Manuel Antonio National Park
Central America, Photography

Manuel Antonio National Park: Monkeys, Raccoons, and Thieves – OH MY!

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“Beware of the white faced monkeys. They work together with the raccoons to steal your things.”

I rolled my eyes. Yeah, right. How can there be such a thing as interspecies cahoots? What we witnessed was just that at Manuel Antonio National Park.

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They get you when you are at your most vulnerable. Sleeping sunbathers in the pristine beach cove are always the first ones to get their bags rifled through. We waited patiently as 2-3 raccoons came skulking out of the forest like ninjas of the tropics, taking advantage of their snoozing victims.


The first raccoon skillfully allows himself into a backpack, a big butt and striped tail gleefully wagging out of the opening. With the stifled laughs and loud giggles, the sunbathing tourist quickly woke up and shooed them away, Kindle above the head in attack mode.

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You have to be on your toes here.

The second victim was not so lucky. A lively crew of young white faced monkeys hadn’t gotten their first lift of the morning and gathered on low hanging branches to preen themselves. What happened next was nothing short of a zoo. People from all over the beach came running with their cameras in tow, oohing and ahhing in between clicks. A full blown model shoot was on its way and the monkeys put on a show that would have given Cute Overload a run for their money.

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The thing is, the diversion works. One unfortunate soul turned his back away from his picnic bag. With lightning speed the racoons ran in and struck swiftly with purpose.


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Several bags of potato chips were nabbed in a hit and run job. The branches erupted in loud monkey chatter and screeches were heard as a monkey and a raccoon fought over a bag of cheetos. A small Black Friday-esque warzone emerged with wild eyed monkeys and raccoons fighting for and pulling on one of two bags of potato chips.


The bag of chips exploded and orange puffs rained from the sky. The screeches picked up again and everyone grabbed what they could. My childhood pinata PTSD came to the forefront as monkeys and raccoons gathered and ran with puffs hanging out of their mouths, stuffed in their cheeks, and in their hands. We were one step closer to rainforest anarchy. One lucky raccoon even got to keep an entire bag to himself and ran into the forest to cover his tracks.

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Shaun and I kept shaking our heads as the monkeys stuffed the chips into their mouths as quickly as they could.

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“They’re going to get fat at this rate.”

“Or cancer. Good lord.”

And while most people go to see wildlife in its natural habitat, this was one hell of a show. There is no shortage of things to see at this national park.

I smiled at Shaun. “I like collecting memories like these. So absurd.”

What was one of your favorite wildlife experiences? What shenanigans did they get into?

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Disclosure: We were guests of the Costa Rican Tourism Board via the Gift of Happiness Sweepstakes but all opinions are our own.

37 thoughts on “Manuel Antonio National Park: Monkeys, Raccoons, and Thieves – OH MY!”

  1. I feel like I’m supposed to outraged at raccoons and monkeys relying on tourists for junk food but I’m not that good a person..instead I can’t stop laughing- that’s some clutch teamwork right there.

  2. Lordie! They are cute and all, but it makes me sad that these animals have come to rely on tourists so they can steal food. Those cute little dudes should be hanging in the jungle, eating what is natural, not chips. When I was in Sri Lanka, a couple I was with went and bought a bag of snacks to give to monkeys. Within moments, we were surrounded by about 100 of them, all trying to get the bag. It was actually quite scary!

  3. I have never seen racoons like that up close! Amazing! I agree with Diana it is sad that they are replying on humans (and have lost any fear of them) but wow, it is a unique experience!

  4. But those first two photos! They look so cute and innocent!

    This is absolutely hilarious. Love all the “caught in action” shots.

  5. One of my all-time favorite wildlife experiences was swimming with manatees in Florida. They’re an endangered (possibly now upgraded to “threatened”) species and so there are strict rules in place for tourists and boaters in their habitat to ensure their populations continue to rise. Two of these rules is to “Never chase a manatee” (which should be common sense for all wild animals), and “Only use one hand to touch a manatee”. This particular morning, just after sunrise when the manatees are all waking up, a large female swam right up to me, and I immediately started scratching her back. She rolled over and I simply continued my one-handed scratching. The two of us floated together, me using my nails to scrape off accumulated algae and her rolling around and around. I stopped counting after she rolled 40 times continuously. Any time I took a break from scratching, and tried to swim away from her, she refused and swam right back to my side. That went on for about 40 minutes! Awesome!

  6. Oh man. I have a deathly fear of raccoons. My partner and I visited manuel antonio in 2010 (when we had only known each other for a few months) and I completely lost it when I ran into that pack of raccoons! I’m talking crying, shaking, running into the water (I guess I thought they can’t swim??) and refusing to come out until Tom had scared them all away. Not my finest hour. We are still traveling together so I guess it all worked out in the end. These photos may give me nightmares tonight though…

    1. How does one get a fear of raccoons? Or rather, what do you find scary about them? I’m curious. I find them rather charming (though mischievous.

      1. Hmm. You sound just like Tom. It did start when I was younger and my brother told me that if I approached and scared a raccoon it would attack and rip my face off. But I actually think he was just trying to protect me. As i’ve gotten older my fears have been confirmed by their scary behavior. Just google “raccoon attacks child” or “raccoon attacks man” or “raccoon attacks baby.” Maybe google is the reason I have such a healthy fear of raccoons?

        1. Make sure not to google any other animal attack movies or you will never leave the house! <3 But yes, I totally get it at that point!

  7. Ahhhh you found a sloth in the wild!!!

    I LOVED Manuel Antonio, but I was actually kind of bummed because, even though we spent about an hour on the beach, we didn’t see ANY of these famous monkeys! Oh well. Still awesome though.

    My craziest animal encounter… probably a monkey diving into my minibus in Cambodia and then proceeding to sit on the back of a seat and refuse to move.

    1. You didn’t see ANY monkeys? OMG they were all over the place. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting one (not that I suggest throwing rocks).

  8. We are in Quepos now, just visited the park the other day. While both monkeys and raccoons came very close to us at the beach, we didn’t get quite the show that you did. Beautiful area though, and BTW, great photo of the sloth!

    1. Thank you! I have another pic of a sloth I got in Costa Rica that is super close but I love to see animals in their true habitat.

  9. I was one of the less fortunate people at Manuel Antonio beach that was bit by one these lovely raccoons. Right to the bone left arm. Sought medical attention antibiotics and rabies shots as a precaution. I would recommend not taking food to the park at all go early and enjoy the day minus the picnic. The raccoon could smell the food in the backpack so came close in. I was shocked that it would actually bite me in it’s attempt to get the food. It did end our day there rather abruptly 🙁

    1. I was bitten by a raccoon last May at Manuel Antonio.

      Serves me right as I’d been laughing earlier at other peoples’ misfortune as the raccoons worked the beach stealing everything in sight.

      I had no food. Was standing right in the middle of the beach away from the trees, no-one else around but me and my wife. Was taking a photo and it snuck up and tagged me with a pretty deep bite on the toe.

      Was assured that rabies risk was zero. Kept an eye on it for infection so didn’t treat it other than scrubbing with an alcohol wipe and I was fine.

  10. Great Pics! I was another raccoon victim, one of them bit me very bad on my hand…. same story -> rabies shots 😛 but had to wait until I got home in Mexico as the local hospital did not have the vaccines.

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