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A Glimpse at the Wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park

Last updated on September 21, 2023
scarlet macaw manuel antonio park

Hey there, fellow nature lovers! Are you ready to venture into one of Costa Rica’s most incredible wildlife treasure troves? Pack your binoculars and let’s explore the rich biodiversity of Manuel Antonio National Park. 

Introduction to Wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park

Despite being Costa Rica’s smallest national park, this gem packs an astonishing variety of flora and fauna within its compact territory.

Situated on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park stands as a testament to the country’s commitment to conservation and its rich biodiversity. Though one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica, its size is no measure of its significance or splendor. Stretching over just 1,984 hectares, the park boasts a mesmerizing mix of lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and rugged cliffs, offering a sanctuary for a staggering array of wildlife.
Visitors are treated to sights of playful capuchin monkeys, majestic three-toed sloths, and vibrant scarlet macaws, among many others. The park’s biodiversity extends beyond its terrestrial bounds, as its offshore marine reserve holds a wealth of colorful coral reefs, home to various species of fish and marine creatures. The park’s four beaches – Manuel Antonio, Espadilla Sur, Teloro, and Playita – are not only picturesque but also serve as important nesting grounds for the endangered green turtles.
Beyond its natural beauty, Manuel Antonio has become an essential hub for ecological research and education. It plays a pivotal role in fostering an understanding of the delicate balance of ecosystems and the importance of their preservation. For those seeking a blend of adventure and tranquility, an immersion in biodiversity, and a connection with nature, Manuel Antonio National Park stands as a must-visit destination.
The diversity of wildlife species are astounding. 

The Various Species found in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park, though smaller in size, is a powerhouse of biodiversity. It’s particularly known for its charismatic mammals, like the white-faced capuchin monkeys, three-toed sloths, and howler monkeys. The park’s compact nature allows visitors a greater chance to spot these species in close proximity, which is a distinctive feature of Manuel Antonio.
Other national parks in Costa Rica, such as Corcovado National Park, offer a different spectrum of wildlife encounters. Corcovado, located on the Osa Peninsula, is much larger and is home to the elusive jaguar, tapirs, and four species of sea turtles. It offers a more rugged and wild experience, showcasing an even denser biodiversity, but requires more effort and time for wildlife sightings.

Birds of Manuel Antonio National Park: A Symphony in the Sky

For bird enthusiasts, the park is a paradise. Keep an eye out for the colorful Toucans, known for their oversized, curved bills. You might also spot the Scarlet Macaw, one of the world’s largest parrots, its vibrant plumage a sight to behold.

Look out for the Yellow-crowned Night Heron near the park’s mangroves, or the Fiery-billed Aracari – a smaller cousin of the Toucan – fluttering in the canopy. With more than 350 bird species in Manuel Antonio reported, the park truly offers a feast for the eyes and ears.

The best spots for birdwatching include the primary forest trails and the mangrove swamps. Early mornings, just after sunrise, or late afternoons are prime times to catch the park’s avian residents. During these times, the vibrant scarlet macaws, elusive motmots, and various tanagers are most active. Carrying a pair of binoculars and a field guidebook is recommended. For those keen on sighting the park’s vast variety of birds, hiring a local guide can enhance the experience, ensuring that no chirp or flutter goes unnoticed.

Popular Mammals Spotted in the Park: From Sloths to Howler Monkeys

First off, let’s talk monkeys because in Manuel Antonio, they’re the real stars of the show. 

The Monkeys of Manuel Antonio

You’ll likely meet the mischievous White-faced Capuchin monkeys, known for their high intelligence and expressive faces. They are quite sociable, so don’t be surprised if you find them swinging overhead or scouring nearby trees for a fruity snack.


You might also catch a glimpse of the endangered Red-backed Squirrel monkeys, locally known as ‘mono tití.’ These charming little creatures, with their white-furred faces and striking reddish backs, are among the smallest primates in the Americas.


Then there’s the Mantled Howler monkey, named for their distinctive guttural howls. Don’t be alarmed if you hear their howls echoing through the forest – it’s just their way of communicating.


Sloths: Masters of Slow Motion


If you’re a fan of sloths (who isn’t?), Manuel Antonio will not disappoint. The park is home to both two-toed and three-toed sloths, effortlessly making their slow-motion journeys through the treetops. Spotting them might require a keen eye, as they are experts at blending into the tree canopy, but that just adds to the thrill, doesn’t it?

Beyond Monkeys and Sloths

And let’s not forget the Agouti, a large rodent that’s often confused for a rabbit or a large squirrel, or the adorable White-nosed Coati, both of which can be spotted scurrying around the forest floor.

The reptiles, amphibians, and other creatures you may encounter

Beyond the primates, sloths, and birds, Manuel Antonio boasts an array of wildlife. You might come across the Black Spiny-tailed Iguana basking in the sun, or the Basilisk Lizard – often dubbed as the ‘Jesus Christ Lizard’ for its ability to run on water. 

Snakes of Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park, with its dense tropical rainforest and diverse ecosystems, is home to several snake species. While the majority of these serpents are harmless, and chances are you may never see one without a tour guide, there are a few venomous ones also inhabit the area. Knowing about them can enrich your visit and ensure safety.

1. Fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper): Perhaps the most notorious snake in Central America due to its potent venom and occasional aggressiveness, the fer-de-lance, also known as the lancehead pit viper, can be found in the park. While not common, it’s crucial to be cautious, as it’s responsible for more snakebite incidents in its range than any other snake.

2. Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii): A small, arboreal viper that comes in a variety of colors, from yellow to green or even pink. Its name derives from the distinctive set of scales over its eyes, resembling eyelashes. While venomous, it’s generally not aggressive unless provoked.

3. Central American Coral Snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus): Recognizable by its bright bands of red, yellow, and black, this snake is venomous. However, it is nocturnal and rarely encountered by visitors.

4. Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor): One of the larger snake species in the park, this non-venomous snake primarily feeds on small mammals and birds. It’s quite a sight when spotted, often evoking awe rather than fear.

5. Parrot Snake (Leptophis ahaetulla): This slender, green snake is harmless to humans and feeds mostly on frogs and small lizards. It can often be found in trees or shrubs.

While encounters with snakes are not everyday occurrences, it’s always wise to be informed and cautious. If hiking, stick to the designated paths and avoid venturing into tall grasses or dense undergrowth. Remember that snakes, like all wildlife in Manuel Antonio, are protected. Maintain a respectful distance, and never attempt to touch or provoke them. Appreciating their beauty and role in the ecosystem can make for an enriching experience.

Wildlife Watching Tips: Maximizing Your Experience in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park offers an incredible opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to witness nature in its purest form. To maximize this experience, preparation is key.
1. Equipment:
  • Binoculars: A must-have. They help in spotting distant animals and observing intricate details of closer ones.
  • Camera with a zoom lens: To capture the magic. Opt for a lightweight option with a good zoom lens to photograph elusive creatures.
  • Field guidebook: Having a guidebook of Costa Rican wildlife will help you identify and learn more about the species you encounter.
2. Clothing:
  • Lightweight, breathable attire: Given the humid tropical climate, wear comfortable clothes. Consider moisture-wicking fabrics.
  • Neutral colors: Earth-toned colors (greens, browns) are less disruptive to wildlife and improve chances of unobtrusive observation.
  • Sturdy footwear: A good pair of hiking shoes will provide both comfort and protection on the park’s trails.
  • Rain gear: A lightweight poncho or rain jacket is essential. Rain can be unpredictable, even outside of the wet season.
  • Hat and sunglasses: For sun protection during those brighter days.
3. Preparation Tips:
  • Arrive Early: Wildlife is most active during the early morning. Getting to the park at opening time can provide quieter, more intimate wildlife encounters.
  • Hire a Guide: Local guides possess an uncanny ability to spot hidden creatures and offer a wealth of knowledge about the park’s inhabitants. 
  • Stay Silent and Patient: Move slowly and talk softly. Often, the most magical moments occur when you’re still and silent.
  • Stay on Designated Paths: This not only protects the park’s delicate ecosystem but also ensures safety.
  • Hydrate and Pack Snacks: There are limited facilities within the park, so carry enough water and some non-perishable snacks to keep your energy up.

Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a curious explorer, or a passionate photographer, Manuel Antonio National Park offers a world class opportunity to witness Costa Rica’s biodiversity up close. Remember to respect the animals’ space, and refrain from feeding them, as human food can be harmful to these amazing creatures. Enjoy the park, embrace the ‘Pura Vida’ spirit, and let the wonders of nature astound you. Until next time, happy wildlife watching!