Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Costa Rica Days 11-14: Manuel Antonio Part One: Monkeying Around

Manuel Antonio beach 

Why return to Costa Rica? Craig and Erin travelled here 12 years ago (pre-blog days) and the allure of venturing someplace new is always hard to resist. However, we loved it so much last time. We knew there would be amazing wildlife viewing, the flight wasn't too far, and we appreciate the stance Costa Rica is taking on sustainable tourism and environmental protection. Plus, there were parts we hadn't gotten to last time on our "travel-like-a-local, hike-our-butts-off backpacking trip" from our late twenties. Manuel Antonio was the main one.

At the top of our lists for what we hoped to see this trip were macaws and squirrel monkeys. Having checked both off over the past week, we now focused on finding the big names for F to see: Sloths and Capuchins. 

We decided to join a guided tour for our first visit to the park. Andrew was fantastic - great sense of humour and a wealth of animal knowledge! He led us (very slowly) through the park trail system (from the Main Gate, along Sloth Trail to Manuel Antonio beach). Along the way, he showed us a huge variety of animals through his scope. There were 9 of us in the group; everyone was very kind and quiet, and we got lots of viewing opportunities. Here are some of our top pics: 

A mother hummingbird on her nest

A rainbow grasshopper 

A patriot crab

A two-fingered sloth

A sleeping bat

A demon spider

A three-fingered sloth

A slaty-tailed trogon (cousin to the quetzal)

The following two days, we opted to go without a guide and explore on our own. For each of our visits, we got up at the crack of dawn (thanks, in part, to our friendly bird alarm clock that could not be deterred from a 5 am call out), which meant we were always in the 7 am park opening arrival window (you must pre-book park tickets online). We also would have chosen that time anyways because we hate crowds and love that early morning hour of the day.

On Day Two, we were surprised by the lack of crowds. We didn't pass any tour groups as we retraced our steps from the day before. We wondered if it being a Saturday morning actually meant there would be less people (we knew many would be heading back home on the weekend after New Year's). 

We took a different trail once we reached the main junction and headed towards Playa Gemelas. Craig had read that there was a little connector trail in that area that was popular for monkeys sightings. We paused at the fork in the trail, debating which way to go (Adventure Girl was not keen on taking the "monkey" path because it headed uphill). As we stood there, we suddenly heard loud screeching from the non "monkey" route and without needing to consult each other, we turned right and headed towards the noisy outburst. 

There was no one else on the path (that was human). We quickly spotted rustling in the leaves and discovered that there were monkeys in the trees on either side of the path - and above! There were both howlers and capuchins. As we stood in one place, twisting our necks back and forth, trying to decide where to look, we spotted another family in the mix - there were squirrel monkeys, too! It was a feast for the eyes! We stood there, entranced, watching all three troupes search for breakfast and interact in their own unique ways. We ended up sitting on the ground and just taking it all in; we were there so long watching. 

We have lots of great video footage...sorry for the crummy photo quality

When we finally had our fill, we deemed that a roaring (well, howling) success and continued the short distance left for the Gemelas Beach. We walked down a few steps and were in paradise! 

This private little cove looked out of a movie set. A few people came and went but there were moments when we had it all to ourselves. 

On our walk back out of the park, the atmosphere had changed. There were people EVERYWHERE. Large tour groups completely blocked the paths. We heard many people saying the word "sloth" in numerous languages, and were able to spot what all the fuss was about: there was a mother slot in the tree with a baby. We don't have amazing pictures because we only had our phone cameras with us and we didn't have a guide with a scope this time, but it was pretty cute! 

On Day Three, we were feeling pretty tired, and also satisfied with the amazing animal viewings we'd had over the trip so far. We opted for the mangrove path to avoid the many tour groups and get ourselves on the other edge of the National Park. Along the way, we did see a new mammal for Adventure Girl - a raccoon. It was sniffing its way along the edge of the boardwalk and looked up at us curiously. 

We spent a couple of hours at Espadilla Beach, in the park. It was the sandiest beach so far on this trip. There are rip currents so we stuck close to shore and played a lot in the sand. It is really nice to be at the beaches within the park because they are void of people trying to sell you stuff, dogs, loud music, jet skis...The downside is that you are not allowed to bring any food into the park. There is only so long you can last without nourishment on a hot day with a half hour walk ahead of you to get back out of the park. Something to consider if you're planning a visit here. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Manuel Antonio and Quepos area. Stayed tuned for Part Two where we'll share what we got up to outside of the National Park. We can assure you...we were flying high from all the fun we had! :)

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