Manuel Antonio National Park
With just 683 acres of land area, “Manuel Antonio” is Costa Rica’s smallest national park.
Nevertheless, it represents all the elements that make up tourism in Costa Rica: largely untouched nature with a great variety of species as well as picturesque beaches in front of a tropical green island backdrop. During the high season, the park is also by far the most visited, which is why the park authorities decided some time ago to limit the daily number of visitors to 600. The national park opens its gates from Tuesday to Sunday between 7.00h and 17.00h (high season, in the low season 8.00h to 16.00h). It is closed on Mondays to give the wildlife a breathing time. The trails through the park are easy to master even for untrained people and children. The most interesting is the “Perezoso” trail, named after the Spanish word for sloth, from which beautiful views over the coast and the offshore islands open up on the way.
The vegetation includes numerous tropical tree species, including coconut palms and the poisonous manzanilla tree which belongs to the spurge family and should be avoided as a possible source of shade on the beach, as its milky sap is highly corrosive. The four beaches of the park are Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio, Escondido and Playita. The most beautiful of them – though anything but lonely – is Playa Manuel Antonio, a small curved bay with white sand thanks to the small coral reef in front of it. It is separated from Playa Espadilla Sur by a tombolo. Tombolo is the name given to a natural land bridge between an island and the mainland that has been created over thousands of years by the continuous deposition of sand. Today it connects the former island of Punta Catedral with the mainland. The most noticeable animal inhabitants are countless Capuchin monkeys, who like to tamper with waste bins, beg visitors or cheekily steal from them. The population of the dainty squirrel monkeys is much smaller but still stately, and the chances of seeing sloths, raccoons and agutis are not bad either. Howler monkeys are more likely to hear than see. Some larger iguanas patrol the beaches, showing little shyness.
Theft from a non-animal side has become a serious problem of the park, which is why you should not take any valuables with you or leave them unattended on the beach while swimming. Another downside of the high number of tourists is the fact that the sewage of the houses and hotels that line the road from Quépos to the national park like pearls on a string are not or only insufficiently treated. One of the affected beaches is Playa Espadilla (near the park entrance), which should be avoided for this reason.
The small town of Quepos with its 15000 inhabitants as most Costa Rican cities has few classical sights to offer. Its name goes back to the indigenous Quepo who lived here at the time of the Spanish “conquest”. European-introduced diseases, slavery and wars with other indigenous groups led to the disappearance of the Quepo people towards the end of the 19th century. Until the 1940s and 1950s, Quépos was an important banana export port. When the banana plantations in and around Quépos were first affected by the “Sigatoka” and later by the “Panama Disease” and almost completely destroyed, this important chapter of the city’s history was over. Only the remains of earlier port facilities remind us of the presence of the United Fruit Company. Today, African oil palm plantations have replaced the bananas as cash crops. Increasingly large areas of former lowland rainforest fall victim to the continuing boom. The cultivation of genetically identical palms in monocultures requires a high use of pesticides, the biological diversity of species tends towards zero, the methane contained to a high degree in the waste water reaches the atmosphere unhindered as a greenhouse gas. The majority of palm oil is used in food production, but the detergent and cosmetics industries as well as the production of paints, lacquers, lubricants, candles and animal feed also show double-digit annual increases in palm oil consumption. A further escalation of the problem is the promotion of apparently environmentally compatible biofuels, which are also produced from palm oil.