Manuel Antonio National Park by NomadInMe.
Manuel Antonio National Park is, without doubt, one of Costa Rica’s best and most popular national parks. it is located in the Puntarenas province and is about a 3-hour drive from San Jose. This ease and speed of access from the capital, are one of the reasons behind its popularity. In addition, it is very beautiful, with lush green rainforest meeting the rugged Pacific ocean.
Unlike the Nicoya Peninsula and the Guanacaste region to the north. The towns in southern Puntarenas receive more rainfall with a shorter dry season. This means that the forests are lush and green year-round, unlike places further north where the bush is classed as a seasonal rainforest.
All of the trails in Manuel Antonio national park are well maintained. You will find rough gravel, wooden decking and some concrete paths. There is also a small cafe and toilets, please be aware that feeding any animals is illegal. One of the great things about Costa Rica is the love and respect that the locals give their country and the animals in it. Without this, the country wouldn’t be as incredible as it is. Over a quarter of Costa Rica is a national park and countless more are classed as a forest reserve.
Getting To Manuel Antonio National Park
Just 3 hours from San Jose, with the popular beach town of Jaco 1 hour North and the sleepy surf town of Dominical 1 hour south. Manuel Antonio makes a great base of operations with so many parks, activities, attractions and amazing beaches nearby. Manuel Antonio is itself, fairly built up when compared with towns on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It has a lot of restaurants and accommodation on offer for all budgets. You will leave the Pan American highway into Quepos, a port and fishing town that has access to Manuel Antonio. A single long steep road zig-zags up and then back down the mountain to the main beach where the park is accessed.
Once on the beach road, you will take a left at Marlin’s restaurant, up a very narrow road. At this point, you will be haggled by some locals offering you tickets and guides. These people do not work for the national park and are likely scammers. You should head to the end of the road and pick one of the car parks where you will need to pay a parking fee. (For any newbies to Costa Rica, all attractions will have parking attendants that will charge a fee.) You can then follow to the building right of the park gates to purchase tickets. It is here where you can pay for a guide if you wish. The guides are very informative and great at spotting the ‘harder to see’ wildlife. If however, you are planning covering as much of the park as possible I would suggest not using a guide.
Manuel Antonio National Park Beaches
Manuel Antonio national park is made up of about 7000 acres of land and 136,000 acres of marine park. This makes it one of the smallest parks in the country as well as being one of the most popular. Its contains 4 incredible, pristine white sand beaches. They are Espadilla Sur, the Manuel Antonio, the Escondido and the Playita. Visitors can enjoy swimming and snorkelling at these beaches, alternatively, sit back relax and watch the red-backed squirrel monkeys play in the trees!
Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tuesday to Sunday from 7:30 am to 4 pm. Rules have been in effect to limit the number of visitors to 600 on weekdays and 800 on weekends and public holidays. To avoid large crowds go early in the morning from May to November. Peak months are from December to April when the park can get a little crowded.
Manuel Antonio National Park Trails
I have been lucky enough to visit the park 4 times and walk every trial. The park is small enough to visit every trail and beach in one day, although challenging. Alternatively, you can still experience a lot of what the park has to offer in sections of it. Some areas are wheelchair accessible a fairly flat. There are also more challenging areas with steep steps. Bellow, I have slit the park’s trails up into 4 distinct sections with a brief summary of each.
El Manglar – Perezoso – Main Trail
When first entering the park you will have the main trail which is a wide gravel track, running parallel to this is the mangrove trail, a wooden decking that snakes through the forest. Both end up at a kind of junction where many other trails in the park can be accessed. Alternatively, you can follow it to the right and to the main beach. This is where you will find a large open area popular with guides, this is a great are to see sloths. It is also where the restrooms and cafe are located.
Catarata Estacional Trail
When first entering the park if you follow the main trail you will see a left turn, this is known as the waterfall trial and is 676 meters, medium difficulty with some steep sections of steps. The small waterfall can only be observed from a distance and sometimes dries out during the dry months. It is worth the effort, especially during the wet season I have seen squirrel monkeys here before and would definitely recommend doing on the way into our out of the park.
Miradores – Playa Gemelas – Puerto Escondido – Los Congos Trail
These are my favourite trails in Manuel Antonio National Park but also the most challenging. They can be accessed where the main trail finishes and all conveniently lead to each other. There are several viewpoints and an abundance of wildlife. This loop is not particularly long but has a lot of steps that can be steep and challenging at points. At the end of each rise, you are rewarded with fantastic views of the beaches to the south of the park.
The Playa Gemelas Trail finishes at Puerto Escondido. This the best view in the park looking over the pristine white sand beach and interesting rock formations. Unfortunately, the beach cannot be accessed. However, you can swim at Playa Gemelas on the way back to the main trail. Because fewer people access these trails, Playa Gemelas is usually quiet.
Punta Cathedral Trail
Punta Cathedral is the most photographed part of Manuel Antonio National Park. Resembling a whales tail the jungle juts out from the park into the ocean. With a narrow stretch of forest connecting to a large rock in the ocean covered in thick primary rainforest. Here you will find a lookout tower hidden under the trees where a family of white-faced capuchin monkeys can be seen playing.
I would suggest visiting Punta Cathedral after Miradores loop. Have a swim and relax on one of the best beaches in Costa Rica and watch the wildlife pass you by. Always be on the lookout for 2 and 3 toed sloths high up in the giant canopy.
Manuel Antonio National Park Wildlife
Manuel Antonio is one of the best parks in Costa Rica for wildlife. All four monkeys found in Costa Rica can be seen, they are Howler, squirrel, spider and white-faced capuchin monkeys. Two and three-toed sloths are abundant both in and around the park. You also have a good chance of seeing raccoons, coatis, pacas, anteaters, and ocelots. There are also many reptiles such as crocodiles, iguana, a plethora of other snakes and lizards. Over 350 bird species have been identified within the park including toucan, aracaris, various parrots, hummingbirds, trogons and much more.
Manuel Antonio National Park Information
Times: Tuesday to Sunday 7am – 4.30pm
Tickets: Adults – $18 Children – $5.65
Group Tour (8 people max): $59 adults – $39 children ages 5-11 – children under 5 go free
Private Tour: $79 adults – $49 children ages 5-11 – children under 5 go free
Tour Times: 7:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., and 1:00 p.m.
Duration: About 4 hours
Official website: https://manuelantoniopark.com/
Manuel Antonio National Park Summary
The Puntarenas Province and southern Pacific Costa Rica is one of my favourite places on earth. Not only the incredible abundance of wildlife and the raw beauty but the countries stance on conservation, is what makes it so special. Because of Costa Rica’s popularity among international travellers some areas can get a little over crowded. This can take away from the experience a little.
My advise is to go out of season. Many people get put off by the idea of the rainy season, but in truth it generally rains for a couple of hours in the late afternoon, giving you clear sky’s for the days activities. It is also a lot more enjoyable this time of year with less tourists. The further south you go, the further you are from the international airport and in turn you will find less tourists.
If escaping the crowds is important to you consider the Osa Peninsula. Or incorporate it into your trip. Costa Rica is best explored 2 or 3 days in each location. If you want to learn more about Costa Rica’s, Osa Peninsula follow the link! https://nomadinme.com/osa-peninsula/
If you have any questions about Manuel Antonio National Park or Costa Rica leave a comment bellow. If you have anything to share from your visit to the area, let us know bellow!
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