Visiting Costa Rica’s most famous national park, Manuel Antonio, while staying at Parador Resort & Spa
Figure 1 Guide Elias Mora and group at Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited parks in the world. It’s beautiful calm beaches attract many visitors, yet those who don’t explore its trails with a naturalist guide miss out on exciting flora and fauna only trained eyes can spot. If you are a guest at Parador Resort & Spa, they offer shuttles down to the park several times a day, as well as their Signature tour to the park with one of the most experienced guides in the area.
After a hearty breakfast, I feel ready to start the day. I have comfortable shoes on, a hat, and I’ve dabbed a bit of sunscreen on. I walk towards the lobby to meet my group, and I’m welcomed by a smiling guide. I already knew him by name, he is so often mentioned in the Trip Advisor reviews I’d read before my visit. Elias Mora, naturalist guide, has worked for Quepos Verde Aventura Tours since its inception. His wide smile and friendly demeanor make me feel at ease immediately. I board the minibus and greet my companions, two families with kids, a couple, and two single travelers, myself included.
Figure 2 Fiery billed Aracari at Manuel Antonio National Park.
I had visited the park many times before, on my own and on tours, and it remains one of my favorite spots on the planet. The minute we set foot inside the park, Elias spotted a yellow throated toucan and excitedly set up his scope and showed us his bird guide was handy. I instantly regretted forgetting to charge my camera’s batteries the night before, but this proved not to be a challenge, since our guide patiently assisted each of us by taking photos of the wildlife with our phones through the scope.
Figure 3 Yellow throated Toucan at Manuel Antonio National Park.
As we walked along, the stories of the flora and fauna we saw along the way were woven together with family anecdotes. How as a child, Elias’s family asked him to climb trees to look for iguanas, an important source of meat in those days. The children who were on the tour were intrigued, one who felt under the weather looked cheery, and a younger one left his parents behind and walked toe to toe with the guide searching for animals.
We see colorful frogs and crickets, iguanas and lizards of all colors and sizes, and a beautiful blue Morpho butterfly flutter by. Crabs and hummingbirds, and a sloth, which we observe through the scope in tremendous detail, as he scratches his head and chest. We hear the howler monkeys, locally known as “congos”, long before we see them, their guttural sounds fill the forest. We spot a “lora” snake on the path, its vibrant green color unmistakable. It’s been hurt, we hope not intentionally. It’s not a venomous one, and our guide hides it among the leaves so it has a better chance of recovery and survival.
Figure 4 Rainbow cricket at Manuel Antonio National Park.
The trail widens and we arrive at the first beach. Pablo, the assistant guide has gone ahead and prepared a table for us, fresh fruit plates, water and beach towels for the ones who’d like a dip in the ocean. I take my chance and I’m ready, swimsuit under my walking shorts, and I run into the water. I enjoy seeing the tourists interact with the naughty capuchin monkeys while I swim through the gentle waves, another reminder of why I love this place so much. Our guide tells us whoever would like to stay behind and enjoy the beaches for the afternoon can take one of the shuttles than run back and forth from town to the hotel all day. We get dressed and continue onwards, still much to discover. Another short walk brings us to the second Espadilla beach, much less crowded than the first, and an ideal spot if you’d like a quieter swim and beach day. A trail cutting over the mangroves provides more opportunities for wildlife, and we see an agouti walk in front of us. None of the species we encounter seem weary of us, they know they are protected and we are lucky to be guests in their homes.
Figure 5 Capuchin Monkey hoping you ignore the signs at Manuel Antonio National Park.
Heliconias, poisonous mushrooms and the local “guarumo” tree, used for many years to build water pipes because of its hollow branches, are some of the flora Elias points out for us. As we leave the park and board the minibus for a short ride back to the hotel, I review all I have experienced this morning, a truly enjoyable day making friends, learning about my environment, and seeing nature through new eyes.
Figure 6 Assistant guide Pablo awaits with fruit, water and beach towels midway through Manuel Antonio National Park Tour.
Live the experience for yourself and don’t miss out on a guided journey to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Parador Resort & Spa’s signature tours.