Does the idea of rugged jungle, wildlife and beautiful beaches appeal to you? If yes, then Manuel Antonio National Park on the west coast of Costa Rica is probably for you.
Manuel Antonio is around a 3 hour drive from the capital, San Jose. It’s also 3.5 hours from the Osa Peninsular and 4 hours from Arenal. As mentioned in my other blog posts, we did the route San Jose – Poas Volcano and Tortoguero – Arenal – Monteverde – Manuel Antonio and The Osa Peninsular. This was a lot of driving, but worthwhile to see a lot of the main sites. We spent one night at Manuel Antonio, and would perhaps have enjoyed 2 nights to fully explore.
There are lots of places to stay in the area from which you can explore the park. This Park is secondary rain forest 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 sad to hear.
Visiting the park is controlled and you have to pay to enter and follow set paths. 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.
Our highlights of exploring the area were:
ONE. Nature path walks
We opted for a community walk, as mentioned above. 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.
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).
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.
TWO. 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.
I definitely recommend watching 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 so may well be worth it.
THREE. 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.
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. Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? Did you do a different route to us? Let me know in the comments below.