85. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - The Popular National Park

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August 18, 2007

Manuel Antonio, the area, is really just a collection of upmarket hotels, restaurants, bars and stores along a narrow windy, seven kilometer stretch of road that leads from Quepos to the national park.

There are no obvious camping options here, but we managed to sweet-talk the manager at Cabinas Piscis into allowing us to overnight in his compact parking lot.

The cabinas are conveniently located beside the massive La Buena Nota souvenir ship, which has an enormous used book section upstairs and was a good place to hang out for a few hours during the afternoon rains.

The hugely popular Manuel Antonio National Park was about a 10 minute walk along the beach from our campsite. We set the alarm for 6 am, as we had read that the park opens at 7 am and that only 800 people a day are allowed in.

In order to get to the park at high tide, we had to hop in a boat to cross an extremely narrow estuary. On the other side, we paid the $7 entrance fee, and were then free to roam the park.

It is easy to see why the park has become so popular. It has majestic beaches, crashing waves, lush vegetation, good walking trails and an abundance of wildlife.

In our three hours there, we saw sloths, spider monkeys – including a newborn that had fallen 75 feet from a tree branch and was barley clinging to life – raccoons and a series of exotic birds.

But there is a steady stream of people filing through the park, many in large groups being guided by khaki uniformed rangers who are carrying large sets of binoculars on tripods.

Overall the park - as well the uber developed stretch of road leading to it – felt a bit too busy with tourists. The serenity of Cahuita National Park, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, had been more to our liking.

Some of our malaise could perhaps be attributed to the effects of driving the notorious dirt road between Domincal and Quepos.

When I visited Costa Rica five years I ago, I had ridden the bus along this route, and it was a bone-jarring, mind-numbing experience that I still vividly remember.

The road is still not paved, although much work was being done on it, especially north of Matapala.

But it still took us two and half hours of dirty, dusty and bumpy driving to complete the 45 kilometre journey.

Key Facts & Figures:

-camping, Cabinas Piscis parking lot: $6/night
-entrance fee, Manuel Antonio Park: $7/person