If you are taking the beautiful trip to Costa Rica, you should try to spend 2 or 3 days in Manuel Antonio and at least a few hours in Manuel Antonio Park.
When you get to Manuel Antonio, everyone from your hotel to park workers standing near the ticket booth will be trying to sell you on a tour through the park. The big question: Is the guided tour worth it or should you go it alone? You’ll have to answer that for yourself, but I going to try to help you decide what’s best for you. I had the pleasure of going twice; Once guided and once on my own.
A Guided Tour. A guided tour will take about 2 hours and cost about $45 to $60. The price includes pick up and drop off at your Manuel Antonio hotel, a guided tour, and park admission.
The guides will point out animals to you using a telescope. They are even able to get close up shots through the telescope on your digital camera. It does help to have a guide explain exactly where the animal is, but you will not be able to move on until all 5 to 15 people in your tour group have gotten a chance to see the animal through the telescope and taken pictures. It does take a while, especially if you get a person who can never spot the animal.
More than just pointing out Jesus Christ Lizards and Two Toed Sloths, the guides will tell you about the animals. You will hear facts like sloths lose a 1/3rd of their weight when they go to the bathroom. You won’t get this information if you go it alone.
You will need to stick with the group during the tour. This is a good thing if you like the company of others. It’s nice to do tours when you are traveling alone because you meet all sorts of people. There will be dozens of tours all starting around the same time so it is quite crowded at the beginning of the day and right after lunch.
The tour will not do every path. They do the main path, Peresozo, and the two main beaches, but most do not cover the path to the waterfall, smaller beaches, or the cathedral trail. At the end of the tour, most groups will give you the option to stay in the park to explore more on your own, or give you a lift back to your hotel.
On your own. On your own, you will pay a $16 admission. You won’t be able to park as close as you can with a guide and the buses don’t go all the way to the park so a 10 minute walk to the park from Playa Espadilla will be required.
It’s easy to piggy back on guided tours. When you see a large group stopped staring into the woods or up in a tree, stop and look. You can even ask someone what they see. It would be rude to stick with one tour group the whole time, or rely only on tour groups if you haven’t paid, but it doesn’t hurt to use them a bit. It’s awesome when you spot an animal by using groups of people, but what is even more awesome is spotting one on your own. It was one of the most gratifying feelings I had during my time in Costa Rica.
If you go alone, you are able to time it a little better so the park is a little less crowded. If you go at about 8:30am or 9:00 am, you are able to miss the tours that go first thing in the morning so the paths are a lot more open, there are less people to scare the animals, and you are able to get the shot you want without people in your way.
Keep in mind the park only allows a certain amount of visitors each day. If you don’t have a planned tour, make sure you go earlier. I would recommend going no later than 9 AM.
The other plus sides to going at it alone? You can do whichever paths you want, in whatever order. If you are really enjoying one area, you can stay for as long as you want. I enjoyed chasing butterflies and spending a lot of time on macros like dragonflies, caterpillars and leaf carrier ants. The tour the day before did not allow for much freedom to take these liberties.
A few tips to keep in mind:
Bring water. A lot of water. It’s not easy to come by in the park.
Monkeys will open your bags and steal items out, especially food. No I’m not kidding. Keep an eye on your items at all times.
Give the animals their space.
Don’t sleep under coconuts. They fall. They aren’t light. They will hurt you.
Be careful where you put your hands. Snakes or other creatures can be hiding on plants or other items around the park.
Listen. The best way to find animals is just to listen for rustling in the leaves.
Sunblock. Every hour or so. You may be under trees, but the sun is strong and will get you.
Wear or bring a bathing suit. There are showers and changing rooms.
To sum it up: Use a tour if you don’t mind spending a little extra, you want to learn about the animals you are looking at, you have trouble finding animals on your own or you want to meet other people. Go at it alone if you want more flexibility and freedom with schedule and would like the park to be a little less congested.
By Katie Marie, Chicago Now