I could write a lengthy piece about our excellent two day adventure staying at the Manatus Hotel, but instead I'll try to stick to the highlights.
The experience began when they picked us up in San Jose for the three and half hour bus ride to the coast. It was more of a van than a bus, which made the trip reasonably comfortable. The first couple of hours were relatively uneventful, though we did get to see how much the terrain changed along the way and we were given plenty of information about the history of the area by our guide. We stopped about an hour into the trip for a traditional Costa Rican breakfast and later had the chance to visit a working banana plantation. Very cool. The rest of the ride was along unpaved roads, through more of the planatation and other rural areas. Once we got to the coast, we were taken to a boat for our one hour trip to the hotel. An important note. Gratuities seem to be standard for bus drivers, tour guides and the like, (and all we encountered deserved it) so bring enough small bills to hand out along the way. Dollars or Colones are fine.
Our guide on the boat ride was Rey, who would also be our guide for the boat tours the next day. He was excellent. We didn't do much slowing down for sight seeing, but the ride was great nonetheless. When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with cool drinks and cold towels and then were shown to our rooms. Our room (Unit 5) was very nice...comfortable beds, TV (thought we never turned it on) and believe it or not, Wifi. They also had a very reasonably priced mini bar that came in handy for a soda or snack later in the evening. And the air conditioning worked well. My wife and I have done quite a bit of ecotourism over the years and we don't mind roughing it a bit, but in the Caribbean rainfoest, sleep was much more comfortable in a cool, climate controlled environment.
That afternoon they offered us the chance to take a boat ride into town. It's a small town of 1,300 people with a few restaurants and trinket shops. We decided not to go, though those who went seemed to enjoy it. Instead, we walked around and enjoyed watching the birds and other wildlife on the property. The most important thing we did was to sign up for the turtle outing that night. It cost $35US (or an equivilent amount of colones) per person in cash. The money was a donation to the charity that runs the sea turtle protection program. And they didn't take travelers checks (there is no bank in the area). So be sure to bring enough money, because you don't want to miss it.
Meals were excellent. They have a very comfortable open air restaurant and everything they served was delicious. The service was excellent. They also had staff there very early the morning we left to serve us breakfast. Very accommodating!
The pool was a bit small, but big enough for cooling off or to sit around to relax, have a drink and read a book.
The property contains some undisturbed rainforest with relatively short trails that you can hike on your own. There are howler monkeys in the area and we did see several "blue jeans" or strawberry poison dart frogs as well. And, of course, there were plenty of mosquitos. I read many different stories about the mosquitos there before we booked our trip. Here's my take on it. You're in the Caribbean rainforest and there are lots of mosquitos. You need to wear long pants, a long sleeve shirt, a bandana around your neck and a hat. They provide the rubber boots. Standard eastern rainforest gear. Properly attired, the hiking is fine. If you go in there in shorts and a T-shirt, no amount of deet will keep you from getting bitten.
That night we went on the sea turtle outing. I won't tell you much about it, as it's something you really need to experience first hand. All I will say is don't miss it! One note. It does require some waiting around, so if you have younger children who would have difficulty with that, it may not be for them. We were with one family that had to go back 25 minutes into the program because their kids were bored and tired.
The next day we went on our two boat tours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Fantastic experience! Rey was our guide and another, non-English speaking gentleman ran the boat. They really knew the area well and were excellent spotters. We saw a wide variety of wildlife, including caimans, a river otter, several troops of howler and spider monkeys and a host of birds, some of which we'd never seen before. One thing you want to be sure to bring are ponchos or some sort of rain gear. We used ours for the first part of our morning tour. But no mosquitos were encountered during either of these outings.
We flew out the next morning from the local airport on Nature Air. The air strip was a five minute boat ride from the hotel, so very convenient.
And that was our adventure at the Manatus Hotel. A busy two days and two nights, which was just the right amount of time for us to see most of what the area had to offer. I highly recommend this hotel if you want to have a great experience in Tortuguero.