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How to Get Close to Monkeys in Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

I have to be honest. The only thing we did to get close to some cute little monkeys was walk through the main tourist road of Manuel Antonio Park. Even with all kinds of people there, the monkeys were just doing their thing in the branches. At least one particular kind of monkey and that was good enough for me. We also saw a few sloths, which look a lot like the big globs of some fungus that seemed to grow in exactly the same part of trees that sloths lounge in. However, the sloths did move, even if just barely, and the fungus never did. Not that we waited that long.

There were some other kinds of monkeys extremely high in the skyscraper trees. Taking photos of those monkeys would have required extensive heavy weight zooming equipment. Or tree climbing. None of the monkeys were begging for food or even looking like they half-way expected it. The raccoons were another story. The raccoon we saw right on the trail looked very rat like, scrawny and ready for a rumble. Not at all like the cute ones in my backyard.

We were thankful we skipped paying for a guide. We did have to pay a general entrance fee. There were enough people always stopped to look at something, that there was plenty to see without one. And we passed by guides making their tour groups admire grasshoppers and dragonflies, which looked very much like grasshoppers my children have fed to lizards and dragonflies that dive bomb mosquitoes here in Idaho in the summer. Maybe they think all tourists live in crowded cities and apartments?

And then there were the spiders. They weren’t even pretty colors or unusually large. The black, furry hopper spiders, with turquoise jowls, in Idaho are more “interesting”. I’m sure Costa Rica has nice snakes, but they were staying off the trail.

Rewind to driving into the park area. We arrived at a parking lot, where attendants waved us down and told us the main parking lot was full. It turned out to be a scam. We should have been more suspicious when we turned down their offer to be our guides and they tried to influence us further by declaring that we needed them to survive the hurricane that was coming. We looked at the never-ending blue sky and laughed. Maybe shouldn’t have done that right in front of them since we were leaving our rental car in their parking lot. But all was well when we returned. (We waited all week for the hurricane, but finally gave up and caught our flight home…)

So, we had a bit of a walk up to the main entrance of the park, where we saw there was still plenty of parking. And lots of guides calling out their availability. Some were polite about our refusal, some were obviously miffed. But we were determined to avoid the high prices that day. We figured we could always come back if we felt like we needed help seeing things.

The trail was really a wide, gravel road. There were quite a few people on it, but not so many that it seemed hard to navigate. Everyone was very polite about taking photos and sharing what they were looking at. I don’t think this trail was longer than a mile, but it was somewhat steep. It circled back around to a pretty, although crowded beach. This was THE tourist beach in the area. To look at it, a person would have no idea there were other deserted beaches nearby. I wrote about one on our crocodile hunt, and I’ll write about another beach next week. But it was here, at this beach, that we got a good look at a large enough iguana sunning on some drift wood in the midst of all the people going hither and thither. The iguanas at the resort were quite shy and would never let us get close.

There was another narrow, sandy trail just inside the tree line along the beach. This was a pleasant, short hike, but also well traveled. No seclusion this day. We ended up at a section of beach that was considerably less crowded, for no reason that we could tell, except that no one was renting out lounges and umbrellas, but there were still a few people walking through it. Unfortunately, in my estimation, we didn’t stay here for our beach time because we were in search of a certain surf board rental. Surf boards were found at the next section, again a highly populated one. Still, it was fun to be part of the “classic” beach-lounge-umbrella crowd for a while. Vendors were a nuisance and people were selling drugs, but I was good at ignoring them. There was also a strong police presence.

It is hard to completely relax when drifting off for a moment might mean someone stealing your bag. We did our best to stash the bundled gear (cameras, snacks, clothing) between lounge chairs, plus we always left someone stationed at our umbrellas. This wasn’t too hard, because someone was always in the mood to lounge. That was one of the things we were there for!

The trip to Manuel Antonio Park was a good way to begin our week of adventure. It was safe and mild, except for the hoodlums, that is. However, I read that monkeys could actually be seen several days a week in the trees behind the resort where we finally found our crocodile. I don’t know if the crocodiles ate the monkeys, but better them than me. This resort was also closer to an excellent beach. But more on that next time.

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