High in the tree tops we spot a bundle of stationary fur. Our first sloth sighting was exciting. Manuel Antonio National Park in southern Costa Rica has a diverse array of unique and interesting animals and is a great place for a walking safari.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Located in southern Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) is a large coastal jungle that is abundant in unusual animals. It’s one of the most popular places in Costa Rica for safaris. The nice thing about the park is that there are only walking trails, many are wooden boardwalks and there are no vehicles allowed. We don’t usually hire guides when we visit tourist sites, but we know how difficult it is to find animals in the jungle. For this park we decided to hire a guide and were lucky to be his only customers for the morning. We hired him that morning and he charged $20 USD each compared to $50 – 100 each for a pre-booked tour. There weren’t many people at the park first thing in the morning so we were able to see a lot of animals without the large, noisy crowds that arrived later. We saw many different animals, but we’ll just talk about the more interesting ones.
Costa Rica has both three and two-toed sloths. They are ridiculously cute because of their permanent smile and lanky bodies but are incredibly difficult to find in the wild. They sleep 18 hours a day so are motionless in their beds high above in the tree canopy. Without the help of our guide, we probably wouldn’t have seen any, but in the end we saw 4 sloths.
Three-toed sloths have three claws on front and hind legs. Their fur is brown, but has a tinge of green from the algae, fungi and moths that live on its fur. You can see the green in our picture below. They have a symbiotic relationship with these organisms both in diet and camouflage. Two-toed sloths have 2 claws on their front arms, three on the hind legs. Their fur is whiter in colour and they are almost always found hanging upside down.
Sloths only leave their tree 3 times a month to defecate so it’s very rare to see them on the ground. They are known for moving slow and it’s because they gain little energy from their diet of leaves, twigs and insects. We watched as one of the sloths moved its arm. It was painstakingly slow, and it only moved its arm a few centimeters.
White Faced Capuchin Monkeys
We love monkeys, and these cute capuchins are one of our new favourites. Their name comes from the black cap on their heads that make them look similar to capuchin monks. They are touted as being the smartest of the New World Monkeys and are fast, nimble and great thieves. We saw one steal a wallet out of a zipped bag, and another that snuck a burrito out of a beach bag. As we were walking along one of the wooden trails we were delighted as a troupe came by, crashing through the trees, climbing up and down tree trunks and out on to the end of the limbs to eat the leaves. `
We have heard the howler monkeys a few times, but still have not seen this shy monkey. Their loud howl first sounds like a dog and then more like a gorilla.
The Golden Silk Orb-Weaver Spider
One of the most interesting spiders we’ve ever seen is the Golden Silk Orb-Weaver Spider. It spins a web so strong that it can catch bats and hummingbirds. Scientists are apparently trying to recreate this delicate yet strong fiber which is 5 times stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon. We saw one web that was built in 3 dimensions. In the afternoon light it glows golden giving it its name.
You can hear this small rodent nibbling on its food before you see it. The agouti is fairly large at 65 cm (25”) long and looks like a long-legged tailless squirrel. We saw a few of these rodents and they didn’t seem to even notice we were near.
These cat sized animals are a part of the racoon family, but they don’t look like the racoons we see in North America. The only similarity are the faint rings around its tail. It has a long slender nose with a white tip. We saw a lone coati so it must have been male.
Our guide showed us the strangest looking moth. The moth had been infected by a fungus which spread through its body and then eventually killed it. When the moth died, the fungus was left in the shape of the moth. It’s very bizarre looking, our guide called it a zombie.
We also saw a lot of bats so small they hung on palm leaves; colourful crickets; and many lizards including a female iguana laying eggs on the beach.
There are a few walking paths in the park where you won’t see many animals, but instead you have views of the incredible coastline.
Beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
Being a coastal park, there are many lovely small coves with beautiful beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park. Plan to spend a few hours at one or all of the amazing white sand beaches. Set in small coves with a gentle surf, these beaches are relatively quiet because you require a park pass to access them.
Just outside of the park in Manuel Antonio town is a very busy tourist beach, Playa Esadilla Norte. We took two steps on to the beach, saw hundreds of sun worshipers on sunbeds with umbrellas, and we quickly turned around and left. We prefer the quiet beaches in the park.
Visiting Manuel Antonio Park
Entrance Fee – $16 USD. Gates open at 7 am. We read on many websites to arrive early to avoid huge line ups. We arrived at 6:30 am to find only one other person waiting. By 7 am there were at most, 30 people in line. Don’t arrive before the gates open. We visited the park in early January and by 10 am the park was packed with tour groups so it is better to arrive between 7 and 8 am.
Guides – We hired a tour guide at the gate for cheaper ($20 USD each) than if you reserve ahead. Ours was excellent, but it is a risk. It would be difficult to see many of the animals without a guide. Some people tried to hover, but these guides are very careful to not let hangers-on get any of their information for free.
Note: There are restriction on what food you can bring into the park. They do check all of your bags at the entrance. Check here for the latest information https://manuelantoniopark.com/frequently-asked-questions/
Getting to Manuel Antonio Park
By car – The closest town to Manuel Antonio National Park is Quepos which is located just off the Costanera Sur Highway north of Uvita making it easy to reach by car.
By bus – Public buses run up and down the Costanera Sur highway allowing you to get to or from any of the neighboring cities They only run a few times a day though and are not usually air-conditioned. Tracopa has air-conditioned buses that travel through Quepos on their way to or from San Jose. They may charge you the full fare though, no matter where you get on or off.
By air – You can fly as there is an airport is in Quepos.
Where to stay
There are Budget hotels in Quepos which is 7 km away from the park. Quepos is less touristy, but still has quite a few restaurants and coffee shops. Resorts and higher end hotels are found in Manuel Antonio town which is a typical tourist town with few locals and plenty of western restaurants. Buses go between the two every hour ($1 USD, 20 min) with a stop in front of the park entrance.
Coming Next: Cloud Forests of Costa Rica
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