Manuel Antonio N.P., Costa Rica
Deciding to visit Manuel Antonio National Park was a last minute decision that was made in San Jose. So far we had loved the forests and wildlife Costa Rica had provided us, and we wanted to see more. Manuel Antonio came highly recommended.
Nearby Quepos was not worth visiting. Accommodation was expensive, rooms were small, there were tons of bugs and there was absolutely nothing to see in the town itself other than the rain (does it ever not rain in this country?). The sole purpose of staying here was its proximity to the park.
As usual we made a plan to arrive at the park early, before the tour buses arrived. I guess most people drove because, although we beat the buses, the place was mobbed (we should have opted for a longer sleep in). It was a small park but it offered several trails through the forest and out to the beach. Being surrounded by the coast on one side meant that we could hear waves crashing for the majority of the time, an unfamiliar sound to us in the middle of a rainforest. There were also great lookout points over rocky cliffs, where we could witness the source of the noise.
White-faced capuchin monkeys and whole families of coatis were clearly controlling the beaches. Tourists loved them and were taking photos from every angle, but the creatures weren't stupid. They managed to steal someone's food every minute or so, while the naive photographers were distracted with their subjects. I was sure they would never go hungry. Other animal encounters included sloths (sloths! But way, way up in the trees), a green tree frog, howler monkeys, agoutis, fist-sized crabs with orange legs and purple claws, iguanas, hummingbirds, giant blue butterflies, plus a snake carrying a lizard in its mouth. We came to see the animals, and Manuel Antonio did not disappoint.
The beaches were an added bonus to the wildlife. Long, white, clean with perfectly warm water. It seemed the whole local population thought the same, as everyone was out enjoying a rare non-rainy day (although storm clouds were threatening). If I lived here I would be in the water too - with the rainforest and beach in the one spot, it was the best of both worlds.
The weather wasn't great, but the beaches were.
We ended up walking the seven kilometres back to Quepos, up and over a gigantic hill that was tough going on such a humid day. The occasional glimpses of the coast from the road did not make this trek worthwhile. The whole stretch of road was dotted with small hotels and restaurants, as well as a bar built inside the shell of an old plane (how cool is that?). By the time we made it back to the hostel we had walked 6.5 hours that day. Surely we were going to be super-lean, fit, buff athletes by the time we returned home with all the hiking we achieved each day. We rewarded our hard efforts with a salad and a game of Scrabble. Yeah, I know - lame.
Bar in a plane. Genius.