From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Costa Rica and Panama
Feb 8, 2013 - National Geographic Sea Lion
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
The last day of our voyage brought us to one of the most-visited and best-known Costa Rican National Parks. With an extension of around 3600 hectares, the park is now easy to access for visitors as well as Costa Ricans, who come to enjoy not only the beautiful white sand beaches, but also the abundance of wildlife. Manuel Antonio is a paradise for photographers craving wildlife photos, as well anyone who wants to spot medium-sized mammals such as sloths, monkeys, raccoons and agoutis; the park is an isle of luxuriant wildness in a quickly developing area.
This park was created in 1972, at a time when the area was proposed for massive tourist development; the affects of the kind of development that the park was saved from can be seen in the nearby town of Quepos. Nowadays, the park protects a small but beautiful remnant of the tropical forest that once covered the region, as well as some sandy beaches and rocky headlands that support a wide variety of life. With 353 species of birds, a little less than 100 species of mammals and somewhere around 140 species of trees, this park contributes to the image of a country that has allocated 35% of its territory into protected areas.
Off we went early in the morning, before the tourists arrived, to enjoy the peaceful trails inside the park. The majority of us set out for the more strenuous hike to Cathedral Point; once an islet separated from the continent, Punta Catedral became colonized by mainland flora and fauna as a small sedimentary isthmus – known as a tombolo – was created. With only that very narrow strip of land, both animals and plants could traverse the physical impediment that kept them from utilizing the rocky hill. As we hiked the newly redone trail, we encountered white-tailed deer, Central American agouti, white-throated capuchin monkeys and a very cooperative roadside hawk.
Others decided on the shorter trail walk, which is known as Sloth Valley trail; this trail offers the opportunity of walking slowly on a somewhat wide gravel road, allowing for a better angle to search for the animals that we want to see. Our interest paid off; we all got the chance to see and hear a very loud troop of howler monkeys howling at the top of their lungs, and we watched capuchin monkeys jump from branch to branch in their search for small vertebrates and invertebrates that would become their natural meal. Alongside ctenosaur, basilisk and casque-headed lizards, a green vine snake, red-eyed tree frog’s eggs, and both species of sloths, our day went on as we watched the tide go up and down in the calm waters of the Costa Rican Pacific coast.