A day in …Manuel Antonio
Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. Of its 26 national parks, Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest, and covers roughly 680 hectares. It features lush rainforest fringed by beautiful beaches with dramatic rocky headlands providing superb ocean views. Despite its small size, wildlife is abundant and includes white-faced capuchins, howler and squirrel monkeys, toucans, sloths, coatis and agoutis. There are 194 species of mammals and 184 species of birds whilst whales and dolphins can be observed from the shores and from the many surrounding islands.
On a Friday evening I arrived in Manuel Antonio and checked into the El Parador hotel, which is located in the wildlife-rich tropical rainforest. Located between Biesanz and Playitas beaches, on the central Pacific coast, it offers superb panoramic views of the ocean.
El Parador Hotel
It didn’t take long to find wildlife. Only 300 metres from the hotel was a hidden path where a family of sloths lived. Clearly uninterested in the excited observers, they moved slowly about their business. I stayed there until it started to get dark, happy that I had seen the smiling sloths that are so iconic to Costa Rica.
Early the next morning I set off to the national park, only 15 minutes’ drive away. I recommend taking plenty of water and a fully charged camera because, during a full day of exploration, there is a lot to see and many photo opportunities.
National park entrance
Manuel Antonio benefits from an excellent system of walking trails, which make it easy to walk around and get close to the nature and wildlife.
You can get face to face with some of the most charismatic residents such as squirrel monkeys.
Another local, who can be found catching sun rays, is the green iguana.
Some animals, such as the crab-eating raccoons, are easy to spot, as one of their hobbies is to steal food from unaware visitors.
Other species can be more difficult to see, as they hide very well in the dense foliage. A particularly elusive creature is the Jesus Christ lizard. They normally spend all day up high in the trees and it is incredibly difficult to spot them there. However, they also need to climb down to get water. This is when they are most vulnerable, but they have an amazing technique to escape from danger: they are able to run fast over water. I was incredibly happy to spot this lizard, who, conversely, seemed less pleased to see me.
Basiliscus lizard, or Jesus Christ lizard
Another lucky sighting was the white-tailed deer that was quick to escape, leaving me with a slightly blurry photo as the only proof of our encounter. The white-tailed deer was declared to be the national symbol of wildlife in Costa Rica by President José María Figueres Olsen in 1995. They flash their tail, pant loudly and stomp their hooves to signal danger to other deer.
Manuel Antonio has several spectacular beaches and I decided to finish my walk on the beautiful Espadilla Sur beach. I stayed until the sun set, listening to the ocean waves and walking on the white sand as iguanas rested in the shade and white-headed capuchin monkeys played in the trees above.
Espadilla Sur beach
Latin America expert
Visit Manuel Antonio as part of Cox & Kings’ Natural Splendours of Costa Rica escorted tour, or alternatively, speak to David about tailoring a holiday to Costa Rica.
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