Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the south coast of Costa Rica. It is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica because of its exotic rainforest vegetation, its picture-book beaches and its extremely friendly tropical fauna.
The Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the south coast of Costa Rica, about 7 kilometres south of Quepos, and was opened in 1972. Not only the palm forests of the Pacific coast belong to the national park, but also 12 offshore small islands and the surrounding sea.
Covering an area of 57,000 hectares, Manuel Antonio National Park contains around 350 different plant species. These thrive in the vegetation zones of humid to very humid tropical rainforest. By the way, very humid is correct: the humidity in Manuel Antonio National Park is 86% and the rainy season lasts from April to December, which is longer than usual in Costa Rica.
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Arrival and accommodation in Manuel Antonio National Park
It takes about 3-4 hours by bus from the capital San José to arrive in Ouepos. The entrance to the park is about 15 minutes further on, and the road is lined with restaurants and hotels in all price categories. As a rule of thumb, the closer to the park entrance, the more expensive. Ouepos itself has also turned into a tourist resort with souvenir shops and tour operators.
Exotic petting zoo: up close and personal with the rainforest
With a land area of only 7 square kilometres, the smallest national park in the country, it is one of the most popular in Costa Rica. This is probably due on the one hand to its manageability, and on the other hand certainly to its almost petting zoo character. Its gentle forested hills offer a unique opportunity to experience exotic animals in the wild and yet very close .
The chirping and shrieking of over 350 exotic bird species fills the air, of which toucans and pelicans are the largest. Over 100 species of mammals live in Manuel Antonio National Park, all of which have lost their shyness towards humans over time.
Armadillos, coatis, raccoons, sloths and capuchin monkeys roam the forests and are not afraid to get up close and personal with the odd visitor. The monkeys and raccoons like to beg for food and can even become a nuisance if you ignore them (feeding the animals in the national park is strictly forbidden, anyone caught doing so will be expelled from the park!)
There are also reptiles galore in the national park, almost all species found on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica are represented there. The most spectacular to see are certainly the giant black iguanas, which can be admired here in their natural environment without much effort.
Caution: Be warned not to touch animals and plants - there might be poisonous ones! (The poisonous manzanillo tree, for example, is marked with signs).
Guided tours through Manuel Antonio National Park
Guided tours through the national park are offered in Oupes. A guide brings along extensive knowledge about the flora and fauna of Manuel Antonio and, with a practised eye, probably discovers one or the other animal that would otherwise remain hidden. In addition, each guide is equipped with oversized binoculars.
The disadvantage is that you move in a large group along the "highways" of the hiking trails; the narrow jungle paths are often much more inviting and, above all, quieter.
Diving and snorkelling in Manuel Antonio National Park
In addition to the spectacular animal observations at close range, the underwater world of Manuel Antonio National Park leaves nothing to be desired. Snorkelling is possible at several public beaches and the colourful world full of tropical fish can be explored, including stingrays and reef sharks.
The most beautiful - and unfortunately also the most crowded - beach is the almost 400-metre-long Playa Manuel Antonio, also known as Playa Blanca ("White Beach").
Not quite as paradisiacal, but quieter and about twice as long are the two beaches Playa Espadilla Sur and Puerto Escondido. As the beaches are not open to the public but only accessible via the national park, they are also among the cleanest and best maintained in Costa Rica.
Tip: The best day to visit the national park is probably Wednesday or Thursday. At the weekend, Manuel Antonio is not only crowded with tourists, but also with locals. The rush of visitors results in extensive clean-up work, which is why the park is closed on Monday.