Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica is located on the Pacific coast, in the Costa Rican province of Puntarenas. Though small, it’s the most visited park in Costa Rica — and one of the most beautiful.
What to Do:
Truly, Manuel Antonio looks just like a picture postcard. Every color is cranked up to full saturation, from the stingingly aqua water to the lime-green forest, with perfect strips of pale sand stretching between. Manuel Antonio boasts four beaches in total: Playita, Espadilla, Manuel Antonio, and Escondido. Take a hike along the narrow, sandy bridge to Punta Cathedral (once an island) for unforgettable Pacific views.
Stroll down one of the park’s several walking trails, and you might spy coatimundis, ocelots, sloths, monkeys (possibly even the endangered squirrel monkey), caiman, anteaters, along with birds of every shape and color imaginable. The offshore coral reefs bustle with marine life, including dolphins and whales—book a day trip out to Caño island for some prime scuba diving.
Manuel Antonio is so pristine, one would think it was entirely removed from society. But the hotels and cabins crowded along the park’s periphery offer fine dining, ample nightlife, and accommodations to satisfy most budgets.
When to Go
While the weather is best from November to May, traveling to Manuel Antonio during the rainy season—or “green” season, if you prefer the euphemism—you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and better prices. Plus, you’ll be doing the environment a favor. Though visitors to the park are limited to 600 on weekdays, 800 on weekends, so many visitors still cause stress to the flora and fauna.
Getting There and Around:
To reach Manuel Antonio from the Costa Rica capital of San Jose, catch a bus to Quepos. Manuel Antonio is about four miles south of Quepos—catch a bus or cab the rest of the way. You can also fly to Quepos from San Antonio through Travel Air or Sansa.
Tips and Practicalities:
World Headquarters offers a clear map of Manuel Antonio. Depending on the season, the park entrance fee ranges between $6 and $15 USD, payable at Playa Espadilla. The park is closed on Mondays.
Do not feed the monkeys! It’s illegal, and consumption of human food has led to cholesterol problems and shorter life spans for these sensitive creatures.
Pre-Columbian turtle traps still remain on Playa Manuel Antonio. The traps were dug from rocks, which turtles would swim over at high tide. Once the tide dropped, the turtles would be trapped in the carved basins.