Manuel Antonio National Park Trails:
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park Overview
In a country that spans more than 12.5 million acres and has earned a worldwide reputation as the leading example of conservation and ecotourism in Central America, you’d think it might be hard for a 2,000-acre park to rise above the noise of its neighboring parklands, rainforests, beachfronts, and coral reefs. But despite its small size, Manuel Antonio National Park boasts enough treasures to make a cacophony all its own. Ideally situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast about 80 miles from the capital of San José, Manuel Antonio is a veritable collage of the country’s best offerings: rainforest-covered hills that roll out onto pockets of near-isolated beachfront, azure waters with gentle rolling waves, and dense coral reef systems teeming with aquatic life. More than 100 mammals and 184 bird species call this park home, including white-faced capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, eagles, and toucanets, as well as iguanas, sloths, scarlet macaws, poison dart frogs, dolphins, whales, and brightly colored crabs. And the ways to explore the park are just as endless, from hiking and nature tours to angling, horseback riding, bird-watching, sailing, caving, rafting, mountain biking, diving, snorkeling, and the time-honored tradition of laying your beach towel on the perfect stretch of sand. Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer who spent most of his career searching for the fountain of youth, discovered the land now encapsulated by Manuel Antonio. Perhaps his pursuit wasn’t as elusive as he’d imagined.
As you’d expect from a park that has so much in such a small area, the secret’s out—this is Costa Rica’s most popular park, particularly with families. Visits are currently limited to 600 people per weekday and 800 per weekend in an effort to protect the environment. January through April is high season, which brings the crowds; the May-to-December off-season sees temps from the low 70s to the low 80s, but an increase in precipitation can make things very wet (especially in September). Expect sweltering temps in March and April.
The park’s tourist infrastructure benefits DIY travel, though if it’s a family visit, a packaged trip, arranged once you land or before you depart for Costa Rica, might make things easier. Reaching the park itself is also refreshingly simple—loads of U.S. air carriers service San José, and it’s a 3.5-hour car (or bus) ride to Quepos, a town ideally positioned on an ocean-facing cliff about four miles south of the park that’s the best spot to set up your home base. Lodging varies, from the Spartan to the luxe, with daylong operators offering all varieties of tour support, from full guide services to equipment rentals.
If you do go it alone, we heartily recommend signing up for one of the guided wildlife tours—the rangers here have forgotten more than you’ll ever know about the park’s flora and fauna. The private bio reserve at Manuel Antonio Estates is a good place to start, with more than nine miles of trails that weave through a forest dotted with waterfalls before reaching an observation tower. Beachgoers, meanwhile, can choose from Manuel Antonio, Puerto Escondido, North Espadilla, South Espadilla, and Playitas beaches. Manuel Antonio and South Espadilla are the most popular, so visit the others if you want less competition for space on the sand. Or head out onto the water and visit one (or several) of the 12 isles off the coast where you can swim with dolphins and watch whales breach the surf. Novice surfers can also get in a few sets on the mellow, consistent waves that crash onto the park’s mainland.
For anglers, the Quepos will be irresistible. Take a day trip a few miles up north to the waters of this esteemed fishing destination, primarily known for its billfish. Prepare for a serious catch: 80-pound Pacific sails, 350-pound Pacific black marlin, and 500-pound Pacific blue marlin have been hooked here. You can fish year-round, but the prime season runs from January through March.
Manuel Antonio National Park Reviews:
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