Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio National Park

On our Costa Rica and Panama cruise we visit the smallest in Costa Rica’s extensive system of parks. In 1972 the people of Costa Rica decided with the establishment of Manuel Antonio National Park, to preserve for future generations this gem of biodiversity. The park covers an area of just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 sq mi/683 hectares/1685 acres).The park also includes 12 little isles just off the coast which provide an important refuge for a variety of sea birds. Olocuita and Mogote Islands in particular are mating and nesting sites for brown pelicans, frigate birds, and ahingas that can be seen as we sail into our anchorage just off shore one of the magnificent golden crescent beaches of Manuel Antonio. On approach there is also the possibility of spotting Pacific spotted dolphins and, at times a bit further off shore, migrating humpback whales.

Manuel Antonio preserves several vital ecosystems within its small area, the principal habitats being primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beach. The geological formation of the park is also of interest, being made up of a unique tombolo formation: a geophysical phenomenon where an island becomes joined to the mainland through accumulated sand deposits.

We make a special point on our Central American cruise of spending time visiting Manuel Antonio National Park because the wildlife viewing opportunities are unparalleled in so small an area. There is quite a varied fauna with 109 species of mammals and 184 of birds found within its borders. Both the brown-throated three-toed sloth and Hoffmann's two-toed sloth (“perezosos” in Spanish) are a major feature, as are three of Costa Rica's four monkey species — the mantled howler monkey, Central American (or red-backed) squirrel monkey, and white-headed capuchin monkey. Black spiny-tailed iguana, green iguana, common basilisk, white-nosed coati, agouti and many snake and bat species are also common in the park. Included in the identified bird species are toucans, woodpeckers, potoos, motmots, tanagers, turkey vulture, parakeets, parrots and hawks, to name just a few on our bird lists.

Four beaches are contained within the limits of the park: Manuel Antonio, Espadilla Sur, Teldoro, and Playita. With their large light sand berms, they attract beach goers from the nearby holiday town of Quepos. Both Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur beach shorelines contain tidal pools and offer the possibility of snorkeling. We make sure on our Costa Rica and Panama cruise that there is time for swimming as well!

Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica's most visited parks, principally due to its accessibility from San José (135 km/83 ml), the country's largest urban area. The park is completely surrounded by hotels and the town of Quepos. Due to this human presence around the park, the major predators which would under normal conditions keep the balance of the prey species such as sloths and small rodents and primates under control, has allowed these species to expand in population. This situation makes them easy to be seen at any time of day which under different circumstances would not be the case.

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