Manuel Antonio National Park. Tiny it may be, but this 682-hectare national park epitomizes everything tourists flock to Costa Rica to see: stunning beaches, a magnificent setting with islands offshore (bird sanctuaries for marine species), lush rainforest laced with a network of welcoming trails, wildlife galore, and all within walking distance of your hotel. A few years ago the deluge of visitors threatened to spoil the very things they had come to see. Park Director Jose Antonio Salazar believes the park can withstand no more than 300 visitors a day.
In 1994, the Park Service began limiting the numbers of visitors to 600 per day (800 on Saturday and Sunday), and the park is now closed on Monday. If you wish to do your bit to help preserve Manuel Antonio, consider visiting in the “green” or wet season. Litter and pollution are additional problems. Pack out what you pack in. Nonetheless, the park is too small to sustain a healthy and viable population of certain animals.
If the monkeys do not have access to areas outside the park, the population will decline because they cannot breed. You are guaranteed close-up encounters with monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws. What a gem! Despite its diminutive size, Manuel Antonio is one of the country’s most popular parks, with as many as 150,000 visitors annually in peak years.
Corridors that allow animals access to areas outside the park have been taken up by hotels, so that the park has, in recent years, become an island. As a result, the titi (squirrel monkey) population is declining. Fortunately, in 2000, a decree was issued to triple the park’s size to just under 1800 hectares.
The manchineel is highly toxic and possesses a sap that irritates the skin. Its tempting applelike fruits are also poisonous. Avoid touching any part of the tree. Also, don’t use its wood for fires–the smoke will irritate your lungs. Information. The park entrance is at the eastern end of Playa Espadilla, where you wade across the shallow Rio Camaronera and pay your entrance fee; little rowboats are on hand at high tide, when you may otherwise be waist-deep. The ranger station, sells maps for 40 cents.
There’s a small open-air natural-history museum and information center on Playa Manuel Antonio. Camping is not allowed in the park. There are no accommodations or snack bars. There’s secure parking by the creek near the park entrance. Cautions theft is a major problem on the beaches, not least by the monkeys. Don’t leave your things unguarded while you swim. Take whatever precautions you can to protect your goods. There are riptides on Playa Espadilla. Watch your children, as there are no lifeguards.