Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica, Southwest

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (Puntarenas Province)

Parque Nacional Manuel AntonioThis is undoubtedly the best loved national park in Costa Rica. Opened in 1972, Manuel Antonio National Park was created with the aim of stopping urbanization and the onslaught of mega resorts along the idyllic white sand coastline. There are big hotels right up to the entrance of the park, but once inside you can see what the whole area would once have been like. However, the facility of getting to the park has aided its popularity no end and whilst the landscape remains well maintained and the animals have become accustomed to visitors, it is not a private experience, but rather one to be shared with numerous snap happy tourists. The park now limits visitors to 600 during the week and 800 on weekends so the park will not get too full up, but considering it is one of Costa Rica's tiniest parks, covering only 7sq km, there are still a lot of other people about.

It is the wonderful combination of exquisite beaches bordered by magnificently rich rainforest which makes Manuel Antonio National Park so special and so popular. Lounging on the white sand beaches of Playa Manuel Antonio or Espadilla Sur, or taking a dip in the dazzling blue water is an immense pleasure in itself. Manuel Antonio beach is especially good for swimming and snorklers can enjoy the mini coral reef and all types of marine life. And as if that wasn't enough, you can go off hiking into the depths of the humid rainforest and spot all kinds of Costa Rican plants from the poisonous manzanillo tree to the endangered black locust.

The park is also an amazing place to see animals close up because they have got so used to humans, they don't tend to hide away like they may do in other parks. Be warned though, that certain species have got a wee bit too cheeky over the years and may well hassle you for food - DON'T feed them, as this can have awful consequences for the animals' digestive systems. White faced monkeys and three-toed sloths are especially common, as are armadillos, peccaries, iguanas and snakes.

Whilst all the trails offer great views, a trek up the craggy cliffside of Punta Catedral will give you some absolutely stunning vistas, so don't forget your camera! This area used to be a separate island but over millions of years, the sand and sediment has attached it to the mainland and it now forms part of the park.