Monkey Watching in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

After our rather hot and sweaty 41 degree bus ride to Samara we decided that enough was enough, we had gone 7 weeks travelling by public transport and private transfers but we caved and got a car for our final two weeks. Nothing spectacular, a basic Suzuki Swift but for us this was a luxury and meant not carrying those bags or relying on unpredictable public transport. An online reservation with Alamo and a collection on the morning of departure and away we headed to Quepos.

We wanted to visit Manuel Antonio National Park but looking at reviews we decided to stay in the town of Quepos which was just a few kilometres away. The route from Samara was not an easy one by any public transport and by car it would take 5 hours. Always happy for a road trip we set off on the drive; excited that we would pass the Tarcoles Bridge; famous for the visibility of numerous crocodiles underneath. We had lovely driving conditions right up until we reached the bridge but as soon as we stepped out of the car the heavens opened. We got a bit of a soaking but still managed to see the crocs basking, counting 11 visible despite the rain.

Continuing our journey we briefly stopped and had a look at the beach at Jaco, another popular spot in Costa Rica, known as a bit of a party town. We don’t particularly feel like partying in these covid times, urgh! People! and from our brief look we saw nothing to make us regret our decision not to stay there. We carried on and made it to our accommodation in Quepos around 5pm. We had booked a property outside of the town centre and unusually when we booked we were informed of a few things about the property and given the option to cancel if this didn’t suit us. These included the 2km distance to the town, the gravel road upon which you need to travel down to reach it, only 5 minute showers were allowed due to the fuses burning, and the noise of the roosters. None of this bothered us so we continued with our booking.

Where we stayed

We stayed at Guest House Pura Vida, which had a lovely shared kitchen area, private parking and rooms with private bathrooms. This suited us just fine, initially we were placed in a very hot room upstairs but when we mentioned the heat we were offered a room downstairs to the back of the property which suited us better. From the patio area of our room we watched numerous iguanas, birds, frogs and basilisks. We were warmly greeted by Jorge who made us very welcome throughout our stay there.

It was a really nice place to stay and we met some other travellers there Mat and Ola, who we are still in touch with, Jamie and Wendy, and some young english people who were also staying there. The group of 5 or 6 English lads, with one woman in the group, were loud, playing loud music and talking loudly right outside our room when it was way past our bedtime. To be fair, their taste in music was fantastic for a bunch of 18 year olds, and we took the attitude of ‘well if you can’t beat them, join them’ and for a couple of nights we joined them drinking and chatting late into the night. It is a sociable place and we would recommend a stop here especially if you don’t mind a walk or have a car.

Quepos Town

The town itself is a little underwhelming but it is not known so much for the tourism as other local areas. There is a nice walk along the seafront and we stopped here for a picnic one day watching the iguanas and pelicans.

Another part of the town which was recommended to us was the area of Nahomi Park. The park itself is actually closed but you can walk to the left of it and go for a swim or a snorkel from the rocks. The weather was a bit hit and miss when we were in Quepos and the sea looked quite churned up but we were assured by Matt who we met at our accommodation that this was a great spot.

Manuel Antonio National Park

We drove here early in the morning in time for opening at 8am. Driving up the road towards the park we were stopped by a guy in a high viz jacket who informed us parking was to the right and would cost 5,000 colones. We pulled in but then from reviewing the sat nav realised that it was at least another kilometre up a very steep road. Realising this was likely to be some kind of con we spoke to one of the parking attendants and asked them to be honest and tell us if there was parking up the top because I had a bad knee – he looked at us and said go on up! We drove up the further kilometre and found cheaper parking just a few metres from the entrance. – Be wary of this!

When we reached the entrance the ticket machines were out of order so we were instructed by several officials that we had to buy tickets online; making sure we were on a legit website we registered and booked our tickets for $16 each. The one thing we noticed at the entrance was that we were approached constantly by guides, authorised and non authorised offering their services to take us round the park. We opted against a guide and decided to walk on our own and see how we went. The park was busy even early on with several tour groups walking around. Even in the park we got approached by tour guides but we politely declined. Some even tried to entice us to look at their telescopes to see fuzzy lumps which were apparently sloths but not clear enough to make out.

We decided to head away from the crowds towards the waterfall; whilst an ok walk we didn’t really see anything of interest wildlife wise so headed back to the main trail. The trails were well marked out, at the entrance bags were searched to ensure you didn’t bring any food in but there was a cafe available further down on the main path. We stopped for a drink watching capuchin monkeys in the trees around. One lady left a piece of banana bread on the table and turned her back for one minute and the cheeky monkeys ran off with it! There were lots of capuchin and howler monkeys visible (and heard!) a short walk from the entrance.

We made our way from the cafe towards Playa Gemelas as this appeared again a quieter route. As soon as we stepped on the path behind the cafe we saw an agouti, he wasnt particularly camera shy and sat and posed for us for a minute or two.

Continuing on our walk towards Playa Gemelas we were surrounded in the trees by the cheeky capuchin monkeys, but then we noticed another type of monkey which we hadn’t seen before. The very small and speedy little orange monkeys we discovered were squirrel monkeys only found in a few areas in Costa Rica including Manuel Antonio, Corcovado and on the Panama border. They were cute little things happily playing in the trees and were so quick it was difficult to catch them on camera but we did manage to get a couple of relatively good shots.

Playa Gemales was a small beach which was pretty rocky, it was a nice little spot but swimming was not recommended here due to the strong current. On the day we visited it was very overcast but there were still people laying on towels sunbathing. We decided to head back up the path and find the main Manuel Antonio Beach.

Manuel Antonio beach was nice and we could see why it was so popular. It had lovely golden sand and was relatively calm when we were there. It wasn’t a huge beach but people were swimming and sunbathing. On the way to the beach there were toilets and changing rooms. There was also a disabled parking space right down on the beach.

Neither of us were feeling the love for a swim so we joined the path at the back of the beach and headed to Playa Espadilla Sur, a longer stretch of sand popular with surfers. This was also where we joined the path which came out near the main entrance. We were quite tired and headed back to the entrance and back to our car.

Thoughts on Quepos & Manuel Antonio

Quepos itself has everything you need and we stayed in a nice place outside of the town; in town however we were approached by a few random people who would stand outside of the car watching us or give us strange looks. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable in Quepos myself but loved where we stayed and it was a good base for exploring Manuel Antonio.

The park was nice, we didn’t have the best day as we had had a lot of rain the previous days and it was overcast but we still managed to see lots of things including a new one on our list, the squirrel monkey. We had heard from others that they much preferred Cahuita National Park and after this visit I agree, in the height of tourism I heard you can be queuing up for 2 hours or so just to enter the park and tour groups can be up to 20 odd people. It was too busy for our liking; whereas Cahuita was quieter, there were more visible animals there including the sloths and the trails were a lot flatter. No regrets however I enjoyed our time here – now to head down the coast to our next stop – Uvita!

Carol & Nigel xx

May 2021

3 thoughts on “Monkey Watching in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica”

  1. This was a welcome read on a sunday morning here in lockdown Windsor Canada..It amazes me that there are so many people during lockdown travelling around Costa Rica.I am curious what nationalities they are…

    1. Hi Dennis, the reason Costa Rica is so popular is there aren’t any PCR entry requirements or quarantine at the moment, there is mandatory insurance required to cover covid expenses and forms to fill in. We came across all sorts of nationalities, Canadians and Americans, Brits (they left the UK during lockdown due to ‘volunteering’ which was a valid reason) and various european travellers like us who had been travelling for a while. Re PCR testing, most people needed one anyway for their stopovers to Costa Rica, for us it was Miami which required PCR test, however for Canadians coming through Panama these weren’t required. The covid figures were very low when we arrived but the day we left new curfews were put in place due to a surge in figures attributed I believe mostly to Santa Semana celebrations where big groups and families mingled. The main thing with Costa Rica is that most activities are outdoors thus reducing transmission risk which keeps the numbers low.

What do you think? let us know :)

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