Costa Rica is noted for its natural beauty and few places received more praise than Manuel Antonio National Park. Forbes named it one of the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks. It is Costa Rica’s newest and smallest national park. While small, it boasts impressive credentials according to Park literature, Manuel Antonio is home to 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. Both the brown-throated, three-toed sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth live in the Park as do three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species — the mantled howler monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, and white-headed capuchin monkey. You can also see the black spiny-tailed iguana, green iguana, common basilisk, white-nosed coati and many snake and bat species. Among the 184 bird species are toucans, woodpeckers, potoos, motmots, tanagers, turkey vultures, parakeets and hawks. The Park is a gem in Costa Rica’s emerald necklace of national parks.
The area outside Manuel Antonio is not so well preserved. Approaching the Park is similar to driving into the Great Smoky Mountains via Gatlinburg or into Colonial Williamsburg via Route 60. If you have experienced neither then just think a long stretch of road with tacky shops, low quality goods, restaurants and hotels. The area outside the Park is as commercialized as the Park is pristine. We were tricked by a vendor who directed us into his parking lot. He looked to all the world like a Park Ranger directing traffic. Once out of the car we realized it was not a Park parking lot. We paid $45 for parking and a guide which actually worked out well. As a note, there is no parking in Manuel Antonio so you will have to pay to park someplace.
William, our guide, was incredibly adept at spotting sloths and other animals that we would have never seen. Even when he showed them to us, we could see only one or two without his spotting scope. He showed Alla how to take photos through the telescope so many of the photos in this post are hers. The hike through the Park with William was a real learning experience. On the one occasion when he did know a tree we asked about, he produced a field guide and found the answer.
The guided part of our tour ended at Playa Manuel Antonio. There are three beaches in the Park but one was closed due to a crocodile. Seems the croc had had enough of the mangrove swamp and wanted to spend a little time on the beach sunning. The beach was closed until s/he could be caught. If you want to see crocodiles than stop on the ‘Croc Bridge’ on the Tarcoles River as you drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio.
The Park beaches are beautiful. The white sand is soft under your feet and the water is warm. You can bring a picnic and spend the day swimming and sunning. With luck, you will see dolphins and whales. You will certainly see a few kayakers.
We would have visited the beach for a second day but we had to return to Escazu for our final dental appointments. Costa Rica is becoming a center for dental tourism and we saved thousands of dollars by having our work done there instead of at home. I will share that experience with you tomorrow.