Manuel Antonio National Park | A small piece of heaven in Costa Rica
If you are a nature and tropical forest enthusiast, then in Costa Rica you will find your heaven on Earth! With at least 30 national parks and with 25% of its land being protected, it is certain that here you will come closer to nature than you would do in any other country in Central America. I was lucky enough to visit three national parks during my stay in the country! The Tortuguero National Park (read the relevant article here and my experience with the sea turtles here), the Arenal Volcano National Park, and finally the Manuel Antonio National Park, through which I am going to guide you right away!
The Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, as it is called in Spanish, is the most famous national park in the country, as it welcomes annually more tourists than any other park in Costa Rica (around 150,000!). It is located in the homonymous city, which is around three hours off the capital, San José. We chose to go on a day trip, from San José to Manuel Antonio, something that proved to be particularly tiring, as the distance was big. When you find yourselves there, you had better find accommodation in one of the dozen hotels that are to be found in the small city, and return to San José the following morning.
In 2011, Manuel Antonio was voted from Forbes magazine to be among the 12 most beautiful parks in the world.
Incidental? Not at all, if you take into account that we are talking about a small paradise! Dense tropical rainforests, mangrove vegetation and white, unspoilt, sandy beaches comprise one of the most diverse ecosystems that one can imagine. It is mainly famous for its beaches, but its trails are ideal for hiking in nature and spotting the different species of fauna that can be found in the park.
The four beaches of the park, Espadilla Sur, Escondito, Playita and Manuel Antonio, are among the most famous beaches in Costa Rica, while the latter steals the show with its velvet white sand, its magnificent view and its coral reef. The view from the hills is spectacular, the beaches heavenly, and the tropical rainforests are home to an extraordinarily rich variety of wildlife, which includes monkeys, capuchins, sloths, frogs and songbirds.
I was lucky enough to see a lot of these with my guide, who was carrying a special lens with a tripod all the way. With approximately 25 dollars, you can take a specialized guide with you, who can show you with his lens the different species of fauna that can be found in the park, as in most cases the animals are right under your nose, but you cannot spot them until somebody shows them to you. This happens because you are not accustomed to such an environment. So, when you are there, I highly recommend that you “hire” a guide, so as to be able to see as many animals as you can, from the 109 species of mammals and the 184 species of birds that inhabit the Manuel Antonio national park. You will also have the opportunity to take photos, in amazing resolution, with the special lens that your guide will have, since you will not need to zoom in with your camera.
After we had passed through the entrance of the park, we stepped onto the El Perezoso trail which led us through a stunning path in the tropical rainforest, to the Manuel Antonio beach. The sign at the start of the trail warned us that the trail was 1,8 kilometers long. There are such trails all through the park and they are easy and short to walk. Normally, we would reach the beach fairly soon, but with the guide stopping occasionally to show us some animal or bird, we ended up reaching the beach after an hour and a half. Along the way, we came across squirrels, frogs and a lot of other animals, but the highlight of our hike was the little monkeys that were hanging onto the trees just above our heads! What cute splendid creatures!
At one point, I started hearing the rough waves of the sea, and I realized that we had reached the beach. There, one can find changing rooms to change but also wash (only) your feet. Please note that, naturally, there are neither canteens nor cafeterias here, so you should be equipped with your snacks and water. So, I put on my swimsuit, and I head to the beach. There, I see the huge waves (I am not exaggerating at all) and of course I decide to just wet my toes. Those of you who are bolder (and know how to swim) can dive into the rough sea of the Pacific Ocean. Personally, I settled for admiring the indescribable beauty of the scenery. We stayed there for an hour and then we headed back for lunch.
They say that the best time to visit the park is from December to April, during the dry season. If you think, though, that we are actually talking about a tropical rainforest, perhaps you should rely on your luck and simply hope for good weather. The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday; 7.30 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. Try to get there as soon as you can since there is a rule that allows admittance in the park to 600 people daily and to 800 people on the weekends. Admittance costs 6 dollars, while for children under 12, admittance is free.
They have named it a tropical oasis and this label suits it just fine! Include Manuel Antonio National Park in your travel bucket list and have a taste of what heaven on Earth is all about!
Until next time! Xoxo
Watch the following short video with our excursion to Manuel Antonio national park here!