Manuel Antonio is the most popular National Park with Ticos. One reason for this is the unspoiled beaches that lie within easy walking distance of the entrance station. The overhanging palms are a refreshing break from the bars, discos, hotels and restaurants surrounding the park.
Besides the spectacular beaches, Manuel Antonio offers several kilometers of very well maintained trails offering the easiest access in Costa Rica to the lowland rainforest.
Logging and agriculture have left only two significant areas of tropical rainforest (tropical lowland wet forest) along the entire Pacific coast of Central America. Corcovado protects one on the Osa Peninsula, and Manuel Antonio protects the other.
Many Costa Rican school children visit Manuel Antonio on field trips. The park has an extensive education program for schools, organizations, and independent visitors.
Rain Forests & Wildlife in Manuel Antonio
The dense vibrant forest is made up of guácimo colorado, madroño, cenízaro, bully, cedar, locust (including the endangered surá black locust), cow, and silk cotton trees strung with vines and lianas. Along the shore is a mix of manzanillo, beach almond (an import from the East Indies), copey, and coconut palms trees. Near the entrance, a small area of mangroves boasts three species, red, buttonwood, and white.
Red backed squirrel monkeys (mono tití) are a big attraction, surviving only in Corcovado, and Manuel Antonio. The park is actually too small to support a viable population, and the monkeys travel to surrounding areas aided by aerial bridges over the road sponsored by local school children. White-faced Capuchin (carablanca), spider (colorado) and mantled howler (congo) monkeys commonly hang around the entrance station looking for handouts (it is illegal to feed wildlife).
Over 350 species of birds call Manuel Antonio home, and many more visit the park. You’ll certainly see brown pelicans fishing offshore, and five species of kingfishers (martín pescador) including the brilliant emerald amazon (amazónico) species working the streams and lakes. Despite their brilliant colors, Fiery-billed aracaris (toucancillo piquianaranjado) and chestnut mandibled toucans (Dios-te-dé) blend with the forest remarkably well. Other species including lineated woodpeckers (carpintero lineado), barred wood creepers (trepapalos), red-capped manakins (saltarín cabecirrojo) are even harder to spot, and a good guide is indispensable.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Especially near the shore, iguanas (garrobo), and ctenosaurs (iguana negra) are easily spotted. Other reptiles and amphibians including jesus christ lizards (chisbala), big-headed anoles (galleguillo), leaf litter geckos (gallego de hojarasca), smoky jungle frogs (rana ternero), and a symbol of the rainforest, the red-eyed leaf frog (rana calsonuda) abound but are more difficult to find.
Walking and Hiking Trails – Manuel Antonio
See Map Below.
From the entry station where you wade the shallow Quebrada Camonera (small boats are available at high tide) the main trail skirts Playa Espadilla Sur to the park information office on Playa Manuel Antonio at the tómbolo (land bridge) of Punta Catedral where there are picnic tables and fresh water showers to rinse off the beach sand. From here you can access the 1.2 km loop around Punta Catedral that features a number of viewpoints and the pre-Columbian Quepoas turtle traps built in the rocks at the western end of Playa Manuel Antonio (only visible at low tide).
Continuing east from the information center the first turn on the left is the 1.3 km sendero perezoso (sloth trail) along an access road that leads up, and out of the park to the hotel area above the parking lot.
A left turn at the next Y in the trail puts you on the sendero mirador (overlook trail) which climbs a further 1.3 km onto the headland behind Playa Puerto Escondido to an impressive overlook. Although the lookout point appears to be very close to the beach on the map, you cannot access the beach from the top of this nearly vertical drop-off. To reach Playa Puerto Escondido return to the Y and take the right hand branch.
No trails are necessary for some other interesting walks in the park. Along the beaches you’ll discover small tide pools in the rocks that hold dozens of species of sponges, corals, crabs and other crustaceans and more than a hundred different types of fish. Snorkeling is allowed for more extensive investigations, but you should be aware that any recent rainfall reduces the visibility significantly.
When to Visit – Closed Mondays
Manuel Antonio is very popular. If you can visit in the low season, do. If not, try to arrive early in the day, especially on weekends and holidays. Overcrowding led the park service to limit the number visitors to 600 on weekdays and 800 on weekends and holidays.
The park receives approximately 151 inches (3,900 mm) of precipitation a year. January and February are the driest months; August through October are the rainiest. High temperatures average 81 °F (27 °C) to 86 °F (30 °C) year round.
Use the drop down menu to select any month of the year for a summary of the typical rainfall and weather patterns.
The Central Pacific is driest from mid-December to about June but typically the rainy season isn’t as dramatic here as further south.
Free printable road map of the whole country also available >> Costa Rica Map
In the Region
There are numerous agencies offering deep sea fishing excursions in the region. The competition seems to have driven the prices lower in Quepos than at the travel desk or in the lobby of the hotels near the entrance to Manuel Antonio.
Other activities available from your hotel desk or the tour kiosks in the area include day trips to Caño Island (snorkeling and scuba diving), white water rafting and kayaking (in the wet season only), surf kayaking, and canopy tours.
There is excellent mountain biking inland towards the mountaintop pueblo of Nápoles. Get someone (or hire a jeep taxi) to drive you up, then cruise down. We came in from San José by bicycle and only rode down this side, but can assure you that the ride up would be a tough one.
Half an hour south, Dominical is a surf hangout with a more laid-back, less commercial feel than Playa Jacó to the North.
Continuing south (35 miles, 58 km from Quepos) you’ll reach the highly recommended Lodge at Rancho Merced National Wildlife refuge, and Marino Ballena National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park was born from the desire of the people in the region to preserve their access to one of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica. As David Rains Wallace describes it in The Quetzal and the Macaw, “Despite it’s relatively tiny size, it was still bursting with biodiversity in 1990. I’d rarely seen so much wildlife in a rainforest area. On a short trail leading from the beaches into the hills, three-toed sloths were visible every few hundred feet, draped like soiled scatter-rugs over cecropia trees. Troops of squirrel monkeys fed busily on swarms of green and black grasshoppers…”
The citizens of Quepos had enjoyed the area for generations until it passed into the hands of a series of developers. When one of them, Arthur Bergeron, began cutting trees and erecting gates on the road in preparation for constructing a private resort the locals reacted by requesting the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly to protect the area for all to enjoy.
Manuel Antonio National Park is named for a Conquistador who is buried there and was established in 1972 and expanded in 1980.
Weather—The park receives approximately 151 inches (3,900 mm) of precipitation a year. January and February are the driest months; August through October are the rainiest. High temperatures average 81 °F (27 °C) to 86 °F (30 °C) year round.
Size—1,685 acres (682 hectares, 2.6 square miles, twice the size of Central Park NYC, and 1/150th the size of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)
Elevations—From sea level to about 160 feet (50 meters)
Established—Manuel Antonio National Park is named for a Conquistador who is buried there and was established in 1972 and expanded in 1980.
Habitats—Tropical lowland wet forest (rain forest), marine, beach. For more information on common mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibian