It really wasn’t like me. I’m a planner. I usually know exactly where I’m going on a trip long before I leave. But when I arrived in Costa Rica I had no clue where to go. Fortunately for me, the hotel i was staying at had a tourist desk. I asked the girl behind the counter for a recommendation. ” Well, what do you want to see?” she asked. I didn’t have to think of an answer. “Wildlife, especially monkeys and sloths” “Well, if that’s what you’re looking for” she said, “then you definitely need to go see Manuel Antonio” ” Alright, what time does he come in?” I asked. She laughed so hard I think I made her day. “Manuel Antonio is a park, not a person and I promise you’ll see so many monkeys you’ll lose count.” She wasn’t kidding either.
At only twelve square miles, Manuel Antonio is Costa Rica’s smallest yet most visited park. Yet despite the diminutive stature, the park delivers. The park deems with pristine white sand beaches, rocky shoals, and deeply verdant rain forests teeming with sloths, brightly painted butterflies, and three types of monkeys among many others.
The park was a banana plantation in its colonial days and many wild banana plants still grew. The plant is not indigenous to the region however and was imported from Asia by the Europeans. The bananas have been cultivated over the years to be sweeter than the original incarnation and the monkeys and sloths of the park won’t touch them. The park has a very strict no feeding policy for the wildlife, on the pain of expulsion for any scofflaw. No one bothered to tell the monkeys though. The little miscreants were quite adept at stealing the lunch-bags of any inattentive sunbather, climbing to the top of a tree and then taunting the unfortunate tourist.
There are three kinds of monkeys local to Manuel Antonio. The Capuchin monkeys are the most prevalent and the most willing to interact with visitors. They can be charming even gregarious but ignore their devious nature at your peril. They want your lunch. The squirrel monkeys are more ninja like in their quest for goodies. They move about on telephone lines as fearless as a circus performer all the while spying for unattended snacks ready to pounce and disappear. The howler monkey is the most reticent of the tree preferring to lounge high in the forested canopy. They prefer to hang out with the sloths and would rather eat leaves than sandwiches. The do have an ear-piercing scream and their stentorian screeches can be heard for miles.
Located on Costa Rica’s central pacific coast, Manuel Antonio national park is just 80 miles away from the capital city of San Jose. Given the quality of roads, traffic and a speed limit slower than many in the US and Europe are used to, you should allow about four hours to get here from the International airport in San Jose. If you want to take a local bus a ticket is about 12$ US.
The park deserves an honored place in any Costa Rican itinerary. try to visit the country in the off-season. Late October or early November are especially good. The rainy season has passed, it isn’t (too) hot , and the prices haven’t begun their assent to the inflated tourist rate yet. Keep an eye out for some amazing wildlife some who are a bit camera-shy (sloths, deer and howler monkeys) and be ready to be warmly welcomed by the friendly locals. But beware some of them want your lunch.