of-the-line vacation villas. You can participate in any of the various activities including fishing charters, catamaran tours, stand-up paddle board, jet ski tours, boat rentals, and more.
For a getaway from the more overcrowded beaches of Manuel Antonio, try your hand at Playa Maracas. More a bay than an actual beach, you will find yourself among a handful of locals splashing about in the crystal-clear waters, or soaking up the sun on the rocky seaside. For a bit more adventure, join the kids as they cliff dive from the park above or rent a paddle board to fully explore the hidden treasures of Playa Maracas.