2017 is going to be a year of escaping the United States, even for just the weekend. A location that is certainly on many people’s bucket lists, Costa Rica, is a country to visit now before it really gets expensive.

The greenest nation on earth, ranking number one as the happiest country in the world, also plays host to one of the gayest locations in the western hemisphere: Manuel Antonio and Quepos. Quepos is the seaside, sea-level fishing village that serves as a tourist hub for the hillside stretch of road that is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Manuel Antonio.

Sunny skies, hot tropical weather, gorgeously clear and bath-warm ocean water–alongside stretches of palm tree-dotted jungle combined with the exotic wildlife–should be enough to entice you to this stretch of Costa Rica. But Quepos and its neighboring town also make up the gayest place in Latin America. Manuel Antonio has been a lesser known lgbt destination for decades, but a resurgence in young queer tourists from around the globe have brought prices down and the gays back in full swing.

Manuel Antonio park is the second most visited national park in all of Costa Rica, which means there is already an international audience of tourists here year round. Manuel Antonio village and Quepos are more than ready to accommodate foreigners and people from all walks of life, and cruise ships will begin to arrive into the brand new marina as early as mid year 2017. Most businesses are considered gay friendly and a slew of hotels and businesses are owned by gay expat Americans. It is extremely common to see gay people and gay couples in the street holding hands, as the vibe is very beach like, laid back, welcoming, and friendly.

Costa Rica is also a destination you can enjoy on many different budgets. Accommodations start as low as $17 for a shared hostel or shared Airbnb to $34 for a private room or private Airbnb. The official gay hotel, Villa Roca has rooms for $150 a night, but cheaper rooms can be found in gay owned hotel Vela Bar, at gay friendly Hotel California, and on Misterbnb as well. The opening of Costa Rica’s first 5 star hostel, Selina, means rates for rooms have lowered throughout the area even more. Most hotels in the area have private pools.

Food is relatively cheap here, as a main meal eating out at a restaurant will run you 3,000 to 7,000 Colones in most establishments. Gay owned and operated Express Burrito has delicious burritos and local cuisine made to order in or delivered until midnight for under 4000 Colones. Falafel Bar has the best gyros and Raphael’s has the best Italian: both are lgbtq owned and operated. But try heading into Quepos for some local flare. By the bus station, there are several cute eateries where a plate of Casado, the dish of Costa Rica consisting of meat, rice, beans, plantain, and salad, will run you as low as only 2000 Colones ($4). La Feria, an outdoor farmer’s market open Friday night and Saturday mornings, has a wide selection of fresh produce, meats, fruit, and drinks right along the shoreline in Quepos.

Whether you prefer relaxing on the beach all day, or taking part in one of the area’s many activities like swimming, surfing, zip-lining, parasailing, snorkeling/scubaing, beach volleyball, soccer, boating, fishing, etc, there is something for everyone here, including a gay social scene. Most sunsets are spent at the gay beach, La Playita, or at Mogambo, Manuel Antonio’s gay friendly bar with a view of the Pacific. Sunday sunsets are gay at Mar Luna with happy hour specials and a decent sunset view. The recent return of Blue lounge in Quepos means it is slowly re-emerging a gay hot spot for happy hour and dinner. Club KARMA, Manuel Antonio and Quepos’ gay club, is open Tuesday through Sunday 8 pm-3am, but really gets bumping at 11pm. You’ll hear standard pop songs as well as latin and reggaeton inspired jams to dance the night away. Locals often head to Quepos for after-hours where gay friendly Republik Disco and Arcoiris Discoteca provide dancing and drinks until the sun rises. Hotel Kamuk and casino is also a great place for drinking with the locals until close at 5 am.

There are too many activities in this area of the country for one person (or a couple) to do while visiting Manuel Antonio and Quepos. And most of these adventures will not break your budget. Manuel Antonio park, open Tuesday through Sunday, is $16 for entry and a tour guide will cost you $35. The Zipcoaster across from hotel Costa Verde runs you $12 and gives you a taste of life in the jungle canopy (two rides will cost you $18 if you pay in advance). Alternatively, MidWorld Costa Rica will take you on 11 zip-lines through the jungle canopy for $80. El Avion is a fun place for food and drinks inside an old Contra-era cargo plane. Cheap salsa lessons are Wednesday nights at Selina, free salsa lessons are at Byblos every Thursday night, and Pez Vela Marina in Quepos often offers free movies to the community Friday and Saturday nights.

Gaytourscr.com not only organizes weekly gay outings like sunset cruises and mangrove kayaking, it also publishes the monthly gay resource magazine La Playita. This booklet can be found in any gay or lgbtq friendly establishment and can be a life safer as it contains tide schedules, events, maps, listings, basic Spanish, and other tidbits of info for the lgbtq community. Other great websites for local information are www.quepolandia.com, www.gaymanuelantonio.com, and www.ticotimes.net.

2017 is the year to visit Costa Rica. With most flights from major US airports to San Jose or Liberia, Costa Rica, ranging between $350-$500, Ticoland is more affordable than flying cross country. Costa Rica is the type of place that one can go “balls to the wall” and do every single extra curricular activity that the beach, rivers, and jungle provide. But it’s also the type of place where you can really veg out and enjoy the sunshine on the playa with a guaro (a Costa Rican liquor) sour in your hand.

The most pristine beaches, beautiful jungle, daily sightings of monkeys and sloths, and some of the most beautiful international travelers in the world, help make Costa Rica THE hottest travel destination of the year. But the openness, friendliness, and acceptance of the lgbtq community should guarantee a visit by you in your lifetime. Maybe Costa Rica’s position in the top 10 list of beaches, the top 5 surf locations, and the world’s top 20 travel destinations might also help sway your decision to give Manuel Antonio and Quepos, Costa Rica a chance.

Bucket list: Costa Rica ✓

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