8th November MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
Having read online about problems with people parking their cars at the national park and safety issues, we weren‘t too sure what the situation would be and if we would be able to visit one of Costa Rica’s most famous tourist hotspots at all. After an unusual breakfast of sweet cinammon covered banana, rice, scrambled egg, steamed vegetables and a selection of bread & cakes, we leave the lodge. A 20 minute drive from Portalon along an almost deserted fast highway and then on a long winding road filled with hotels and restaurants, we arrive at the park to find a paid car park with an attendant right at the entrance and luckily have no problems at all. From our experience, even if you had to park on the road, there are so many people around that it would be quite safe.
The area, a landscape comprised of humid tropical forest, lagoons, mangroves, white sand beaches and coral reefs was made a national park in 1972 to protect the many endangered species living there, saving it from being bulldozed to make way for a coastal development project. It is the smallest national park in the country at around 1700 acres yet sees the highest number of visitors. The marine reserve it also encompasses covers 55000 acres. Situated on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, it is considered one of the most biodiverse parks on the planet.
Right at the entrance there is a hotel, shops and even an ice-cream store which we can’t resist. As it‘s a Sunday, the park is quite busy with people as we walk down the wide gravel trail. A guide already with a couple of people tries to persuade us to use his services ‘I can show you lots of things you won’t see on your own’ etc. etc. We politely decline as we have already paid quite a bit just for the entrance tickets and head down one of the quieter walkways shaded from the hot sun.
As we walk along the wooden boardwalk, we spot a sleeping palm-pit viper curled up just off the trail.
A little further on, a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys jump around playfully in the trees right next to the walkway.
Walking down on to the first beach, Playa Gemelas, racoons run along the sands. A pounding surf and strong currents ensures no one in the waters on this stretch of golden sand. A couple are sitting on some rocks and we see a cheeky racoon sneaking up behind them to grab something from their open bags; they see it in time and it runs away. Huge iguanas and ctenosaur lizards bask on the rocks. They stay perfectly still but are the fastest running lizards on earth.
Back on the forest trail, we see our first actually moving wild sloth in the trees above us! They are nocturnal and usually sleep for around 16 hours a day so this is a rare sight. Long slender arms carefully manoeuvre it high along the tree branches.
Arriving at the second beach, Playa Manuel Antonio which is filled with people
We are lucky to see a troop of endangered Central American Squirrel monkeys! Our timing is right for a change! They are adorable, tiny bodies covered in golden and white coloured fur which move in a blur across the tree tops. They hang around for a few minutes and then quickly disappear as fast as they had appeared back into the forest. The park is one of only two places in the country where they can be found.
The trail takes us onto the picture perfect Playa Espadilla Sur, in a secluded crescent cove with blue waters and gentle waves, flanked with rocky seascapes although it is a little overrun with tourists. Coastal almond trees provide a shelter from the sun. Another ctenosaur is basking itself down on the sand.
We hike to the top of the the quiet Cathedral Point 1.4km trail up a series of steep stairs through forest-topped cliffs and immediately see a small group of white-faced capuchins. They are not scared by us in the slightest and even come close enough to touch. Further on, we spot an agouti walking through the rainforest floor and a pair of toucans high up in the forest canopy.
The path leads us to several lookouts over a rocky island studded coastline which we have great views over as the rain has managed to hold off all day giving way to a perfectly blue sky. We can hear the characteristic and unmistakable sounds of howler monkeys close by. The point was formerly an island just off the mainland before ocean currents caused deposition of sand, creating a natural land bridge and connecting the two. We follow the loop trail back down and around spotting another troupe of capuchin monkeys.
There is an amazing amount of wildlife here considering the diminutive size of the park and feel lucky we had the chance to visit!
We drive down the coast to the small village of Uvita and find a small guesthouse to stay in for the night before finishing the day with a fresh fish dinner at a local Tico restaurant.