Steep, sprawling property difficult to walk around
Arenas del Mar is proof that staying at an eco-resort doesn't mean roughing it: Its 38 contemporary rooms are among the nicest in Manuel Antonio, its restaurant is excellent, and its public spaces embody rustic luxury. The property's lush rainforest, two beautiful white-sand beaches on site -- a rarity in the area -- and diverse wildlife allow guests to truly connect with the nature that the resort's design so painstakingly preserved. But the 11-acre property is steep, so you'll need to call for a hotel golf cart to go just about anywhere.
Guests get their first introduction to Arenas del Mar's impressive natural setting the moment they arrive at the hotel: After receiving damp cloths and drinks at a small open-air reception area, they'll get driven in a golf cart up a steep, winding road surrounded by lush rainforest. By the time they arrive at the open-air lobby, which looks like a large beach hut, complete with wooden support poles and a straw roof, they might have already seen some bit of wildlife, like an iguana, a sloth, or a white-faced capuchin monkey. And that's no accident -- Arenas del Mar went to great lengths not to disrupt the surrounding ecosystem. For example, before constructing the hotel, developers studied the native monkeys and built in areas that wouldn't interfere with their daily routes.
It's not just the design that's eco-friendly: Initiatives like solar panels, an underground electricity system, and chlorine-free ionization system in the pools allow the resort to respect the environment in its daily operations.
But the hotel's most impressive feature just might be it's access to two beautiful, white-sand beaches. Arenas del Mar has the best beach access in Manuel Antonio: It's under a five-minute golf cart ride to the sand, and the beaches are far superior to those at Los Altos and Buena Vista Luxury Villas.
This beachfront resort is set on an 11-acre property in Manuel Antonio and a few miles south of a slightly larger town, Quepos. The entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park -- home to spectacular preserved rainforest, exotic wildlife, and several perfect white-sand beaches -- is a short drive away.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, and one of the most popular with tourists. Its lush forests are full of howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, sloths, tucans, parrots, and more, and line gorgeous stretches of perfect white sand. (Namely: Playa Espadilla Sur, an uncrowded beach that occasionally has rough surf; Playa Manuel Antonio, the park's most popular beach, with tidal pools and good snorkeling; and Playa Puerto Escondido, which has a blowhole in the rocks that shoots up water at high tide.) Just about every sort of outdoor activity is available in or near Manuel Antonio: hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, water sports, boating, horeseback riding, waterfall rappelling, canopy safaris...the list goes on.
3-hour drive from San José (about $5 on a local bus; $40 using a shuttle service such as Gray Line, Interbus, or EasyRide; $120 for a taxi; or $170 for a private shuttle)
5-minute golf cart ride to on-site Playitas, a small, clothing-optional white-sand beach (although we didn't note any nudity when we visited)
5-minute golf cart ride to Playa Espadilla, a long, active beach outside of the park stretching most of the distance between Punta Quepos and Cathedral Point