Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s top destination, and there are good reasons why

October 3, 2016

MANUEL ANTONIO, Puntarenas — The first tourists to lay eyes on Manuel Antonio were apparently the crewmen of the Spanish explorer Hernán Ponce de León, who sailed into these waters in 1519. But the numerous Quepo natives on the shore put on such a display of hostility against the foreigners that he decided against landing and proceeded to safer shores farther north.

How times have changed.

Today Manuel Antonio and the neighboring port of Quepos thrive above all on visitors, welcome them with open arms and are inundated with them.




Costa Rica’s Greatest Places

In this series, The Tico Times Travel section takes an in-depth look at some of Costa Rica’s greatest destinations, with multiple articles exploring the attractions of each. In August, we took you to Valle del Sol in the Central Valley. Starting today and for the next three weeks, we’ll visit one of Costa Rica’s finest gems, the hillside enclave of Manuel Antonio and its seaside neighbor, Quepos.

PART I: Valle del Sol
PART II: Quepos/Manuel Antonio
• Today: Overview
• Oct. 6: Hiking
• Oct. 10: Marina
• Oct. 13: Adventure
• Oct. 17: History
• Oct. 20: Hospitality


According to data from the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), Manuel Antonio was the most visited national park in Costa Rica in 2015, with 418,041 visitors, followed by Poás Volcano, with 370,176.

Kayakers at Nahomi, a beautiful bay, park and beach near the marina.

MEXICO CITY — The day after a load of stolen radioactive material was found in a field, Mexican authorities had formed a perimeter around the area and were measuring for contamination as they planned the recovery process Thursday, according to Mexican news reports.

Federal police and soldiers formed a cordon of several hundred yards around the highly radioactive container of cobalt-60, stolen earlier in the week in a carjacking as the material was being moved from a public hospital in the border town of Tijuana to a storage facility in central Mexico, news reports said.

The carjackers, who set off international alarm bells by absconding with the material, most likely had no idea what they were stealing and will probably die soon from exposure, Mexican authorities said at the end of a brief national scare.

The prospect that material that could be used in a radioactive dirty bomb had gone missing sparked an urgent two-day hunt, which concluded Wednesday afternoon when the cobalt-60, used in hospital radiotherapy machines, was found along with the stolen Volkswagen truck. Mexican officials said no public health risk remained, although one family who lived nearby may have been exposed.

The driver of the cargo truck and his assistant worked for a licensed private company, and the lethal radioactive substance was sealed in the back, according to news reports.

The truck, equipped with a crane, was nearing its destination early Tuesday morning, several hours before the storage facility opened. While waiting for daybreak at a gas station in the state of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City, the drivers were jumped by two gunmen who beat them and stole the truck, said Mardonio Jiménez, a physicist and high-ranking official with Mexico's nuclear safety commission.

With lethal radioactive material on the loose, Mexican authorities posted a lookout across six states. The International Atomic Energy Agency warned that the material "could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed" from its casing.

"I believe, definitely, that the thieves did not know what they had," Jiménez said. "They were interested in the crane, in the vehicle."

The cobalt-60 was found, removed from its casing, in a rural area near the town of Hueypoxtla, about 25 miles from where the truck was stolen. Jiménez said he suspected that curiosity got the better of the thieves, and they opened the box. So far the carjackers have not been arrested, but authorities expect they will not live long.

"The people who handled it will have severe problems with radiation," he said. "They will, without a doubt, die."

© 2013, The Washington Post

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

The two parks sometimes trade first and second place, but Poás is a day trip from San José, with no need to spend the night. There is no comparing the volcano’s gate prices with the mountains of wealth generated by Manuel Antonio every day.



In a country obsessively dedicated to promoting tourism, Manuel Antonio is king of the hill. So why is that?

  • Nature: The national park is small but loaded with animals, it’s easily walkable and it has some of the most pristine beaches in the country. There is no easier place in Costa Rica to see so much wildlife in the wild. Of course, people complain that there are too many people.
  • Nurture: From the old banana town of Quepos to the national park to the hotel-rich ridge between them to the world-class marina, this region has been expertly developed — and at the same time, miraculously preserved.

The attractions

Manuel Antonio National Park is packed with monkeys, sloths, coatis, agoutis, raccoons, deer, iguanas, snakes, spiders and birds. But these same animals don’t know where the borders of the park are, so they migrate all over the area, popping up near people in unexpected places all the time. In fact, rare squirrel monkeys use the power and phone lines along the main road as a major thoroughfare.

A squirrel monkey on the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio.

Laura Chinchilla offered her condolences on the death of legendary ex-South African president Nelson Mandela. Mandela was 95.

At 4:13 p.m., Chinchilla wrote on Twitter, "His glory will last for ever. Costa Rica honors him."

The Costa Rican president added: "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." The quote comes from Mandela in a 1994 documentary on the Nobel Peace Prize winner. 

South Africa's president Jacob Zuma announced Mandela's death Thursday afternoon. Over the past few years, Mandela had faced frequent health problems.

The beloved anti-apartheid activist spent 27 years in prison before leading his country's democracy. He became South Africa's first black president in 1994.

Matt Levin is a corespondent for The Tico Times

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Quepos, the port town built in the lowlands in the early 20th century, today is a bustling big town/little city with a central market, several hotels, hostels and restaurants, multiple clothing, grocery and convenience stores, an actual casino and a marina full of millionaires’ yachts, restaurants, tour companies and deluxe condos.

Quepos and the park are both at sea level, but between is a big hill with a steep, winding road, a ridge that has also come to be known as Manuel Antonio, lined with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, convenience stores and even a “gentleman’s club” that stretches the definition of “gentleman.”

So what is there to do here? It would be easier to name the things you can’t do. You can go deep-sea fishing, whitewater rafting, jet-skiing, parasailing, kayaking, ziplining, horseback riding. You can go on ATV tours, waterfall tours, visit hot springs, go hiking in the jungle, get a spa treatment, do yoga, stay at a great hotel, eat at good restaurants, enjoy the nightlife, of course visit the national park — and much more.

A father, a daughter and a couple of guides explore a waterfall at Punta Mala.

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro faced a big test Sunday as municipal polls, seen as a referendum on his performance amid soaring crime, high inflation and household shortages, closed.

Maduro, the handpicked heir of leftist icon Hugo Chávez, was narrowly elected to office in April, one month after his popular predecessor died of cancer.

Balloting ended at 6 p.m. local time to pick 337 mayors and more than 2,000 city councilors. Preliminary results were expected within three hours.

No major incidents were reported during the voting, which took place at nearly 14,000 polling stations.

Shortly before the end of the 12-hour voting window, the National Electoral Council (CNE) estimated in a tweet that more than 50 percent of Venezuelans had voted, the same proportion seen in recent years.

The opposition, which now controls about 50 municipalities, is vying to double that number.

After casting his ballot in the capital Caracas, Maduro called on citizens to "respect" the outcome of the vote as the "decision of the people."

"What the National Electoral Council says will be sacred," he told reporters. "I ask the victors to win with honor and respect of their adversaries and those who lose to accept defeat."

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, meanwhile, alleged that the vote was marred by irregularities at polling places, including broken machines.

"There are many reports of abuses," he said after casting his ballot at a Caracas school.

In several regions, thousands of government supporters formed lines as they waited to cast their votes, while the opposition used social networks to make sure their supporters could get to polling stations.

The opposition's greatest challenge will be to retain control of the country's biggest cities – especially the Caracas metropolitan area and the oil city of Maracaibo.

"We need to vote to inflict a defeat on the government because this country is in a hole," said Neida Pernia, a shopkeeper who voted in the affluent Caracas neighborhood of Chacao. "Insecurity gnaws at us."

In the capital's 23rd of January area, voters appeared keen to keep Chávez's legacy alive.

"We have to win in order to pursue the revolutionary process," said 34-year-old Lenin López. "Now is not the time to let the opposition gain ground."

Maduro, a former bus driver, leftist stalwart and Cabinet minister, has tried to present himself as a man of action on the economy. But Venezuela, a country with the world's largest oil reserves, teeters on the verge of chaos.

In November, the National Assembly granted Maduro's request for power to rule by decree for one year in order to fight corruption and respond to what he has called an "economic war" unleashed by the opposition with U.S. support.

He immediately rolled out a series of measures to force price cuts, notably on household appliances and cars, and threatened speculators with prison. However, the nation remains torn by economic uncertainty.

Pre-election surveys indicated that Venezuela's middle class welcomed Maduro's populist show of force, and seemed less inclined than expected to punish his party at the ballot box.

"Maduro appears to be governing for the first time" since he was elected, pollster Luis Vicente León told AFP. "Now his speeches are accompanied by action, so he is seen as president who, whether you like what he's doing or not, has taken the bull by the horns."

At a time when Venezuela has been experiencing months of record 54 percent inflation and is facing shortages on items as basic as toilet paper "a crazy paradox occurs: the one who is benefiting from the crisis is Maduro," León said.

'Historic moment' for the opposition

The main opposition coalition Democratic Unity Table, or MUD, says the elections will be decisive for the country's future.

Its leader Capriles, who lost to Maduro in April, has called it a "historic moment" that will assess the balance of power after 14 years of "Chavista" rule.

Opposition candidate Antonio Ledezma is expected to be re-elected in Caracas, but the ruling party candidate Miguel Pérez Pirela – a 36-year-old philosopher whose appearances on state television have made him a celebrity – may win in Maracaibo.

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

One of the few things you can’t do here is go bungee-jumping (that’s in Monteverde), but there’s always the sky-diving.

View from La Mansion Inn

Harry Bodaan, owner of the 5-star La Mansion Inn and president of the Quepos Chamber of Commerce, sat down to talk on a couch in his lobby with a gigantic piranha in an aquarium behind him, a few steps from an unbelievable view of a beautiful bay. He said this region has almost all the features that draw people to this country.

La Mansion Inn, established in 2000.

After a week of protests and strikes in Costa Rica’s capital city, Ticos took the streets Sunday morning, this time to protest abortion. 

Caminata por la Vida y la Familia” ("March for Life and Families"), estimated that 200,000 Catholic parishioners came by bus from all corners of the country to participate in a 1-kilometer march from San José’s Central Park to Sabana Park. The event comes one month after the Catholic Bishops of Costa Rica published the document "Rehabilitation of Politics," which outlined eight ethics principles to follow when voting for a political candidate. Voters are encouraged to support candidates against abortion. 

“This is an unprecedented event,” said priest Sergio Valverde, the main organizer of this march and director of the NGO Obras del Espíritu Santo (Works of the Holy Spirit). Father Valverde said that organizers of Sunday march asked political candidates to refrain from campaigning during this event.

“We want to honor life and to celebrate families because that is what is best for society,” Valverde said.

As part of the campaign season, Catholic priests in Costa Rica are urging parishioners to vote against candidates who support the legalization of abortion, in vitro fertilization and same-sex unions, reported the Spanish daily El País.  

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“Thirteen of the 15 reasons why people come to Costa Rica are here in the Cantón de Quepos,” he said. “The only thing we don’t have is a volcano and a museum.”

A museum is in the planning stages — restoring an old banana company building in front of the Marina Pez Vela that will showcase the history and culture of this region.

“Once we have that museum and cultural center, the only thing missing is a volcano,” Bodaan said. And we both agreed that you can’t just build a volcano.

Bodaan said one of the community’s struggles is trying to keep local park revenue from being appropriated by national authorities to support other parks.

“Some of our members have a very strong position that all of the money should go to Quepos,” he said. “Some others, like me, say let’s share the wealth at least a little bit. But after we have the infrastructure in place — parking, bathrooms, welcome center — we’re a 5-star destination, let’s make it a 5-star park.”

Catholic church in central Quepos.

In an election season full of surprise drop-outs, upsets and political blunders, ecological groups have begun to question why hot-button environmental issues have seemingly been swept under the rug.

“We believe that environmental issues have been completely absent from this political campaign,” said Rolando Castro, a member of the board of directors of the Inter-American Association for the Defense of the Environment. “That needs to change.”

Castro is not alone in his concerns. The Environmental Network Alliance (ARA), a coalition of four ecological groups, hosted a candidate forum last Tuesday in hopes of bringing conservation issues to the forefront of the political debate. Only two of the five main presidential candidates attended – José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party and Luís Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC). The other candidates sent representatives.

The environmental platforms

Following the presentations, a panel of ARA officials analyzed how well the policies would address the country’s environmental problems.

Based on the length and depth of the environmental issues within each candidate’s governmental plans, the ARA panel determined that only Villalta's and Solís’ environmental platforms were completely rounded out with specific policies.

Former San José Mayor Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement Party (ML) both mentioned environmental issues in their government plans but did not elaborate on solutions. Rodolfo Piza of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) has not yet published his government plan.

Johnny Araya: National Liberation Party


Araya sent vice presidential candidate Silvia Lara to the forum in his place. Lara did not give an in-depth report on the PLN’s environmental plans, but instead detailed the party’s belief that businesses should be accountable for their own pollution.

Lara proposed a “report or explain” system, which would request that businesses submit environmental impact reports along with a list of their mitigation efforts. Though Lara said she believed the system should be obligatory, she said the PLN has no plans to make it so.

“If you don’t want to report you don’t have to,” she said, “but you are going to have to file something that explains why you don’t want to file a report.”

According to ARA’s analysis of the candidate’s proposals, Araya’s environmental platform is the least comprehensive of the four candidates with published government plans.

Otto Guevara: Libertarian Movement Party


Libertarian vice presidential candidate Thelmo Vargas used his speaking time in the forum to discuss the relationship between economic development and the environment.

“You cannot use the environment as an excuse to limit commerce,” Vargas said. “The goal is to develop them together.”

Vargas laid out proposals to increase the country’s competitiveness while simultaneously protecting natural resources. The party wants to open the country’s electricity market to private companies both to reduce electricity costs and to encourage renewable energy growth. ML also has a detailed highway construction plan designed to help reduce congestion in San José.

Rodolfo Piza: Social Christian Unity Party


Due to a surprise drop out by PUSC’s original candidate, Piza still does not have an officially published platform, so Gabriela San Román, a PUSC assistant campaign manager, laid out the party’s environmental plans Tuesday for the first time in the campaign.

The party’s primary environmental concern is the preservation of Costa Rica’s protected areas.

“The heart of our green efforts – our parks, our protected areas – are under threat, mostly because of a lack of management,” she said. “It is the Unity’s first priority to protect that which we already have.”

Increased protection, said San Román, can only be accomplished through a complete overhaul of the country’s National System of Protected Areas and an increase in personnel.

Also on the party’s list of priorities are water resource management and an improved recycling program.

Luís Guillermo Solís: Citizen Action Party


Summarizing his party’s comprehensive environmental plan, Solís focused on the issues of water resource management and institutional reform in his speech.

“It is time we recognize that the public institutions that regulate the environment are one of the largest challenges that we face,” he said. “We need to create a more integrated management approach.”

Specifically, Solís wants the public included in environmental management, especially people who live near national parks.

“We have protected areas and that is important,” Solís said, “but there are people who live around those protected areas, who have problems and it is time that those problems are addressed.”

ARA ranked PAC’s environmental plan as one of the most detailed and comprehensive (along with Villalta’s), and noted that his transport and energy-sustainability plans were the most developed out of all the platforms.

José María Villalta: Broad Front Party


The crux of Villalta’s environmental platform includes better management of the environmental laws in existence. Villalta pointed to environmental laws that have passed but continue without regulation. (Villalta recently sat down with The Tico Times to discuss his environmental proposals. Read that story here.)

“Look at the collection of recyclables. There is a law on the books that we have to separate recycling,” he said, “but the municipalities don’t have a plan to manage it so it doesn’t matter. We need to actually plan these things out.”

Villalta has other, more ambitious, environmental plans. As president, the lawmaker promised he would help Costa Rica become the first “trash-free” country in Latin America and start expanding the train system in the Central Valley to alleviate traffic.

His environmental plan also focuses heavily on rural agricultural development with the hope of relieving poverty among the nation’s farmers.




Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

He said a couple of years ago the per-capita income in this area was $6,000 to $7,000 a year, and now it’s $12,000 to $14,000, and that’s “because of the hotel business, reinforced by the marina industry.” He said the Chamber’s goal is to boost the per-capita income to between $15,000 and $18,000.

The marina in particular has created highly specialized jobs, he said.

“There are 165 trades associated with the marina industry, everything from interior design, maintenance, captains, first mates, furniture,” he said. “This is what we need. We don’t need more taxi drivers, we don’t need more maids; we need specialists in the marina industry.”

Temple archway imported from Bali at the entrance to Prana Rainforest Retreat, on the Villas Lirio road.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Carlos Santana frowns. The look is so uncharacteristic, because this whole afternoon his expression runs consistently from beatific to boyish and back. He riffs amiably about receiving inspiration from angels and discloses secrets about his quest for the "universal tone," about how he learned to distill longing and joy in a single note — that pristine, piercing Santana sound that's instantly recognizable from San Francisco to Singapore.

But now he's standing on a hotel balcony 43 stories up, where a photographer has just asked him to climb onto a table, the better to pose against the neon skyline.

The guitar player balks: "Why do I have to be put on a pedestal?"

Awkward pause.

Santana winks. He'll do it, on the promise that the effect will not be pedestal-like.

At 66, he has an uneasy relationship with the pedestal — the one that he at once covets, disdains and sometimes doubts he deserves. The one that people want to place him upon — except when they don't, during those dispiriting droughts when the music-buying public all but forgets him.

He certified himself a contender for the guitar-hero crown almost from the start, in a band that took his last name, at Woodstock in 1969. His frenzied solo on "Soul Sacrifice" went old-school viral, thanks to the film of the hippie music festival.

There followed a series of pioneering albums that almost single-handedly invented pop world-beat music. The congas, timbales and Afro-Latin guitar and organ rhythms on smash covers such as "Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen" and "Oye Como Va" redefined the parameters of rock-and-roll. The guitar player knew what notes not to play, savoring the magic of a simple melodic line. But he grew restless, and he embarked on a decades-long quixotic musical and spiritual journey. He explored jazz and new-age horizons and, for several years, followed the guru Sri Chinmoy. Santana commanded the admiration of elite musicians but not radio programmers.

"I don't consider myself a guitar player as much as I am a seeker who wants to manifest his vision through that particular instrument," he said in 1978.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, his 1999 album, "Supernatural," won nine Grammys, posted astronomical sales and lodged Santana in the download queue of a new generation. On nearly every track, his guitar accompanied — shared the pedestal with — a trendier singer, such as Dave Matthews, Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty, Everlast and Lauryn Hill. He has used that formula on several more albums and has alighted on a concert residency at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay casino resort.

"I'm not a seeker anymore," he says. "I'm a finder now. It's more fun to just will it to happen, than to hope for somebody to sort of come, part the ocean or the sky, and give it to you."

He steps down from the makeshift pedestal. Curly black locks billow beneath a black fedora, which covers a balding pate. He's wearing a purple shirt printed with a picture of John Coltrane. Carrying his purple guitar, he enters a private room that the House of Blues has trimmed in purple. Which puts him in the mood to play "Purple Haze."

He jams meditatively, loses the Jimi Hendrix lick for a second — "Where is that thing?" — finds it.

All the while, he's working out how he feels about this latest pedestal, the one they're erecting in Washington.

Carlos Santana 2

Carlos Santana finds that inner place during a 1978 concert. Courtesy of Chris Hakkens/Wikimedia Commons

"I don't mind committing career suicide once in awhile and playing music that only musicians maybe understand," he says. "I'm not a poodle who you just throw a little bone or a biscuit to, and I dance for you, man. That's why, perhaps, when they're celebrating this Mexican, Carlos Santana, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, it's a big canasta [that is being honored]. Canasta is like a basket, with not just a guitar [inside], but a person who loves uplifting consciousness."

He deems the Kennedy Center's history of having rarely honored Latinos to be typical of so many U.S. institutions trapped in an Anglo-European thrall. Yet he considers it no favor to be cast in the self-limiting role of one of the two Latinos (along with opera singer Martina Arroyo) being honored this year, to help correct that record. True, he was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, and honed his guitar chops in the streets and dives of Tijuana. But the identity that matters most to Santana — his artistic and spiritual self — is bigger, embracing roots from Mali to Haiti to Cuba to the Mississippi Delta.

"I'm more than just a Mexican with a blower on the presidential lawn at the White House," he says. "I represent a whole bunch of other people."

The aspect of this accolade that really awes him? It's the promise of being ushered onto the same platform as jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock, who is also being honored.

Hancock is among a select list of artists, living and dead, whom Santana reveres. Hendrix, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Bob Marley, Babatunde Olatunji, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Harry Belafonte, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Gabor Szabo. He jammed with as many as he could and tried to learn from the rest.

Even though he has recorded and toured with Hancock and Shorter, a little, insecure part of Santana has always worried that he couldn't keep up with such aces.

"I'm still learning the difference between respect and fear," he says. "They all say the same thing to me: You're one of us. But as soon as I'm in the room, and they start playing, I'm like, oh, damn. Because they're so — I'll say it like this: They are an ocean. I'm a big lake. Someone else is a swimming pool. I'm somewhere in the middle."


José Santana was a professional violin player who taught his son Carlos the instrument. The boy learned the emotional power of even a simple melody in classical pieces, Mexican folk tunes and pop standards such as "Fascination." But when he heard U.S. rhythm-and-blues, he set aside the violin and picked up a guitar. Barely a teenager, he supported himself with a gig accompanying dancers in a strip club.

"You learn how to strip women," he recalls. "Yet at the same time, exalt, like 'Ave Maria.' It's the same energy."

The family immigrated to San Francisco, and by the late 1960s, Carlos Santana had co-founded a band with a rare integrated lineup of Latinos, whites and an African American. They earned coveted invitations to play at the Fillmore and then Woodstock.

"This was no peace, love, hippie thing. The band was like a street gang, and its weapon was music," drummer Michael Shrieve recalled when the original Santana band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, he elaborated: "This band was very serious and rehearsed every single day. ... If you messed up, you'd be called on it in no uncertain terms. It was like there was a mission behind the whole endeavor."

One day after rehearsal, Shrieve asked Santana if he wanted to see a movie. Recalls Shrieve: "He stops in his tracks, and he looks at me and he says, 'Man, what would I want to go see a movie for? I want to be the movie.' "

A seminal moment for Santana came when he first saw B.B. King play guitar, in 1967, when Santana was about 20, two years before Woodstock. The bluesman knew how to coax maximum ecstasy out of a single note. What caught Santana's attention was not King's fretwork but his transfigured expression.

"I needed to see B.B. King because once I saw his face, I said, 'Oh, it's not the amplifier, it's not the guitar,' " Santana recalls. "It's where he went. He metaphysically went into a place in his head beyond his mind to get that tone and that note.

"After that, my mom would always ask me, 'Mi hijo, [my son], where do you go when you look up at the ceiling and you play differently?' I told her it's a place where everything's memorable, there's no more time, there's no more distance, there's no more fear. It's called a state of grace."

From that foundation, his music took flight.

"He loves Africa and African music, so he's always bringing those fundamental colors, flavors and rhythms to mainstream pop culture," says drummer and producer Narada Michael Walden, who has produced Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Barbara Steisand and Elton John. "You can revolutionize music by doing that over and over again, and that's what he's done — be it through pushing on the jazz side, the rock side, the blues side, the Spanish-Mexican side, even pushing into the top 10."

The top 10 had become elusive after the early hits, until an angel and a record company executive intervened, according to Santana. The result was "Supernatural."

"I'm not afraid to say it was an angel called Metatron that came around," he says.

Metatron is a figure in medieval mystical writings. Santana attended seances and learned from Metatron: "You will be placed on the radio like you've never been before," he recalls. "And I'm like, I haven't been on the radio since '72."

In return, Santana would be expected to use that platform "to invite people to create their own masterpieces of joy." And he would have to disclose for the first time publicly that he had been sexually molested as a child, by a man outside his family, in order to help other victims heal. Santana kept his side of the bargain in interviews after "Supernatural" was released.

His intention, he says now, was to "invite other people who have been molested sexually when they were children to look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'I am not what happened to me. I am still with purity and innocence.' " By discussing it, he says, "I became totally free from it. I was released."

Santana 3

A trade ad that appeared in the Dec. 25, 1971 issue of "Billboard" magazine ahead of the album Santana III. Courtesy of Columbia Records/Wikimedia Commons

At least as important as Metatron was Clive Davis, the veteran pop tastemaker and power broker. Davis drove the concept of pairing Santana with vocalists who had more contemporary appeal. After years of instrumental jamming, Santana found the commercially viable discipline invigorating.

"When I play [instrumental] melodies, I feed myself with a shovel; I don't need to care how long — 15 bars, 16 bars, just go," he says. "On the radio, you have to be only 4:15 or 3:30 or whatever, and you only have so much space between you and the singer. You complement all the time — not compare or compete — and when it comes to doing your solo, do it in such a way that if Jimi Hendrix was alive, he would go, 'Hey man, that was a nice solo.' "

The melody for the song with Matthews, "Love of My Life," is appropriated from a passage by Brahms, which was the first music a grieving Santana heard when he turned on the car radio, tuned to a classical station, shortly after his father died in 1997.

In 2007, Santana and his wife of more than 30 years, Deborah, divorced. They have three adult children. In 2010, Santana married esteemed jazz drummer Cindy Blackman, who played briefly in his band. He proposed to her on stage that year, after her drum solo on "Corazón Espinado" — which means "pierced heart" and is one of the hits from "Supernatural." In Las Vegas, he is active in local charities, not just writing checks, but also visiting the city Rescue Mission to meet residents. His Milagro Foundation reports having given $5.6 million in the United States and abroad, mainly to help vulnerable children.

Since "Supernatural," the collaborative approach has yielded three more top 10 albums, pairing the guitarist with singers as diverse as Steven Tyler and Placido Domingo. Now he is at work on a project with a Latino accent, partnering with Juanes, Lila Downs, Gloria Estefan, Romeo Santos and others.

Yet he's still the sonic voyager, releasing instrumental music on the side, notably the "Shape Shifter" disc last year. Say what you will about angels, the track "Metatron" is sublime, or, as Rolling Stone said in the album review: "This largely instrumental debut release on his own label has moments of s----hot playing (see the smeared runs on 'Metatron')."

Santana saunters onstage in a long black leather coat with his purple guitar, and the 1,300 fans packing the intimate House of Blues start to scream.

"I have been listening to Santana since I was 11," says Angelina Gallegos, 45, from the Seattle area. Now she and her daughter listen. "He's got some songs that touch your soul."

John Senger, 70, of Kelowna, British Columbia, says that he has cancer and that when he and his wife of nearly 50 years, Claudette, got to Vegas and realized they could see Santana, he added the show to his bucket list. After a few songs, his eyes are brimming with tears.

The band has 10 players, including two vocalists, two horn players and three percussionists. Periodically, Santana moves to the side or the back of the stage, sharing the pedestal.

"Most artists who have reached this level of success in the music industry, when they perform, it's generally all about them," trumpet player Bill Ortíz said earlier. "One of the great things about him as a bandleader is he really values the input of his side people."

Santana sheds the coat to reveal a black T-shirt. He has put on a few pounds since Woodstock, but his fingers seem as nimble.

Each song is a mini-drama. Even the radio-ready hits are expanded for a live workout. The sound builds, subsides, resolves in catharsis. At the emotional center of a tune — "Europa," "Incident at Neshabur," "Corazón Espinado" — Santana plants himself at the front of the stage, wringing his guitar. He looks up, sees something through the ceiling, closes his eyes, like a man who appears to have found it, a state of grace.

© 2013, The Washington Post

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Of the region in general, he said, “The problem that we have is not attracting more visitors; the problem we have is infrastructure. We get like 68 cruise ships that visit Quepos every year, bringing thousands and thousands and thousands of visitors.

“But the park can’t handle more than it can handle. It can handle maybe 2,000. Cruise ships with 2, 3, 4,000 people, they can’t handle it. We’re a little bit a victim of our own success.”

I bet there are a lot of places in this country that would like to have this problem.

View from Sí Como No

Jim Damalas of California first came to Costa Rica in 1974, and in 1976 his partners bought the property that is today the Sí Como No, another standout hotel, with rooms ranging from $350 to $500 a night.

Swimming pool at Sí Como No.
An informant in the investigation of the murder of sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora has left the witness protection program, Channel 7's Álvaro Sánchez reported Thursday. Mora was murdered on May 31 on the Caribbean’s Moín Beach after a night patrolling the beach to save turtle eggs. He was captured along with four foreign women who were volunteers. The women escaped unharmed. Six suspects are currently in preventative detention awaiting trial for the murder. The informant, known by the pseudonym “El Prieto,” had been a member of the same criminal gang as the murder suspects. He said the detainees had confessed the crime to him and now they want to kill him. “I know every single one of the members of the gang,” he told Teletica, “One of them told me everything that happened.” El Prieto said after he was called in for questioning by the Judicial Investigation Police he became an informant and was moved out of the Caribbean for his safety. Though police promised to help him make a new life, the informant said he was only given ₡23,000 a month ($46) for food. For more details about the murder, see The Tico Times’ in-depth report on the case: Why Jairo died. Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“What’s interesting about this area, unlike Tamarindo and Jacó and Flamingo and all these other places,” Damalas said, “if you go out on a boat and you look back, it looks the same way it did in ’74. That’s what makes it unique.”

It’s also a “calle sin salida,” he noted. “Only one way in and out. And that’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it can create a lot of traffic issues on the holidays, but it also reduces the development.”

Sitting in his breeze-swept lobby overlooking a huge expanse of almost completely untouched forest between us and the sea, Damalas noted that there are 50 meters of maritime zone where nobody can build anything. Then there are another 150 meters where you can apply for concessions to build.

But all of that land is in a hot, buggy, flat zone that we were now looking down on.

“So you feel this right now?” he asked, indicating the delightful breeze.

Soccer field in Quepos, with nice houses on the hills behind.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has sent troops into the streets, clamped down on the press and sidestepped Congress to intensify what he calls the war against the "parasitic bourgeoisie" ahead of local elections.

The opposition says Sunday's vote to elect 337 mayors and 2,455 councilors is a referendum on Maduro, as Venezuelans cope with the fastest inflation in the world, blackouts, water cuts and a surge in violence. Maduro says the vote is a chance to show loyalty to the late President Hugo Chávez, who reduced poverty by more than half in his 14-year tenure.

Maduro's answer to inflation has been to deploy soldiers to enforce price cuts in electronic stores last month and seize an Irish-owned packaging company last week, saying companies can't overcharge consumers. He has also pledged to lower prices for cars and commercial rent, warning business owners that he is "going all the way" after lawmakers gave him the power to rule by decree last month.

"Maduro inherited Chávez's power but not his great skill to communicate with the masses and his charisma," Andrés Cañizález, a professor of Communication at Venezuela's Catholic University and director of the media advocacy group Monitoreo Ciudadano, said in a phone interview in Caracas. "That void has been replaced by more authoritarianism and censorship."

As banks from JP Morgan Chase to Barclays have warned investors of the risks from economic imbalances produced by currency and price controls, yields on Venezuela's benchmark bonds due in 2027 hit a two-year high of 13.8 on Dec. 3. Venezuela's average yield has increased 5 percentage points since Maduro was election on April 14.

Maduro has stepped up intervention after his approval rating fell to 41 percent in September from 47 the previous month, Barclays said in a Nov. 12 report, citing a poll, which the Caracas-based Datanálisis polling firm declined to make public. His approval rating rose to 50 percent in November, Bank of America said Friday in a note to clients, citing a Datanalisis poll.

While presenting himself as a "son of Chávez," Maduro hasn't been able to match the charm of his mentor, who punctuated his speeches with jokes and anecdotes, said Luis Vicente León, director of Datanálisis. Price cuts allowed Maduro to present himself as a man of action, rather than words, León said in Caracas Dec. 5.

His gaffes have earned him the nickname Maburro in social media, a pun on the Spanish word for mule. Last month in a televised speech, while admonishing business owners for usury, he said capitalists "speculated and robbed just like us." On Sept. 15, he fell off a bike on live television during a Sunday ride with his wife and ministers.

He said his gaffes were deliberate to keep people listening. "I'm not as much of a brute as they say," Maduro said on TV Aug. 16.

In his battle to improve his popularity, Maduro appears on television an average of 90 minutes a day, compared with Chávez's average of 50 minutes, according to data compiled by Marcelino Bisbal, director of media studies at the Catholic University.

In a televised address on Nov. 23, Maduro said the measures he implemented should slow inflation and asked government statisticians to "go beyond the technicalities and technology" when calculating the consumer price index.

The decision to force price cuts may win Maduro support in this weekend's election, while deepening the country's economic woes, Steve Hanke, professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, said by phone from Baltimore Dec. 4.

"Since the day of my inauguration, the parasitic bourgeoisie has not let up for one second in its war to destroy me, to fill the people with hate toward me, as they did with Comandante Chávez, sabotaging the economy, agitating the country," Maduro said in October.

Annual inflation quickened to 54 percent in October, the fastest pace in 16 years. At the same time, the central bank's scarcity index, which measures the amount of goods out of stock at any given time, rose to 22.4 percent as customers searched for milk, antibiotics and tires. Venezuela produces a third of the goods it needs, according to industry association Consecomercio.

In his last presidential run, in October 2012, Chávez won 55 percent of the vote. Maduro fell short of that mark in the April presidential election, winning 50.6 percent, while opposition candidate Henrique Capriles received 49.1 percent.

While Maduro increases his use of media, Capriles is being shut out. Speeches by the opposition leader are not broadcast by any television channel in the country.

In August, six journalists quit Globovision, the country's main news channel, in protest over alleged interference by Maduro's government. The station stopped airing live speeches by Capriles after changing owners in May.

As Maduro criticized private newspapers for covering shortages and violence, 20 legal actions were brought against journalists and private media companies from January to October, up from four in 2012, according to the Caracas-based Institute of Press and Society, a group that advocates free press.

"Chavez felt more sure of himself than Maduro and because of this allowed an outlet for dissident voices," said Canizalez. "Nowadays, Capriles' message is only heard on Twitter and some nighttime news bulletins" on television.

Information Ministry spokesman Raimundo Urrechaga and presidential spokesman Rafael Marquez declined to comment on the media strategy, elections and economic measures.

Maduro has surrounded himself with celebrities as part of his campaigning strategy. Magglio Ordonez, a multi-millionaire former Major League Baseball star, was appointed by him to run for mayor in Puerto la Cruz, the nation's fifth biggest city. Pop star Antonio 'El Potro' Alvarez, who married two Miss Venezuelas, is running for the top job in the Caracas' borough of Sucre.

The opposition's refusal to recognize Maduro's narrow victory in April has left the president no option but to respond toughly to his critics, said Miguel Tinker Salas, professor of Latin American studies at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

"A measured response would've been preferred but in the context of the elections and national polarization there's a logic to his actions," he said by telephone on Dec. 3.

The latest example of the government's tougher tactic came on Nov. 24 when Capriles campaign official Alejandro Silva said he was pulled out of a hotel room in Caracas at 1:40 a.m. by plainclothes police and detained for 16 hours without charge. "For me it was a common kidnapping," Silva said in an emailed comment. Venezuela's attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz said Silva was held as a witness, without providing details.

Miami Herald reporter Jim Wyss and filmmaker Tim Tracy, both U.S. citizens, were temporarily detained under Maduro's government after trying to cover subjects including product shortages and opposition parties.

"I don't think Maduro understands the negative economic and social impact of his actions," Riordan Roett, director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins, said by phone from Washington on Dec. 3. "We are heading toward even greater instability after the elections."

With assistance from Nathan Crooks in Caracas.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

“That’s why all of us, 90 percent of us, are on the ridge,” he said. “You won’t get that down behind that 50 meters of jungle, you’ll be sweating down there and getting bit by the bugs.”

The manager of operations at Sí Como No, Dennys Quiros, gave me a tour of the property (which actually has a movie theater, not to mention a sumptuous spa), and I asked him if any celebrities had been here.

He said pop star Pink (a repeat visitor to Costa Rica who got married in Papagayo) checked in one day and walked up to the poolside bar, all the other guests staring at her, and ordered a strawberry margarita.

Next thing you know, the bar was inundated with orders for strawberry margaritas.

View from Marina Pez Vela

Bear in mind that the town of Quepos was here first, that it’s the municipality that governs the entire region, and that it’s joined at the hip economically with Manuel Antonio.

But ever since the tourism boom started, Quepos has been something of a wagging tail on the bounding dog that is Manuel Antonio. There are two major businesses that don’t rely on tourism: Martec, a huge fish-farming company, and Numar/Palma Tica, a major palm oil firm. Virtually all other businesses in this area rely on visitors in one way or another.

The Best Western Kamuk Hotel and Casino in downtown Quepos.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Nov. 13, Claudia Membreno Gómez was cooking dinner for her four children at home in Honduras. She had just spoken with her husband, Gustavo, in Alexandria, Virginia, in the United States, who was planning to meet her at Reagan National Airport the next day. Suddenly, three armed men burst through her door, pinioned the children at gunpoint and shot their mother dead in the kitchen.

The horrific slaying hardly made the news in Honduras, although local police officials confirmed the basic facts. With 7,100 killings last year alone, the Central American nation of 8 million has the highest per capita murder rate in the world: 82 per 100,000 people. Much of it has been fueled by criminal gangs that traffic in drugs, extortion and violent mayhem.

But in Alexandria, where many of her relatives live, Gómez's faraway death has touched hundreds of people from varied walks of life. Some knew her from the private package service she ran out of the family's apartment. They often brought gifts for friends and loved ones back in Honduras, which she stuffed into suitcases and delivered via monthly round-trip flights.

"This has ripped my heart out," said Patricia Moore, a family friend and property manager who often visited the Gómez home. "I used to sit and watch Claudia pack Christmas presents for people to send back to their children or their parents. She and her family were loved by many, many people."

Honduras murder 2

Claudia Membreno Gómez, seen in this undated photo, was killed by armed men Nov. 13, 2013, in Honduras in front of her children. Family photo

At Del Ray Pizzeria, a friendly upscale bistro where Gómez's brother Elder Caballero and his wife, María, work in the kitchen, everyone was stunned and saddened. Owner Eric Reid organized a fundraising dinner Nov. 26 and put out jars with labels that described the slaying as "a death in our family." Many customers learned the news through a local food blog, and the dinner to benefit the Gómez family was sold out.

For some local residents, the killing opened a window onto a world they knew little about: a struggling Central American country where poverty, crime and natural disasters have driven thousands to the Washington area, and where corruption and military intervention have weakened a poor but once-stable democracy.

Jeff and Samantha Wetzel, former Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras, were among those who came to pay their respects. They said they had experienced firsthand the increasing danger and instability in the family's homeland, which accelerated in 2009 after the military overthrew an elected president.

"The situation there was deteriorating so badly that our program was suspended and we never finished our service," said Jeff Wetzel, 29. "Something like this helps you understand why so many young people there want to immigrate to the U.S."

For Honduran emigrants in the area, the slaying was sad but not surprising. According to Gómez's family, she had been receiving anonymous phone calls demanding money and threatening o harm her if she did not pay. They said that such extortion was now a common practice by violent gangs and that neighbors, drivers and small-business owners they know in Honduras received similar threats.

Like many Central American families, the Gómez-Membreno-Caballero clan members live in two worlds, with daily cellphone contact, informal business ties and a shifting mix of relatives moving between Alexandria and Progreso Yoro, a city on the northern Honduran coast that has boomed with the influx of U.S. dollars.

While Elder and María Caballero toiled in the pizza restaurant and sent home part of their wages, Claudia and Gustavo Gómez built a tidy business ferrying gifts by plane and by car to Honduras. They coordinated their trips so one parent could always be with the children. Claudia was an active Jehovah's Witness in both places, and Gustavo often filled his cars with low-cost items from Goodwill to take home.

"Everything she did was for her children and her church. I keep asking myself why God would take her from us," said Gustavo, 29, a stocky, taciturn man, as he slumped in the tiny kitchen of Elder and María's apartment one recent afternoon.

Glumly, he scrolled through the images in his cellphone. There was one of them together, smiling and hugging on a beach. There was one his wife sent of herself, posing in a slinky dress to show him that she was losing weight. Finally, there was one from her funeral two weeks ago, with people holding umbrellas on a dark, drizzling day.

"See all the people who came, even in the rain?" he asked with a faint smile. Then his face crumpled and he covered it with his hands, sobbing. "I cannot accept that this happened," he mumbled. "I will never get over it."

Honduras murder 3

Del Ray Pizzeria owner Eric Reid, left, organized a fundraising dinner Nov. 26, 2013, at his restaurant to benefit the family of Claudia Membreno Gómez, who was killed Nov. 13 in Honduras in front of her children. Photo for The Washington Post photo by Jared Soares

According to analysts, the explosion of violent crime in Honduras was linked to its emergence as a transit hub for the drug trade and exacerbated by the 2009 coup. William Leogrande, a Latin America expert at American University, said the coup "weakened the rule of law" while gangs became better armed and more sophisticated. "The police lack training, and the gangs have just become too powerful for them," he said.

Gómez's relatives said that they had long ago lost confidence in Honduran law enforcement and that she never reported the threatening calls. They said that police told them her death was under investigation but that no one came back to inspect the house or interview neighbors.

Well before her slaying, Claudia and Gustavo had been growing worried about their children, ages 4, 6, 11 and 14. All four are U.S. citizens, and Gustavo was fixing up an apartment for the whole family in Alexandria, painting it in the cream and brick tones Claudia had chosen and rushing to finish before she arrived.

Instead, on Nov. 14, he ended up on a plane to Honduras, where his wife was dead and his children had just witnessed her slaying. He grabbed the two youngest, Luis and Emma, and flew with them back to the embrace of family and friends in a place far from the horror they had just endured.

For now, the two older children are in Honduras with their grandparents while the younger ones are settling into new schools and starting to come out of their shells. Last week, Emma, 6, shyly recited her ABCs and crayoned pictures in Elder's apartment. Luis, a rambunctious 4-year-old, clowned and twirled in circles, then stopped in front of a photo. It was a portrait of Claudia and her children, taken for a special occasion.

"Luis. Mami," he said, jabbing at his face and then his mother's. He looked up, frowning, then jabbed again. "Luis. Mami." Then the little boy jumped up and barreled across the room to his father, as fast as his legs would go.

© 2013, The Washington Post

Honduras murder 4

From front to back, Luis Cabellero, 4, his cousin Krisly Cabellero, 8, Krisly's mother María Aguirre, and his sister Emma Caballero, 6, are seen Dec. 3, 2013, at María Aguirre's home in Alexandria, Virginia. Luis and Emma Cabellero saw their mother killed by armed men on Nov. 13 in Honduras. Washington Post photo by Matt McClain

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Boris Marchegiani, director of the Gaia Hotel and Reserve and president of the local Chamber of Tourism, when asked to describe Quepos and Manuel Antonio, said, “It would be like the difference between being in Cannes or La Côte d’Azur.” If you understand that analogy, you’ll fit right in here.

“This was basically developed for tourism,” he said, referring to the hills of Manuel Antonio. “It’s mostly small hotels and pensions, so it’s got its own color and flavor.”

For years, Quepos was rarely seen as much of a tourism destination in its own right. It does have a lively casino at the Kamuk Best Western that’s open until 4 a.m., and you will see lots of backpackers here, using the busy bus terminal and taking advantage of the lower prices for lodging and food.

But Quepos got a major upgrade around 2012, when the Marina Pez Vela opened after the paralysis caused by the global financial crisis of 2008.

Marina Pez Vela.
Beyonce zip lining

Beyonce adds some style to a zip-lining harness in Costa Rica. Courtesy

Costa Rica has arrived.

U.S. R&B singer Beyonce Knowles uploaded her tumblr “My Life” this week with photos of her recent vacation here with husband rap mogul Jay-Z and their daughter Blue Ivy.  

The singer sports a “Smile Costa Rica” tank top at a waterfall (where’s the “pura vida” love, Bey?), reclines at the beach, and tries her hand at paddle boarding. She’s got to keep up her abs even on vacation, right?

Beyonce manages to make zip-lining gear look fierce and even gets a little dirty posing with a traditional Costa Rican oxcart, complete with cow skull. Someone should have told her that there are much prettier ones down here.

Arenal Volcano even made the cut. Queen Bey’s stay in La Fortuna de San Carlos, near the iconic volcano, adds some credence to its growing profile as a international tourist destination. Earlier this week, TripAdvisor listed La Fortuna as one of its “Top Ten Emerging Destination of 2013.”

Hip Hop’s first family traveled to Costa Rica in November (you might have seen our Facebook posts and tweets by now). 

Still waiting for that shot of Jay-Z in a guayabera. 

Karl Kahler/The Tico Times

Today this marina is beautiful, modern and open to all — it reminds me of San Diego, with all its upscale restaurants and shops. It’s totally open to the public, meaning anyone can come here without a penny in their pocket and sit and enjoy the sunset for free. For a dollar or two, you could get an ice cream, and there are free movie nights twice a month.

Jeff Duchesneau, general director of Pez Vela, said when he came aboard in 2014, the marina had a questionable reputation in town just because it was a marina, like the gated Los Sueños up in Herradura, where the locals might not feel like they’re welcome.

Duchesneau did everything in his power to turn that perception around, and he has. Today most quepeños whole-heartedy embrace the marina and are proud to have it.

“I call this my human friction area,” Duchesneau said, standing on the seaside plaza built like an old amphitheater, where 300 people can sit on the stairs to watch movies or other performances. “This is where the Costa Rican kids and the American tourist kids start playing together and running around. And it feels right, it feels like what a marina should be in Costa Rica.”

Any complaints?

Yes, there are complaints. Many people say Manuel Antonio is “too crowded” and “too touristy.”

As noted in a previous Tico Times story on the national park, the species you see most here is Homo sapiens. It is a fact that Costa Rica’s greatest places tend to attract the most visitors, and there are good reasons for that.

Some travelers avoid Manuel Antonio because they’ve heard there are too many people there. I think they’re making a big mistake. People can be fun too, you know.

The attractions of this region may be tourism’s perfect storm — extreme biodiversity, protected park, fabulous hotels, excellent marina and omnipresent views of vast green forest and blue ocean.

I’m sure the Garden of Eden was nice with only two people in it. But if you don’t mind your paradise a little more populated, it’s hard to top this one.

Contact Karl Kahler at

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