If you’re taking a trip to Costa Rica in and around the Jacó Beach and Los Sueños areas, chances are you’ll be traversing some well-worn tourist trails. And that’s not a bad thing. From family friendly beaches that bring in top surfers from across the globe, to popular canopy tours and Jacó’s vibrant nightlife scene, there’s a lot to enjoy alongside your fellow travelers. But if you want to break from the pack, if you want to set off to find spots not frequented by the masses, consider straying from the beaten path to these hidden treasures.
If you’re on Playa Jacó and peer south you can just about make out the site, a jumble of white arches tucked high in the hillside that may immediately stir your curiosity. You should follow your instincts and investigate. While well known to locals, the El Miro Ruins are not often frequented by visitors to Costa Rica, making it a wonderful hidden spot to visit.
If you have a car, get out on the road to Quepos heading south. If you don’t, don’t worry, you can hop in a taxi and the driver should know where you want to go. Most Ticos in town know the old gas station that stands as a departure point to visit the ruins. While the station has no name, be on the lookout for a structure that’s more of a huge metal covering with a wide corrugated steel roof supported by tubular metal risers. This is where your climb into the mountains begins.
Now, you can take an ATV up the trail. And it’s a great ride. But to truly appreciate the journey you might want to hike. As you ascend into the mountain greenery you are apt to come across a wide variety of creatures that call the idyllic piece of nature home. Keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and toucans in the treetops, while sloths cling to the lower branches and tree frogs abound. Walls along the path are colorfully adorned by vibrant paintings from local artists. Your Instagram followers won’t be disappointed!
After about 20 minutes up along an easy trail, you’ll hit the first lookout. Behold pillars that support arches before a decorative balustrade at the edge of a cliff. Abandoned but not forgotten, the entire affair is covered in color in a mixture of abstract and graffiti art. The view across the coast is spectacular. You may think you’ve reached the ruins. And you have, sort of. But look for a map that directs you further up the mountain.
With 25 more minutes of hiking, you reach the full ruins. Local lore says the site was built by a would-be hotelier who died before construction was complete. The sprawling complex is covered in an explosion of colorful art, all across the three-story building, roofs and numerous lookouts bounded by low cement spindle walls. From elegant staircases to fountains and majestic columns, there’s art and architecture everywhere the eye falls. But of course, your gaze will be drawn to the sweeping panoramic views of the coast below and seemingly endless span of Pacific waters. You’ve truly found a hidden treasure!
As one of Costa Rica’s most-visited spots, Manual Antonio Park may be the exact opposite of a hidden treasure. But you can find spots inside that most foreigners never see. One of them is Biesanz Beach. Visitors to the famous national park tend to flock to Playa Espadilla. It’s understandable. The beach is close to the heart of the park and has more than a mile of sand stretching along aquamarine waters with active surf. Rent a chair under a beach umbrella and you can be quite happy here with your fellow park visitors.
But if you want something a bit more secluded, seek out Playa Biesanz. Begin by asking around for the location of Hotel Parador. Near that spot, you’ll find the entrance to a narrow jungle trail at a small opening to a fence. Follow the trail. It leads you on a ten-minute nature walk where you’ll likely spot some amazing wildlife. Howler monkeys laze in the upper reaches of the jungle canopy, while sloths cling to the almond and Cecropia trees along the way. Clearings along the hilly route present the chance to see large iguanas. Take care, the path can be slippery, especially during the Green Season.
Emerge to find a scenic cove. If it’s the weekend you are apt to see some local families picnicking on the sand. But during the week there’s much less activity and it’s possible to have a piece of paradise almost all to yourself. As the protected cove creates calmer waters, you won’t find a bunch of surfers as on other beaches. The tranquil waters also make it a perfect spot to swim or get in some snorkeling. Then ease back on the pristine sands and enjoy your hidden treasure.
If you’re making the drive from Jacó to Manuel Antonio (and it’s a must-do for most visitors to the area) there’s a detour that’s well worth the side trip. About fourteen miles north of the Manuel Antonio there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it turnoff in the village of San Rafael Norte. There’s no sign for Rainmaker Park but be on the lookout for a paintball sign and you’ve hit the right spot. Head up the dirt road, which is suitable for most cars but it would be best if you’re in something with four-wheel drive, especially during the Green Season. After about 20 minutes of semi-offroading, you hit the spot.
You’ve come to the serenity of a private nature reserve of stunningly dense primary rainforest. Walk trails through the thick foliage to pass a river that snakes through the jaw-dropping landscape. Enjoy the cool shade of towering trees that stand against a picture-perfect mountain backdrop and take in sweeping vistas from lookout points. But the big draw is the hanging bridges. The sanctuary is crisscrossed by 250 meters of suspension bridges, each one worthy of selfie backgrounds. Be warned that the suspension bridges can be high, creaky and given to sway. While safely maintained, they are not for the feeble-hearted.
So enjoy time with folks in and around Playa Jacó, join the gang for an ocean adventure out of Los Sueños Marina, but know that you can always set off and discover little-known treasures on your unique Costa Rican vacation.