Beaches. The park has four lovely beaches, each with its own personality: Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, Escondido, and Playita. The prettiest is Playa Manuel Antonio, a small scimitar of coral-white sand with a small coral reef. It’s separated from Playa Espadilla Sur by a tombolo–a natural land bridge formed over eons through the accumulation of sand–tipped by Punta Catedral, an erstwhile island now linked to the mainland. The hike to the top of Punta Catedral (100 meters) along a steep and sometimes muddy trail takes about an hour from Playa Espadilla Sur (also known as the Second Beach).
Espadilla Sur and Manuel Antonio offer tidal pools brimming with minnows and crayfish, plus good snorkeling, especially during dry season, when the water is generally clear. At the far right on Playa Manuel Antonio, you can see ancient turtle traps dug out of the rocks by pre-Columbian Quepoas. Female sea turtles would swim over the rocks to the beach on the high tide. The tidal variation at this point is as much as three meters; the turtles would be caught in the carved-out traps on the return journey as the tide level dropped.
The people also used female-turtle decoys made of balsa to attract male turtles over the rocks. Olive ridley and green turtles still occasionally come ashore at Playa Manuel Antonio. Wildlife Viewing. Between bouts of beaching, you can explore the park’s network of wide trails, which lead into a swatch of humid tropical forest. Manuel Antonio’s treetop carnival is marvelous, and best experienced by following the Perezoso Trail, named after the lovable sloths, which favor the secondary growth along the trail (perezoso means “lazy”).
You might see marmosets, ocelots, river otters, pacas, and spectacled caimans in more remote riverine areas. Howler monkeys languorously move from branch to branch, iguanas shimmy up trunks, toucans and scarlet macaws flap by.
Playa Dominical is considered by both Ticos and tourists to be the most consistent wave in Costa Rica. Wave heights rarely drop below waist-high with ideal sandbars producing quality lefts, rights, and plenty of good barrels. Playa Dominical is the focal point for surfing in the area and normally sees between ten and thirty surfers in the water in the high seasons (Dec-Mar and Jun-Aug).