I Prefer a Park Less Traveled

The town of Quepos–and in fact, most of the surrounding coastline–is known for Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s a rare preserved Coastal Tropical Rainforest, one of the last remaining patches in a region hit hard by development and agriculture. It includes some Primary forest, several scenic viewpoints for spotting whales, and some of the most beautiful beaches on Earth.

But even living within spitting distance of this popular destination, I rarely go. Why? Well, besides the fact that I already live in the jungle and see animals all the time, it’s just a little too close. Even though I refer guests there about every day, when I travel for myself it’s to go somewhere a bit more distant and novel. There’s no reason to spend an entrance fee to see what’s already in my own backyard.

Threatened habitat? Not impressed.

So besides the infrequent guiding gigs or animal pickups, I don’t get there much. But with yesterday being Costa Rican National Park Day and my workplace running a table out front, I had the chance to remember the other reason I don’t go to Manuel Antonio much: the crowds.

MA is one of the most accessible National Parks, and therefore one of the most popular. The road–and businesses–go literally right up to the front gate. Its paths are well-groomed gravel or flat raised platforms. It’s like jungle with training wheels. It’s not even all that big. You could walk the whole thing in a morning at a leisurely pace.

And the animals? Right out there in the open. Fearless. Bold. Practically habituated in some cases. And in some cases, worse.

Pictured: worse.

Too many people and not enough regulation has led to an obscene amount of human interference with the animals, namely feeding. This has created a situation where the monkeys (of course) are begging or outright robbing people for food. If teased, they have even been known to attack. Last week, I saw an adult male capuchin practically shaking people down as they passed by. He leaped on the backpack of one woman and when she panicked he bit her. Hard. There was blood. I helped her friends chase him off and then advised she seek medical attention.

But even animal animal banditry aside, the park just tends to attract a slightly different crowd than most reserves. Some just come for the beach, and bring with them a different set of expectations and a different level of speaking volume. Even if they are here for the wildlife, guided tours are so common that you can best spot a sloth by just moving from one crowd to the next, looking in the same direction the guides are pointing. It feels like cheating, but it works.

Although I did spot this bat nursing her young before any of the professional guides did so go me.

None of this is to badmouth Manuel Antonio, or the Park personnel. But be forewarned: this is no Monteverde. This is no Corcovado. You want an easy introduction to jungle hiking and happen to be in the area? Then this is for you. Can’t stand crowds and are seeking more illusive wildlife? I can recommend better.

Manuel Antonio seems to have found its niche. And it doesn’t seem to be about to change. In fact, while I was tabling, a local school orchestra set up by the entrance. It was fine, but chamber music wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Many of the guests seemed confused as well.

And the animals? Apparently unconcerned. Guess this deer wasn’t a John Williams fan.

So curb your expectations for Manuel Antonio. If you visit, come early and avoid the worst of the crowds. Aim for the middle of the week. And for the love of everything that’s holy, don’t feed the animals.

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