A day exploring Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio is around a 3 hour drive from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose. It’s also 3.5 hours from the Osa Peninsula and 4 hours from Arenal. We visited Manuel Antonio as part of a round trip that also took in Arenal, Monteverde, Poas Volcano and The Osa Peninsula. This was a lot of driving, but worthwhile to see a lot of the main sites. We spent one night at Manuel Antonio, but would have enjoyed 2 nights to fully explore.

The Park is secondary rainforest and when we visited in May was very dry, with only a little water in streams. Even the mango swamp was dry and our guide spoke about climate change and how it is negatively affecting the forests of Costa Rica, which was really sad to hear. Costa Rica is doing an incredible job of maintaining its rainforest and establishing eco-tourism, but it is still hugely impacted by climate change.

Visiting the park is controlled and you have to pay to enter and follow set paths. We managed to explore the nature, beaches and butterflies of the park on our visit in a combination of guided and independent exploring.

1. Nature path walks

The park recommends joining a guided walk, to make the most of seeing the animals (on your own, you’re much more likely to miss them!). We chose to do the 2.5hr community tour and our guide was incredibly informative. Following these paths, we saw basilisk lizards, white faced monkeys, squirrel monkeys, white nosed coati, a racoon, baby green iguanas, male and female large black iguanas, 2 and 3 toed sloths, a deer, an agouti and various spiders.

Capuchin Monkey

You can also choose to walk any of the well marked walking paths independently. El Manglar Trail (Mangrove Trail) works its way through the forests along board walks which are great for all walking abilities, in to the Mangroves. If you’re lucky you may also see a crocodile, and ultimately the trail leads to a beautiful beach (Espadilla Sur).

You can also walk the Peresozo Trail (Sloth Trail) which is a good trail to spot sloths and end up on the most famous beach of the park, Manuel Antonio Beach (see photo below).

A lizard on the trail

You could combine this with the Catarata Estacional Trail (Waterfall Trail), especially if you’re visiting in wet season when the waterfalls will be in full swing. If you’re not, I recommend combining with the Miradores Trail (Viewpoints Traill) which provides beautiful spots to look out over the jungle and beaches.

2. The beaches

Our walk included a stop at a beautiful white sandy bay where it was safe to swim in the Pacific waters – but not safe to leave your possessions unattended because of the lizards, racoons and agoutis. You also need to watch out for the monkeys, as they can often come close the humans looking to steal your food. Please also resist feeding the monkeys as human food and bacteria on our hands can make the monkeys really sick.

If you don’t fancy the main beaches, remember you can also reach Espadilla Sur beach via the Mangrove walk; this beach isn’t quite as picture perfect but definitely has less people and is less touristy.

Manuel Antonio beach

3. The butterfly garden

In the afternoon we visited the Manual Antonio butterfly garden which was really lovely to spend an hour or so walking around. Again you can do guided walks, but we didn’t feel the need to. There is also an evening frog and reptile tour which was really interesting.

Beautiful butterflies

After all of that walking and exploring we were exhausted, so followed it up with a spa treatment at the hotel to relax after a long day. A relaxing massage was definitely the perfect end to a day at Manuel Antonio.

Thanks for reading about our trip to Manuel Antonio. I hope this post was helpful if you’re planning a visit to Costa Rica. Stay safe and happy travelling everyone!

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