Insider tips for better photography in Manuel Antonio National Park
This article of mine originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look around. Thanks, Solson
It’s so well known that I’m almost hesitant to write about it. I’m almost tempted to tell you to skip it in favor of something more local…except that Manuel Antonio National Park is local. Like the Poás Volcano, it’s among the most visited places in Costa Rica because both locals and foreigners visit. You’re just as likely to see a over-sunned Swedish college student as you are a family of locals chasing the raccoon that has absconded with their lunch. I’ll give you a few local tips to make it a more comfortable trip as well as how to come back with better pictures than all your high-school friends on Facebook.
My first visit to Manuel Antonio was about 30 years ago—or so I’m told (seeing as I was a toddler at the time). Back then it took 8-9 hours to get there from San Jose in a Land-Rover with no a/c, and you could camp right on the beach. My parents tell me it was glorious and rugged. Today it’s still glorious but thankfully for you, not as rugged. Today you can cruise there (with a/c!) on well paved roads in about 2 and half hours from San Jose, there are trained nature guides, and tons of hotels near by, but no camping. If you are heading in your own car I’ll give you a parking tip: don’t park on the street. There will be plenty of reflective-vest-attired gentlemen urging you to clog the place up, ignore them. Head all the way in looking for real parking. The road ends in a loop and there is a parking lot there that almost always has space, if not you have at least made a comfortable u-turn to search for proper parking.
My first tip for a great Manuel Antonio experience tip is on food and beverage. Bring plenty. It’s a gentle 1km walk from the main gate to the most popular beaches. It tends to be pretty warm and muggy so you will work up a sweat quickly, so keep drinking regularly, there is fresh water (and bathrooms) available inside the but that’s it. If you split off onto any of the multiple trails you will probably want more than just a super-market water bottle. I prefer water bladders that fit in most modern backpacks since they keep you drinking regularly as well as freeing up your hands for the camera. You’ll want to pack a solid lunch and snacks because at some point you’ll get hungry and you really won’t feel like walking 1-3km (.6-2miles for the metric impaired) out and then back again just for lunch. When you do settle down for that lunch keep watch. Fixate on your food like Gollum does the One Ring. Seriously. The raccoons and the white-faced Capuchins will steal your lunch on your left while you look right. Also, please don’t feed them, it’s against the rules (and can get you tossed), plus it’s just poor form.
Once you are inside the main gate take your time, hike some of the trails and keep your camera handy. This place probably more than any other is where the a super-zoom cameras I talked about in an earlier article might come in handy. There is a ton of wildlife including aforementioned monkeys and raccoons, plus sloths, crabs, iguanas and even white-tailed deer. Spotting them can be tricky at times, especially the sloths, so you may want to spring for a certified guide ( at last check about $20 per person + admission). You will also want to wear more than just flip-flops—in fact that goes for visiting all of Costa Rica, wear real shoes people, please. If you only plan on going to the main beaches then you can make it in flip-flops, if you want (and you should) to see Cathedral Point, the waterfall the over-look and some of the other beaches you will need better shoes.
Because I just can’t help myself I’ll give you some photo tips so your vacation photo album on Facebook will make your friends even more jealous. The significant differences between the shaded areas and the sunlight outside fool your camera, so you either get a lovely shot of your girlfriend standing in a giant white blob of light or a lovely shot of the scenery with a shadowy figure in the middle. Solution: fill flash. Your camera probably (unless it’s very smart) won’t do this automatically so you will have to tell it to use the flash via the button/icon that looks like a thunderbolt. It will make a big difference when shooting people especially on the beach or at an overlook:
Please remember to disable your flash while shooting the animals, they don’t appreciate it. Yes, you’ll miss a few shots but at they will be spared the trauma and may even avoid being eaten.
A second quick tip is on framing. Manuel Antonio is beautiful, but there always seems to be some a whole bunch of people trying to enjoy that beauty and messing up your landscape picture. Try turning your camera into a vertical orientation. You’ll be able to include more sky and because it’s not as wide you may be able to wait for that Swedish college student to step out of frame—tadah!– a desolate beach shot that will get your album 862 “likes.” This isn’t Manuel Antonio it’s Jacó but you get the idea…
If it’s nature itself that’s messing with your nature shot, try using the foliage to create a natural frame or and interesting element in the shot:
So there you have it, go to Manuel Antonio, wear comfortable shoes, guard your lunch, bring back great pictures, get more “likes.” You’re welcome.