The National Parks of Costa Rica
|MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
Destination content © Christopher P. Baker, used from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica, 5th edition.
Tiny it may be, but this 682-hectare
national park epitomizes everything tourists flock to Costa Rica to
see: stunning beaches, a magnificent setting with islands offshore
(bird sanctuaries for marine species), lush rainforest laced with a
network of welcoming trails, wildlife galore, and all within walking
distance of your hotel. You are guaranteed close-up encounters with
monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, and scarlet macaws. What a gem!
Despite its diminutive size, Manuel Antonio is one of the country's most popular parks, with as many as 150,000 visitors annually in peak years. A few years ago the deluge of visitors threatened to spoil the very things they had come to see. Park Director José Antonio Salazar believes the park can withstand no more than 300 visitors a day. In 1994, the Park Service began limiting the numbers of visitors to 600 per day (800 on Saturday and Sunday), and the park is now closed on Monday. If you wish to do your bit to help preserve Manuel Antonio, consider visiting in the "green" or wet season. Litter and pollution are additional problems. Pack out what you pack in.
Nonetheless, the park is too small to sustain a healthy and viable population of certain animals. If the monkeys do not have access to areas outside the park, the population will decline because they cannot breed. Corridors that allow animals access to areas outside the park have been taken up by hotels, so that the park has, in recent years, become an island. As a result, the titi (squirrel monkey) population is declining. Fortunately, in 2000, a decree was issued to triple the park's size to just under 1800 hectares.
At the far right on Playa Manuel Antonio, you can see ancient turtle traps dug out of the rocks by pre-Columbian Quepoas. Female sea turtles would swim over the rocks to the beach on the high tide. The tidal variation at this point is as much as three meters; the turtles would be caught in the carved-out traps on the return journey as the tide level dropped. The people also used female-turtle decoys made of balsa to attract male turtles over the rocks. Olive ridley and green turtles still occasionally come ashore at Playa Manuel Antonio.
Howler monkeys languorously move from branch to branch, iguanas shimmy up trunks, toucans and scarlet macaws flap by. About 350 squirrel monkeys live in the park, another 500 on its outer boundaries. And capuchin (white-faced) monkeys are also abundant and welcome you at treetop height on the beaches, where they play to the crowd and will steal your sandwich packs given half a chance. Some of them have become aggressive in recent years and attacks on humans have been reported.
Even though it is illegal to feed the monkeys, insensitive people still do it. Note that if you're caught, you may--quite rightly--be ejected from the park. Recent studies have found a worrisome increase in heart disease and heart failure among the local monkey population. Unfortunately, the animals are much more prone to rises in cholesterol than humans. Do not leave food lying around.
Hire a guide. A guide can show you other interesting tree species--among them, the gaupinol negro, an endemic species that is in danger of extinction; cedro maria, which produces a yellow resin used as a traditional medicine; vaco lechoso, which exudes a thick white latex that also has medicinal properties, and the manchineel tree (manzanillo), or "beach apple"-- common along the beaches. The manchineel is highly toxic and possesses a sap that irritates the skin. Its tempting applelike fruits are also poisonous. Avoid touching any part of the tree. Also, don't use its wood for fires--the smoke will irritate your lungs.
Camping is not allowed in the park. There are no accommodations or snack bars. There's secure parking by the creek near the park entrance.
There are riptides on Playa Espadilla. Watch your children, as there are no lifeguards.
|This is an small excerpt from Moon Handbooks Costa Rica. CentralAmerica.Com highly recommends that you enhance your vacation by taking a copy of Moon's comprehensive Handbook with you. For more information visit the Moon Handbooks page on this site.|
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