Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Located on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited touristic destinations in the country. Its nature trails, abundant wild life and postcard beaches, allied to its easy accessibility and good receptive infrastructure, all help in attracting more and more visitors to discover this place.
Manuel Antonio National Park is located in a small peninsula about 7km (4.3mi) south of Quepos, a city in Puntarenas province. It is the smallest national park in the country, covering a land area of 1,983 hectares (4,900 acres), plus another 550km² (212mi²) in the sea. Nevertheless, this is one of the most beautiful parks in the country, being home for more than 100 species of mammals and more than 300 bird species. This, plus the short driving distance to the national capital, San José, contributes to the fact that some 200,000 tourists visit the park annually.
The park has a series of well-marked trails that, even not being long (always below 2km, or 1.3mi, each), demand a moderate effort due to the diversity of terrains (sand and rock, steep at times with stretches covered by stairways) and the climate mostly hot and humid. The most visited beach is named after the park itself: Manuel Antonio. Covering 400m (1,300ft), it’s the preferred place for snorkeling, while the trail leading to it is an ideal place to spot white head monkeys.
Next to Manuel Antonio beach, Punta Catedral can be circled following a 1.1km (0.7mi) trail that crosses an area of primary forest and lets visitors look at five islands near the coast – some of which have been converted in nesting areas by sea birds. Espdilla Sur beach is also nearby Punta Catedral and Manuel Antonio beach. Covering slightly more than 700m (2,300ft), this beach is not as popular for swimming, due to its strong currents, but features a broad sand strip, besides being a good place to observe reptiles, such as iguanas. The next beach following this path is Espadilla Norte, although it is already outside the limits of the national park. Following the opposite direction from the main beach, the first major sight are the twin beaches, a little slice of the paradise, while Puerto Escondido lies further away, its access depending on the sea tides.
The road connecting Quepos to Manuel Antonio is filled by many hotels, guesthouses, hostels, restaurants and other places focused on serving tourists, many of them offering magnificent views over the valley and the sea. This region has a rough terrain, which presents an additional challenge for those willing to cover the road on foot. In order to save some energy, it’s pretty easy to take a public bus as they cover this route on a fairly frequent schedule.
Quepos itself is not an attractive city and its main role is really serving as a transportation hub. From there it is possible to catch a bus to San José, around 130km to 180km (80mi to 110mi) away, depending on the itinerary, or to Puntarenas, 140km (85mi) west, which offers abundant connections to destinations in the north of the country, like Monteverde. Alternatively, you can choose a more adventurous track, heading to Corcovado National Park, or perhaps crossing the Panamanian border, either some 190km (120mi) away.