One of the reasons we came to Costa Rica was for its renowned national parks with rain forests, mangroves, beaches, and accessible wildlife.
The country counts 27 national parks, all created to protect the environment and promote green tourism.
For our first national park, we chose the “Manuel Antonio National Park.”
Created in 1972 to protect local biodiversity, it’s one of Costa Rica’s most touristy and most beautiful parks
The trails are superb, and one can enjoy sublime sceneries from the various trails’ viewpoint. The beaches are paradisiac, and the light blue of the ocean incredible.
We hoped that it would not be too crowded, but we didn’t get our hopes up since it was during the peak season.
For this visit, we chose an organized tour. Manuel Antonio National Park is a three-hour drive south of San Jose. As we didn’t have a car and public transport was not available, we didn’t have a choice. It suited us very well for our first excursion in Costa Rica. Even though the price was relatively high, we decided to sit back, let ourselves be driven, and made the most of the day.
The program of the day
- One hour drive, then stop for breakfast and observe some crocodiles — first surprise 🤔
- End of the trip to the park, arrive at around 11:30 AM.
- Visit of the park, sandwich break, and swimming
- Lunch around 4:00 PM — my first thought was that it was going to be a long wait!
- Return to San Jose at 8:00 PM.
It was going to be a hell of a day, and we were all excited. 😃
On the D-day at 6.30 AM, we left home for the meeting point. The sun was already high, and it was a beautiful day ahead. We met with our group of 10 people in a joyful mood.
First stop and breakfast
We arrived at Carreta Pacífica Fernández Oreamuno in the province of Puntarenas, our first stop. Locals nicknamed the place “The Crocodile Bridge,” which describes the site quite well. It is a road bridge that allows you to cross the Rio Tarcoles from which one can see crocodiles basking in the sun.
It is a very touristy place. We found ourselves in the middle of souvenir shops and restaurants, which have sprung up along the road adjoining the bridge.
We walked on the bridge amid the traffic and tourists to see the crocodiles. It was not at all what I had imagined, but the view was still impressive! Even from the bridge, they looked huge.
The surrounding landscape was also magnificent and gave the feeling of being in the savannah.
We were also lucky to see an iguana on the side of the bridge!
The surrounding landscape
For breakfast, the restaurant served us the national dish, Gallo Pinto. It is a dish made with rice, black beans, cilantro, and onions.
It is often served for breakfast with tortillas, cream, and eggs. We additionally had grilled plantains, a toast with local cheese, and three slices of sausage.
It was delicious! We were reassured, we would be able to hold out without problem until 4:00 PM. 😊
One last coffee, and we left for our final destination.
Manuel Antonio National Park
When we arrived at the park, we were pleasantly surprised because it was not too crowded. We arrived just after the morning rush.
But before entering the park, we needed to pass a search post, which was surprising. The guards informed us that since it was forbidden to smoke in the forest, they had to confiscate the cigarettes. I found the ruling a bit drastic, so for smokers, consider leaving your cigarettes in the car or the bus.
Discovery of the park
We finally entered the park. We had to follow a path that looked like a wooden pier and winded through the forest.
I started to walk briskly, happy to stretch my legs, but quickly realized that this would not be the way we were going to do the visit.
The purpose was to observe nature and search for wild animals. We saw deer, monkeys, birds and butterflies, crabs, and the highlight, a sloth!
Every tourist in Costa Rica wants to see a sloth. Sort of the quest for the holy grail! I admit that for us, without our guide, we would not have seen it.
Sloths hide at the top of trees and, above all, are completely still. It takes a particular habit to spot them.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any raccoons, iguanas, or white-nosed coatis.
What surprised me is that all these wild animals live quietly among the walkers. Our guide also explained that the fact that they don’t have predators makes them less fearful.
Therefore, my goal was to walk around with my nose up in the air, observe the nature around me, and try to find animals hidden behind the foliage.
Here is the sloth! One can see it curled into a ball at the top of the tree. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t budge!
I didn’t know at that time, but later during our trip around the country, I would have the opportunity to see a sloth eating in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. 😃
This adorable little monkey showed off his cute, sharp teeth to a tourist who forgot he was wild! It was so close to us that it is sometimes easy to forget that they were wild animals.
The hiking trails
There are several trails to follow. The first and most crowded — yellow on the map, leads from the parking lot to the beaches. It is, therefore, a passage that everyone takes.
On the other hand, many stop there and enjoy the ocean.
If, like me, you prefer hiking, you have to walk the little trails around. My favorite was the red one, which heads to La Punta Cathedral. There is nobody, and the view of the ocean is magnificent. The climb is a bit steep, but the scenery is worth the effort!
Another reason to hike in this remote area is to do a squirrel monkeys hunt. Our guide told us that we could see some in the canopy. Unfortunately, we were neither fortunate nor good observers to see some! That says they are pretty rare and difficult to spot.
Continuation of the visit in pictures
And this is the end of our visit.
We spent a little over four hours in the park, and unfortunately, we ran out of time to enjoy the beach.
The group split into two during the day. We left with the walkers to explore the nature while the other group went straight to the beach. That’s why we didn’t have time to step into the water. It was a shame because the water was warm, and its turquoise blue color made us want to dive in.
But as we had an appointment at the restaurant, we had to go. We left the ocean a little disappointed, promising to catch up next time.
Like all parks in Costa Rica, the entrance fee is around € 15. We ran out of time to fully enjoy what the park has to offer, which is a real shame. A whole day in this heavenly place would have been perfect.
On the practical side, there is a small cafeteria in the park, toilets, and showers for after swimming, and you can take a picnic if you wish.
A small downside, however. Despite its beauty and the wildlife that can be seen throughout the visit, I did not find the wild side I expected when coming here because of its fame, frequentation, and facilities. That said, Manuel Antonio National Park is still a beautiful place to visit and that I recommend.