Manuel Antonio was our last big stop, where we stayed at the Hotel Costa Verde for 3 nights (see my Tripadvisor review here. As you can see, my review is very favorable -- I quite like this place: it offers breathtaking views, even from our patio (but the view is even more spectacular and panaromic from the adult pool area). The first picture below was taken from our patio, the rest were taken from the pool area on different days. (Click on each image to see the high-resolution version)
We had dinner at the El Avion restaurant (see my Tripadvisor review here) two nights in a row where we saw the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. If the food was not that memorable, the sunset sure was.
Needless to say, we visited Manuel Antonio National Park -- actually twice. On our second day (our first full day) there, we joined a guided tour (this was booked before the trip), which turned out to be not very good and really unnecessary. To be sure, our guide was a nice person (and I tipped him generously), but not very experienced, and on the way back from the beach he seemed to be in a rush to get back to the shuttle and did not stop even once (see my Tripadvisor review here) . In any case, Manuel Antonio is a small park and the wildlife are pretty conspicuous, you don't need a guide to explore -- and we did make a second visit on our own which was more enjoyable.
At any rate, Manuel Antonio National Park is still a wonderful (if a little crowded) place to explore, with or without guide. Among the first creatures we saw was a giant Golden Silk Orb-weaver.
Golden Silk Orb-weaver
The highlight of this visit was a Common Pauraque roosting (brooding?) on the ground next to the main trail. This was the first time I saw a bird of the nightjar (nighthawk) family. It was camouflaged so perfectly that it blended into the leave litter; if not for the guides (guides of other groups spotted it first, and they relay the information from one group to another) I would never have noticed it.
There were quite a few Three-toed Sloths in the park, but they were usually high up in the tree and backlit or in the dark shades of foliage, easy to observe but not easy to photograph. This was one that cooperated.
There were also many moths flying lazily about or resting on leaves, I believe they are Urania Fulgens.
The other new bird on this visit was a Riverside Wren.
We reached the very crowded main beach (Playa Manuel Antonio) in the park.
Manuel Antonio National Park is quite a place to see monkeys -- we saw three species of monkeys in the park: Squirrel Monkey, Howler Monkey and White-faced Capuchin (not shown).
Finally, we encountered a White-tailed Deer, a familiar animal to us from the U.S. It would also be the largest mammal that we saw in Costa Rica.
We reteated to the hotel in the afternoon. Because of the heat and humidity, it was more pleasant to stay in the air-conditioned room and only venture out for short periods of time during midday, or hanging out at the pool. It was at the pool area that I spotted some cashew fruits ripening on a tree. Actually, they are not even fruits but swollen stalks ("accessory fruits"). You can see the nut in its shell hanging below the fruit, the shell is toxic, but the fruit is edible, something I learned on this trip (actually I learned about cashew fruits from our guide during the ride from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio).
Aother advantage of Costa Verde is that there are abundant wildlife in the surrounding environment. I took pictures of the Golden-naped Woodpecker and Gray-necked Wood Rail both from our patio, and both were new birds to me (to think: sometimes I had to drive hundreds of miles to get one.
Gray-necked Wood Rail
The next day -- our second full day in Manuel Antonio -- we walked to the beach. In the morning, before the heat and humidity set in, it was a quite delightful walk (it takes about 20 minutes to get to the beach from the hotel). On the way there, I saw a female Cherrie's Tanager. The male of this bird looks identical to male Passerini's Tanager, but the females look different (compare with picture of female Passerini's Tanager; both Passerini's Tanagers were taken in Arenal). I was very glad that I got them sorted out. Another new bird on this walk was a Groove-billed Ani. The Great Crested Flycatcher is a bird that is also common in the U.S. which I had seen before, but it was good to see an old friend here too.
Great Crested Flycatcher
Finally we reached the beach, the vantage point was different than from the hotel on the hill.
I was rather surprised and a little disappointed that we did not see even a single seagull or shorebird on the beach. The other birds I saw were some fly-by Brown Pelicans. The most interesting creature I saw were some crabs (I believe they are Porcelain Crabs) crawling on rocks.
Again, we retreated back to the hotel before noon to get some "Ar Condicionado". At lunch at Cafe Milagro, I photographed a beautiful Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
The most exciting encounter of the day was when we walked back from Cafe Milagro. As we walked by the El Wagon restaurant (another restaurant owned by the same owners of Costa Verde), a waiter asked us: "You want to see a sloth?". We walked in, and there it was, a large Three-toed Sloth clinging to a tree just outside the back of the restaurant (which is a forested slope).
This was exciting enough, but as the sloth stirred and started to climb higher, I suddenly realized that the large furry bulge at its bottom was a baby sloth! Momentarily the baby was detached from its mother, but it soon rejoined her, and they both climbed -- slowly -- to the tree top.
Three-toed Sloth baby
Three-toed Sloth (mom and baby)
Three-toed Sloth (mom and baby)
The next day -- our last day in Manuel Antonio, we took the bus to the national park ourselves. We arrived early and I walked around the beach. There, I saw my only shorebird along the long stretches of beaches in Manuel Antonio -- a Spotted Sandpiper.
In the still-cool morning, we walked in the park at a more leisurely pace. A Stripe-throated Hermit hummingbird and an Orange-billed Sparrow were my prizes of this morning (both were new to me).
Near the beach I spotted a Pale-billed Woodpecker, then a Yellow-headed Caracara at close range and in beautiful light.
Because we got in the park this time quite early, before the tourist groups arrived, it was less crowded on the beach. On the other side of Punta Catedral (the island that is connected to the mainland by a narrow land bridge) is Playa Espadilla Sur, where it was even quieter than the main beach (Playa Manuel Antonio).
Playa Espadilla Sur
On the beach there were many scurrying Hermit Crabs.
The White-faced Capuchin Monkeys are the boldest of the monkey species in Costa Rica, they hang out on the beach and sometimes snatch food from tourists. I think the picture below is a quintessential Manuel Antonio White-faced Capuchin on the beach picture -- you can see the monkey intently gazing, no doubt waiting for his opportunity, and a tourist in the background.
On the way back, finally I photographed a Squirrel Monkey -- the pretties of the monkey species -- in good light.
It turned out we would see one more crab in the park -- this was a land crab burrowing in the forest floor, quite some way from the water.
Finally, a Brown Basilisk lizard basking in the sun rounded up our visit to this smallest of national parks in Costa Rica.
And so ended our stay in Manuel Antonio -- after lunch we had to pack up and ride to Alajuela. Just one more night and we would leave Costa Rica.