Manuel Antonio and nature stuff

Saturday 2 to Wednesday 6 May

We spent a few days in a tiny village called Manuel Antonio. The nearest bigger town is Quepos and that is served by light aircraft. In fact we flew back to San Jose in a 12 seater – just 20 minutes against a 3.5 hour journey by road.

During the drive to Manuel Antonio we stopped by the Rio Grande de Tacoles (river) to join all the other travellers hanging their heads over the bridge to watch the crocodiles basing in the sun.  The photos don’t do justice to their size, but they look grumpy enough.

Manuel Antonio is on the Pacific coast and its claim to fame is Costa Rica’s smallest but most popular national park. So we came here to see what we normally see in zoos, in the wild.

There are a lot of resorts and hotels here. Most of them are built with spectaculars views over very mountainous terrain.

As we got closer to the National Park, the accommodation became more backpacker style and the residents appeared to live a surfing culture.

This is because Manuel Antonio is also known for the best beach in Costa Rica. It certainly didn’t live up to Australian standards with dark sand which was wet from high tides.

To be fair, we didn’t see the beach at its best but rather at its most exciting. It seems that a massive storm near New Zealand had sent a surge across the Pacific, which coincided with a full moon, delivering 15ft waves in California and substantial waves here. There wasn’t any beach left at high tide, but the resident surfers were having a great time on waves you’d see at Bell’s, but very close to the shore.

We did a lot of sitting and watching, drinking coffee or the Central American lemonade – I mean real lemonade, made with the juice of limes and a light syrup of sugar and water. You are often asked if you would like it with or without gas. It is so refreshing.

Our staple diet of course, was fish, usually washed down with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

We did the obligatory park tour. We were in a small group of three Swiss girls, a young couple from Milwaukee and two mature couples from Australia and New Zealand. The mature couples had met doing the overland trip from London to Kathmandu in the 70’s and still frequently catch up with co-travellers.

Our guide, Marvin carried a telescope on a tripod which was designed to see tiny animals at great distances. Although the telescope design is probably not new, the technique of taking photos through it on your smart phone was likely a more recent innovation.

Marvin provided us with a great spiel about the flora and fauna that he spotted. The guides worked co-operatively, sharing sightings.

Highlights were two different species of bats, both tiny, the size of a two year old’s fist. Also two species of sloth – the two toed and the three toed varieties. The three toed sloth was actually climbing a tree and we got to see it moving quite quickly – for a sloth. As an aside, Marvin explained that they have to climb down the tree to defecate on the ground. Their bodies aren’t built to manage this so they must open their coccyx to assist the movement. Fortunately they only need to defecate once every 7 or 8 days because they are extremely vulnerable to predators at that time.

There were a variety of birds, including humming birds and kites, there were lizards that walked on water and others that were green, a long slender green snake, spiders, raccoons and of course monkeys. As we walked along the 1.8km path, Marvin would stop, set up the telescope and share the view. His combination of sharp eyes and an understanding of where to find different creatures kept us entertained.

The tour ended at a beach where a family of raccoons were gorging on small crabs, and white-faced monkeys were looking for pick pocketing opportunities.

Bruce and I took the opportunity to walk along some of the smaller paths. We didn’t see any sloths or snakes, but a family of white-faced monkeys were frolicking in the forest. Of course the smallest one was running into and jumping on anyone he could.

The surf was starting to rise again with the high tides, so the coastal walk was spectacular.

As we returned to the entrance a group of squirrel monkeys entertained us, and a small crocodile was sunning itself in the creek at the entrance.  All in all it was a great visit.

That afternoon it rained. Storm clouds had been building and the wet season is approaching so the rain was understandable.

Perhaps because of the rain, we were treated to a lot of entertainment by all three local species of monkeys the next day around our hotel. The white-faced monkeys were frolicking around at breakfast time – perhaps looking for a treat of fresh fruit. They are amazingly agile and fast, swinging from tree to tree and racing up vertical trunks. In the afternoon the smaller squirrel monkeys came out. Once again, juveniles were chasing each other and swinging between trees with great speed and agility.

Bruce & I were sitting under an umbrella towards dusk, doing some forward planning, when things started dropping out of the sky, onto the umbrella. The howler monkeys, less agile and a little more ape like in appearance, were in the trees and dropping the fruit they didn’t like. They are bigger animals, the size of a one year old. And yes, they howl – a low gravelly sound that send shivers down your spine.

So the treat of our stay in Manuel Antonio was watching these beautiful animals who had space to move in an eco-rich country.

On the beach at Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park