Palm tree plantations between Parrita and Quepos
The road leading to Manuel Antonio from Puntarenas is very scenic with several lookout points along the coast and panoramic views of the beach. Manuel Antonio National Park is approximately 150 km from Puntarenas and 130 km from San Jose. This is one of my personal favorite stops in Costa Rica because this is where jungle meets the beach.
During your road trip you are going to cross a bridge over the Rio Tarcoles which is infested with crocodiles. You can’t miss it because tourists will walk around the bridge looking down, taking pictures; it is a pretty big crowd occasionally holding up the traffic. I suggest you to park your car and check the crocodiles out.
Then continue your road trip and stop for a lunch break on Jaco Beach. As soon as you pass the town of Parrita, you will notice palm trees on both side of the road which will give you a tropical feeling. For those who are not familiar with the area, Playa Manuel Antonio is inside the National Park so if plan on resting on the beach in the afternoon hours, I suggest you to schedule that for next day.
Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Gemelas
Manual Antonio National Park is one of the most popular parks in Costa Rica so if you don’t arrive early, you may not be able to enter. The later you go, the longer the lines get and keep in mind that the park closes at 4 PM so leave some time to enjoy the beach. There are a few parking lots nearby, guards will waive at you to follow them. Beware of aggressive and pushy parking attendants, they are trying to make some money but the closer you park to the entrance, the more expensive it gets.
You will have to line up twice, once for the ticket booth and again at the entrance of the park; security screening is pretty slow since you have to open your handbags or backpacks. Everything takes time so try to arrive by 7 AM the latest. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and pack for a day, have plenty of water but alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
There are a few hiking trails in the park, one leads you through a sloth habitat, another trail heads to the monkeys and there are trails ending at beaches and lookout points. If you want to see everything in the park you will need about 3-4 hours. You can go on your own or hire a professional guide with a large binocular so you won’t miss a bug 🙂
There is quite a varied fauna with 109 species of mammals and 184 of birds. The park includes 12 little isles just off the coast; these often visited by a number of dolphins and, at times, migrating whales can be observed. The expansive white sand beaches are backed by an evergreen forest that grows right up to the high tide line. The principal habitants are primary forest, secondary forest, mangrove swamps, lagoons and beach vegetation.