Overland Traveller



The Family runs wild at La Patita de Manzanillo, Costa Rica, an outside-in house

Best for... families with an appetite for everything wild

Cycling on Manzanillo beach © Emma Field“A hummingbird!” squealed Rachel. We’d been in La Patita de Manzanillo fewer than 10 minutes and already the local wildlife was making itself known.

I stayed in La Patita, a jungle house that’s more outside than inside, with my partner Craig and a friend, Rachel. On arrival, one thing became immediately clear: La Patita is very suitable for families. Good thing, then, that between us, we made up an entire family. Craig is a highly organised 33 year old with a six-year-old’s endless curiosity and enthusiasm for all things wild: father and younger brother. Likewise, nester Rachel, 27 and lover of the colour pink, confessed to feeling more than a little princess-like in her single bed veiled with a drapey mosquito net: middle daughter and grandmother. I enjoy cooking and wiping surfaces (yes, really), but nothing brings out the laziness in me more than hammocks and swing chairs (La Patita has three…): teenager and mother. There was no way we could fill all three bedrooms though. La Patita comfortably sleeps nine.

La Patita de Manzanillo © Craig FastThe hummingbird appeared in the kitchen, which is also an under-cover extension of the deck. The main charm of La Patita lies in its openness. You don’t have to invite nature in: it’s already there. Ants are quick, we discovered with a few food items left out on the counter. A few other things we learnt in La Patita: moths are stupid and fly into candle flames; fireflies are best seen in the pitch black; toucans look like their beaks should send them hurtling to the ground; and sloths really are slow.

La Patita is a few minutes walk from Manzanillo, a tiny village overwhelmed by a vast golden beach, at the end of the road on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast. It’s an area famed for its stunning beaches and warm Afro-Caribbean community but for some reason less touristed than its built-up Pacific cousin. Unsurprisingly, the area is also known for its wildlife.

La Patita de Manzanillo © Craig FastOur first full day saw us exploring, in Famous Five fashion, nearby Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo. The walk turned us all into children when we saw out first sloth hanging nonchalantly from the branches overhead. Craig dawdled like a big kid, looking for Strawberry Poison Dart frogs in the undergrowth. Rachel squealed whenever a bug surprised her and cooed over the spider monkeys, and I splashed like an overgrown baby in the placid waves of the sheltered Punta Mona – our beachy reward for the two-hour jungle trek.

The next day we hopped on retro bikes, provided by La Patita, and cycled an easy hour into Puerto Viejo, the nearest town, full of laid-back bars, restaurants, quirky shops and souvenir stalls. From there we boarded a local bus and travelled to Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Sanctuary and Rescue Center. For US$25 we were taken on a 40-minute canoe ride through the sanctuary’s waterways to spot howler monkeys, wild sloths and birds. Thanks to the rain, which pelted down for the entire boating experience, we only saw a few sorry-looking herons and crabs but seeing the sloths up close and personal in the sanctuary more than made up for soaking. Home to around 120 two- and three-toed sloths, the sanctuary rescues injured and abandoned sloths and, where possible, returns them to the wild. At the end of our tour, at 2.30pm, we caught baby sloth feeding time, a sight to soften even the hardest heart into a chorus of “aaaahs”. Rachel could barely contain herself.

Buttercup the sloth © Craig FastThat night we listened to the birds going to bed, watched the fireflies skitter through the bushes (and on one occasion into our toilet), cooked dinner to a cicada and cricket symphony and retired to bed early in preparation for the howler monkeys’ calls we’d been warned about. My teen self was both thrilled and supremely grumpy about the prospect: howler monkeys like to get up early, 4.30am to be precise.

I had expected howler monkeys to…howl. But no. They sound more like Darth Vader’s TIE Fighters. I was glad I’d heard them in the evening of our first day, coming back from our trek, otherwise this noise, first thing in the morning, would have frightened the life out of me. Luckily for us, no howler monkeys chose to do their morning ablutions over La Patita, although reading the guest book I saw that other guests weren’t so lucky. On the plus side, they did see sloths from the deck, which I think is a fair trade.

La Patita de Manzanillo © Craig FastOur last day saw us cantering though the surf of the nearby beach, pretending we were in some cheesy 1980s romantic song video. A dream realised for each of us! The horses were provided by William, who, along with his wife, Dania, takes care of La Patita and is on call to help guests fulfil their every whim. William guided us along the beach, pointing out wildlife and stopping to cut down a few fresh coconuts with his machete for us to drink.

Sandy, salty and up to the eyeballs in sightings of exotic wildlife, it was difficult to leave La Patita early the next morning. The howler monkeys finally turning up made it ever so slightly easier though!

Horseriding on Punta Uva © Craig FastOur stay at La Patita de Manzanillo was courtesy of HomeAway Holiday-Rentals who have holiday properties available worldwide. The property sleeps nine people in three bedrooms: one twin, one double and single, one double and two singles. All beds have mosquito nets. The upstairs room has a toilet and sink. Downstairs, another bathroom has a hot-water shower. Outside is a cold shower, along with laundry facilities. The kitchen is very well equipped with pots, pans, cooking facilities, drinking water, fridge freezer, coffee machine, blender, slow cooker and all the usual crockery and cutlery. Special touches include hammocks, swing chairs and a wildlife-viewing and yoga platform.


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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010