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Envoy Travelogue:
Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio

Bordered by tall evergreen forest, the white sand beaches of Manuel Antonio slope to the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. Manuel Antonio is more than a beach-lover's paradise. It is also a wildlife refuge.

Manuel Antonio is a national park located on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast 97 miles south of San Jose, the capital. The park is home to more than 100 mammals, including the rare squirrel monkey. And 12 off-shore islands, which are also part of the park, harbor about 180 species of birds, while the waters teem with dolphins.

There are no resorts inside Manuel Antonio. Everyone has to commute from their lodging. Along the road to the park, there is a beach, but the waters off this beach can be dangerous, with strong rip currents. The best and safest beaches are inside the park.

A Day at the beach.
At the gate, rangers collect a modest entrance fee and also control the number of people entering the park. A maximum of 800 visitors are allowed in at any given time to protect the environment. So, in high season, it is a good idea to get there well before noon.

Bring whatever you usually bring to the beach. Towels, sun screen, and your own food and drink. There are grocery stores in Quepos, along the road, and in the beach area outside the park. But there are no stores or restaurants in the park. The park does have public restrooms and showers for washing the salt water off your skin.

If you get tired of playing in the surf or sunning in the sand, you can take a hike along the wide sandy trails. Look for the charming white-faced monkeys that have grown tame through exposure to the many visitors. But the park rangers ask that, for the health of the monkeys, you not feed them.

Because Manuel Antonio is on the ocean, there are high and low tides. Going to the park in the morning, we waded through a shallow lagoon to the entrance trail. But, when we returned to the lagoon in the afternoon, men with row boats were waiting to carry us across for a modest price. The tide had come in and the lagoon was much too deep to cross on our own.

Tips on dining out
Almost every resort has a restaurant, but there are also some excellent dining spots along the road between Manuel Antonio park and the village of Quepos. Most of these restaurants have 6 to 10 tables and are family-run establishments. They serve mainly local specialties, such as fried plantain and rice with chicken or fish.

Lobster is prevalent in the waters off Costa Rica, so one would expect to see it on the menus everywhere. But there's a catch. Lobster is only prepared on demand. If you want a lobster dinner, stop in at the restaurant in the morning and tell them so. They then either send out a boat or send someone to get a fresh lobster from a local fisherman.

Another thing to be aware of is that during high season the tables are scarce in the evening. Most of the restaurants do not take reservations. To ensure getting in, you should get there in time to be seated by 7:30 p.m.

For information about specific resorts in the Manuel Antonio area,

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