pura vida: navigating manuel antonio

theromanticI knew that life would be different after visiting Manuel Antonio. Up until now, we hadn’t seen much in the way of wild animals. Though we were enjoying our time in Costa Rica just fine, something was lacking. That’s because everything else up until this day was BS.

Before Sloth.

The morning of our planned day at Manuel Antonio, I was all atwitter. What should I wear? Do sloths prefer bright colors? Are they deterred by bug spray? I just wanted them to like me.

Though we’ll get to the sloths, I do have a few bits of advice to get the most out of your day at Manuel Antonio.

1. Beware of parking scams. 

As the hubs and I drove to the park, we spotted a group of guys standing on the side of the road, holding signs that said “Official Manuel Antonio Parking.” Our GPS had a few more instructions, but it was all very vague and we figured this must be the lot. We pulled in and something just felt off. We hopped back in our car and decided to just drive up and see what the story was, and sure enough: official parking was about .5 km away. The attendent there told us those guys are “lying thieves and scum,” so this scam seemed to work pretty well for them. Luckily, the hubs’s discomfort sense was on high alert so we didn’t get sucked in–though I can’t take much credit, I just wanted to get out and see a sloth.

2. Get a guide for the right reasons.

We met a group of people on our booze cruise who told us–very adamantly–to skip the guides that the park attendants try and pawn off on you. When we arrived at the park and looked at the map, it confirmed that we could handle things on our own.

We told the park employees that we’d pass on the guide, and they assured us we would regret it.  Apparently, we would end the day “very tired, very hungry, very sweaty, and very sad because we saw no animals.” Spoiler alert: we saw plenty of animals and we’re guessing we would have ended the day very tired, hungry, and sweaty even if we had a guide. Almost immediately, we spotted this guy:

To be fair, I don’t think the guides are a total waste of money. If you want to learn more about the history of the park or know more than “HEY, that’s a monkey!”, then I think the guides are a must and you can opt for either a group tour or a private tour. However, I did have a few issues with the way the guides conducted business and one was the fact that if you didn’t use them, they actively shamed you. More on this later.

Do note that if you don’t have a guide, you will miss out on some of the smaller trails–which only makes them that much more peaceful for those of us who had them all to ourselves.

The hubs, might I add, had no qualms about sacrificing me to that raccoon, whom he suspected was out and about in daylight because he was rabid.

Also, we learned later that this may not have actually been a raccoon? Anyone know? This is where the fine people at Manuel Antonio would gather around me screaming, “YOU SHOULD HAVE USED A GUIDE!” while shaking their fists.

Rabid raccoon-type friend aside, we also saw the best views on the less popular trails:

3. Pay attention to your fellow park-goers.

Normally in public places, I have a strict elbows-out-and-don’t-slow-down policy when it comes to other people getting in my way. I will shank a bitch if she slows and stops randomly in front of me on the sidewalk. However, I quickly learned that despite my best efforts to ignore them, I had to appreciate people who would suddenly slow down and start pointing at something random. Unlike in New York, where tourists will stop and point at any building with a spire and declare it the Empire State Building, it was helpful to see someone point obviously at any animal sightings so that anyone within the near vicinity would get to enjoy the spectacle as well. This is how we spotted the below:

4. Bring your own water–and plenty of it.

Because we saw this happening on the public drinking fountain:

I mean, maybe I was the one who turned the water on for him. I’m not even sorry, it was pretty adorable. Instead, I just advise that you bring your own water.

5. Be respectful of the wildlife.

Yes, starting with the obvious. Don’t feed the animals! Just don’t! There are plenty of reminders, including a picture of a DEAD MONKEY when you enter the park showing what can happen if they eat something indigestible. We saw one woman in a fanny pack literally taunting a monkey with a plantain. I mean, come ON. If you’re going to wear a fanny pack, don’t fulfill every other fanny pack stereotype. Similarly: turn off your camera flash when you’re taking pictures of animals. It’s broad daylight, you don’t need it, and it’s just rude.

Probably even more disconcerting, there was another reason I didn’t like the guides. They want to provide entertainment to their little groups, I guess, so we saw numerous guides teasing the monkeys. The monkeys were all pretty silly and clearly liked attention, but I felt like it crossed a line when guides would stomp and shake the trees just to get a reaction. I caught this photo as a result of one guide’s antics, and it seriously bummed me out:

That doesn’t look like a playful face to me, and I don’t think the animals should feel threatened just to make a few tourists laugh.

6. Keep your eyes on the skies.

I’ll admit: there did come a time in the day when I started to regret not getting a guide–all other obvious issues aside. We had been hiking for over an hour and not one sloth sighting had occurred. The hubs could sense I was getting a little disappointed (probably because I said “WE HAVEN’T SEEN ANY SLOTHS, I HATE MANUEL ANTONIO!!!!”), and asked a guide if there were any to see. We had read that they’re rare and difficult to spot, so obviously we should ask the experts, right? The guide’s response? “Yes, of course. Do you have a guide?” When we said no, he literally rolled his eyes, shook his head in disgust, and walked away from us. Alright, GUY. I get it. You only get paid to talk to people who pony up the colones.

Well, joke’s on him because shortly after, without a guide or a group of people pointing and crying with glee, we saw this:

It was love at first sight–and then shortly after, we got to see one in action:

Pure happiness right here.

All in all, Manuel Antonio totally lived up to the hype and I would recommend allotting a few hours to explore. And of course, always keep an eye out for sloths.


the romantic



  1. October 16, 2012 / 19:21

    Alright, I need to go here asap. Seriously, this looks incredible! Sloths! How adorable! Love the tips and the pictures, as I will definitely making my way here very soon. 🙂

  2. October 17, 2012 / 19:21

    Thanks for taking me to Manuel Antonio. I laid on the beach for three days in college drinking the Kickin’ Chicken and frying myself in the sun. Not once did I step foot into the rain forrest.

    Bad Leah.

    • October 23, 2012 / 04:04

      LOL, good thing I had put my beverage (hot cocoa for the record :P) away before reading this, would have choked to death… Thanks a freakin’ lot. 😉

      Those sloths are so adorable. Glad you survived the tour to see them.
      Pola (@jettingaround) recently posted..My ten favorite things about the USAMy Profile

  3. October 19, 2012 / 20:13

    The best reason for hiring a guide is they will find things you would never see. I hired a guide and within five minutes inside the park he spotted a tarantula upside down on a leave. I would not have spotted this walking past a hundred times. That was worth the $20.00 right there.

    What silly person informed you they were not raccoons? Of course they are raccoons, but they are just a different species than what is found stealing trash and getting hit by cars in North America. We have the common raccoon; whereas, Costa Rica and the tropics have the crab-eating raccoon, which is what you have nicely photographed in this post.


    The sloths are really cool. Glad you got a chance to see them. That was definitely the highlight for me inside the park, outside the tarantula.
    Traveling Ted recently posted..A superior sunset in the Porcupine Mountains State ParkMy Profile

    • October 23, 2012 / 09:59

      i feel like maybe i should just hire you next time?! you’re totally right, though, the major benefit is seeing things you wouldn’t even know to look for–i just was not feeling their attitudes.

      i figured it was a raccoon because…what else would it be? i think our misinformed friend thought it was a coati, which, per this wikipedia article, are also called crackoons?:


      and now i want a little baby crackoon.
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..no travel requiredMy Profile

  4. October 20, 2012 / 11:01

    hahaha you are so funny.

    i don’t know if i ever need to see a sloth or a little angry monkey in real life. for some reason, animal parks just aren’t lola’s bag. people are wild & unpredictable enough for me!

    i do love your photos and your stories about it though!

    xo – lola
    lola recently posted..5 financial essentials you need while traveling through EuropeMy Profile

  5. Fiona
    October 20, 2012 / 14:52

    Wow what an abundance of wildlife – you did well to capture them on camera too!

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