Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio National Park

It may be one of Costa Rica’s smallest National Parks, but what it lacks in size it more then makes up for in wildlife diversity.

Manuel Antonio - Getting There

Obviously the first step in getting to the Manuel Antonio National Park is getting yourself to Costa Rica. The good news is that for a U.S. citizen that’s fairly easy. There are no visa requirements or international driver license requirements (your U.S. driver license is valid). Really all you need is a return ticket back to the States.

Assuming you’re landing in the San Jose airport as we did you’ll have about a 3 hours drive ahead of you. A couple of things to note about driving in Costa Rica. The ‘rules of the road’ are more like ‘suggestions of the road’. You’ll be passed on the left and right. Be prepared to stop at a moment’s notice; you can suddenly be confronted with men pushing a wheel burrow down the road, cows being herded down the streets, or perhaps someone in a wheelchair making their way down the street. Be prepared for anything!

Finally, have some local currency (colons) on hand. You’ll pass through many toll booths. My biggest fear was holding up the line of locals while I fished for the toll money.

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Maneul Antonio - Diversity

Manuel Antonio is the most popular National Park along with Ticos. One reason for this is the unspoiled beaches that lie within easy walking distance of the entrance station. The overhanging palms are a refreshing break from the condos, bars, discos, hotels, and restaurants surrounding the park.

Red-backed squirrel monkeys are a big attraction, surviving only in Corcovado, and Manuel Antonio. The park is actually too small to support a viable population, and the monkeys travel to surrounding areas aided by aerial bridges over the road sponsored by local school children. White-faced Capuchin and Mantled Howler Monkeys commonly hang around the entrance station looking for handouts (it is illegal to feed wildlife). Two- and Three-toed SlothsRaccoonsWhite-nosed Coatis, and Agoutis are other common mammals.

It may be one of Costa Rica’s smallest National Parks, but what it lacks in size it more then makes up for in wildlife diversity.

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Over 350 species of birds call Manuel Antonio home, and many more visit the park.  You’ll certainly see brown pelicans fishing offshore, and five species of kingfishers including the brilliant emerald amazon species working the streams and lakes.  Despite their brilliant colors, Fiery-billed Aracaris and Chestnut Mandibled Toucans blend with the forest remarkably well. Other species including Lineated Woodpeckers, Barred Woodcreepers, Red-capped Manakins are even harder to spot, and a good guide might help here.

Especially near the shore, iguanas and ctenosaurs are easily spotted. Other reptiles and amphibians including Jesus Christ LizardsBig-headed AnolesLeaf Litter GeckosSmoky Jungle Frogs, and a symbol of the rainforest, the Red-eyed Leaf Frog abound but are more difficult to find.

Manuel Antonio - Do It Over Again?

So, yes, there are a number of reasons to visit Manuel Antonio NP, but it does have a couple of caveats you should be aware of.

Firstly, the last few miles are some of the most nerve-wracking driving I’ve done; narrow, steep, clogged and windy streets lead up the mountainside. And you’ll probably meet a tour bus coming in the opposite direction.

Secondly, once you’re close, or not so close, you’re going to be waylaid by vendors dressed to appear as if they’re park officials directing you to park in their paid parking spot. This is regardless of how many empty spots are available at the park entrance. We just ignored them and kept going. When I mention kept going I mean at the discretion of the crowds blocking the street!

You’re last two hurdles are getting tickets at the park entrance; huge line. It’s well worth purchasing them online if you have a printer available and taking that to the entrance. Otherwise, get in line but make sure you’re in the correct line. When we were there they had one of cash and one for credit.

Finally, it seems everyone is a park guide. Not really but you’ll have multiple offers to guide you through the park. Authentic park guides will have a badge. But the easiest might be to make your arrangments online.

We elected to explore the park without a guide. I can say we saw everything we might have had we walked with a guide, but we enjoyed the freedom of going at our own pace. We saw plenty of wildlife. One last warning….if you have lunch as we did on the beach, keep your head on a swivel! The White-faced Chapins are expert thieves and will relieve you of our food before you know they’re even there.

So would we do it over again? Absolutely!

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