Yes, Manuel Antonio happens to be a tourist hot spot however it still packs in a punch for a fun day. Just over 7 square miles Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest in the country. The powdery white sandy beaches combined with wildlife & short hiking trails make this a day of family fun. The beach offers many shaded areas to kick back, relax, and soak up the views of the crystal clear water. Here is why it’s a great place to bring the family.
Fun things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is located just south of Quepos a small town popular for fishing. This bio-diverse area was listed in Forbes as 1 of 12 most beautiful parks in 2011. With several coves, you can meander along the coastal beach area to the wondrous lookout peaks.
Follow the signs from Quepos on the main road to the park entrance. Here you will find lots of parking, restaurants, and souvenir stands. Pictured above is where you can purchase your park pass for the day. They are working on some renovations in the park. Hence the construction on the left.
There is plenty of parking outside the park so don’t shy away by attendants telling you there is nothing closer. To beat the crowds, arrive early in the morning or late afternoon. This is probably the best time to see the animals. The park was established in 1972. Be prepared for many guides to bombard you with their services. You don’t necessarily need a guide as the park is small enough however if you plan on seeing species of birds, frogs, or even sloth you may want to hire one for a few hours.
Search for hidden sloths
3 toed sloth on the main path
Binoculars are a must have if you want to see the sloths. We were so lucky the day we arrived. A sloth on the main trail decided to descend part way down the tree. The park has some construction areas making new walkways & railings. I thought the noise would scare off the animals, but not the case with this sloth. He slithered about half way down the tree giving everyone a great opportunity to take a few photos. Usually you will find sloth high up in the trees. They actually sleep about 20 out of 24 hours. Hence the term “slow like a sloth”.
Hike a few short trails
If you like hiking but not spending your whole day out in the forest than you’ll love this park. Since it is dry season we opted not to follow the trail to the Sendero La Catarata which is a small waterfall. The Sendero el Perezoso or “sloth trail” lives up to its name. It’s also possible to view deer on this trail. Many times, I’ve seen them but not on this day.
Iguana at Playa Gemelas
A landing bridge “Cathedral Point” separates the 2 main beaches Playa Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur. A short trail will take you to Playa Gemelas a little rockier but less crowded. Located on the other side of Playa Manuel Antonio. Here we saw a reptile friend sitting in the rocks. In the sand if your kids like looking for critters try to find some small crabs (some are very colorful) or even rocks with fossils. Some of the trails have been closed the last few years for tourist safety due to crocodiles in the estuary nearby. Take a moment to read some of the information boards posted at every stop. There’s lots of information about the flora & fauna here.
Travel Tip: Always stay on the trails. Some of the forest area alongside the trail has snakes. Some are very venomous here in Costa Rica. Plant leaves may also be hiding frogs. If you see one take a photo but don’t touch it.
Be entertained by monkeys
one of the gang
Easy to spot around the main beach area is the capuchin or white-faced monkeys. Families love this part of the park. The monkeys love swinging from tree to tree entertaining the guests. Watch out they are also famous for getting inside your knapsack looking for food. Around the beach area you will also see our coatis. Similar to the monkeys they can be quite a pest.
There is a law in Costa Rica you can’t feed the animals. We could certainly tell they were hungry. People use to feed them all the time now they seem almost dependent on tourists for food. This makes it difficult for them to survive.
Snorkel in the reefs
The two most popular beaches here are Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio for snorkeling. Bring your mask & gear to swim to the reefs just off shore.
Tips for the park hike
- Bring a small knapsack to carry your dry clothes & essentials
- Insulated water bottle
- Hiking shoes are not necessary
- Binoculars if you want to spot sloths
- Cameras are a must the views are beautiful
- Change rooms are available
- Feeding the animals is prohibited
- Entrance fees are $16 USD per person
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