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Manuel Antonio may be one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, but its also one of the most beautiful. The national park encompasses several kilometres of beautiful white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and verdant jungle forests. The forests are home to 109 mammals including the endangered red-backed squirrel monkey which can only be found in two protected parks of Costa Rica. There are also hundreds of bird species including kingfishers, toucans, macaws and the colourful motmot.
The beaches of Manuel Antonio are equally as impressive. Playa Espadrilla is a large public beach located near the entrance to the national park. It’s a perfect place to relax after a day of hiking and wildlife spotting, but if you prefer your beach secluded and peaceful, Playa Biesanz or Playa La Mancha tick all the boxes.
Adventurers will adore Manuel Antonio, not only does the region bring you ever closer to nature, you can also indulge in outdoor pursuits you wouldn’t dream of doing elsewhere. Whether you wish to rappel down gushing jungle waterfalls, take an ocean kayak tour, go horseback riding or zip-lining through rainforests, you can do it all here.
It’s easy to reach Manuel Antonio from other regions of Costa Rica, plus there are several luxury eco-tourism resorts near the national park and beaches which make for easy access. It’s a great place for families, friends and solo travellers seeking a combination of beach fun, wildlife and bird spotting. There are abundant outdoor pursuits available and as most of the park hikes require limited physical effort it’s suitable for all ages.
The weather rarely varies in Manuel Antonio, it’s warm and humid for most of the year with temperatures barely dropping below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The region’s rainy season is between May and October; however, it won’t spoil your enjoyment of coastal towns and national parks, in fact it can enhance your stay. If you are primarily focused on beach fun, the months of November to April are great times to travel.
You can fly from San José to Quepos regional airport several times a day, which brings you 20 minutes from Manuel Antonio National Park, or it’s possible to hire a car and drive from the capital in 2.5 hours. If you are travelling in a group, take an air-conditioned shuttle bus to Manuel Antonio. Many operate services between major tourist destinations with morning and afternoon departures. Alternatively, you can travel with locals on the cheaper public bus service from San José, although the journey time will be longer.
Quepos, a small, friendly coastal town near Manuel Antonio National Park was built in the 1940’s by constructing a dyke across dense swampland. Today, this pretty town is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the region’s culture. Whether you wish to sit by the marina with a cocktail at sunset, dine ‘campo style’ with local communities or indulge in abundant land and water activities, you can do it all here.
If you love to glide along the water admiring wildlife and coastline from a different perspective, take a trip to Damas Island. Boat tours navigate their way through winding mangroves to ensure you remain close to nature. Alternatively, bold adventurers can kayak or canoe through the waters spanning this forest ecosystem which isn’t just home to abundant wildlife and birdlife, but also to medicinal plants still used to this day.
Dominical is a 45-minute drive south of Manuel Antonio with incredible hikes to Nauyaca Waterfalls. It’s one of the most dramatic cascades in Costa Rica, with a 200-foot total drop and a clear natural pool beneath for swimming. It’s possible to horseback ride to the falls, or if you feel energetic, pack a picnic and trek through the verdant rainforest. Alternatively, if you wish to explore wildlife species without the tourists, Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge is a great place to do so. Over 300 bird species have been identified in the refuge, plus monkey’s and sloths. It’s possible to take the tour yourself, although the expertise of a naturalist guide means you won’t miss a thing.
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