March 8, 2014
I had read the warnings – avoid Manuel Antonio national park, it’s a tourist trap, it’s crowded, it’s a three-ring circus – but we went anyway. We were on our way from Dominical, heading towards our three-day stay in a treehouse at Playa Carrillo, and it was mid-morning, and we were going to pass right by, so why not stop?
I’m really happy we did. I can see how and why this spot would not be ideal in high tourist season…it’s small, and it’s popular. It could get very, very crowded. But in early February, it was sunny, hot, and there weren’t that many people touring the well-gravelled “hiking” paths in the park.
The trek trying to find the park was more difficult than the hike once inside the park. Even though it’s a national park, and probably Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attraction, its entrance isn’t well-marked or easy to find. After some backs and forths, and $10/person, we were in the park, heading towards a beach that we hoped would offer some good snorkeling.
There are a lot of people offering tours of the park to you while you wait in line. The reason you would pay to have a guide bring you through is that they can spot the animals in the trees, and teach you a lot about the environment you are traipsing through. Our focus was on the beach, so we opted not to have a guide, and we managed to latch on to a few guided tours and spot a few monkeys and a sloth that we wouldn’t have spotted without them.
Thankfully we have a somewhat decent camera lens so that we were able to zoom in on these guys. They were pretty high up!
We stopped at the first beach we reached on this hike. Again, I could see why in high tourist season it would be miserable…it’s a gorgeous horseshoe bay with trees, shade, bright blue waters…and small. Hundreds of people here would be intolerable. We were lucky though, and the crowds were small.
Soli and his snorkel hit the water right away, while I hung out on the beach, getting close and personal with the iguanas and the monkeys that came to visit. I probably got too excited about the monkeys and took too many photos, but they were amazing to watch and I feel fortunate to have gotten so close to these guys.
Our hike out was, again, hot. We rejoiced with what was probably the most perfect beer ever, right outside the park.
Come mid-afternoon, we continued on, stopping in Jaco for a quick meal (our first casado, a dish available everywhere, and or cheap [about $4-$5US for a large portion] made of a protein, rice and beans, salad, and fried plantains) and a visit to the Playa Jaco.
One terrifying evening/night drive later, we arrived at Playa Carrillo and our treehouse, the highlight of our journey.