Manuel Antonio National Park - A Paradise on the Pacific Coast

Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica yet considered to be one of the most beautiful ones with extremely...

Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica yet considered to be one of the most beautiful ones with extremely rich biodiversity. The park’s brochure says that Manuel Antonio National Park is a paradise on the Pacific Coast, and I agree 100%.  

The park is located just over 4.3 miles (7 km) south-east of Quepos. In order to get there, you can either take a local bus or drive all the way to the road end and park at the restaurant (for free). The park itself did not seem to have a parking lot. And don’t listen to people along the road dressed like park rangers who will try to get you to their parking lot for a modest $10 a day. Also be aware that the park is closed Mondays, so plan your trip accordingly.
This park sees tens of thousands visitors a year, especially during the Christmas holidays in December. From the travel books, I knew that the most popular parks in Cost Rica limit the number of visitors per day, so we made sure to arrive there at 7:30 in the morning. It didn’t help much to avoid a long line in front of the park’s entrance though, as the park’s rangers were thoroughly checking the visitors' bags. It’s not allowed to bring alcohol (of course) and some snacks such as chips, nachos, etc. with a strong flavor. Why? You’ll see in a couple of seconds.
Many of the park’s visitors had guides who kept them busy right after they’ve passed the entrance. I may be a little cynical, but most of the staff they were pointing out to (such as small geckos, snails, spiders, etc.) was not worth the time and money spent there. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big nature lover, but you can see all of these creatures yourself should you walk a few hundred feet away and pay a bit closer attention to the forest which surrounds you.
There is a nice hiking trail, mostly boardwalk, that runs parallel to a dirt road and takes you to the beaches. Keep in mind that Manuel Antonio is in a transition zone between a rain forest and a tropical wet forest, so it can get pretty hot at 8 am. 
Underneath the boardwalk, you may see bright red and blue crabs hiding in the holes.
There are plenty of capuchin monkeys in the park. They look cute, but can be aggressive if approached very close. Being victims of not so sharp fellow visitors who happened to feed them, they no longer look for a food in the wild. Instead, they try to steal something from visitors. By doing so, they indeed harm their health, but good luck explaining it to a monkey. 
This capuchin monkeys stole a juice box from a lady who was taking pictures at that moment. Some snacks such as chips, nachos, etc. are prohibited in the park, because it can be lethal for capuchin monkeys and other animals attracted by human's food.
There are a couple of beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park. The most beautiful and popular one is the Manuel Antonio Beach. 
This white-sand tropical beach with postcard-perfect coconut palm trees stretches for a bit over 1,300 feet (400 meters).  
It’s also the only beach in the park which does not have rip currents that can be dangerous during the transition from high to low tides. 
Another animal that tries to sneak your food or even underwear (yes, I saw that, although not sure why they needed it) is a raccoon. 
And they aren’t even afraid of you unless you’re very clear that you’re going to protect your belongings. 
The park’s brochure says that this beach is also good for snorkeling. 
Water was very warm yet not very salty because of numerous rivers and streams that fall into the ocean. The Manuel Antonio Beach is definitely one of the best beaches in Costa Rica. 
What I liked about the parks in Costa Rica, in general, is that you can drink water from the tap unless it’s explicitly prohibited. One local gentleman told me that the rule of thumb is that you can drink water from the tap anywhere in the mountains, but should avoid drinking it close to the beaches. 
There are over 330 species of birds and over 100 species and mammals in this relatively tiny park. We also saw a couple of iguanas.
Many visitors to Manuel Antonio National Park stay at the beaches, however, there are a few beautiful hiking trails. One of them, Cathedral Trail, is a 0.7 mile (1.1 km) loop trail on what once to be an island. 
It goes through an old tropical forest and has excellent lookouts along the way.
Those tiny islands are important nesting spots for marine birds.
We were fortunate to see a big sloth high up in the tree top. 
Small hidden sandy beach for those seeking a solitude. 
Small crabs in shells.
Park has a marine extension, bigger than the area of land. There are a lot of sea wildlife such as this starfish. 
Beautiful lookout on another trail – Mirador Punta Serrucho – was worth each step up the hill.
My next post is going to be about an active volcano. Stay tuned!

My other posts from Costa Rica:
Pure Life in Costa Rica
Poás Volcano National Park
Scarlet Macaws in Carara National Park
Hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park
2-in-1: Zoo and Nature Park in Costa Rica
Tenorio Volcano and Celeste River
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Tortuga Island - More Than Just A Tropical Beach

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