Manuel Antonio National Park

Smallest and most popular Costa Rican national park with pristine white beaches backing up to verdant tropical forests full of wildlife, Manuel Antonio was almost lost to the kind of tourist development that surrounds it. One angry, frustrated developer, in fact, managed to cut down many magnificent trees and pour herbicide into mangrove swamps in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the park proposal.

Now endemic squirrel monkeys chatter in lively troops along trails. Howler monkeys hoot territorially. White-faced monkeys take to the trails after choice leaves and fruit. Anteaters probe insect tunnels with long, sticky tongues. Two-toed sloths hang from tree limbs, languidly turning heads to gaze at passersby.

Some 184 bird species include brown pelicans, brown boobies, tyrant hawk-eagles, gray-headed chachalacas, and brilliant Baird’s trogons.

Green iguanas bask on logs as do smaller, grayer counterparts. Green and olive ridley sea turtles nest on beaches.

Twelve offshore island sanctuaries offer nesting habitat for brown boobies and others.

The park—212 maritime square miles (550 km2)—is 4.3 miles (7 km) south of Quepos, reachable by scheduled air from San José or by bus or rental car, a 110-mile (177-km) drive on the Inter-American coastal highway. There are no public roads or campsites, but excellent trails, reachable by a damp estuary crossing. A variety of lodging is in the area. Park visits can be restricted on crowded days.