A national park full of beaches
(T2777-4122. The park is open 0700-1600, US$10. The entrance to the park is across the tidal estuary of the Quebrada Camaronera. If the tide is too high to wade across, small boats will ferry you for a small fee. On the land side of the river, there is ample parking (US$3 for the day). The half-hourly bus from Quepos ends at the parking area. Guides provide nature tours of the park in Spanish, English and some in German, lasting 2½ hrs, US$20 per person, T2779-1167. Arrange directly with the guides at the entrance to the park, call or make arrangements through your hotel.)
Universally acclaimed as one of the most scenic landscapes of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is a gem of tropical wilderness. Whether you are a lover of pristine sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, or of wandering through tropical forests that are teeming with wildlife, you will find something in this park for you.
The park only protects 1625 ha (with a further 55,000 ha of marine preserve) but it nevertheless packs quite a punch. High annual rainfall (close to 4 m) makes this an area of humid forest with sections of untouched primary forest and secondary forest slowly under- going regeneration. The diversity is complemented by stands of red, white and buttonwood mangrove. Offshore, a dozen coastal islands provide refuge and nesting sites for seabirds.
Rocky outcrops feature strongly in the headland. Punta Catedral, once an island, is now connected to the mainland by a sandy link or tombolo, slowly deposited over time by opposing currents sweeping along the coastline. A trail climbs steeply around the point, with viewing stops conveniently placed so you can catch your breath. The former island is home to primary and secondary forest and a quiet early morning walk will find you face to face with surprisingly timid wildlife including pacas, agoutis and iguanas. As always, however, with a guide you’ll see a lot more. A couple of longer trails head east along the coastline passing the tree-fringed beaches of Manuel Antonio, heading out to Playa Escondido and beyond to Punta Serrucho and Playa Playitas. The trails are the best place to see the monkeys, which are fairly easily seen in the park, including white-faced capuchins and the rarer and endangered squirrel monkey.
The second main attraction in the park involves strolling just beyond the entrance to the park and plonking yourself on a beach. There are five beautiful, sandy beaches here, each fringed with the attractive (but poisonous) manzanillo tree and with gentle gradients that are good for swimming (but do watch out for rip currents)....