One of the sexiest stops in Costa Rica for wildlife viewing is Manuel Antonio State Park. Located on the Pacific Coast, the park is a cool 15 minute bus ride from downtown Quepos. This ride costs about $1USD per person, round trip (vs. nearly $10 to park a car), and the route simply ends at the park. You’ll disembark beach front, at the bottom of the street that leads to the park, across from a restaurant called Martin’s.
The walk to the park entrance is a couple hundred meters up the road (prepare to be the hustled along the way). There are tours available for the park, but you can forego the option. Tours start at about $50 USD per person, so we skipped it for budget purposes.
The park is open from 7am to 4pm everyday (closed on Mondays). It’s important to note that they limit the number of folks entering the park on a daily basis, so like the greatest of world wonders, it’s good to get here early. You’ll purchase your tickets at the Coopealianza, the bank like building on your right before you enter the gate. Entry to the park is $16 USD per person.
As you arrive at the gate, the park ranger will ask if you’ve any food on your person. Note that sandwiches and fruit are permitted but granola bars are not. As you begin your trek, the park entrance puts you on the ‘Principal Trail’. This trail winds along a dock like path, through the forest and mangroves, and spits you out at Playa Espadilla Sur. Here, you stare out onto the Pacific Ocean! The crescent shaped, white sand beach is the least busiest beach in the park, as the currents can be a little tricksy.
Continue along the Punta Catedral Loop, which is a less than one mile hike with a slight elevation. It’s worth it though, for the sweeping views of the Pacific coast line. They say you can see humpback whales feeding near shore in the fall months. Exit the trail at Playa Manuel Antonio, the park’s most popular beach, and find a quiet corner to take it all in. If you brought your snorkeling gear along, the rocks on either end of the beach provide for great entertainment. Here you can see common inshore tropical fish like sergeant major, wrasse, perch and even a trigger fish.
If snorkeling isn’t your thing, you can sit on the beach watching other snorkelers, passing iguanas and listening to howler monkeys. You may also have the opportunity to see squirrel monkeys (aka mono titi) in the tree tops. And be sure to keep an eye out for three-toed sloths in the canopy as well!
Once you’ve had your fill of the park, make your way onto the Perezosa Trail (Sendrero El Perezosa) aka the ‘Sloth Trail’. This is another one mile trail that winds back through the forest, providing more wildlife viewing opportunities on your way back to the entrance. Along this trail is where we encountered a group of white-faced capuchin monkeys that entertained us for a short while. Upon leaving the park, make your way back down to the bus stop and take in the sunset before making your way back into town.
Kathryn Roy is the lead author and photographer for Staying Afloat Blog, a value travel blog, offering inspiration to the world traveler who isn’t quite backpacker budget and far from luxurious traveler. As a US East Coast based marine scientist by day, she covers a lot of ground from Massachusetts to North Carolina. The blog includes a sprinkle of fun ecological facts and occasional reminders of the importance of being environmentally responsible.Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio