It may be Costa Rica’s smallest national park, but Manuel Antonio National Park has a LOT to offer visitors, whether it’s a plethora of up-close wildlife ranging from hanging sloths to colorful toucans, or white sandy beaches with crystal clear blue waters. Established in 1972, the park is known for its extreme biodiversity: with hundreds of types of tropical plants, mammals, and birds. Hiking trails meander through its dense forest, and there are ample opportunities for adventure activities like ziplining and whitewater rafting.
Here are five reasons to travel to this Costa Rican treasure!
#1 See the Costa Rican Wildlife
In a country where wildlife is a major draw, Manuel Antonio National Park is satisfaction guaranteed. Between the park’s lush rainforest and its pristine beaches, there’s a whole world of wildlife awaiting you—including more than 100 mammal species and nearly 200 bird species—including brightly colored toucans and parakeets, and seabirds such as pelicans and brown boobies.
The park is actually a Costa Rican top spot for seeing both two-and three-toed sloths in the wild, and one of the only places to catch sight of the red-backed squirrel monkey, as it’s range is limited to small sections of the country and nearby Panama. You might glimpse agile squirrel monkeys jumping from branch to branch through the jungle’s dense canopy, or raccoon-like coatis—with their long snouts and striped tails—scouring the trees for fruit. Tiny geckos love skirting across the forest floor, while the soft chirps of red-eyed tree frogs signal that the delicate amphibians are looking for a mate.
Scaly black and green iguanas are the ultimate sun worshipers, setting up shop on the park’s expansive white sands. Nut-feeding rodents, called agoutis, and crocodiles reside in Manuel Antonio park as well, and you can often spot dolphins off the coast.
One of the best ways to really get a sense of the local wildlife is to take a walk along the park’s well-kept trails. Later, relax in one of Costa Rica’s award-winning lodges, courtesy of Classic Journeys, and drift off to sleep to the sounds of the forest.
#2 Don’t Forget the Flora
There’s a reason why the park is home to so most specular fauna: the incredible flora that makes up the forest and lines the beaches they call home. Manuel Antonio National Park is renowned for its vast diversity of tropical flora, from the swaying palms, beach almond, and manzanillo trees growing along the park’s soft sandy beaches, to the towering sura (often identifiable by their twisty trunks) and vine-strung silk cotton trees that live deep within the rainforest itself.
There’s an area of coastal mangroves near the park’s entrance, and exquisite flowering plants like Guarianthe skinneri —a species of orchid that’s also Costa Rica’s national flower—can be found blooming throughout the forest. The aptly named “Hot Lips” plant, with a vibrant red flower that resembles a pair of kissable lips, also grows here. While it’s not as common as some other exotic plant varieties, Classic Journeys connects you with some of the country’s most knowledgeable guides, who should know exactly where to find it.
#3 Enjoy the Beaches
While Classic Journeys walking tours are by definition, active adventures—meaning there’s not a lot of downtime to be sitting on the beach—you’ll still have an opportunity or two to take in the park’s extraordinarily scenic shorelines. Manuel Antonio’s most breathtaking beaches are its two crescent-shaped beauts: Playa Espadilla Sur, with its extraordinarily soft sands, and the south-facing Playa Manuel Antonio. This extremely popular spot is known for its half-mile-long white sand stretch, and calm waters perfect for swimming. With swaying palm trees and bright blue waters, the beach is as idyllic as it is picturesque. A thin land bridge separates the two beaches and connects the park’s forested Cathedral Point landmass to the coast.
#4 Try Snorkeling, Boogie-Boarding, Kayaking, and Rafting
Classic Journeys’ Costa Rica Wildlife Walking Adventure offers the chance to experience all sorts of water activities in and around Manuel Antonio National Park, including snorkeling, kayaking, and rafting. The waters just off Playa Manuel Antonio are ideal for boogie-boarding, and the sea’s calm and clear waters make snorkeling easy. Schools of tropical fish weave among coral reefs, and you might catch sight of slow-moving three-banded butterflyfish, brightly colored king angelfish, and—a favorite among snorkelers—neon parrotfish that glow beneath the sea.
Embark on an adrenaline-filled rafting ride along the jungle’s whitewaters, or for something more leisurely, opt for kayaking among the park’s mangrove trees, watching tiny lizards skim across the nearby waters and keeping an eye out for silky anteaters, curious white-faced-monkeys, and the occasional crocodile as you go.
#5 Adventure Through the Jungle
From ziplining through the rainforest to strolling across hanging suspension bridges high in the jungle canopy, greater Manuel Antonio Park is the perfect place for a family adventure, with activities that everyone from grandparents to teens can enjoy.
Soar through the treetops on a zipline tour, catching stellar views of the Pacific Ocean and maybe even encountering a troop of monkeys in their natural canopy.
Set out along one of the park’s many well-maintained hiking trails, each with easy-to-walk paved paths and wooden bridges. While the Sendero Miradores trail is one of the park’s tougher treks, its numerous staircases result in breathtaking vistas. There’s also Sendero Perezoso, better known as the Sloth Trail. While spotting one of these adorable slow-moving creatures isn’t guaranteed, it’s plausible—as long as you’re patient and keep a steady eye.
Stretching through the rainforest among hardwood trees, Manuel Antonio’s hanging suspension bridges offer a great opportunity to walk high among lush greenery and encounter local wildlife, such as sloths, toucans, and monkeys.