Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Waves crash ashore onto a perfect sandy beach. The salty water is warm yet refreshing beneath the hot tropical sun. Offshore, squadrons of Pelicans and Frigatebirds cruise past picture-perfect ocean scenery punctuated by a few rocky islands. After wading across a small creek, you enter a tall forest shading a wide sandy trail. The trail skirts secluded beaches with white sand and calm blue water. The scenery at Manuel Antonio National Park is even better than it sounds. One of Costa Rica’s smallest national parks, Manual Antonio is one of the most visited and could be the most beautiful.
Location and how to get there
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica lies on the central Pacific coast. South of Playa Jaco and 10 kilometers from Quepos, Manuel Antonio takes three to four hours by rental car and the same by bus from San Jose. Direct buses leave the Coca Cola bus station three times per day. There are flights but surfboards over seven feet are not allowed. Ground transport is probably best for longboard surfers. The park is easy to reach; just follow the main highway past the airport, take the exit for Orotina and Jaco and head down the coastal highway following the signs for Quepos.
Despite its small size (683 hectares) Manual Antonio National Park is very diverse. The Pacific coastal rainforest protects several rare plant species and endemic birds such as Baird’s Trogon, Black-hooded Antshrike and Fiery-billed Aracari as well as providing one of the only sites for the endangered Central American Squirrel Monkey. White-faced Capuchins and sloths are fairly common as are poison dart and other frog species. Herons and caimans are found in the mangroves and the offshore rocks are important as breeding sites for seabirds.
Beaches and rain forest
The two most popular beaches protected in Manuel Antonio National Park are Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur. Playa Manuel Antonio is just shy of a half mile long with the verdant forest reaching the white sands. Escondido Beach and Playita Beach are small but picturesque for relaxing and offer tidal pools and invitingly warm waters. Swimming here is safer than other spots. If you want to get out of the sun, walk one of the shady trails through the park. The trail to Punta Catedral has nice overlooks of the ocean while the maintenance road is often good for birding and seeing monkeys, sloths and other animals.
There is excellent surfing around Manuel Antonio, though surfing within the national park boundaries is not allowed. Quepos, just minutes north up the same coast, offers some of the best surfing in the area, with nice swells and rollers. There are several places where waves are only accessible by boat. Near the pier, long lefts at low tide bring hollow waves. Playa el Rey is the best-kept secret for surfing, with isolated beaches and left breaks during big swells.
The surrounding area has dozens of hotels. For mid-priced and cheaper lodging try Quepos. For luxury lodging with beautiful views and jungle right outside your door, try one of the many hotels on the hill that separates Quepos from Manuel Antonio National Park.