• Jill Reed, Ph.D.

Staycation in Costa Rica During Quarantine Time

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Exploring Uvita, waterfalls, beaches, jungle, and national park Manuel Antonio

We’ve been living in Costa Rica for almost a year but we haven’t had many opportunities to explore beyond our daily routine of school and work and the intermittent trips back to the States to see family and restock. Of course, since March, we’ve been under quarantine restrictions so the options for travel haven’t been available.

Traveling to Uvita from Playa Conchal


Well, this week we decided to staycation in country and travel south to Uvita and Quepos. Two national parks are on the list to see: Manuel Antonio in Quepos and Marino Ballena in Uvita. 


We left on Monday and drove pretty much straight through to Uvita by way of Nicoya, Puntarenas and Dominical. The drive was roughly 6 hours and there is one toll but it’s only 190 colones. Driving without stopping was a necessity simply because I don’t like driving at night, and thankfully, we made it to Uvita by 5:30pm just in time for sunset.

Villa Tres Ninas high above the Pacific Ocean in Uvita


Villa Tres Ninas - a luxury airbnb with stunning ocean views

We stayed in this amazing airbnb rental house high up on the mountain above the national park so our view stretched for miles along the coastline. It was a stunning spot for both evening cocktails and morning coffee. In fact, that first morning, I was pleasantly surprised when the temperature was cool enough to workout on the outside deck off the second floor bedroom. I brought bands with me and there’s heaps of room to get cardio intervals in also.

The view from the pool deck at the Villa


In fact, the pool is also a fantastic lap pool if you enjoy swimming as part of your workout week. It was a gorgeous morning swim. 


Some rentals in Costa Rica that have stunning views are off the beaten path and difficult to get in and out of, but this house is in an established neighborhood and only minutes from town and shopping. The beach is about a 10 minute drive. The house provides towels and beach chairs.


Restaurant options in Uvita


The very first day we had a meal at Sibu, a great little restaurant right in the middle of town on the main highway. Outdoor seating is essential in these times and they have plenty of it. The menu is kid friendly and includes lots of vegetarian options and delicious coffee. 


The gelato place next door receives big thumbs up from the boys, and again, there are loads of delicious vegan options. I had the vegan chocolate and the vegan mango and both were out of this world yummy.


There are several other options for meals out that looked open, but we didn’t try. The Dome is meant to have a good breakfast and Pizza Time has brick oven pie.


Dark sand beach Playa Ventanas has caves that spit rainbows

Courtland standing in front of one of the caves at Playa Ventanas


We discovered quickly that the Marino Ballena park is closed so we ventured a bit south to Playa Ventanas. The turn off is right on the highway. If you reach the weird dinosaur parking lot you’ve just passed it, turn around and go back. You have to ford a river, but it’s rocky and low so it’s doable, even in a rental. 


The beach has mean rip currents but has two lifeguards on duty there in the morning hours that beaches are allowed to be open. At the right end of the beach by the rocky jungle cliff there is a unique feature that allows the tide to wash in through a couple of holes in the rock. When the water crashes through, if the sun is shining just so, it looks like the holes are spitting out rainbows. Pretty cool, but do not get too close to the rock.

Benjamin writing in the sand at Playa Ventanas


Kid-friendly waterfall Pozo Azul has the perfect swimming lagoon

Another day we followed a friend’s directions to a beautiful waterfall called Pozo Azul around Dominicalito, several kilometers before you reach Dominical from Uvita. You turn off the main highway and meander through a small town area before the really well maintained dirt road takes you up, up, up. 


We ventured a little farther up than intended before heading back down to the entry point. My wife loves to explore rough dirt tracks with no end in sight. At best, we are rewarded with a view, at worst, we fall off the edge of a cliffside. One never knows for sure – adventure!

Benjamin and Mom jumping from the rocks at Pozo Azul

You can park across the road from the trail head. There is yellow caution tape at the entry, but it is open for access. After a very brief trek down to the water’s edge, you are rewarded with a gorgeous crystal clear lagoon surrounded by rock and anchored by a beautiful cascading waterfall. 


Leave your stuff on the rocks and get in. It is refreshing and a little chilly, but makes for great kid-friendly water adventures. Benjamin and I raced from one side to another over and over again. We saw only one other family there and lots of happy fish.

Benjamin and the author (Mommy) in the lagoon at Pozo Azul

Catch at least one sunset (and a cocktail) at Vista Ballena

Right above our rental house is the hotel and restaurant Vista Ballena and it is open for business and taking all the necessary health precautions including hand-free sanitizers and a touchless temperature check at the entry. 

The view from the pool at Vista Ballena Hotel/Restaurant


The pool and bar overlook the Whale’s tail and you can see for miles along the Pacific coast. I expect that in season, the whale watching from here is unparalleled. There are lots of kid-friendly sitting areas and the infinity pool is open. 

Benjamin hugging Simba at Vista Ballena


The boys made quick friends with the resident dog Simba and my wife and I enjoyed refreshing drinks. We ordered appetizers and salads and everything was delicious and fresh. The boys annihilated their hamburgers.


Our bartender was super nice and while the hotel definitely has guests, everyone was practicing social distancing appropriately. An awesome added bonus is the tree that fills with toucans at sunset. It was amazing to see them in the wild just hanging out.

Serene Buddha in the gardens at Vista Ballena


Stopping for eats in Dominical along the river

We left early in the morning to drive back home hoping that would give us an appropriate amount of time to stop in and explore on the way. On the recommendation of friends we stopped at Cafe Mono Congo situated just off the main highway in Dominical right on the banks of the river. 

View from riverbank in Dominical behind the cafe


We ordered vegan banana bread, chocolate cake (boys, of course), and a blackberry breakfast bowl concoction. Everything was yummy and we were able to take it all away with us rather than eat in house.

Courtland befriends another sweet dog at the cafe


While the restaurant itself is taking all the required precautions, the local community does not seem to be aware of a world-wide pandemic. 


With the exception of the employees, not one single person we saw was wearing a mask and we seemed alone in the desire to keep socially distant, particularly while standing in line to order. I used a lot of hand sanitizer just in Dominical alone.

Benjamin in front of the mural at Cafe Mono Congo

Exploring Manuel Antonio, quarantine edition

We made it to Quepos by mid-morning and followed google maps to Manuel Antonio. The route winds through the town of Quepos and up into the hills beyond. This road is windy and lined with hotels, cabinas, restaurants, art galleries, and outdoor adventure companies. You can spend money in a variety of ways all the way to the gate of the park. 

A curious iguana on the beach at Manuel Antonio


We parked in the “last parking lot before the entry gates,” or so the sign said and the attendant directed. At least in Covid times, this turned out to be true. We paid around $5 to park, bought tickets at the credit union by the entrance gate, and walked into the park. Adult tickets are $16/person and kids are free.

The boys on the trail in Manuel Antonio


The ranger on duty directed us to the one 4k trail loop that is currently available to the public to use. It actually made the stop worth it because our time was limited and it would have been difficult to choose which trail to take. Additionally, we saw three other families the entire time we were in the park so it was quiet and easy to keep social distance.

A capuchin monkey in the park


The animals must be happy with the limited numbers of people because we saw macaws, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, hermit crabs, iguanas, and sloths. I was surprised we saw as much as we did. The trail meanders through jungle, mangrove forests, and beaches. It is incredibly beautiful and the trees are simply majestic. 

This amazing tree of life, see Courtland for size


In the final stretch we discovered convenience stores

After the park, we decided to push through and drive the rest of the way home without stopping. I don’t like driving in the dark and we needed to relieve our dog-sitter by dinner time. 


The boys ended up needing to take a couple of potty breaks and fortunately, though not always the case when traveling in Costa Rica, there are easy stops at full service gas stations all along the way. 


You can even procure extra snacks and a gatorade if necessary at the *gasp* convenience store. What?! Yes, the gas stations between Uvita and Nicoya have convenience stores attached. This is a new and wonderful discovery for us. 


Next up for our Costa Rica staycation adventures, we plan to explore Puerto Viejo in September.

#uvita #travel #kids #costarica #explorewithkids #manuelantonio