Visit Costa Rica’s best national park and find out the best things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s most visited area, Manuel Antonio is full of diversity and splendour. With local wildlife on every corner, verdant jungle, beautiful beaches and a chilled out atmosphere, visiting the Manuel Antonio area should definitely be on your Costa Rica bucket list. There are several things to do in Manuel Antonio, some of which can be done in other areas of Costa Rica and some not. Make sure not to miss spending the day exploring Manuel Antonio National Park, the true jewel of this area.
In this guide, you’ll find out a little more about the area, how to get to Manuel Antonio and where to stay. You’ll also find out about the best things to do in Manuel Antonio and all my recommendations and tips for visiting the area.
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HOW TO GET TO MANUEL ANTONIO
The town of Manuel Antonio and Manuel Antonio National Park are located along the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica close to the town of Quepos.
To get to Manuel Antonio it is best to drive although as it is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica, public transportation options are also available.
The best way to travel around Costa Rica, in general, is by renting a car and driving yourself. You can rent a car at San Jose or Liberia International Airports and the process is extremely straightforward. You’ll want to make sure to book your rental car well in advance especially during high season (November-February).
You can also rent a car locally in Quepos for your time in the Manuel Antonio area.
You can also get to Manuel Antonio by private shuttle. Tourist shuttles exist all over Costa Rica and provide quick and direct transfers between all the major popular destinations. From the airport, you’ll be able to organise a direct transfer to Manuel Antonio. Costa Rica Shuttle and Costa Rica Transfers are just a few companies to check out before booking.
The other way to get to Manuel Antonio is by public bus. Buses travel to Manuel Antonio from all major Costa Rican towns and cities. There is at least one direct bus per day from San Jose. From Terminal Transportes Tracopa on Calle 5, AV 19/20 in San Jose take the bus to Quepos and in Quepos, you can change for another bus heading to Manuel Antonio.
Taking buses in Costa Rica isn’t the easiest as there are no real departure times or timetables anywhere. It definitely helps if you speak Spanish as locals are very helpful and will direct you the right way. Oftentimes we just turned up at the bus station with our luggage and asked for the next departure.
Uber also works in Manuel Antonio however, it’s not the most reliable, especially when calling a ride from nearby attractions outside town and from the national park. This is why it’s best to rent a car when travelling around Costa Rica.
WHERE TO STAY
There are some truly amazing properties in Manuel Antonio for all budgets. Here are just a few of my favourites that are eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle-friendly too.
This adults-only, luxury hotel is probably one of the chicest properties in all Costa Rica, with its beautiful, modern decor, tasteful palette, jacuzzis, infinity pool with spectacular views and healthy, local food.
Surrounded by jungle and local flora and fauna this property makes the perfect 5-star base for exploring the local area. Massages are also available and they have their own tour desk to make it easy to book tours in the area if you choose to.
Located in the heart of Manuel Antonio, this is one of the best options in the area if you’re looking for self-catering options. Rent the Maunaloa, Tule Casa or their Premium Villa and you’ll get a luxury apartment with balcony and sea views- perfect for larger groups and families. They also have a pool with ocean views and a gym on-site too.
An intimate, luxury property surrounded by their own private reserve, Gaia is an exceptional place to stay when in Manuel Antonio. Incredible staff, pools with sea and jungle views, a really good onsite restaurant make this hotel one of the leading options in the area. Rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable with all the mod-cons you might expect.
They also provide a shuttle to Manuel Antonio and the beaches so if you don’t have a car this might be one of the most convenient options around.
One of the best more budget options in the area, The Falls offers clean and spacious rooms in a local, Costa Rican style, an on-site pool and extremely friendly staff who do their best to make our trip as good as it can be. Breakfast is also included in your stay.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MANUEL ANTONIO
The Manuel Antonio area includes Manuel Antonio town and its beaches and further south Manuel Antonio National Park which also has its own beaches. While you can visit the region and just stay in town I highly recommend visiting the national park as this is the highlight of the area and Costa Rica’s most popular national park. All the best places to visit in Manuel Antonio are all fairly close to each other.
VISIT MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most visited and diverse national parks. It’s brimming with wildlife and there is no doubt that you will see many animals during your visit. Sloths, howler, capuchin and squirrel monkeys, iguanas, frogs, toucans, aracaris, hummingbirds, bats, snakes, the list goes on.
It’s not a very big national park and you can walk around it in a day and still have time to relax on the pristine beaches. Distances around the parks are not long at all and you only have to walk a kilometre or two before reaching your first beach. Many of the main paths are flat making them suitable for all ages.
TAKE A GUIDED WILDLIFE TOUR
One of the main things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park is to walk around gazing into the trees to try to spot some wildlife. While you probably will see a lot of wildlife on your own, sloths are extremely hard to spot without a guide. One of the best and most popular things to do is to get a guided wildlife tour.
Manuel Antonio guides can be hired at the entrance and guides have hawk-like vision and knowledge so they’ll be able to point out all the local fauna. They also carry scopes so you’ll be able to see all the teeny animals up close (some of the most amazing colourful frogs in Costa Rica are tiny). You can also book guides online ahead of time here.
If you choose not to take a guided tour you can also see many other animals and you’ll also be able to look at what other guides are pointing at. Sometimes it is easy to see a sloth as you pass a group already looking at one.
HIKE TO CATHEDRAL POINT
One of the best things to do in the park is to do the short hike to Cathedral Point, located on the peninsula part of the national park. Once you get to Manuel Antonio beach, walk the whole stretch of beach until you can continue on the main trail that leads around to Cathedral Point. It’s a circular path so you’ll come out at Manuel Antonio beach once you finish.
This hike is a little more sweaty and strenuous than the rest of the park but it is short. You’ll be rewarded with gorgeous Pacific Ocean views, cliff views and have the chance to spot some more amazing wildlife. We saw capuchin and howler monkeys here which came so close to us.
VISIT PLAYA ESPADILLA SUR & PLAYA MANUEL ANTONIO
The main beaches inside the park are Espadilla South and Manuel Antonio. Manuel Antonio beach is considerably more popular than Espadilla but it’s worth seeing them both as they are gorgeous. Manuel Antonio has white sand and they are both are fringed by trees and palms making them looking like something out of Robinson Crusoe. The current can be pretty strong at Espadilla South beach so make sure to take care when swimming. For this reason, Manuel Antonio beach is a great spot for swimming.
It’s worth bringing a towel, swimwear and snacks so you can just relax and bathe for a bit during your visit to some of the best beaches you’ll see in Costa Rica. Just make sure you don’t leave your belongings unattended- the capuchin monkeys like to hang around, search bags and steal drinks and snacks.
Top Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park:
- Watch out for parking scammers! Parking your car near Manuel Antonio can be difficult because space is limited, especially in the high season. We went in the rainy season and had no problems with parking. To avoid parking scammers make sure not to park your car with the first ‘official’ person who directs you to a parking. You’ll find that you then have to walk up to 2km from your car to the actual entrance of the park. We asked if theirs is the closest parking to the park and they said yes but they lied. Do not listen to them. They will also try to charge you more. Use Google Maps to drive right to the park entrance.
- To find a parking drive right up to the entrance of the park. There are a couple of safe lots to park right by the entrance gate. To make sure to get a spot come to the park early in the morning, especially during high season. Expect to pay about 4,000/5,0000 colones for the day.
- If you really do want to see a lot of wildlife make sure to go with a guided tour. Yes, you will see a lot of wildlife without a guide but you will also miss a lot too. Go with a guide if you want to see as much as you can.
- Manuel Antonio is extremely popular so try to go outside the high season (November-February). Also try to enter as soon as the park opens (7am) to beat the crowds. The park closes at 4pm. (National Parks in Costa Rica open very early and close early due to day light hours). Avoid visiting on weekends.
- During the pandemic you’re encouraged to buy your entrance fee online before arriving and it does make things easier. If you don’t manage to, however, you can do so at a machine just as you enter the park gates. You can buy tickets here but the website doesn’t seem to be too reliable.
- The park is closed on Tuesday, so make sure not to try to visit then
- Single use plastics aren’t allowed inside the park so bring a reusable water bottle and reusable containers for snacks
- No drones are allowed (they will search your bag and won’t let you in with one even if you promise not to fly).
HAVE A BEACH DAY
Manuel Antonio does have some pretty amazing beaches that you can spend time on without having to purchase a ticket to the national park. While I personally think the beaches inside the park and actually nicer than the ones outside, Espadilla Norte and Biesanz are gorgeous beaches to just spend the day on and relax.
You’ll find a number of different bars and restaurants near the beaches to grab some lunch and drinks. Keep your eyes peeled around the beaches too- there are sloths living in the trees just as you enter Espadilla beach.
Ziplining is one of the best ways to get an adrenaline rush while also feeling part of the rainforest canopy. You’ve got the opportunity to have some fun while also coming face to face with local monkeys and bird species.
While ziplining is not allowed in Manuel Antonio National Park you can book this ziplining tour that will take you to the nearby Naranjo Biological Corridor. Here you’ll also be able to traverse obstacles and have a go on the Tarzan swing.
Ziplining can be done in many other places in Costa Rica so if you don’t have too much time in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica I’d leave it off, it is nevertheless a great place to fly through the rainforest.
VISIT CASCADA EL SALTO
Just to the east of Manuel Antonio town, you’ll find Cascada El Salto, a small waterfall worth visiting for swimming and jumping. Here you’ll find many rocks you can relax on while also swimming and jumping into the rock pools. The waterfall isn’t spectacular but it is a nice place to visit for an hour or so, especially if your hotel is nearby. Gaia Hotel & Reserve is fairly close to Cascada el Salto.
GO ON A CATAMARAN CRUISE
Catamaran tours are a great way to see the Manuel Antonio coastline from a different vantage point not to mention they are fun for all. Catamaran Cruises also include snorkelling and you’ll be able to snorkel off Playa Biesanz to get to know Costa Rica’s rich marine fauna too. Dolphins and humpback whales also frequent these waters during certain times of the year so you might even spot a few.
Click here to find out more about one of the best catamaran cruises in the area that also includes hotel pick up, snorkelling and either lunch or dinner on board.
HAVE A SPA/RETREAT DAY
If you feel like constantly moving from one part of the country to the other is starting to wear you down a bit, then Manuel Antonio is one of the best places in Costa Rica to take it easy for a day and focus on self-care. There a quite a few good spas and resorts in the area, offering a space to stay, relax around the pristine rainforest and indulge in a massage, spa therapies and healthy, gourmet meals.
If you’re looking for a place to really relax then you’ll need to take a look at LGBT friendly Prana Rainforest Retreat which offers beautiful poolside bungalows and massage and yoga as well as Makanda by the Sea, an adults-only luxury resort with world-class amenities and service.
One of my favourite places for a day of relaxation is also Los Altos Resort, which has one of the best jungle yoga decks and spas in all of Manuel Antonio. Make sure to check them out to treat yourself during your stay.
LEARN ABOUT MEDICINAL PLANTS
So you might already know that Costa Rica is one of the most diverse countries in the world and that includes plant life too. If you’re someone who is interested in naturopathy and plant-based wellness, taking a medicinal plant tour might be for you.
Take a tour through the medicinal plants garden and find out more about the different species of plants and their medicinal properties and uses. Find out which plants may be able to help you to enhance your wellbeing and how the local people use local fauna to treat a number of different ailments.
Ready for your trip to Manuel Antonio? Check out some other amazing things to do in Manuel Antonio during your stay.
What are your favourite things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica? Have you been yet? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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