01 December 2023 Manuel Antonio
In search of monkeys
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”Albert Einstein
I had set my alarm for 6 am but I was awake at just after 5:30 am.
This gave me time for 2 cups of coffee and one banana before heading to Quepos bus station for an early ride to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. I tried to visit the park over a week ago, and learnt that (1) you can’t take any food into the park, and (2) you have to buy your ticket online… in advance!
This morning, I dressed in long trousers, socks and sensible shoes for the anticipated morning hike in the forest. I was already wearing swimming trunks and had my backpack stuffed with flip flops, a towel, a change of clothes and a reusable bottle of water.
I took the 6:30 am bus to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio which was nearly full, mostly local people on their way to work.
I got to the park entrance before the gates were opened. I was the 3rd person in the developing queue. Once the gates were open there was the same security check that I experienced on my previous visit but this time I passed through without incident. At the Ticket Office, I had to show my ticket and my passport before gaining access to this small but most popular of national parks.
I headed for the Waterfall Trail which meandered off the main routes to the beaches. At just after 7 am the forest was still waking up and the animal noises were wondrous. As the sun rose, I progressed deeper into the forest and further away from other hikers, a quietude descended. By the time I reached the waterfall, the forest was like a church or temple, I stood in silent awe.
I retraced my steps to return to the main trail and onto the path to Espadilla Sur Beach then south to Cathedral Point. There were a few more people on this path but the beach, being more of a surfing beach than a swimming beach, was deserted.
As I continued along the trail, there were lots of white-faced capuchin monkeys, which were a joy to watch at close quarters. On reaching the entrance to the Cathedral Point trail I found it closed, which was disappointing but I still had a lot of exploring ahead.
At this point it is a very short walk between Espadilla Sur Beach and the very popular, even at this early hour, Manuel Antonio beach. I walked along the paved road here, stopping to climb the wooden observation tower and to refill my water bottle. There were already a number of people making themselves comfortable on the sand under the trees, and already the curious and hungry spider monkeys were helping themselves to unguarded bags and backpacks.
I continued uphill to the park canteen and was greeted with the unusual and unexpected sight of people in cages. Yes, it was feeding time in the park, with the humans in two large cages and the monkeys watching them eat.
At 10:15 the caged canteen and adjoining caged overflow dining room were already very busy. I was hungry myself, so I had a midmorning tuna sandwich and black coffee. It was expensive but then there was not a lot of choice; a captive market in one way or another.
Feeling refreshed, I tried to find the trail to Puerto Escondido which took a while as it is very badly signposted but eventually after walking some distance downhill to the trail entrance, sadly, this was also closed. But more sadly, unless I wanted to retrace my steps back to the canteen, it was going to be a steep climb uphill to join the Sendero Miradores trail. Although, in hindsight, it might have been easier for me. I had to stop several times to rest and catch my breath as I ascended upwards via numerous steep stairways and tracks.
When I got to the top of the path at the junction with the Sendero Miradores trail, I really had to think very hard about whether to take this new trail further uphill or call it a day and head for the beach. On the basis that it was still too early to leave the shade of the rainforest and go for a swim in the bright midday sun, I decided to continue walking, albeit at a slow pace.
The Sendero Miradores trail continued its mostly uphill route, sometimes a narrow path and sometimes steep wooden steps. It was a long walk. I lost count of the number of times that I stopped to rest, but I also stopped just to stand still in silent reverence. It was beautiful. At the end of the trail there are two viewing platforms separated by several hundred metres up and down. I took a long break at the first platform, enjoying the view and rehydrating. I didn’t spend quite so long at the second platform. It may have had better views, but it also had a lot of mosquitoes. I made my way back to the first platform for another brief rest before setting off on the long walk back to Manuel Antonio beach and an afternoon swim. I was thankful for the foresight to wear long trousers today, and lucky to sustain only one mosquito bite. On the walk back to the beach I encountered a number of different people, couples and groups, some wearing little more than swimming costumes.
I got to Manuel Antonio beach about 2 pm. The beach was very busy but with the absence of hawkers and sunbeds, it still managed to be pleasant and agreeable. I found a dry place on some rocks away from the spider monkeys to undress and leave my towel and backpack. I am still quite sunburned from my time in Uvita, so I donned a long sleeve tee-shirt and my hat before submerging myself in the welcoming calm blue waters of Playa Manuel Antonio. I felt pleased with myself that I had completed as many trails as I had today and it might have been a blessing that two paths were closed.
The park is well organised and I was grateful for the showers, changing rooms and toilets right by the beaches. I chose to walk to Espadilla Sur Beach to use the facilities there which are not as busy. It was a – relatively – short walk back to the bus stop to ride back to Quepos town. I felt sad on the bus back to town. Although I haven’t been 100% well in the last couple of weeks, I have enjoyed my time on the Pacific coast.
Back in Quepos, I am craving a pizza but there’s nowhere near, so I head to the popular Soda Sanchez restaurant around the corner from my apartment. I had to wait a short time for a table but I eventually ordered the Surf and Turf Tacos. It was Friday night and it all felt very grown up!
Back at the apartment I could hear fireworks, then I remembered that it is a national holiday today to mark the ‘Abolition of the Army’.
The Health App on my smartphone tells me that I have taken 16,419 steps, just under 12 km today, but as many of those were real steps it feels like a lot more.
- Entry ticket for Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio bought in advance online € 16.50
- Bus to/from park € 1
- Snack in the park – Tuna Sandwich and Coffee – € 10
- Dinner at Soda Sanchez € 17
- Apartment booked directly with the host € 37 per night.