A Park with a Bad Rap

Manuel Antonio National Park,
Costa Rica

Jan 12, 2020

Tour operators and guides elsewhere denigrate the Manuel Antonio park in the Puntarenas province, spouting tales of animals just this side of tame. Stories of food-snatching monkeys and others posing for photo ops abound in disparaging comments. They do however, admit the abundance of fauna here makes them easy to spot. Best of all, there is no guide required and no herding to be subjected to. It was a no-brainer to visit the park.

The circus that is the park begins well before the entrance with touts, guides, souvenir stalls and food vendors lining the short walk from the bus stop. The nearby beach is awash with loungers, umbrellas and bathers. A couple of paragliding booths each announce they are the only official outfit. Lines at the ticket counter and the entrance are long with about equal numbers of foreign and domestic tourists.

The broad lane into the park is packed with groups of tourists dutifully following their telescope-toting guides. The various trails are cemented or built of wood with stairs going up or down inclines. At no point do we touch the forest floor. This is more in the nature of a stroll in the park than a trail in the wilderness.

But to give it its due, the animals are plentiful here and easy to see. The four-legged and winged creatures do not appear to be bothered by the two-legged ones, nor do they approach for handouts. A rustle in the leaves overhead is the signal of some animal, usually monkeys. Howler monkeys along with squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins are everywhere.

They seem unfazed by the paparazzi as they go about the serious business of eating. Closer on the ground are spiders, stick insects and an iguana who surveyed me as intently as I did him. Just inside the hollow of a bamboo lay a small snake having its siesta.

A cluster of people staring intently upward had me staring as well and voila! A three-toed sloth sat high up in a big tree, its arms and legs wrapped firmly around branches. Some three hours later having hiked through the park, on my way back, it was the same sloth in the same tree, in the same branch except it had shifted a tad; now I could see it nursing its baby.

A couple of trails led up to some good viewpoints and to a secluded section of beach hemmed in by rocks.

The resident pelicans fly up in lazy arcs and then dive sharply into the water for their lunch. For many locals this visit is more like a picnic at the beach than to see wildlife and the beach is soon full of bathers. Too full as the pelicans leave for better pastures.


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