Top Things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
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 and probably one of the most diverse places in all of Central America.
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 what 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
Manuel Antonio town 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 and tours 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.
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 Manuel Antonio National Park. This is why it’s best to rent a car when travelling around Costa Rica.
Another good way to visit Manuel Antonio National Park is by tour which will take out all the hassle from planning the trip yourself.
Local tours are available if you’re already in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area. However, if you’d like something that also includes transportation, there are several day tours departing from San Jose which will allow you to experience the best of Manuel Antonio, albeit in a short time.
This highly rated Manuel Antonio National Park Sightseeing and Wildlife Day Tour from San Jose includes all transfers and a guide in the park.
For something larger, this 4-Day Costa Rica Tour includes Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde and Tortuguero, some of the best places for wildlife in Costa Rica.
Best 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. There are many things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica’s most popular national park.
All the best places to visit in Manuel Antonio are fairly close to each other.
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Best Things to Do in Manuel Antonio National Park
Visit Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most visited and diverse national parks.
Wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park is plentiful and there is no doubt that you will see many animals during your visit.
Sloths and even three-toed sloths, howlers, 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. We went with this Manuel Antonio National Park Nature Guided Tour and it was excellent. The guides were so good at pointing out the animals and we saw so many amazing creatures.
Going on a nature guided tour in Manuel Antonio is 100% worth the spend as you’ll see so much more than you would alone.
Guided tours in Parque Manuel Antonio aren’t obligatory. 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.
Do one of the many Hikes in Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park has many different trails you can hike during your visit. There are 10 trails, all of which vary in difficulty and length (from 300m to 9 km). Most of the trails in the park are easy and suitable for all.
You’ll be able to walk a number of different trails during your visit to the park as most of them don’t take long to hike. Here are some of the best hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park.
Sendero Principal or Main Trail – This is a 2.2 km trail that will take you from the park’s entrance to Manuel Antonio Beach. As the name suggests it’s the park’s most used path and you will no doubt also hike this during your trip.
Sloth & Mangrove Trails – A short trail along wooden boardwalks, which take you into the dense, lush part of the park. This is the place to see sloths, so make sure to look carefully.
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, and 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.
These hikes, with the exception of Cathedral Point, are all mostly flat and easy. They are all full of wildlife and we so capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, toucans and more on these trails. But, wildlife is generally hard to see, especially the sloths which tend to hide in the upper tree canopies.
If your main reason for visiting Manuel Antonio National Park is to spot wildlife then make sure to book a guided tour so you can be certain you’ll actually see something. We did a self-guided tour and in hindsight, I regret this now.
If large group tours aren’t your thing, (I know they aren’t mine), you can also hire a private guide just for your group. (Note this private tour doesn’t include entrance tickets).
Visit the Beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park is to visit its beaches. The park has 4 gorgeous beaches, the most popular and main beach being Manuel Antonio Beach and then Espadilla South or Playa Espadilla Sur. These beaches are easily accessible via the park’s hiking trails. In fact, it’s not unusual for visitors to buy tickets to the National Park just to visit its beaches.
The stunning, palm-fringed beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park are clean and litter-free and have white sand and clear, turquoise water.
Playa Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is the best for swimming as Espadilla Sur can sometimes get pretty strong currents so make sure to take care when swimming.
It’s worth bringing a towel and swimwear so you can just relax and bathe after a sweaty, hot hike around the park. The Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica beaches really are some of the best beaches in the country so it’s a good idea to make the most of them.
Just a word of warning before you leave your stuff on the beach and dive right in (especially on Playa Manuel Antonio)! Don’t leave your belongings unattended as there are thieves around.
The thieves, aka the capuchin monkeys, like to hang around, search bags and steal drinks and snacks. It’s not uncommon for them to also grab wallets, sunglasses or even small backpacks.
Top Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park
↠ The park caps the number of visitors allowed daily and tickets sell out in advance in high season ( December to April) and on weekends. It’s best to book your tickets online in advance to avoid disappointment.
If you’re visiting as part of a tour, the tour will include entrance tickets to the park but it’s still best to check this at the time of booking.
If you’re heading into the park on your own you can book tickets in advance here. It’s a little complicated as you need to create an account but it’s definitely worth it.
↠ 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 (7 am) to beat the crowds. The park closes at 3 pm. (National Parks in Costa Rica open very early and close early due to day light hours). Avoid visiting on weekends.
↠ 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. No outside food is allowed in the park.
↠ No drones are allowed (they will search your bag and won’t let you in with one even if you promise not to fly).
Best Things to Do in Manuel Antonio (Outside the Park)
If you have more than one day in Manuel Antonio and one of those days will be spent in the National Park, you’ll be pleased to know there are many other things to do in the area for the remainder of your stay.
You don’t need to buy another ticket for the national park to spend time on the beach as there are many beaches with free access in the area.
There are also plenty of wellness activities, adventure attractions, walks and beaches in the area.
Have a Beach Day (Outside the Park)
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, there are a few good options you can access without a park ticket.
Playa Espadilla Norte and Biesanz Beach are two gorgeous beaches to just spend the day on and relax.
Playa Espadilla Norte
Espadilla Norte is the northern part of Espadila Beach that’s actually outside the park. It’s a gorgeous beach with white sand and palm-fringed shores. The beach offers many different activities in Manuel Antonio you can delve into here.
There are plenty of watersports like surf lessons, parasailing, banana boating and more if that’s more your vibe than just relaxing on the sand with a book.
Espadilla Norte also has some of the best sunsets around so make sure not to miss them when here.
You’ll find a number of different bars and restaurants near the beach to grab some lunch and drinks. There are also many buskers on the beach that are always trying to sell something. Keep your eyes peeled around the beaches for wildlife too- there are sloths living in the trees just as you enter Espadilla Beach from the main road.
For those in search of a much more isolated and hidden beach, Biesanz Beach might be the answer.
To access the beach you’ll need to walk through a jungle path- it’s about 10 minutes from the main road. The beach itself is gorgeous and the best thing to do here is just to lay down a towel and relax.
On this beach you’ll also find a small beach bar for all your drink needs and some kayaking and snorkelling gear is also available for rent.
Also read: Nosara Costa Rica: A Curated Travel Guide
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.
If waterfalls are you’re thing and you want to see a spectacular one, make sure to add Nauyaca Waterfall to your Costa Rica itinerary. This is a super powerful waterfall, split between two tiers. Each individual waterfall has its own pool you can swim in too.
Nauyaca Waterfall is actually located closer to Uvita than Manuel Antonio, so you might want to visit from there. From Manuel Antonio, it takes about 1.5 hours to get there and it’s best to have a car.
If you don’t have your own wheels you can also take a tour to Nauyaca Falls from Manuel Antonio. Check out this highly-rated tour to visit the falls.
The waterfalls are pretty popular as this is one of the best day trips from Manuel Antonio so make sure to arrive as early as you can.
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.
Take a Chocolate Tour
Cacao has always been a fundamental crop and tradition to local Costa Ricans. On this tour, you’ll be able to learn all about the crops in Costa Rica and how the local people have used to for thousands of years.
You’ll also learn about the traditional process of collecting, fermenting and grinding the beans to make the modern bars we all know and love.
Not only chocolate, this tour also includes a visit to a coffee, sugar cane and chocolate plantation where you can learn about all three of Costa Rica’s most important cash crops.
The private guided tour will also allow you to learn more about their significance to the Costa Rican economy and the local people.
If you’re a coffee or chocolate fan then this Chocolate Tour in Manuel Antonio is definitely for you.
Have a Spa or 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 Local 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.
Manuel Antonio’s Medicinal Plants Garden offers tours and an educational journey through its collection of more than 120 medicinal plant species. You’ll also learn about the history of medicinal plant use in Costa Rica.
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.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio
There are some truly amazing places to stay in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica 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 best resorts in Manuel Antonio, 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 a balcony and sea views- perfect for larger groups and families. They also have a pool with ocean views and a gym on-site.
One of the best intimate, luxury hotels in Manuel Antonio, surrounded by its own private reserve, Gaia is an exceptional place to stay in Manuel Antonio.
Incredible staff, pools with sea and jungle views, and 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.
Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio
Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, wet and dry. The best time to visit really depends on what you want to do and your trip budget too.
The best time to visit Manuel Antonio is generally in the dry season which runs from December to April. This is also the high season and the busiest and most expensive time to visit Costa Rica.
However, Costa Rica is an outdoors destination and if you’re here for the beaches and jungles you might want to visit when the weather is at its best.
Try to avoid Christmas and New Year during this time, Manuel Antonio gets extremely busy.
The rainy season runs from May to November. During this time hotel rates are much lower so you’ll be able to find some good travel deals.
On the Pacific Coast, it’s also the best time for whale watching.
Note that it can get pretty wet though, after travelling and living in Costa Rica for 3 months during the rainy season, I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much rain in my life, and I’m from England.
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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