If you don’t already know it, don’t trust travel brochures. Or travel companies. I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time in Quespos, Costa Rica and the surrounding area. Anywhere I go with Wild Greg, we have a good time. Perhaps hair raising as well, but never boring and I can at least laugh about it later. And for this trip we were also accompanied by some great friends with whom we now share unique memories.
Perhaps the title of this article is slightly misleading, but it is not totally my fault. I’m not sure that even the men riding in the front with the GPS and the map really knew where we were most of the time. From the beginning, when we were getting our rental vehicle out of the big city near the center of Costa Rica, I could tell from the back seat there was a lot of guessing going on with the men in the front seat. Part of the trouble was that the wonderful, new highway, that all the travel reviews (supposedly by real people) said would get us to Quepos in half the time, was uni-directional that first day of our vacation. It was not our direction. So we took the back roads, roads without street signs, roads that seemed to spiral for 5 hours into the dark. I figured I was with Greg and he would take care of me…
Let’s go back to the rental car company, though. (vamos4x4.com) I would actually heartily recommend this rental car company. Wild Greg did a huge amount of online research before the trip, wading through disconcerting reports of credit card fraud, tire slashing, and highway robbery. Something about this website gave him hope that we might be able to trust them. Their email in response to our query seemed very genuine. When we got off the plane, their representative was there to pick us up and drive us to the rental company about 15 minutes away. The men and woman in the office were the best kind of happy, personable friendly. They did everything from patiently answer questions about directions, to help us understand some basic Spanish. When it was time to return home, they also provided a ride to the airport after we had returned the car.
Now back to the beginning of the vacation –
The directions to the Pueblo Real resort were sketchy no matter what the source. The directions emailed to us from the resort itself were laughable when looked at closely. If Wild Greg hadn’t examined them before we left home, we would have been in a real pickle thinking we could rely on them. The mileage numbers in the directions just didn’t add up. Then there was the aspect of getting through the not so straight “highway” when it went through various town. There was even a spot in one town on the way where it seemed like they kept changing the flow of traffic as we drove around lost!
The one thing that really helped us was that one prior traveler had posted a photo of what the sign looked like from the main highway (you can see this in the video below). Still, it was very difficult to see in the dark (it was quite dark when we arrived that first night) OR the daytime, and not at all the kind of sign you would see marking an American resort. Just a drab, colorless sign barely standing out from the tall roadside shrubs. The road was dirt and gravel, looking more like an abandoned forest service road than the conduit to a nice resort. (I’ll talk more about trying to decide if it was nice later.) There was absolutely nothing about the scattered low slung houses or tin roofed businesses to suggest something nicer down the road.
When we saw the resort in the daylight the next morning, it was pretty. The pool was clean. The garden area was picturesque. It almost made up for the isolated location, the barely functioning bathroom plumbing, and the very minimally supplied kitchen. I have rented quite a few vacation condos and this was definitely the worst supplied kitchen. Except the water worked better there than in the bathrooms. The refrigerator was originally set to thoroughly freeze our lettuce and tomatoes. The whole resort was significantly fancier than anything else near it, so felt conspicuous. But I couldn’t decide if I was glad or not that it didn’t have pretensions of high security.
The crew of young men that took turns at the desk were very pleasant and helpful. The resort director gave a very friendly, information packed welcoming speech the first Monday. True, a lot of it was selling package tours, but it still helped us to know where we might want to go and how to be careful of sneaky thieves and unsanitary beach vendors. She said we could call her any time of day or night if we were in trouble or sick. I am sad to say that the director was not nearly as friendly in person. When we happened to pass through the lobby, going to the swimming pool or getting information, she kept her back to us even though she was sitting there not doing anything. Once she was overheard having a conversation with a fellow guest about sewer smells in his bathroom. She was not making any attempt to make him comfortable.
That very first day, we needed to get some groceries, not being inclined to dine out for every meal. Quepos does not have street signs. It also has very narrow roads and crazy drivers. To be fair, all the drivers in Costa Rica seem crazy, passing constantly and in danger zones. Our driver, Adam, handled it fairly well most of the time. 😉 In the thick of town, there were a number of people selling fruit on the street, and a couple of small, dingy stores that reminded me more of dystopian movies. We finally found the “supermarket” surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with razor wire. Inviting. The building of the “Maxi Pali” itself, the size of a basic grocery store in the USA, was painted a bright, kelly green. The rows inside were neat, but half of the store was household and baby goods. Most of the food was of questionable identity. We opted to look for better meat somewhere else. We went back to a dingy store to look for sugar, and tried to buy a small lunch meat ham, but decided not to when the price turned out to be $30 US.
We finally determined that there was a reasonable, more fully stocked fruit stand across the highway from where we turned down our obscure resort road. There was also a very clean ice cream shop in Quepos proper, but as I said, I can’t tell you which street it is on. We ended up buying a roasted chicken at an open air, fast food type establishment that seemed to be attracting well-dressed locals. This proved to be tasty and no one got sick. And we found another “Pali”, but this time not a “Maxi”, and it was orange. The shopping there was at least as good as the fancy green store.
While all the grocery store prices seemed high compared to shopping at home, the restaurant prices did not. However, the nice (and safe looking) restaurants were all on the road leading to Manuel Antonio National Park, not in Quepos proper. This winding road, which was narrow and frequented by pedestrians, had several pockets of eating establishments to choose from, many of them looking quite fancy. We ate at the one with the big airplane out front and had some snacks at El Gato Negro across the street from it when we went dancing. Both had tasty food and good service. As mentioned in the blog about visiting Manuel Antonio Park, we ate a yummy lunch at a restaurant called the Marlin one day.
The dancing at El Gato Negro was to Latin style music. Although the boulevard, so-to-speak, was busy with tourists, no one was showing up to dance, so most of the time I had the large tile floor to myself, though my companions did dance some, too. The bar tenders were thrilled to have customers and went out of their way to bring up food from the restaurant so that we wouldn’t leave!
There was one other place right in Quepos that we went dancing, but it was not “normal.” That is, even though the band at Los Locos was excellent and playing fun rock-n-roll, the open air room was filled to capacity with tables. A couple of people could fit right up next to the band or between tables dancing if they barely moved. There was a 4 foot wide sidewalk around it’s perimeter, being a bit larger when it turned the corner. We danced on the sidewalk, climbing over the low wall when we heard a song we liked. The catch was that the sidewalk dropped off a precipitous 3 feet to the street, plus it was uneven, chipped, and had sewer grates in random spots. I wore my Luna sandals, partly because of the dark and the erratic flow of passersby that sometimes required a quick step. And I kept a close eye on the heinous curb. Unfortunately, one dancing couple lost track of the curb and fell over it violently, leading to lack of consciousness and blood on the pavement. The band took a long break and it took 45 minutes for the paramedics to arrive. We were not impressed with the medical skills of the paramedics, as they seemed to haphazardly move the victims necks “to see if they were okay.” We decided we did not want to need medical care in Costa Rica.
When it looked like the band was done for the night, we strolled down the short side street to find a completely empty bar playing a radio. It looked hopeful, but the DJ was very inexperienced and we could only handle so much distorted music. Still, it was a much nicer place for dancing, if they could only work out the music. There was no name or street sign. When we asked, she said anyone in Quepos could tell you where her bar was.
The resort did hand out an outlined map of Quepos. I am still unsure of how helpful it was. Really, every time we were in the maze of a little town, we just drove around until we found the pharmacy, or the cigar store, or the grocery store, or the through road to the waterfall. Strangely, when we got on the main road to the waterfall, it was like we entered another country. The roads were better kept. The houses looked comfortable. The view was clean. It hadn’t been that way from the airport all the way to Quepos. It was at the waterfall that we dealt with the thief, though, so it still had some things in common.
We did get to drive on the new highway for about half of the way back to the airport (it doesn’t go all the way). This meant the trip was faster. It also meant a stop at the well-known crocodile bridge, where the railing barely came up past my knees. Wild Greg assured me that the crocodile were no longer hungry, as they had eaten all the tourists that fell over earlier in the day. I could not turn to look without kneeling down below rail height. I looked for a brief minute and snapped a photo while fighting dizziness. But, as you can tell, I still did not become a crocodile snack.
So, Quepos, Costa Rica is one of those places that I will remember fondly, for a variety of odd reasons, but not someplace I’m keen to go back to. I’ll write later about another resort and beach we investigated while we were down there. If we did decide to try that area again, that would be a more likely destination. The video below will give you a glimpse, but we didn’t take very many photos of the less attractive parts of town. (if you click on the outward arrows near the bottom right of the video, it will show up larger; if you have a Roku, you should be able to find it on the Vimeo channel, especially if you put it in your favorites list first)