Quepos may just be the biggest town you see on a cruise along Costa Rica's Pacific coast, and it's the perfect jumping-off point for all sorts of land and sea activities. The area's past is tied to the former United Fruit Company and the production and export of bananas; the favorite plant is now the palm, for the production of palm oil. But tourism reigns supreme, due to Quepos' proximity to the Manuel Antonio National Park, as well as beaches, mangroves, rainforest and the sea.
There's truly something for everyone in Quepos. Nature lovers can explore the park, cameras ready to capture monkeys, sloths and other exotic wildlife, or take a boat ride through the mangroves. Adventure travelers can zip through the jungle on a canopy tour, while fishing enthusiasts can head to sea in search of marlin and sailfish. Foodies can quest for high-end coffee to take home or choose among the numerous restaurants lining the hill between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Sun lovers have their choice of beaches and water sports.
The town of Quepos isn't the most attractive, but its downtown is tiny and easy to get around. (The streets don't really have names, so we've given directions by landmarks here.) You'll find restaurants catering to tourists, taxis, a bus station and a "supermarket" (more like a corner store), so don't be afraid to go it alone.
You must take a Zodiac or tender from the ship to the pier, which has no facilities. However, taxis do wait nearby to take passengers into town or to Manuel Antonio.
There is nothing right by the pier, but the town of Quepos is a 10-minute walk or very quick taxi ride. Once in town, you'll find stores, cafes and restaurants, ATMs, a bus terminal and a taxi stand. There's also a beach, but most people go to the much nicer one near Manuel Antonio.
The heat and humidity. Most Costa Rican cruises run during the winter months, when northerners have trouble remembering life without winter coats and hats. If you're going to the beach or even just walking around town, wear plenty of sunscreen and bring more to reapply. Drink a lot of water (mix it up with juice or Gatorade for electrolytes), wear a hat and consider dressing in "wicking" fabrics, so your clothes don't get so soaked with sweat.
On Foot: The pier is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the center of town. Once in town, all restaurants and shops are accessible on foot.
By Taxi: Cabs are available at the pier and by the bus terminal in town. A taxi from the pier into town is about $2, and from the bus terminal to Manuel Antonio is about $15. Taxis are supposed to be metered, but drivers don't always run them, so be sure to negotiate a price before you get in.
By Bus: The public bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio costs 3.10 colones (you'll want local coins), regardless of whether you stop at the national park, the beach or the restaurants at the top of the hill.
The currency is the Costa Rican Colon; for current currency conversion figures visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Many restaurants, shops and other vendors will accept U.S. dollars. If you'd like to get local currency, turn right at the street just past the Best Western, and there's an ATM halfway down the block and another one at the next corner.
Spanish is the official language, but many people working in the tourist industry speak some English.
Expect to find lots of rice and bean dishes, local fruits and vegetables and seafood. Ceviche is popular, as is casado -- a plate of rice, beans, a choice of meat and salad, sometimes accompanied by plantains. When the heat gets too much, cool down with a smoothie made from local fruits, like pineapple, watermelon or papaya, or head to Pops (at the corner of Avenue Central and Calle 4, 506 2296 2929) for local ice cream.
Dos Locos: If you're looking for a bite in downtown Quepos, try Dos Locos for yummy Mexican food like tacos and burritos, as well as casados. From the main road from the pier, hang a right when you get to the grocery store and walk one block; the restaurant is on the opposite corner.
El Avion: For beautiful jungle and ocean views and a lovely breeze, stop at El Avion (506 2777 3378) at the top of the hill. It's based around a Fairchild C-123 cargo plane (with a history in the Iran-Contra scandal), but mostly is a gorgeous open-air venue, where everything -- from the veranda to the tables and chairs -- is made of wood. The menu is varied with plenty of seafood, grilled meat, rice dishes, pasta and sandwiches. It's located at kilometer #5 on the road to Manuel Antonio Park.
Marlin Restaurant: The two-story, open-air Marlin Restaurant (506 2777 0340) is located across from the beach and down the road from the national park. It's a convenient place to escape the sun and grab a bite to eat; the casual venue serves plenty of fish, casados and sandwiches.
Costa Rican coffee is your best bet for an authentic souvenir, as coffee produced here is among the best in the world. Any market will offer multiple brands, or you can stop at the Cafe Milagro restaurant (one in town, one on the road to Manuel Antonio), which sells its own brand of coffee. Look for beans marked Tarrazu, as coffee produced in this region of the country is considered the best.