Review of Casa Vista,
Manzanillo Beach on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
If you've ever dreamed of staying in family-size tree house in the jungle of Costa Rica, overlooking a remote stretch of the Pacific, with resident iguanas in the tree outside your kitchen windows, where tropical birds and red squirrels entertain your family on three sides as you eat breakfast in your outdoor dining room, with occasional howler monkeys roaring in the distance, and a jaw-dropping deserted sandy beach is just a stroll down from your front door whenever the mood strikes, Casa Vista could quite possibly be your dream family vacation rental.
But if you get the least bit squeamish by the idea of our friends found in nature—the four-legged, eight-legged, or possibly ten-legged—being found in your accommodations, I give a friendly advisory here: we had close encounters with all of the above during our stay in Casa Vista. With your windows and doors thrown open to the beautiful jungle of the Nicoya Peninsula, you can expect to have a few such encounters during your stay here.
That said, those with a love of nature and sense of adventure may never want to leave this place (how I miss the sound of an iguana on the roof!). While our stay was not without some surprises, all three generations of my family that stayed there are agreed we would return to Casa Vista in a heartbeat. Here's what we found:
With the nearly deserted Playa Manzanillo just a walk downhill from our front door (the lesser-known one between Hermosa and Playa Caletas), at times we felt as if we owned an entire stretch of magical Costa Rican shoreline. This is a place to come to experience the Costa Rica most tourists miss out on, and we actually saw only three people on this beach during our stay—one was on horseback driving cattle. While there are a handful of neighboring houses on this secluded beachside lane (including the caretaker's), you won't see them from inside Casa Vista, nor from its third bathroom, which is located outside overlooking a river and a couple of undeveloped acres). While some families may not like to feel that isolated on vacation, we absolutely loved it.
There are reasons Casa Vista has such a gorgeous view. They start with always using first gear in the gravel driveway (don’t second guess this) and conclude with the 46th step from your parking space to the front door. Once you get all of your family’s baggage inside, however, turn around and look through the frame of your front doorway, past the wild ginger, palms, hibiscus, and mango trees to the blue-green Pacific sparkling below. You won’t see a neighbor. You will hear the ocean.
By and large, the house was built for living in harmony with its wild surroundings—windows and doors on all sides opening to the breeze, spectacular sunrises and sunsets to watch from your lofty vantage point, and a tree-full of iguanas over the kitchen wall awaiting your compostable kitchen scraps. We all came to look forward to this ritual, which was oh-so-much more fun than scraping into our compost bin at home. What's more fun than that? Using the outdoor toilet as you watch the sun rise and listen to howler monkeys in the distance (for the shy, there are two other toilets indoors).
In the heat of afternoon, there’s no better place to take a siesta than on the day bed of the second story verandah beneath the ceiling fan—unless it’s a real scorcher, in which case you can retreat into one of the two air-conditioned bedrooms. Each of the two bedrooms sleeps 3 people with a queen-size bed and also a standard twin bed. And both bedrooms have glass doors facing the verandas, trees, and Pacific.
Casa Vista’s kitchen is equipped with a gas oven/range, full-size refrigerator, and electric toaster. Dishes are hand-washed and coffee is brewed in the traditional Costa Rican coffee maker (think "French Press meets Tarzan"). The breakfast bar seats four, and the outdoor dining room that seats six set the scene for delightful pancake breakfasts while bird-watching from our seats. A highchair was also provided at no extra charge by Costa Rican Vacation, and a baby travel bed (or cot) is also available on request when making your reservation. Casa Vista is also outfitted with an outdoor kitchen featuring a charcoal barbecue/grill, Argentine-style pizza oven, and sink.
Well water is pumped up to house each day by the neighboring caretaker. Though we tried our best to use water conservatively as all are asked to do in the region (soaping and shampooing with the water off), we managed to run out of water (or possibly pressure, we aren’t sure) each day, and started each morning with a dry tap. This wasn’t too much of an inconvenience as the owners provide 5 gallons of mineral water for guests, so I was able to make the all-important early morning coffee, and there are three bathrooms... By breakfast time, we had water. Although the house is equipped with a washer and dryer (on the covered back porch), you would probably want to do laundry sparingly here, or let the caretaker know ahead of time if you've got laundry in the day's agenda.
There is wireless Internet access throughout the house and on the verandahs. Without land lines to this part of Costa Rica, however, you will need a cell phone in order to make phone calls from Casa Vista.
The beach is overhung by shady trees, which are perfect when you want to spend a lot of time there with young children. In addition to soft sand there are some tide pools, hermit crabs, and marvelous sand crabs that appear each evening at dusk to make intricate designs across the beach. Just 10 minutes' drive down the road, you'll find tide pools big enough to swim in—which we very enthusiastically did (bring your underwater camera for great pictures of blue crabs).
The tree house, with its swings and meditation-themed interior, was also a fun surprise for all of us and a great place for the older kids to spend some down time as their baby brother snoozed after a morning out at the beach. We did do a "sweep" each time upon entering the tree house to be sure there weren't any unwanted insects—always a good idea in the jungle, especially when there is a futon with blankets and pillows, and open rafters, and rambunctious little kids.
Casa Vista is stocked with beach towels, great books for all interests, kid-friendly games, "appleTV" loaded with music and movies, plus a collection of DVDs. But given the amazing setting right of the house and the beach down below, we had not a single minute to spare on such trifles. During afternoon rain showers in the green season, however, a game of Junior Scrabble, Go Fish, or Hitchcock’s Clue, or just enjoying great books on either of the covered verandahs could be ideal.
Just a 25-minute drive south on beach roads brings you to the Surf Capitol of Santa Teresa, where you can watch surfers from around the world carving up enormous waves. While you're there, you can get ice cream (try the orange with chocolate), visit a bank or supermarket, attend a yoga class, or just people watch and soak up the ex-pat surfer vibe. Surfing lessons, zip-lining, and great restaurants are all available in this area, and you can contact Costa Rican Vacation if you want to schedule any activities—and/or a babysitter—in advance.
For more ideas of family-friendly activities in this part of Costa Rica, see the 5 Best with Children Under 5: Nicoya Peninsula.
- To get to this southern portion of the Nicoya Pensinsula from central Costa Rica, you will either take the car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera (my tips here), and drive crossing the Rio Negro as we did, or fly into the small airport at Tambor on Nature Air. You can arrange for a rental car from Tambor or get a ride with a hired driver arranged by Costa Rican Vacation.
- As you might imagine, just getting to Casa Vista can be a family adventure--and don't expect Google Maps or your GPS to help on the Pacific side of Cobano. Roads are rough, but few, making it easy to guess the right one, and people are friendly. So keep your Spanish phrasebook handy and remember what the caballero told us as we drove through his herd: "Turn left at the big mango tree."
- Supermarkets offering all manner of groceries, diapers, infant formula, baby food, and more are just 25 minutes away in Santa Teresa. Since we were arriving after a long day of travel from Alajuela, we took advantage Costa Rican Vacation's grocery service and had some basics—milk, bread, fresh fruit, coffee, pancake mix—there to meet us, which was very helpful.
- Since the windows and doors do not seal tightly (I could stick my thumb between the two front doors when closed, and saw daylight between floorboards in the downstairs bedroom), you should not be surprised by some amount of nighttime visitors.
- A zip-tight, covered travel cot is essential for anyone staying here with a baby or toddler, and we slept all the better for having our just-turned 2-year-old in his Phil & Ted's Travel Crib. As mentioned, Costa Rican Vacation can provide a tented travel cot for you on request if needed.
- There are no land lines to this area yet, so you will need a cell phone to make phone calls, though as mentioned above, there is high-speed wireless Internet access. Not all cell networks are supported in Costa Rica (Verizon WorldNet did not work for us on the peninsula, but did inland). Our car rental agency provided a complimentary local cell phone with our rental in case of emergency, which we had the option of using for unlimited local calls for $25 a week (see point #5 for more info).
Did we enjoy our stay at Casa Vista? Yes. Would we recommend it to a friend? Yes, to the agile outdoor enthusiasts. Would we stay there again? Absolutely.
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