Loaded with nature, wildlife, breathtaking gorgeous beaches and lush jungle, Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica just might be heaven on earth.
Article by Shannon Farley
With its lush jungle, rugged coastline, picture-perfect white-sand beaches, turquoise coves, and incredible wildlife – it’s no wonder that Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s favorite places to visit.
Forbes Magazine called it one of the “12 Most Beautiful National Parks in the World”.
Hugging Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coastline, the tiny Manuel Antonio National Park was founded in 1972. Although it is the country’s smallest national park, at 683 hectares (1,688 acres), it is one of the most stunningly beautiful and gets top marks for its excellent and diverse wildlife viewing.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the easiest places in Costa Rica to see wildlife up close. From sloths, coatis, agoutis, raccoons, deer, iguanas, snakes, colorful frogs and exotic birds to all four species of monkeys in Costa Rica – white-faced capuchin, howler, spider, and a unique endangered species of red-backed squirrel monkey – there’s nothing more magical than seeing these animals in their natural habitat. The best way to see wildlife is to take a guided tour, since guides know where to look and how to spot animals.
You’ll see most wildlife hiking the park’s trails, which lead to hidden beaches or lookout points. One of the most scenic trails is Cathedral Point which loops 1.2 km (0.7 miles) up through rainforest to viewpoints at the crest of the rocky point and back down.
The beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park are the most gorgeous along the Central Pacific Coast. Take your pick of three pristine beaches inside the park: Manuel Antonio, Espadilla Sur and Gemelas.
The park’s marine territory features coral reef offshore, dozens of little islets and protected coves, all of which are excellent for underwater tours. You can go snorkeling or scuba diving on a catamaran or boat tour. As well, the area is home to plentiful dolphins and receives migrating humpback whales between December and April.
The national park’s popularity means Manuel Antonio is a busy place during tourism high season and on holidays. You’ll want to arrive as soon as the park opens at 7:00 a.m. (the park is closed on Mondays); or another good time to go is in the afternoon between 12:00 and 4:00 p.m. when most tourists have left for lunch and other activities. The number of persons allowed to be in the park is controlled to protect the environment. Important tip: most wildlife is active in the early morning and late afternoon when temperatures are cooler; during the heat of the day they hide under cover.
Visitor’s Information for Manuel Antonio National Park
- Manuel Antonio National Park is open to visitors from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. It is closed on Mondays.
- Admission is $16 for adult foreign tourists; children under 12 do not pay entrance.
- Group guided tours and private tours are available.
- There are picnic tables, bathrooms and fresh water showers to rinse off the sand.
- Keep a close eye on your belongings on the beaches or in the picnic area. The raccoons and monkeys aren’t afraid to run off with your bags in search of food. There is nothing more frustrating than standing under a tree while a monkey eats your lunch high up in the branches. It is illegal to feed wildlife; don’t do it.
- For this reason, there are food restrictions for entering the park. Bottled sodas and waters are permitted, no alcoholic drinks. You can bring packed sandwiches and already cut fruit, but no other snacks. This is in order to limit trash and keep the environmental impact as low as possible.