Monday, July 4, 2016

Costa Rica Part 11: Puntarenas Coast & Manuel Antonio National Park

A Central American Squirrel Monkey clambers among the trees in Quepos. As our bus eased through the small resort town's thick traffic, the curious monkey followed along, scampering from tree to tree to observe us. The Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) is one of the several species of monkey native to Costa Rica. It can only be found along the country's central and southern Pacific Coasts and the coast of northern Panamá. This species of monkey is omnivorous and lives in groups of 20-75 individuals. Its population has declined since the 1970s due to deforestation and capture for sale as a pet. Efforts at conservation have improved the Squirrel Monkey's situation, although it is still listed as "vulnerable". The last leg of our Costa Rica tour before returning to San José took us along the coast of Puntarenas Province to the seaside pueblo of Quepos. One of the country's most famous wildlife preserves, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, adjoins the town. For a Google map of this section of Costa Rica, click here.

The coast of Puntarenas

The province of Puntarenas possesses spectacular beaches, some lined with luxury hotels. The beaches can sometimes be found along broad bays like the one shown above. Other times they lie along small crescent-shaped coves with rocky points at either end. The coastal mountains sometimes drop right down to the sea, but elsewhere they may be set back several miles, providing space for towns and farms.

One of the many luxury hotels fronting the beach along Puntarenas's coast. Tourism is a very large part of the nation's economy. Well-heeled visitors from North America and Europe, as well as elsewhere in Latin America, come every winter to bask in the sunshine. 

Off-shore islands like these dot the coast. Most are uninhabited, but some contain nature preserves and can be visited by boats rented at nearby resort towns.

A Scarlet Macaw munches on wild fruit growing in a tree beside the coast road. There were several of these colorful birds dining in the roadside branches when our bus came by. The driver stopped so we could get some photos. The blissful birds ignored us as they consumed the succulent fruit. The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is found along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico and in Central America, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Brazil. Like the Squirrel Monkey, they are threatened by habitat destruction as well as the pet trade. Macaws are monogamous animals and will stay with the same mate for life. Eggs are incubated by the female and the chicks reach adulthood after five years. 

Hotel San Bada, in Quepos is adjacent to the main entrance of Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio.  Hotel San Bada possesses luxurious grounds, including this beautifully landscaped swimming pool. Of all the hotels where our Caravan Tour stopped, this was the only one that was not isolated from the local community. Quepos is a popular beach town, with accommodations ranging from luxury to rustic. Restaurants, bars, and night-spots are plentiful, as are street vendors eager to sell you their handicrafts. Also plentiful are various ecological adventures such as tree-top zip-lining and parasailing.

A para-sailor drifts through a Pacific sunset. This was one of several we observed from the roof-top bar of the hotel. After a long day of traveling the coast, we dropped our luggage in our room and made a bee-line for the bar. A tall, cold, adult beverage was definitely in order.

My long-range zoom lens revealed that one of the parachutes supported a trio of adventurers. I never knew that they could be group experiences. I tried out one of these rides in Cancun, Mexico, years ago. I recall looking down several hundred feet to the ocean below and suddenly realizing that the only things attaching me to the parachute harness were a couple of small metal clips of unknown quality. It was a sobering thought.

Parque Nacional de Manuel Antonio

Stairways, wooden ramps, and bridges wind through the park's jungle. The idea is to allow visitors to enjoy the experience without trampling the flora or fauna. This makes sense given the mobs of people we found thronging most of the pathways. Perhaps it was because our visit coincided with Christmas Week, a popular family vacation time. We couldn't believe there were 75-80 people at the front gate at the 7 AM opening time. When we left the park at mid-day, there were several hundred more lined up, waiting their turn to enter. Fortunately, most folks kept to the main walkways and missed this one, leaving us with a bit of peace and quiet. For a map of Manuel Antonio Park, click here.

A Ceiba tree's broad roots spread out over the jungle floor. The Ceiba was considered holy by pre-hispanic peoples and is still revered by their modern descendants. Although this national park is Costa Rica's smallest, it is one of the most famous. The land area encompasses 1,700 acres, and its ocean protectorate covers 136,000 acres. The land area of Manuel Antonio contains tropical forest, lagoons, mangrove swamps, and white, sandy beaches. 109 species of mammals, as well as 184 of birds, make it one of the most biodiverse parks in the world.

A female Golden Orb Spider tends its web, hoping for the arrival of a meal.  The Golden Orbs (Nephila clavipes) are quite amazing creatures. They are famous for their webs, the strands of which are five times stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon. The web is so tough and resilient that if one could be built in the right proportions, it could catch an airliner in mid-flight! In addition, the spiders can change the color of the web to match the background, making it invisible to prey. There is a huge disparity in size between the large female and the much smaller male. In fact, the male is so much smaller that it can inseminate the female without her even noticing. Males of this species sometimes become free-loaders. Their small size allows them to live in the web and eat the prey without the female catching on. I suspect some feminists out there are probably already saying "just like a man!"

The remarkably spiky bark of this tree attracted my attention.  Pejibaye palms (Bactris gasipaes) grow wild in the park but are cultivated elsewhere for their fruit and the edible heart of the trunk. The tree is also known as a peach palm for its reddish/orange fruit. It is found in the hot, humid, areas of Latin America, including Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. In the 1920s, it was introduced into the US, the Philippines, and India. 

This peach palm fruit is still green. The fruit may grow in clusters as large as 50-300. Some may weigh up to 11.4 kg (25 lbs). The spiny trunk of the tree makes climbing it nearly impossible so the fruit is harvested using long-handled poles with cutters at the end. Pejibaye fruit contain carotene, phosphorus and ascorbic acid as well as 1500 times the recommended daily dosage of Vitamin A. It must be cooked 1-3 hours before it can be eaten.

A Two-toed Sloth hangs lazily in the branches. This upside down posture is typical of the animal. Oddly, while they can fairly easily be spotted in the forest, it is very difficult to get a photograph of theis faces. Perhaps they are just shy. The formal name of this sloth is Choloepus hoffmanni.  It has two toes on the front legs, but three toes on the back ones. That is what differentiates this species from its cousin, the Three-toed Sloth, which has three toes all around. Sloths eat only leaves, which are generally a low-nutrient food and such a diet results in lethargy. Hence, the name.

Playa de Manuel Antonio is one of several lovely beaches along the park's shoreline. This relatively small cove is very popular with sunbathers, swimmers, and picnickers. Troops of monkeys regularly visit the shore, looking for a handout. These animals are accustomed to human contact and have become notorious for stealing food and other items from unguarded daypacks and purses.

A vulture contemplates the sunset from a perch near our hotel. The day after our visit to Manuel Antonio, we headed back to San José, the capital. We had seen a great deal of Costa Rica in nine days, but by no means everything. There is still much we'd like to see, including some of the reputedly wonderful museums, ancient ruins, and the nation's Caribbean Coast. Maybe next time?

This concludes Part 11 and ends my series on Costa Rica. I hope you have enjoyed sharing the journey with us. If so, please leave any thoughts or questions in Comments section below or email us directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. I lived in Costa Rica 20 yrs ago. I lived in Quepos. Great to see that Manuel Antonio hasn't changed since then. Thanks for sharing. Saludos, Jaime Barbiery


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim