Trip Recap: Costa Rica & Ara Manzanillo


4 minute read

2021 was quite the year for us all. Maintaining health and safety, overcoming obstacles, and forging ahead in spite of all odds was the name of the game on all levels. After a year of working hard, my family and I took some much-earned respite and relaxation in December when we embarked on a fantastic vacation to one of our favorite places in the world: Costa Rica.

Read on for the full recap of our trip, to learn more about Ara Manzanillo, and to see some of the photos I took along the way!

                                                                           Photo by John Garner

The Journey There

We flew down to Costa Rica by way of JetBlue, an airline about which I cannot say enough wonderful things. We booked our seats using points, of course, from our Citi ThankYou Points (60,400 points, to be exact), and decided on a well-worth-it upgrade to Blue Extra, which provides way more flexibility on the minutiae of air travel than standard tiers.

To make matters even better, we were able to take advantage of JetBlue Mint check-in and early boarding, a great benefit of my American Airlines Elite status. JetBlue Mint service is available on select flights, but Mint benefits are available on all JetBlue flights. We were lucky enough to take advantage of the streamlined check-in, bag drop, and early boarding, making the experience so smooth and guaranteeing that we’ll utilize the service again on future trips.

Our Home Away from Home

While we are big hotel people– especially when it comes to booking with rewards and points– we took a slightly different route for this trip and booked an Airbnb in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast (just north of Panama). This decision was made simply because there were no major hotels in the region which is pretty unique, considering the pristine beachfront is undeveloped for miles.
Photo by John Garner

The location we stayed at consisted of two nice-sized houses at a total of $500 dollars per night. To put that into perspective, the closest 4-star hotel was also $500 per night, but that was simply per double room. It was a no-brainer to book the wonderful Airbnb we did, which allowed us to immerse ourselves in the locale even more. One of the houses was closer to the beach, a single room bungalow with the bedroom opening up to views of the ocean from the edge of the jungle with its own open plan kitchen and bathroom. The other, larger house had two beds, two baths, with a master suite, open full kitchens, and hammocks outside.

We were even able to arrange for our Airbnb to have bicycles on hand, which made getting around the area efficient and, frankly, a ton of fun!


Apart from that much needed relaxation I mentioned earlier, we scheduled a variety of activities based on things we’ve done on previous trips to Costa Rica, plus suggestions from friends about what to check out while we were down there. Surfing and hanging out on the beautiful beaches was near the top of our list, and a fun activity we could do on our own time. Plus the local town had a ton of spots for good food, bars, and nightlife. 

One of the most rewarding and fun activities was simply watching the wildlife from our home. The wildlife in Costa Rica is outstanding, and we even had visits from a couple of friends in the form of Sam the Sloth and Rocky the Raccoon! Both animals hung out around the premises, and we caught a few repeat glimpses of them, not to mention the variety of spiders, poison dart frogs, and birds abound near us.
Photo by John Garner

Other exciting activities included a chocolate tour through the jungle, white water rafting, and an excellent day trip into Panama, but far and away the most incredible adventure we had on our journey was visiting the great green macaw sanctuary at Ara Manzanillo.

Ara Manzanillo

Ara Manzanillo, formerly the Ara Project, is a fantastic organization that is doing the utmost to conserve and protect the great green macaw with the intention of repopulating their numbers and reintroducing them into the wild. These magnificent birds are threatened from all angles, whether it be from the international wild bird pet and feather trade, illegal trapping, land use that results in the loss of their homes, and an egregious lack of awareness regarding why it’s important to conserve the species.

                                                    Photo by John Garner

Ara Manzanillo makes every effort they can not only to protect these wonderful animals, but to educate and raise awareness to those that wish to join the effort.

You can check out what they're up to via their website at, plus be sure to follow them on social media to stay up to date with all the wonderful and exciting things they've got going on!

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful– and one of our most favorite– places in the world. Not only are there a mass of activities to engage in, but the country is enriched with amazing culture and history. I can’t recommend Costa Rica enough if you’re in the market for an adventure! Just make sure you book your trip with points, upgrade to your airline’s higher amenity tiers when possible (trust me: it’s worth it), and say hello to our friends at Ara Manzanillo while you’re down there– and, of course, Sam the Sloth and Rocky the Racoon, if they make an appearance!


Written by John Garner
John Garner is the founder & CEO of Card Curator. John spent 5+ years as a volatility trader for Merrill Lynch before deciding to start Card Curator and follow his real passion: credit card rewards and travel. To date, he has visited almost 90 countries by using rewards earned from 100+ credit cards. He’s an expert in all things related to credit cards and free travel, and loves helping others crack the code in the points and miles game.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe Here!


Posts by Topic