Visit Costa Rica – Manuel Antonio National park

That’s it, we’re finally going to visit our first national park, the Manuel Antonio National Park. One of the reasons we came to Costa Rica. The country has 27 national parks, all created to protect the environment and promote green tourism. 

For our first park, we choose the Manuel Antonio National Park which is reputed to be the most beautiful, but unfortunately also the most popular. We hope that there will not be too many people. But we are in the middle of the tourist season. So…

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park sign

For this visit, we chose an organized tour. Without a car, no other choice.
The park is a 3-hour drive south of San Jose. But this suits us for our first excursion here. The next ones, I think we’ll organize them ourselves. We are not yet ready for public transports, we don’t have a car, and we want to make this visit without any trouble! No regrets, even if the excursion is a bit expensive, we will make the most of it.

We’re off to the meeting point. 6:30 a.m. The sun is already high, and it’s a beautiful day ahead. We are a group of 10 + our guide. The atmosphere is nice.

The plan of our day as explained by our guide

  • 1 hour drive then stop for the breakfast and the discovery of the crocodiles. First surprise🤔
  • End of the drive to the park to arrive around 11:30 a.m.
  • Tour of the park, sandwich break and swim
  • Lunch around 4:00 p.m. Yes, I know, it’s going to be a long wait!
  • Return to San Jose for 8:00 p.m.

 Agreed, it’s going to be a hell of a day and we’re all excited.

As expected, first stop at the “crocodile bridge” as people call it here. In fact, it is a bridge that crosses the Rio Tarcoles, and from which you can see crocodiles basking in the sun. The name of the place: Carreta Pac-fica Fernandez Oreamuno in the Provincia de Puntarenas. It is not strictly a village, only souvenir shops and restaurants that have grown along the road adjacent to the bridge. For tourists!

Time for breakfast

For starters, breakfast! We’re treated with the national dish, Gallo Pinto. It is a dish made from rice, black beans, coriander and onions. It is often served for breakfast with tortillas, cream and eggs. We also have fried plantains, toasts with local cheese and 3 slices of sausages. Delicious. But with that, we are reassured, we will be able to hold without problem until 16:00. One last coffee and we go to meet the crocodiles…

Costa Rica Gallo Pinto breakfast

The crocodiles…

We walk on the bridge and we look down. I know, it’s not what I imagined either, but it’s still impressive! Even from the bridge, they look huge. And the scenery is really special. I feel like I’m in the savannah! Different from what I’ve never seen before. The stop doesn’t last, but it’s nice.

And an iguana as an extra gift!

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crocoland
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crocoland1
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crocoland2
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crocoland3

 And here we go again. We drowse for the rest of the journey, and finally arrive at the entrance to the park. As in all super tourist areas, there is a huge souvenir market. Not on our schedule, which suits me well. Good surprise, there are not too many people. We arrive just after the morning rush.

We pass through the search station. And yes: the bags are searched! We didn’t really understand why. At first we thought it was due to the food. Monkeys have a reputation for being thieves, and in other countries I have visited, to avoid any risk of “attack” of monkeys, it is strictly forbidden to bring food. But here we’ve been given a sandwich for lunch, so we’re waiting to find out. And in fact, since smoking is forbidden in the park, they confiscate your cigarettes. A little radical! Smoking friends, leave your cigarettes in the car or bus!

National Park Manuel Antonio

We finally enter the park. We must follow a path like a wooden pontoon that meanders through the forest.
I’m starting to walk with a good step, glad to stretch my legs, but I quickly realize that this is not how we will visit. The important thing is the observation of nature. Trees, flowers, butterflies and the search for animals. We saw deers, monkeys, birds and butterflies, crabs, and 1 sloth!
I confess that without our guide we would not have seen it. They hide at the top of the trees and above all are completely motionless. It takes a certain habit to spot them.

What surprised me was that all these wild animals live among humans. But as our guide also explained us, the fact that they do not have predators makes them less fearful.

My goal today: walk with my nose in the air, look around me to capture the appearance of an animal. It’s so relaxing. But that’s not in my habits. So I’m learning… And I’m enjoying it.

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park deer
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park monkey1
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crab1
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park crab
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park butterfly1
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park butterfly

And there’s the sloth! I know, it’s not easy. You have to believe me. And that’s all I have so far 😜

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park sloth

This cute little monkey showed his pretty sharp teeth to a tourist who forgot he was wild! He was so close to us that the guy wanted to pet him…

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park monkey2
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park PARKLAND12
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land2

Some landscapes 😊

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land6
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park PARKLAND14
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land10
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land11
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land5
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land3
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land9
Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National park land8

There are several paths to follow. The first and most crowded (yellow on the map) is the one that leads from the car park to the beaches. Everyone must pass there! On the other hand, many people stop there. If, like me, you like to walk, you have to do the little trails around. We walked them all except the white one. If you only have to choose one, my preference goes to La Punta Cathedral. The red one. There is no one and the view of the ocean is beautiful. It goes up a little, but it’s worth it!

Costa Rica Manuel Antonio national park global map

We spent a good part of the day at the park. Unfortunately, we missed a bit of time to enjoy the beach. In fact, the group split up. We left with the walkers to explore nature a little more while the other part of the group went straight to the beach. Our group only had time to dip their toes in the water. Too bad, the water temperature was perfect but we had a reservation at the restaurant. One last look at the Pacific Ocean, and then the return. We had our meal and it was time to return to San Jose.

To conclude

Considering the price of admission, about 15 euros, plan the whole day if possible. As we arrived later, there were fewer people on the trails, but we didn’t enjoy the beach. It’s a choice to make. There is also a small cafeteria in the park, toilets and showers for after swimming. All these facilities remove the wild side of the park.
A less famous and less tourist park would have been more to my liking. But Manuel Antonio Park is still a beautiful place to visit and that I recommend.


  1. Costa Rica looks amazing I have to say. So wild and lush. And such a great opportunity to see wildlife. But I think you had the best view of the crocs- far away. 😃

    1. For crocodiles, you’re right, not sure that I would have appreciated seeing them more closely. 😰

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