Costa Rica is an incredible country. It has 11 climate zones, 900 miles of coastline on 2 oceans, and 4% of the world’s biodiversity all packed into just under 20,000 square miles ( an area smaller than West Virginia). Are you looking for a luxury beach resort, a zen-like mountain retreat, an adrenaline pumping advhttps://youtu.be/I7dXCNqhek8enture or a hippie surfer paradise? Costa Rica has them all and more. The country is a world renowned destination for ecotourism and unique wildlife. Let’s Go Learn Things about Costa Rica wildlife….
Central Pacific Coast
Because we only had a week we decided to spend our time on the Central Pacific coast and make a few day trips from there. We were looking for some relaxing beach/pool time and lots of wildlife spotting. We used Manuel Antonio as our homebase because of the Manuel Antonio National Park. This National Park is the most popular in the country for wildlife spotting.
Manuel Antonio the town
The tiny and touristy town of Manuel Antonio is a 3.5 hour drive from the International airport in San Jose. We thought it would be great to be walking distance to the park and we were persuaded by the pool of the El Faro Hotel just steps from the park.
This was in fact a wonderful pool but what you don’t see is that the hotel is literally stacked shipping containers sitting atop an incredibly steep slope. As you can imagine the rooms were long and narrow and boxlike. Service from the hotel staff was attentive. The restaurant was mediocre but easier than venturing out after dark on the very narrow and crowded road. We started calling the area outside the Park “the circus”. There was one dwindling road to the Park, almost impassable with pedestrians, hucksters, motorbikes, cars, tour vans and coach buses. The entire area was packed willy-nilly with touristy ramshackle structures. It seemed impossible that this was a country and National Park with ecotourism a priority. Manuel Antonio National Park was wonderful but at $16 a person entrance fee we didn’t just wander into the park each morning as we had planned.
Manuel Antonio National Park
In spite of the chaos of this little town, the Park is still very much worth the effort. I recommend that if you are driving your own car, stay patient and drive all the way to the end of the road at the Hotel Manuel Antonio. That parking lot is free and closest to the park. Beware that there are hucksters all along the road, trying quite aggressively, to get you to park in their lots and use their guides but these lots are still a long walk from the park and not free. This post on the website In a Nutshell or Two has a great explanation of the parking situation.
To guide or not to guide. Much of the pre-research I did suggested that a guide was not necessary for the Park. We had intended to make our first pass alone and book a guide the next day if we felt it necessary. But the chaos sort of overtook us and we ended up with a guide. I have to be honest, I am really glad that we did. The Park is teeming with extraordinary Costa Rica wildlife, but much of it is hanging-out high in the canopy of the trees. We worked with Wilbur who can be reached at Mapache_tour@yahoo.com. He hustled all over the Park with his spotting scope for several hours. He was very adept with the scope and camera phones. There were just 8 people in our group, we did not feel crowded. We loved the experience.
Costa Rica Wildlife at Manuel Antonio National Park
Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park was very similar to scuba diving. There was a plethora of critters to discover and check off on that imaginary bucket list. Despite the crowds of tourists in the Park, it still felt very wild and primal. Within moments we observed a lethargic sloth slowly shift its position high in the trees. While captivated with the sloth, a couple of small deer nibbled into our view on the ground. Before our eyes a blur of black and gold spots leapt through the underbrush towards the deer. An ocelot. The guides were beside themselves. This was a rare sighting even for them. He was sleek and beautiful and gone in the blink of an eye. No pics but we saw him.
As we continued through the Park, our guide pointed out tree frogs, bats, owls, lizards, snakes, monkeys and several more sloths.
Nitty Gritty Details
Besides the amazing wildlife opportunities, the Park has several trails through the rainforest, mangroves and 3 beautiful beaches. The Park is open from 7AM to 4 PM and closed on Mondays. I recommend an early morning visit to assure a parking spot, avoid excessive heat and to catch the animals awake. Take plenty of water because it is not available in the Park and it is very humid. Also I suggest cash for anything you want to do in this town including the Park. They will grudgingly take your credit card but make a point of charging you 10% extra.
It is truly a once in a lifetime experience to see the Costa Rica wildlife in their natural habitat.
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