One of the most popular parks in Costa Rica, located 30 mi/48 km south of San Jose, Manuel Antonio National Park has become the focus of the debate that concerns Costa Rica as a whole. It was intended to preserve nature, but its popularity threatens the environment that visitors go to see.
Responding to some of the ill effects of mass visitation (including pollution from hotels and automobiles and deleterious interactions between humans and wildlife), the government has taken steps to limit the number of visitors to Manuel Antonio: Camping is no longer allowed, the park is closed on Monday, and only 600-800 visitors are allowed in daily, depending on the day of the week.
After wading through an estuary at the entrance to the park—anywhere from ankle deep to waist deep, depending on the tides—you can choose from exceptional white-sand beaches. (For a small fee, a boat will paddle you across.) Playa Espadilla Sur—also called Second Beach—is especially good for snorkeling and swimming.
A network of trails runs through the forest, allowing you to observe an abundance of wildlife: birds, white-faced capuchin monkeys, coatis, sloths, and colorful crabs and lizards. There are a number of activities that you can enjoy in the area surrounding the park, including rafting, surfing, sea kayaking, horseback riding and sportfishing (especially for sailfish mid-December to late April).
One excursion to consider is the canopy-safari trip, which includes breakfast, a Jeep ride into the forest and ziplining and rappelling through the forest. You can go in the morning and spend time on the beach when you return.
If you're planning to stay several days in the Manuel Antonio area, try to get a room at one of the hotels that line the road between the park and the town of Quepos. They're more expensive than those in town, and you must book well in advance, but they're worth it: Many are discreetly built into the jungle and take you close to the wildlife—we saw a sloth ever so slowly cross the road in front of our hotel.
Quepos, a fishing town with a marina, several sportfishing operators and a base for local activities, boasts a large number of restaurants and modest accommodations, plus shops and art galleries where you can catch up on your souvenir shopping.
For more information, visit http://www.manuelantoniopark.com.
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