Manuel Antonio National Park
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2013
The canopies of Costa Rica's most visited national park wriggle with playful capuchin monkeys leaping between trees and scurrying down branches. Momma monkeys lag behind carrying newborns on their backs while off in the distance the sound of an agitated howler monkey booms through the forest. It's just another day in Manuel Antonio National Park, home to more than 100 mammal species and Costa Rica's last refuge for the endangered titi monkeys.
Location : Manuel Antonio; 110 miles from San Jose
Area : 1,700 land acres and 135,905 marine acres
Hours : 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. closed Mondays
Telephone : 2777-0644 or 2777-5185
Entrance Fee : $10.00
The Pacific tides have battered the park's coasts into an extraordinary display of tropical islands, eroded cliffs, errant coves and white-sandy beaches, but to get to them you'll have to cross through the jungle. The park's four trails weave through 1,700 acres of primary and secondary rainforests, past marshy woodlands and mangrove swamps to fall away before Pacific coast vistas.
Walking along the flat, wide main trail into the park, you'll probably encounter two and three-toed sloths lounging in cecropia trees, iguanas recharging in the sunlight, a whole rainbow of tropical birds like the fiery-billed toucan and the occasional palm-pit viper curled in the tree branches (but don't worry they sleep during the day). Visitors can hire a naturalist guide near the park's entrance for around $20 per person, a great way to encounter more of the park's fauna and immerse yourself in the park's biology and history.
Reach the end of the half-mile main trail and you'll arrive at an idyllic cove sheltering the white sands of Manuel Antonio Beach. Shady coastal almond trees reach out toward the surf while visitors swim in the crystal blue waters and hike the forest trails snaking along the coast to panoramic pacific views along Cathedral point.
Five short trails meander through the park passing scenic overlooks and pristine beaches. The most popular trail is the small loop that circles around Cathedral point and ends with a wonderful view of the Pacific. All the trails have good signs and are well-maintained.
- The Main Trail is a half-mile flat, sandy path that links several beaches. It is an easy trail and the most popular with visitors. Most of the guided hikes slowly make their way along this trail, which passes by mangrove swamps on its way to the beaches.
- The Cathedral Point Trail branches off to the right of the main trail and loops around Cathedral Point (an outcropping of land that used to be an island but is now joined to the mainland). The trail is steep in some sections and can be muddy and slippery in the wet season (May-Nov.), but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the views.
- The Trampa Trail is a short path that connects the beginning and end of Cathedral Point Trail, completing the loop.
- The Playa Gemelas / Punto Escondido Trail leads a mile through the forest to two other beaches of the same names. However, the trail to Playa Escondido is currently closed.
- The Mirador Trail is a more challenging climb close to a mile long to a beautiful lookout point.
The park has three beaches, each shaded by enormous coconut palms, mangrove and almond trees.
- Playa Espadilla Sur is the first and longest beach in Manuel Antonio National Park. It is the widest beach off to the right of the main trail. It is often less crowded than the other beaches and is perfect for strolling at low tide, sunbathing or relaxing under the shade of the park's trees.
- Manuel Antonio Beach is a popular beach among tourists and locals. Many families and school children visit this stretch of beach as it offers restrooms, picnic tables, drinking water and showers. The coastal almond trees provide plenty of shade for reclining on the white sands while the gentle currents make this sheltered shore a favored spot for playing in the waves.
- Playa Gemelas hike the short Playa Gemelas trail from the gravel road. This beach is typically not crowded. The strong currents and hidden rocks beneath the surface make swimming difficult, if not dangerous. There is a more secluded section of this beach accessible at low tide by walking around a small rock outcropping.
Annual Rainfall: 151 inches.
The driest months are January and February while the wettest are August and September. The average temperature is 81- 86 degrees.
Activities: Bird and wildlife watching, hiking, lounging on the beach and swimming in the ocean are the park’s main activities.
The main office for purchasing tickets is outside the park, about 100 hundred yards before the entrance. Along the shores you'll find picnic tables, restrooms, showers and water fountains.
Flora and Fauna:
Manuel Antonio National Park is home to myriad wildlife, including the endangered titi monkey. Only a few troops of these primates are left in Costa Rica. White-faced monkeys, sloths, coatimundis and howler monkeys live throughout the park. Central American whiptail snakes, brown basilisk lizards and anoles hide in the fallen debris while more than 200 bird species conceal themselves in the jungle and among the 12 rocky islands that harbor pelagic birds like the brown booby, frigate bird and pelican.
The park's flora is a combination of tropical, lowland rainforest and coastal vegetation that includes cecropias, almonds and mangrove trees. Watch out for the manzanillo tree near the park entrance; its fruit, leaves and bark are toxic and its sap is a skin irritant (there're warnings near the park entrance).
- If you're hiking solely on the sandy Main Trail, flip flops or other light foot wear is adequate. If you're hiking on the other trails, more sturdy footwear like boots or walking shoes help as the paths are sometimes steep and slippery.
- Keep in mind that curious animals like monkeys and raccoons will sift through your backpack in hopes of a treat; please do not feed the wildlife as it leads to aggressive behavior and an unnatural dependence on humans.
- The best time to bask in the glory of the beach is early. The park opens at 7 a.m. and most visitors go with a local guide between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.
- A bandana, towel and bathing suit are highly recommended: the water is irresistible. It is hot and humid in the area, so bring plenty of drinking water.