Manuel Antonio National Park and Isla Damas, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park
Securing a rental car on our arrival in San Jose, we headed southwest to the Pacific coast. Making this drive at the onset of Easter weekend is not something we would recommend. It seemed that half of San Jose was on the highway. The road frequently looked like a very long, narrow parking lot. Arriving in Damas at sunset, we were relieved to be out of the car. The Kayak Lodge, tucked down a dirt road between palm tree groves and mangroves provided our accommodations.

Realizing that our destination for the following day might be overwhelmed early, we headed
Mom and baby sloth hanging out in the park.
south soon after daybreak. Manuel Antonio National Park, south of Quepos, is one of the smallest national parks in the country. The park is open from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M., and the gates are closed on weekends and Holidays once 800 visitors have entered. During the week, park visitors are limited to 600. Luckily, we arrived early enough to secure entrance into the park. From past experience, we have learned that hiring a guide is the best way to hike in a new area, if we actually want to see any of the wildlife. Yanan Barboza, our naturalist guide, was knowledgable and adept at finding animals which would have remained hidden if we had completed the walk along the jungle trail on our own. With Yanan's help, we sighted Howler monkeys, tent bats, hummingbirds, a prehistoric looking helmet iguana, two-toed and three-toed sloths and countless white-faced capuchin monkeys.

 Howler monkey
Limiting the number of park visitors to 800 meant that the beach portions of the park were relatively deserted. The idyllic white-sand beaches with rocky outcroppings, the islands offshore and the jungles leading down into the ocean are beautiful. On the low tide at Playa Manuel Antonio, on the western side of the beach, there is a circle of rocks called "the turtle trap". This area is thought to have been created by early Indian tribes to catch turtles on the low tide. Currently, since the water is protected from waves and fish are trapped until high tide, the cove creates a snorkeling spot for visitors.

Departing the peaceful park, we walked onto the crowded public beach.  Chaos ensued
Traffic chaos
along the narrow streets of Manuel Antonio village. Taxis, tour buses and private vehicles moved in a finely choreographed dance to enter (and exit) the final 400 meter road turning off toward the park entrance. No parking signs were ignored as vehicles made the narrow road even more difficult to traverse. Vendors on the public beach were hawking coconuts trimmed back for enjoying the refreshing water hidden inside. Sunbathers and large family groups picnicking crammed the sandy beaches. The touristy village is filled with an assortment of souvenir shops and restaurants.

Driving north toward Quepos, along the waterfront, it's hard to miss El Avion (the plane), a restaurant/bar overlooking the ocean and seemingly hanging on the edge of the a cliff. The restaurant is built around a 1950's era cargo plane, with one bar located at the tail of the plane and another inside the body of the plane. We enjoyed at cocktail in this unique setting but the lobster, shrimp and burgers being served at nearby tables looked tasty.

The following morning, we walked the neighborhood surrounding
Alan with our new friend, Fausta
the Kayak Lodge. A wide diversity of gorgeous flowers had caught my attention the day before, so armed with a camera we headed out. After snapping dozens of shots, we turned to go back to the hotel. A local approached us and started a conversation. In spite of the fact that we speak limited Spanish and Fausta spoke no English, he invited us into his yard and we visited for almost an hour, as he explained the varieties of trees, trimmed multiple coconuts so that we could relish the sweet water, introduced us to his cattle and gave us a parting gift of 2 bowls made from one of his plants.

Capuchin Monkey posing
Having scheduled a mangrove boat tour to Isla Damas, we met with our tour
guide, Dennis, and along with 6 other tourists went out to explore. Our guide,once again, provided an information filled two-hour trip. His explanation and description of the black, pineapple, white and red mangroves, clarified the differences in the varieties that made our understanding crystal clear. In addition to the beauty of the mangroves, we saw 2 varieties of anteaters, a crocodile and more capuchin monkeys. Being offered the opportunity to snack on termites from one of the hundreds of termite nest in the mangroves, we both decided to give it a try. They taste like peanuts, but they're awfully tiny, it would take a long time to fill up on them.

We have now returned to San Jose for Alan's coming week of dental work at the Prisma Dental Clinic, where he had extensive work completed 4 years ago.  Hopefully, the dental work will allow Alan a break for an additional trip out of San Jose before flying to Guatemala.

Can you find the bird in this picture?

Helmet Lizard

Sloth taking a rest.

One of the dozens of exotic flowers I photographed.

Silky Anteater

Tiger Heron

Black squirrel

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