Costa Rica has 34 national parks and reserves protecting more than 12% of the country. When you include the private reserves it’s closer to 23% of the country. Located in the province of Puntarenas, 98 miles south of San Jose, Manuel Antonio National Park is part of the Central Pacific Coast. This area is unique because the national park is both hiking trails and beach. It is rather touristy, but we still enjoyed our time there.
On a side note – If you visit the park, be sure to go to the “bank” where you purchase a ticket before standing in line to enter the park. It’s a little confusing. The park is very popular due to the large number of monkeys. I saw a sign somewhere in Manuel Antonio that said “Still more monkeys that people” It just might be true. They were everywhere!
However, it’s a little sad that tourists do not heed the signs and continue to feed them. They will approach you, steal your food, and even get into your backpack. I actually enjoyed seeing them more in Monteverde where they are a little harder to spot, living more naturally in their environment.
We did have an enjoyable hike and in addition to the monkeys saw raccoons, an agouti, iguanas, lizards, and probably my favorite sight of the day – a three-toed sloth.
Three-Toed Sloth – The larger and more commonly sighted of Costa Rica’s two sloth species has long, coarse, brown-to-gray fur with three long, sharp claws. Except for brief periods to defecate, these slow-movie creatures stay in the trees. They grow moss (or algae) on their fur, providing both camouflage and some nutrients for the sloth.
Our first two nights in Quepos, the town next to the park, we stayed at The Falls. It was a nice place, not too pricey, and very kind staff. The first morning after breakfast the monkeys started coming through the grounds after an early morning rain shower.
Hotel Makanda – drove up for lunch, invited to stay and enjoy the pool. It was awesome and refreshing after hiking the park all day. Stayed for happy hour and dinner, entertained by monkeys and a beautiful view of the sunset over the Pacific.
The last two nights we stayed at Arenas Del Mar. It’s an awesome beachfront and rainforest resort within walking distance of the national park. The grounds have beautiful views and trails in the 11 acres of rainforest, and two tree-shaded private beaches perfect for boogie boards.
One morning on the walk back from breakfast we were able to get up close and personal with a “baby” boa constrictor searching for his own breakfast.
Everything here was perfect – the amazing staff, delicious food with an incredible atmosphere on the beach, outdoor morning yoga on the beach with Cyn, and a very comfortable room. Don’t be afraid to go of “off the beaten path” – some of the most incredible 5 star hotels are down steep, rough roads. Our stay at Arenas Del Mar was probably the best overall experience of any hotel we’ve ever been to.
We took one afternoon to drive further south to the beach town of Domenical. It’s a great place for surfing and if we go back I’d love to go horseback riding to the waterfall. This is a great place to shop for souvenirs. Locals set up shop along the beachfront road with handmade jewelry, leather sandals, and other items at great prices.
It was a very cool, laid back atmosphere!
We drove as far south as Playa Hermosa and enjoyed some really interesting beaches.
We headed back to Manuel Antonio just as the sun was starting to set. As much as possible, avoid driving after dark in Costa Rica.
I hope to return to Costa Rica someday and explore more of the Southern Zone and the Osa Peninsula.