Of all the places I visited in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio – the final stop of my trip – was possibly my favourite. Partly because of how close I got to the amazing wildlife, partly because of its divine, golden sandy beaches, and partly because I had so much fun snorkelling in the Pacific Ocean.
I knew I was onto a winner as soon as I stepped into Manuel Antonio National Park and came across a group of people crowding around a tree, staring up at the top where there was a female sloth hanging out with her baby(!). From there, we were treated to one delightful animal encounter after another, interspersed with a few spectacular beaches.
As we strolled through the park – which was much busier than anywhere else we’d been in Costa Rica – we came across some amazing blue and orange crabs, along with lots of lizards, birds and insects. It seemed as though every few metres we’d stumble upon another fantastic species or other.
We followed the trail through the park to Manuel Antonio Beach, a huge stretch of golden sand lined with palm trees, which looked like something out of a holiday brochure. On the edge of the beach, we found a pile of teeny hermit crabs crawling along the ground, and as we ventured onto the beach, we turned around to see three raccoons skulking across the sand, looking to raid the bags of unsuspecting tourists for food.
While it was incredible seeing the raccoons up close, I also found it rather sad because they’re nocturnal creatures and they’ve changed their behaviour because of the impact us humans have had on their habitat.
From the beach, we continued to hike through the park’s winding trails, following them as they twisted and turned this way then that, past idyllic little coves that looked out over the Pacific Ocean. My favourite moment came when we stumbled upon a troop of capuchin monkeys. I’d briefly seen a capuchin monkey high in the tree canopy in Monteverde, but these monkeys were fearless.
There were loads of them hanging out beside the trails, some in the trees, some on the fence posts. One, aggressive male monkey strolled right beside my foot, then climbed onto a post to watch us. The monkeys were spectacular and I had to use all my powers of control to avoid smiling at them as baring your teeth is a sign of aggression. I was astonished and thrilled by how close we came to the monkeys, and how unafraid they were of humans.
We continued through the park and made our way back towards the entrance, where we saw yet more sloths, lizards, crabs and insects, unable to believe how lucky we had been to see so many beautiful creatures up close.
That afternoon, we headed to Manuel Antonio’s port where we joined a boat tour around the park’s coastline. Unfortunately, by the time we got out onto the ocean, the weather had turned and it had started raining quite heavily. After sailing towards the rocky coastline, the boat stopped so we could go snorkelling.
Despite the ocean being somewhat cloudy because of the rain, I happily plunged into the water and swam out towards a series of rocks where there was a shoal of bright-coloured fish. I swam with the fish for ages, watching them in awe, all the while aware of a slight, but frequent, stinging sensation, which I took to be the rain hitting me as I swam.
When I got back onto the boat, I was itching all over and as I went to scratch myself, a group of Mexican girls, who were also on-board, yelled at me to stop. I looked up astonished as the captain grabbed me and took me to hose me down. It turned out I’d been stung repeatedly by some teeny, invisible jellyfish. Just my luck! After a very thorough hosing down, my skin eventually calmed down and the stinging subsided. It was an eventful, if somewhat ridiculous end, to a fun-filled adventurous day.