Manuel Antonio National Park on the pacific coast of Costa Rica is home to primary and secondary rain forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beautiful white sand beaches. With over 100 mammal species and almost 200 bird species it was listed by Forbes as one of the world’s most beautiful national parks.
The park is home to three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species – the Mantled Howler Monkey, the Central American Squirrel Monkey and the White-headed Capuchin Monkey. In fact, the park was specifically created to protected the Squirrel Monkey, a species that had dropped to under 1,000 individual in the area. The park reclaimed pasture area and new forest was planted – hence the relatively large area of secondary forest observed inside. The Squirrel Monkey population rebounded and they are now a common site, not only inside the park, but also in the town and along the road to Quepos.
One of the most popular sights in Manuel Antonio is the Sloth (or Oso Perezoso – lazy bear – as it is called in Spanish). Both brown-throated three-toed and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths are present in the park and are often seen with young. Note that when identifying them all sloths actually have three toes, the name refers to the number of fingers. Three-toed (fingered) sloths are also easily identifiable by their permanent smile.
How to get there: Manuel Antonio is 132 km from the Costa Rican capital San Jose and is accessible via a network of new and well maintained roads. The journey is around 4 hours by car from San Jose International Airport. The national park sits next to Manuel Antonio town and just 10km from the larger town Quepos. There are hostels and hotels to fit every budget and a variety of restaurants located on the road between the two towns.
Entrance to the park costs $16 for foreigners and it opens at 7am. Most visitors looking to see wildlife arrive early to avoid the hoards that arrive slightly later and inevitably scare off the wildlife. Guides are available outside the park and offer group tours of 2-3 hours, taking in the major hiking routes. They often travel with scopes to make viewing wildlife easier – sloths are often spotted high up and are difficult to see with the naked eye. Food is currently strongly discouraged in the park – the monkeys have discovered how to open bags and steal it, and groups of racoons patrol the beaches stealing whatever tourists have left unprotected.