Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review: Manuel Antonio National Park

Our final stop on our Costa Rica trip was the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area, along the southern Pacific coast. We had four nights here and this was to be our R & R at the end of our trip ... my beach time. I had visited Manuel Antonio National Park previously and had good memories of it and hoped to spend our last days relaxing at the beach and enjoying the wildlife the park had to offer.

What a disappointment! The entrance to the park has changed since my last visit. Our hotel was within easy walking distance but if you came by public bus, the closest bus stop was now a 15 to 20 minute walk to the park entrance, through streets that took you away from the water. As you walked to the entrance you were approached by guides soliciting clients. (They were very pleasant and didn't keep bothering us after we said "No.") Tours were $20 per person and we figured that -- at least the first time into the park -- we'd wing it. (And that is on top of the $10 per person entrance fee.)

We made the right choice by going without a guide. If we had taken a guide we would have heard the same stories about sloths and howler monkeys. While the guides were able to spot some sloths, they were way up in the trees and hard to see. We didn't hear or see any of the guides pointing out birds except for one hummingbird that was back in the brush. Monkeys were easy to find since they appear to have as much interest in us as we have in them. But generally we were very disappointed by the lack of wildlife.

The main path just past the entrance is a gravel road. Several times we had to make way for vehicles. Unless you go early, the park is crowded. As we left around noon we saw families coming in with beach and picnic items. The park now has changing rooms in the park and drinkable water.

Because the main entrance and exit were moved, the shops, restaurants and street vendors selling everything from typical tourist items to full plates of grilled chicken with vegetables (dinner) and cut pineapple (desert) were gone ... because the traffic was gone. This had been a real neat area and I missed the experience. Even more, I missed the grilled chicken meal I was planning on.

The one thing that didn't disappoint was the beach in the park or the sunset from the public beach.

We spend two mornings in the park ... after our first negative wildlife experience we figured it had to be better the next day. It wasn't. After about two hours sitting on the beach, we returned to our hotel for lunch and spent a good part of the afternoon poolside, where we saw more birds in an hour than we did the entire time in the park.

Our third day we took the bus into Quepos and wandered around. It was Saturday and a fruit and vegetable market was set up near the water. After spending some time there, we returned to our hotel and then went to the public beach where we rented an umbrella and two lounge chairs for $10. Unlike the calm waters in the park, the waters here had big waves and I spent some time "jumping" waves and body surfing. Can't remember the last time I did that. I had fun but sure missed the old  Manuel Antonio National Park.

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