When Monkeys Attack: A Day in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

When Monkeys Attack: A Day in Manuel Antonio National ParkManuel Antonio National Park

Yesterday, I was sitting on a bus up into the mountains of Northern Peru. I was very tired from a short night’s sleep. I started to dream nostalgically about the different places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen and, most importantly, the things that I’ve experienced. When I look back it really almost does seem like a dream that I’ve lived and I have to shake my head to remind myself that it all really has happened. I remember getting my wallet picked while I was on a camel in Cairo, and us deciding to chase the culprits down at top speed through the narrow dusty streets. I never Manuel Antonio National Parkgot my wallet back, and I couldn’t walk for 2 days due to the pounding strides of my camel which I had named Benji. In the end, the memory I got from the experience far out did the value of my favourite Toronto Blue Jays wallet, its contents, and the ability to walk. This story, however, isn’t about Egypt; rather it is one of my first back packing experience. This is the story about the day that the monkeys, and all sorts of other animals, attacked.

I was a 20 year old naive Canadian backpacker, fresh and raw to the world. I had bought a round trip to San Jose, Costa Rica and I was planning on living on about 40 American Dollars a day. Manuel Antonio National ParkI was a lost soul in many regards, I had no career ambitions, no educational ambition, and to be honest no real ambition to gain ambition. I knew very little about Central America, only that Costa Rica seemed like the ideal travel location: beaches, jungles, and cloud forests. It seemed like it would provide adventure, excitement, and most of all an experience. My fourth or fifth day in the country would prove my suspicions.

I set out at six-thirty in the morning with my three or four megapixel digital camera stuffed into the pockets of my baggy shorts intent on beating the crowds to Manuel Antonio National Park on the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park I hiked down the steep pavement of the main road from my hostel and on the way got a preview of my day to come. High on the trees above me swung a family of White-faced Capuchin monkeys angrily throwing twigs and fruits at a very large Boa Constrictor. The large green snake laid lazily on a thick branch taking the abuse in stride, obviously demonstrating his content with a large monkey-sized bulge in his tube-like frame. The light was too strange for my low-class camera to take any sort of effective picture, but the image of the proud monkeys saddened by their familiar lose will always be engrained in my memories.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Iguana

I arrived to the gates of the Manuel Antonio National Park at 7am the exact minute they opened. I was accompanied by a day pack filled with snorkelling gear, a towel, and a lunch comprised of fresh bananas, oranges, and apples. I hiked to the highest point of the trail, blown away by the sheer size and power of this quiet park. I came across a Jesus Christ Lizard, who scampered his way across a shallow puddle with ease, a baby bird who looked nearly ready to leave his vicariously hanging nest, a sloth sitting lazily in the high branches of the trees, and a number of different monkeys. When I arrived at the lookout point, I stretched my arms out in the morning air and stood in amazement at a view of lush green rainforest which has sprawled itself right to the point where the ocean forces its end.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Racoon

I stood in awe for a second refusing to let the idea of taking a picture ruin this feeling. I breathed in the humid morning air, and returned down to the entrance of the park unaware of the locuras that were about to take place.

I set down my day pack on the beach, as I dove into the murky waters trying in vain to spot some of the local fish life. After wadding around for about 20 minutes I returned to the shore, ironically disappointed with the lack of underwater life. I set my snorkel gear down on a rock and opened my pack to pull out a banana.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Coati

To my surprise, when I turned back to my snorkel gear I was met by a large Iguana. I dug into my bag and pulled out my camera and snapped a couple pictures. As I proudly checked the back of my camera I heard a rustling at my feet and was met by a curious racoon who stole my backpack filled with my food, not to mention my passport. As I chased him towards the thick jungle, all I could think of was “how am I going to tell the immigration office that I had my passport stolen by a racoon?”

Luckily, as the racoon snuck off into the trees he was my by a coati, who looked a little bit like a cross between a racoon and a cat.

Manuel Antonio National Park

White-Faced Capuchin Monkey

The coati struggled my platic lunch bag free of my day bag, and began devouring my lunch, much to the dismay of the defeated racoon. Right when I started to believe that things couldn’t become more unreal a troop of White-faced Capuchin monkeys swung down from the trees like bandits in an ambush, and quickly snatched up every last bit of fruit from the beach floor. As I stood there watching it all happen in shock and confusion, I noticed a sign just off to the left of the battle field that said “Don’t Feed the Monkeys.” And I wondered to myself if the others in their area too had little choice in the matter. Manuel Antonio National Park

I picked myself up in shame and walked off from the food fight back towards the main tourist beach just outside the National Park. I sat down in a beach front restaurant with the typical Costa Rican meal of Casado, this time protecting my meal with a sharp eye knowing that lurking anywhere in this environmental haven could be another group of lunch time predators. I also began to think about the circle of life, and theft, in nature. Boa Constrictor steals monkey, monkey steals my food, and maybe that monkey will be eaten by another Boa? In the end, my apples and oranges and bananas could find their way to the belly of the Boa I saw first thing that morning. Nature, it’s a beautiful thing, and there’s a whole lot of it in Manuel Antonio National Park.Manuel Antonio National Park


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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11 Comments

  1. Wow, that is crazy. Sometimes when in the outdoors you go days without seeing any wildlife then in a frenetic couple of minutes you might see multiple species. Glad that you got your passport back and they only robbed you of some victuals.

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  2. Brandon, this is the best post of yours I have read. What a day! I love monkeys, but I would have liked to have seen a photo of the snake digesting one. That’s a terrible thing to say, and that must have been a horrific sight. Maybe I don’t want to see a photo after all.

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    • hahaha… definitely Sabina! I have a picture… but it’s blurry… lol

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  3. Awww, that sounds so fun! The white-faced monkeys aren’t shy, that’s for sure. The second story I’ve heard this week about boa constrictors way too near my home. Time to take a week off? Very funny post! Glad you had fun. I still need to get myself down to Manual Antonio — it’s only like five hours south!

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  4. I saw a pretty aggressive monkey fighting with some dogs over food while in Costa Rica. Wouldn’t want to get between them and a few scrapes of food. YIKES!

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  5. you never know when your next wildlife’s encounter could be.
    by the way, it seems like monkey are very cheeky since we got a similar experience in Malaysia. we left our rental bikes and helmets on a side road while checking out a nearby waterfall and once back one of the helmet had vanished. we look around and couldn’t see it and when we upsettlingly gave it up and decide to leave a man was running after us asking to stop. we couldn’t understand a word what he was saying but we waited.. he runned away and came back after a minute with our helmet and the only english thing he said was “monkey, monkey”

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    • too funny… I think around monkeys maybe it’s safer that we keep our helmets on our heads… for many reasons! lol

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  6. That is a funny story! Thank god you got your passport back!

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  7. Costa Rica is such a beautiful place! I would love to go back there someday! Thanks so much for bringing me back to that wonderfully lush jungle of an island!

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  8. Yep, that all rings a bell! I love the comment about telling immigration that a raccoon stole your passport 🙂
    It wouldn’t be so bad if you could buy food inside the national park. So many people must go hungry all day!

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