Visiting one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks or how to get into a fight with a raccoon.One of the first things we did after arriving in San José, was leaving San José! We were eager to discover Costa Rica’s much beloved fauna and flora, its renowned dazzling landscapes, prominent surfer’s beaches and rough volcanic landscapes. So we SIMPLY decided to drive down to one of Costa Rica’s highlights: Manuel Antonio National Park.
How to get there
Well, simply was definitely the wrong word, because even though we were given precious advice about how to drive in Costa Rica before speeding off into uncertainty, the information must have gotten lost somewhere before reaching our ears or brain. I’m not saying that we didn’t understand anything; no, no, no … we just didn’t listen very attentively, perhaps because we were already consumed with the thirst of adventure and holiday anticipation. So, the “not driving off the main roads”, the “not driving during heavy rain” and the “not driving after dusk” part got somehow lost en route.
That’s how we ended up driving our 4WD on dirt roads … through steep mountain passes … … during heavy rainfall … at night … guided by the worst co-pilot of the world: Me!
So here’s some advice: if a road is marked in read on your map and it says “lastre” beneath it, be aware that driving on this road means doing 130 km in 4h30 hours!
From San José to Manuel Antonio by car
There are direct buses from San José (they leave from the Tracopa Station at Plaza Viquez), but I’d rather recommend you to rent a car for your whole stay in Costa Rica, because driving through this fantastic country is simply a must.
Car rental agencies are to be found on the internet, there are plenty of them! If you tend to be the cautious type of person, rent a normal car and stay on the main roads, if on the other hand you are a thrill seeker and you’d like to do some off-road and river crossing (fun, fun, fun!) you’ll have to rent a 4WD!
Take Route 27 Orotina-bound, then drive towards Route 34, in direction Jaco. From Jaco, drive during one hour to the south of Quepos, and arrive safe and sound in Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio National Park (on the map)
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Costa Rica and Forbes rated it as one of the 12 most beautiful National Parks in the World, so there’s really no getting around that one!
This park was for sure one of my favourite places in Costa Rica, although I think almost everywhere I’ve been to during this trip, became one of my favourite places.
Well, never mind, Manuel Antonio National Park is just a perfect start of your adventure holiday: you can have some action trekking through the forest, chilling out on the beaches and discover some really weird creatures in your surroundings!
Manuel Antonio basically consists of interminable acres of rainforest, coves and white sand beaches… are you already picturing yourself diving into the clear blue sea? But besides swimming and scuba diving, you can as aforementioned, also go for an easy trek and explore Costa Rica’s biodiversity (just to name some of the living things you’ll doubtlessly meet on your way through the lush jungle: sloths, monkeys, iguanas, white nosed coatis different kinds of big bird species, snakes, frogs … and raccoons!
The beaches at Manuel Antonio
The beaches are beautiful, just pick the one you like best and have a snooze in the crispy warm and sunny air.
But if you plan on going into the water, make sure you never leave your belongings alone… even if hidden underneath your towel! I had to learn it the hard way: just after I dove into the water and turned back to marvel at the lush coast I saw him: the sneaky little thief trying to grab my rucksack with his tiny blackish hands: a raccoon! I ran-swam-yelled (or whatever) as fast as I could and with the help of my towel neighbours I managed to get hold of my backpack again.
But then the whole story took another turn. Raccoon started to nose at another rucksack… lying on another abandoned towel. Alarmed, I ran after the backpack that was already joyfully hopping away over the sand.
I grabbed one of its straps and immediately encountered unexpected resistance. As I raised my head I stared into two very black button-shaped eyes. Raccoon was pulling at the other strap of the bag! There was a weird, wild moment of thug-of-war between Raccoon and me. Curious onlookers gathered and started directing their cameras on us, but Raccoon finally gave up as I brandished a newly found weapon at him: my shoe.
He then nonchalantly jogged away, but didn’t disappear entirely before nicking a bag of crisps off a bystander leaving me behind, startled about this unlikely encounter with my fury foe.
Today I look back at that moment with a crying and a laughing eye… how could I not have dared to pet this cute little mugger!
Since this day, Costa Rica remains for me the country where I got into a fight with a Raccoon!
What to bring to Manuel Antonio National Park
- Swimsuit (already put it under your clothes to avoid the hiding behind a towel part)
- Trekking sandals with emphasis on sandals (the temperatures are quite high, you’ll be having very hot feet if you opt for closed shoes)
- Comfortable clothing, because there are a lot of makeshift stairs to climb.
- Insect repellent … loads of insect repellent!
- Food & water, because there’s nothing that can be bought in the park. So if you are planning on spending a whole day out there, have a bit of a foresight on what’s needed. If you take food, try to place it into sealed bags to avoid attracting raccoons.
- A Camera. Don’t you dare forgetting your camera!!!
Hotels around the Park
The are heaps of hotels around Manuel Antonio National Park, ranging from small to medium size, from classy to a more down to earth style. We stayed at the Best Western Villas Lirio, which was a good hotel with a swimming pool and bungalow style rooms. But just have a look on tripadvisor, I am confident you’ll find the right match for you.
Where to eat
We had one evening out at the Barba Roja restaurant, which we didn’t find immediately. But the search was worth it, they have a sea view terrace for sunset watching, great cocktails, good food and very nice staff!
So, whatever you do in Costa Rica, drive down to Manuel Antonio but beware of my friend Raccoon!