While you’re enjoying your fabulous Costa Rican vacation at Los Sueños Resort and Marina, plan a day trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, about 45 minutes south of the resort. There are plenty of parks, reserves and conservancies in Costa Rica, but this park is a must-visit gem.
For such a small area, it’s plant life is impressive, including a thick stand of giant bamboo that shoots upward to staggering heights. The guarumo tree looks like overgrown schefflera and sloths love the skinny, long-fingered fruit. Other species include flame of the forest, señora de la noche, papaya and plumeria trees, as well as dieffenbachia, lantana, begonias, torito orchids and spider lilies. The cedro maria and vaco lechoso are two of Costa Rica’s traditional medicinal plants in the park. Look out for the manzanillo tree at the park entrance, signposted in English and Spanish. The tree’s sap is caustic and will cause chemical burns and the fruit is poisonous for everyone. Look, but don’t touch.
While the plant life is spectacular, the capuchin monkeys—with little white faces and sweet expressions—may be the stars of the show. The louder, bigger and noisier black howlers with booming calls and endangered, rufous-back spider monkeys, known as titís make their homes in Manuel Antonio. Linger with field glasses along the trails and you might spot sloths slumbering in the canopy.
Beach almonds shade the edges of Manuel Antonio Beach—one of three in the park. Two of the park’s beaches are accessible from the main trail, which is flat and wide. There’s another beach at Cathedral Point. If you plan to go, you’ll need good sturdy shoes, as it’s slightly more difficult. Use caution, tides can be strong.
Brown pelicans fish the ocean waters and kingfishers dive for fish in the streams. Colorful parakeets, lorikeets, macaws, fiery-billed araçaris and chestnut mandibled toucans roost in the treetops, while an assortment of snakes, lizards, geckos and frogs hide in the forest litter. Scrounging agoutis, coatimundis and raccoons cruise for unattended backpacks and they can be very assertive. Keep the food firmly in your control; when my friend tried to reclaim her pack and banana, the raccoon wanted to argue. When the tide is in, the rickety little boats are a good way to see the mangroves and the caiman that live there.
Hire a guide ($25/person); it’s only a few dollars more than an entrance-only ticket ($16.40 each). Guides know the plants and animals, their habits and the park’s history, a big help in spotting shy forest inhabitants.
The park is closed Mondays; go early in the day, park entrance is limited to 600 people at any given time. Take plenty of water, sunblock, swimsuit and towel and keep a close eye on your belongings. If you drive, the parking attendants are not official, but a couple of dollars is cheap insurance for your car and peace of mind. Alternatively, HRG staff will be happy to book a hassle-free tour for you.