One of the things a lot of travelers and friends recommended to do in Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica was the ‘Mangrove Tour’. I booked the tour about a month in advance with Manuel Antonio Estates, which costs US$65 for a 3-hour Mangrove Tour in a boat. The costs include pick-up and drop-off to/from your hotel around Quepos, a sumptuous lunch and an excellent, thrilling, adventurous tour of the Mangroves.
Once you contact them, you have to make a deposit payment of US$20 as a confirmation to their services. Cancellation policy is of informing them 48 hours before your tour for a full refund. Sign-up using their online form (not a reservation form, but just inquiry) and someone will contact you. Upon finalizing the tour, they will send an charge-authorization form (PDF form) to you in email which you print, add your details, and send them by email or fax. They will charge your credit card for the deposit amount and you can pay the rest in cash (preferred).
Upon a successful deposit, they will send “vouchers” in PDF format (see image of left) to your email which you must carry before the driver picks you up. This is the proof of your deposit paid.
So make sure to carry an umbrella (or at least check the weather before starting) or, preferably, a raincoat, camera, sunglasses, water, flip-flops or shoes that can handle water, mosquito repellent and most importantly a pair of binoculars and hand sanitizer.
Do not carry any food since the monkeys tend to snatch it. Your tour guide will hand over bananas when it’s time to feed the monkeys.
Our driver was at the hotel on time and we picked up a family of nine before heading over to the ‘restaurant’ where we were greeted by our guide. The lunch was excellent – fish or chicken, beans, rice, plantains and coke/beer/water.
The ride from the restaurant to the mouth of the lake was about 30 minutes and it started pouring down right before we started after the lunch. So after reaching the lake, we tip-toed to the waiting boat (which had a covered top), found our seats and started for an exciting and adventurous tour.
The first hour was looking ahead to a huge lake with mangroves far ahead on both sides of the Damas Island. This long and narrow island is located due north and is an incredible representation of a portion of Costa Rica’s endangered wetlands. The mangroves swamps & canals are natural habitats and ecosystems filled with plant life, colorful birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. The Damas Island community is a quiet fishing community where it is common to see ancient techniques still in practice.
With all the introductions, we learned that our guide had lived in U.S. and Costa Rica, and was bilingual, which was a good thing considering out all-American tourists clan. He explained the history of the park and the mangroves, while spotting some birds and fishes at the same time.
We cruised in to the vast lake for a while and then it was time for some fun. Reaching one end of the lake, close to the mangroves, we were surprised to spot a few white-headed capuchin monkeys. The captain parked our boat and it was time to get some bananas out and just shout “venga! venga!!” while reaching our hand out to invite the monkeys to come get their treats.
One by one they started closing in on us and some of them also jumped on the roof of the boat. As long as you are kind and don’t make any threatening gestures, the monkeys will approach you and take their treats off of your hand. Some of them started to gather around on the roof and poking their heads down waiting their chance on the treats.
One of them got bolder and jumped on the head of one of the tourists, to get his treat, all the while balancing by holding his tail to the railing of the boat.
After feeding them with a dozen or so bananas, we moved on to the denser part of the mangroves, where the river bends and narrows. This is where you can spot a variety of spiders, crabs and fishes. Some of these crabs are local to Costa Rica and Manuel Antonio park.
The most adventurous part of our tour was when our guide spotted a baby sloth far off on a tree, which we would have never found, even with a binoculars. This is when our captain jumped out of the boat, walked over the huge mangroves, plucked the branch of the tree on which the baby was sleeping and brought it to us.
This was a fascinating experience where the baby was sleeping on the branch all the time when the captain was jumping and bouncing to get back to the boat.
After a quick look at the baby sloth, it was time to let it go.
A little further we spotted some snakes on the top of the trees and in the water close to our boat. All in all, this was indeed a great experience to come this close to wildlife and even feed them with bare hands.