Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio & Around
As visitors arrive at this small outcrop of land jutting into the Pacific, the air becomes heavy with humidity, scented with thick vegetation and alive with the calls of birds and monkeys, making it suddenly apparent that this is the tropics. The reason to come here is the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, one of the most picturesque bits of tropical coast in Costa Rica.
Port cities the world over have a reputation for polluted waters, seedy streets and slow decay, which might be a traveler's first impression of Puntarenas, Costa Rica’s formerly prosperous, coffee-exporting gateway to the Pacific. As the closest coastal town to San José, Puntarenas has been a popular escape for landlocked Ticos, and some still come here on weekends.
Few places in Costa Rica generate such divergent opinions as Jacó. Partying surfers, North American retirees and international developers laud it for its devil-may-care atmosphere, bustling streets and booming real-estate opportunities. Observant ecotourists, marginalized Ticos and loyalists of the 'old Costa Rica' absolutely despise the place for the exact same reasons.
Located just 7km from the entrance to Manuel Antonio, the small, busy town of Quepos serves as the gateway to the national park, as well as a convenient port of call for travelers in need of goods and services. Although the Manuel Antonio area was rapidly and irreversibly transformed following the ecotourism boom, Quepos has largely retained an authentic Tico feel.
Quepos to Uvita
South of Quepos, the well-trodden central Pacific tourist trail begins to taper off, evoking the feel of the Costa Rica of yesteryear – surf shacks and empty beaches, roadside ceviche vendors and a little more space. Intrepid travelers can have their pick of any number of deserted beaches and great surf spots.
Manuel Antonio Village
As you travel the road between Quepos and Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the din from roaring buses, packs of tourists and locals hunting foreign dollars becomes increasingly loud, reaching its somewhat chaotic climax at Manuel Antonio village. Hordes descend on this tiny oceanside village at the entrance to the country’s most visited national park.
Quepos to Manuel Antonio
From the Quepos waterfront, the steep, narrow winding road swings uphill and inland for 7km before reaching the beaches of Manuel Antonio village and the entrance to the national park. This route passes over a number of hills awash with picturesque views of forested slopes leading down to the palm-fringed coastline.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
A place of swaying palms and playful monkeys, sparkling blue water and a riot of tropical birds, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is the country's smallest (just 19.83 sq km) and most popular national park. It became a protected area in 1972, preserving it from being razed to make room for a coastal development project.
The road heading south from Puntarenas skirts the coastline, and a few kilometers out of town you’ll start to see the forested peaks of the Cordillera de Tilarán in the distance. Just as the port city fades into the distance, the water gets cleaner, the air crisper and the vegetation more lush.
Parque Nacional Carara
Situated at the mouth of the Río Tárcoles, the 52-sq-km park is only 50km southeast of Puntarenas by road or about 90km west of San José via the Orotina highway. Straddling the transition between the dry forests of Costa Rica’s northwest and the sodden rainforests of the southern Pacific lowlands, this national park is a biological melting pot of the two.
Regarded as one of the most consistent and powerful breaks in the whole country, Hermosa serves up serious surf that commands the utmost respect. You really need to know what you’re doing in these parts – huge waves and strong riptides are unforgiving, and countless surfboards here have wound up broken and strewn about on the shoreline.