Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is the country’s most visited park. Let me show you why…
The location along the Pacific Coast is a gorgeous setting with both beach and forest climbing up the hills. It’s also perfectly situated to offer ideal habitat for a lot of the wildlife Costa Rica is known for.
Because the park is small and very popular, it might feel crowded compared to other parks. But there’s an upside to that. Because there are more people on the trails, the wildlife is also used to people. And that means YOU will be able to see lots of wildlife right off the main trails!
Of course, this also meant that Scott and I got to see lots of animals during the few hours we were in the park. And I took lots and lots of photos. Here is a pretty broad selection. There will be a smaller “best of” photo album in the photography section soon. And I will publish a comprehensive article with more info about the park on the Happier.Place blog.
The one tip I’ll already share now: no, you don’t need to hire a guide. For one, there is so much wildlife, you really just need to take it slow and keep your eyes open. But also, there will be so many guides with flocks of people standing around pointing and taking pictures that you’ll know where to look.
Of course, I recommend bringing binoculars or a long lens like I have. Most of the photos I took at quite a distance to the wildlife. The lens just makes them appear closer.
Sloth high up on a tree
It was exciting to notice this Tamandua (lesser anteater) way up in the tree – and then point it out to a guide and other visitors walking up behind us.
… and then I zoomed in for a closer look.
And then suddenly there it was: our first toucan! It actually turned out to be a fiery-billed aracari.
View from the top of Manuel Antonio National Park down towards the Pacific Coast beaches – while the howler monkeys bellowed below.
The difference a lens made. The previous photo was taken with an iPhone – and this one with a Lumix GH4 and my longest lens.
Out of the woods and onto the beach: Playa Gemelas (Twin Beach – since there are two). This is where we sat for a while just taking in the view, the smells, the feeling of turning 50 in this gorgeous setting. Across the way is Punta Catedral which we hiked in its entirety later – after checking out Playa Manuel Antonio, just to the right of it.
Playa Manuel Antonio
Check out how the lines and colors in the iguana skin match those in the surrounding rocks.
With all the large exotic animals, don’t forget to look down and notice the tiny hermit crabs running around the beach.
So the one waterfall you can hike to in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio was not very exciting – at least not during dry season. BUT because we went on that trail I got to spot…
… my very first sloth! It was such a thrill to realize that what I just discovered was not just another random blob of tree but an actual, fluffy, wet and AWAKE sloth.
Yes, the sloth’s fur does appear to be green – that’s because algae and fungi and bugs live in the fur in a sort of symbiotic system.
Surprised to see a deer fawn just laying around in the Costa Rican woods.
Not surprised, but delighted to see a squirrel monkey climbing high above the trail.
It was challenging to get a decent photo of the squirrel monkeys because they kept running around as fast as squirrels – and in the process ate up all the wild hibiscus blooms…
Quickly before the squirrel monkey tore it off: wild hibiscus blooming high up in a tree.
While most of the rain forests and cloud forests are all shades of green, there are some colorful highlights, like this Pheasants Tail (Anthurium schlechtendalii)
Round tree canopy
More colors, more leaves.
Not totally sure which snake this is because it looks exactly like an Australian tree snake (dendrelaphis punctulatus) – but not exactly like any of the snakes I see listed for Costa Rica. Maybe a neotropical bird snake?
Stepping past the snake and out of the shady forest back onto the beach: Playa Manuel Antonio
The tip of Punta Catedral juts into the Pacific Ocean. Above the rocks there’s a trail through the woods.
Tree holding on above the beach
Small tree holding on to rock cliff high above the Pacific Ocean
Our second toucan (tucancillo piquianaranjado) in one day. Seeing the big colorful bill in the middle of the woods was such a brilliant surprise – even more exciting than seeing the sloths.
Turns out this is a chestnut-backed antbird. Easily found out what this is by uploading my photo into Google Lens. Amazing how we now have the technology we dreamed of 15 years ago, like Shazam for music.
An Oculate Dancer, a kind of damselfly
The official name Yellow-headed gecko seems alright. But it kinda doesn’t match how cool it is to see these colors pop off a beige tree on the beige beach. How about: blue and yellow electric disco gecko?
Rainbow Crab, Moon Crab, Halloween Crab – apparently this crab has lots of different names. Still the most memorable aspect about this colorful crab: they run around the woods, not on the beach.
I remember taking the photo of the crab right around where I took this photo and right after I got chased by…
… this now very innocent looking capuchin monkey. But there were two and they cut me off from Scott and ran after me along the railing of the accessible trail and one hit me on the back. I believe I posted some of that as an Instagram story. We laughed a lot by the time I took this photo.
Took lots of photos of this sloth, which was quite active. Actually I also got some video, which I think I shared on Instagram. Maybe I should add some to this blog post…
Lots of scratching and cleaning its 3-toed sloth claws and eventually…
… climbing down the tree. This move revealed the patch of colored fur that “splits open” the regular fur (and almost looks like a cut or hole). This special patch of fur, also called a speculum, indicates that this is an adult male three-toed sloth.
Colorful leaves and trees in the overcast light of the late afternoon
Where the forest meets the Pacific along big rock cliffs on the beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Small orange-clawed crab discovered in the rocks pictured above
The perk of staying late: seeing the beaches devoid of people – just marked by all their footsteps.
Another spiny iguana aka Black Ctenosaur. But do you notice something special about this one?
This iguana is growing a new tail! Nature!!!
Finally made it to the big beach: Playa Espadilla Sur. Fortunately, it’s overcast for our hike back to the park’s exit. Unfortunately the park closes before sunset. But just past those rocks jutting out into the water is the public beach from where to watch the sunset. But for now a long walk and one more chance to enjoy this view…
… and to look down to notice the evening hermit crab meet-up.
Rocks along Espadilla Sur Beach
As the shoreline continues north, the town and hostels and rentals near Manuel Antonio National Park come into view as they hug the coastal hills
Comments and shares are very appreciated and will encourage me to put more posts together about the other parks, places, plants and wildlife we discovered and I photographed during our exhilarating trip to Costa Rica.