From two-toed sloths to white sand beaches, the palm fringed jungle of Manuel Antonio was recently named one of the world’s most beautiful National Parks and it’s easy to see why. This tiny national park comes in at just over 16 sq. km but is jammed pack with biological diversity, making it the perfect place to see a number of Costa Rica’s most popular animals in one visit. With over two weeks in Costa Rica, we had yet to see a sloth so we made our way down to Manuel Antonio to see if we could tick another item off our bucketlist.
Located on the pacific coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is only 130 km away from San Jose, and just outside the main port town of Quepos. Like most of Costa Rica, the town is easily accessed by local transport with buses running direct from San Jose to Quepos with connections on to the park. Hostels, hotels, restaurants and stores line the main street leading up the park as the tourism boom has come to this tiny Costa Rican town.
The park sees over 150,000 visitors annually meaning that on any given day you’re likely sharing this jungle paradise with several hundred people. Your best bet for a bit of seclusion is to visit first thing in the morning when the park gates open at 7am. Guides are available and offer telescopes to get better views of the animals in the trees. We didn’t shell out the extra money for a guide (about $20 a person) and had no trouble spotting sloths on our own. Usually the big groups made it quite easy to find out where the animals were located and we were fortunate enough to spot this guy below in the trees all by ourselves.
There are a number of easy, well-marked trails in the forest that can be covered in a few hours and lead to some breathtaking view points over the headlands. Once you’ve wandered the park, you can stroll down to one of the four white sand beaches and enjoy a dip in the lapping ocean waves. Lunch is best enjoyed picnic style on the beach as there aren’t any restaurant facilities within the park boundaries. Clean drinking water is however available from a number of drinking stations.
You’ll want to keep a close eye on your belongings here, not necessarily from human theft, but from the quick footed monkeys who will jump down from the trees in search of a snack. Seriously, if you turn your back for even a moment, you may find the other half of our sandwich has a new owner.
There are lots of affordable hostel options in town that are all just a about a 5 minute bus ride away from the entrance gates of the park. The free pancake breakfast and stunning views at Backpackers Manuel Antonio did it for us. It’s located directly in front of the town bus stop and offers tons of great outdoor lounge space and on site pool, perfect for an afternoon dip. If you’re only in Costa Rica for a short period of time, Manuel Antonio National Park offers a one stop shop for animal sightings, nature trails and idyllic beaches – what more could you ask for?