Manuel Antonio is one of the few remaining natural habitats of the squirrel monkey, the smallest of Costa Rica’s primates, with close-set bright eyes and a delicate, white-haired face – their cuteness is their own nemesis, and they were once a prime target for poachers. You might spot them springing through the canopy above the park trails or outside the park in the Manuel Antonio area in general – local schoolchildren have set up a project to build overhead wooden “bridges” for the monkeys to cross the increasingly busy road from Manuel Antonio to Quepos.
You also have a good chance of seeing other smaller mammals, such as coati, agouti, two- and three-toed sloth and white-faced capuchin monkeys. The abundant birdlife includes the shimmering green kingfisher, the brown pelican, which can often be seen fishing off the rocks, and the laughing falcon.
Big iguanas hang out near the beaches, often standing stock-still for ten minutes at a time, providing good photo opportunities, though beware the snakes that drape themselves over the trails and look like vines – be careful what you grab onto.
Due to the park’s high visitor numbers, some of the wildlife is unnervingly familiar with humans, and white-faced capuchin monkeys in particular have no qualms raiding backpacks in the hope of finding a bite to eat. You can help the animals by not feeding them (for which you can be fined), being quiet as you walk the trails and by not leaving any litter.