Manuel Antonio National Park, a biodiversity gem along the pacific coast

Manuel Antonio National Park, a biodiversity gem along the pacific coast

May 19, 2011|Holbrook in the Field| by administrator

I awake this morning to a crystal clear day with the sun shining brightly at 6 a.m. It reflects off the subtle turquoise of the ocean, my view is worth the wait, endless sea stretches as far as the eye can see, the vista dotted with palm trees, tropical flowers, and many others I cannot name. I look at the tub on the balcony wistfully, it will have to wait; I have an early day visiting the Manuel AntonioNational Park. After a hearty buffet breakfast at Hotel Parador we set off on the short drive down to the entrance of the park. We apply sunscreen and bug spray and are reminded that we should not touch any plants or animals in the park boundaries. As we make our way through the gates, the forest unfolds before us; a rocky path with the canopy towering along both sides. We are lucky to spot a sloth early on, it lounges in the treetops barely moving, a lethargic ball of fur with long limbs stretched along the branches, munching on the leaves of the cecropia tree which take quite a long time to digest. The sloth only comes down from his treetop home once a week for the purpose of ahem, pooping. The sloth comes down at a pace that turtles poke fun at to dig a hole under the tree in which the weekly deposit is made. It is not known why the sloths do this, some think it is for their own protection. The logic might be that predators would know where to find the sloths easily if they defecate from the treetops, a road map of sorts to a yummy sloth snack; the hypothesis is a good one.   [caption id="attachment_545" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Capuchin Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP"][/caption]We continue our walk along the trails and learn about the flora and fauna of this important park that is comprised of both land and sea and boasts 109 species of mammals and 184 birds. We have a target in mind, monkeys, three of Costa Rica’s four species can be found here. We are not disappointed as we hike along a trail to the beach we begin hearing rustling in the trees above. We are fortunate to see a troop of Capuchin monkeys as they make their way through the forest canopy. They venture remarkably close seeming unconcerned with or presence and are quite cute with their dark brown bodies and white heads and faces. Otto reminds us that they are very aggressive and also quite intelligent. They live in troops of roughly 15 members. We watch them for some time, marveling at their skills moving from tree to tree using their tales as a fifth hand – amazing. We continue down to the white-sand beach to a more private cove than that main beach. Here there are only a few people, and we soon discover, a lot more Capuchins. A tiny stream empties into the sea here and the monkeys are on the ground enjoying a cool taste of water. They are up in the trees as well, pulling the fruits, which Otto has identified as wild apples, and pounding them on the branches to see if they are to their liking. Most are not and are carelessly tossed onto the ground where they will eventually grow. This is how many seeds are dispersed.   [caption id="attachment_546" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Manuel Antonio NP"][/caption] We take a dip in the cool waters, so refreshing. The waves here are gentle and the view amazing with rainforest spilling onto white sand that drips into a bluish green sea, ahh, pura vida. Pura vida is a phrase commonly used in Costa Rica, it translates as “pure life” however the meaning is more reflective of the Tico belief in living a happy, balanced life, and having pride in their beautiful country, taking life slowly to enjoy it and feeling connectivity to one another and an open friendliness to others. As I reflect on the diversity of this small park and look at the surrounding forest and sea, I’m struck by the beauty and lushness of the forest, in particular a fountain of pink flowers has caught my eye, and as I admire it, I can only smile and feel very fortunate as a furry white face pokes a head through to watch us swim for a moment before continuing with a day in the canopy After our refreshing swim and some time spent lounging on the beach and watching the “monkey business,” we continue our hike in search of the tiny squirrel monkeys that make the southern pacific coast their home. We have heard they have been spotted today and are hopeful. As we walk along the trail in a single file line the trail widens and opens up to a canopied clearing where we hear a throaty call above, howler monkeys. The howlers are darker in color and larger than the Capuchins; they are mostly lounging in the trees unlike the Capuchins who moved around a lot. We watch as they laze in the forest treetops and Otto tells us that they are herbivores and this is why they are less active as digestion is slower. The Capuchins on the other hand are omnivores. They eat eggs, fruits, insects, lizards, and etc. As we study the lounging, we hear high-pitched noises and see rustling in nearby trees and are thrilled to see a troop of squirrel monkeys also in this area. There are many of them and they are busily searching for food in the treetops. They are a fuzzy orange on the back and paler on the front with expressive faces and do not use their tales in the hand-like way that the Capuchins do. These tiny monkeys are critically endangered due to habitat loss. They prefer the secondary forest’s fruits and insects. There are many organizations locally trying to save them but their future, sadly, is uncertain.  We watch them for quite awhile and also listen to their communications, fascinated that we are so close and that there are so many around us, it is very special.   [caption id="attachment_547" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Squirrel Money, Manuel Antonio NP"][/caption] After our short break we make our way to the park exit stopping to view a mommy and baby sloth along the way. As we approach the exit we find the tide has settled between the shore and us. There are two local men ready and waiting with their trusty aluminum boats and for 400 colones per person, less than $1.00, we make it dryly to the other side.   [caption id="attachment_549" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Chauffer exit service"][/caption] Our next bit of business is to have lunch and then inspect local hotels with CST certifications. We visit Arenas del Mar, one of the only hotels with beach access on site, where we have tasty beachside lunch with hermit crabs scurrying all around us. They are an excellent choice for couples and also families and have a 4-leaf CST certification. We then make our way to Makanda by the Sea – a honeymooners dream with its private suites with lovely ocean views and 4 CST leaves. Our next stop is Hotel Byblos where the staff enthusiasm for sustainability is contagious! With 3 leaves, this more affordable option is a diamond in the rough. Finally, we visit Si Como No, a hip spot for families and also couples where no expense has been spared to conserve nature, reduce, reuse and recycle resources, as well as support the community.  Their commitment has resulted in the highly coveted 5-leaf rating. We are lucky to have these places as our homes when we travel and should choose wisely as we make buying decisions to ensure that these beautiful places and people prosper.   After a long busy day it’s back to Hotel Parador for a much needed rest. Unfortunately, that balcony tub went unused during this stay, perhaps some other day…