Central America | Costa Rica | Manuel Antonio

What to do in Manuel Antonio?

Traveling to Costa Rica has been a goal of mine for a long time. The country’s culture, location, and happy Ticos interested me. I wanted to know their recipe for happiness. So that’s how I ended up in Manuel Antonio. Furthermore, in the post ‘What to do in Manuel Antonio,’ I will introduce you to how you can spend your time in this paradise. Are you ready for an adventure? Let’s go!

What to do in Manuel Antonio

Directions to Manuel Antonio

How to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose? The distance from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is approximately 170 kilometers (105 miles). There are several options for getting to the famous Costa Rica destination. I recommend a few, especially by bus from San Jose to Quepos, private minivan, or by plane.

You can get from Quepos to Manuel Antonio by cab or bus. The drive only takes a few minutes. So, the most economical suggestion is to travel by bus.

A bus ticket between San Jose and Quepos costs about 5000 CRC and takes about 3 hours and 50 minutes. A minivan trip will take between 3 and 4.5 hours. The cost of such a trip is about 33000 CRC.

Do you want to get to Manuel Antonio as soon as possible? There are two options, a private transfer or a flight from San Jose. A private transfer will cost you at least 97,000 CRC. The travel time is much shorter than other forms of transportation and takes between 2.5 and 3 hours. You can also get to Manuel Antonio by plane. The flight from San Jose Airport takes about 1h 15m. The price of the flight is about 60000 CRC.

Read also: What to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

What to do in Manuel Antonio?

Manuel Antonio National Park 

A trip to Manuel Antonio National Park, a tropical paradise in Costa Rica, awaits you. I found that Costa Rica is a country that offers a lot, especially for hikers and lovers of various sports. How to plan a trip to Costa Rica, and what places to visit? Find all the necessary information on this topic in my ebook ‘Costa Rica guidebook’.

Manuel Antonio National Park is distinguished by its fantastic flora and fauna. What is more, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world exist here. The unique atmosphere and activities you can do there make this place special. You can spend time in Manuel Antonio National Park with your family, friends, or as a couple.

On the rainforest side, you will discover more than 350 plant species and meet more than 100 mammals and 340 species of birds. 

Costa Rica wildlife

Experience the wildlife in Costa Rica up close. You will have the chance to see the symbolic species of the park, such as sloths, raccoons, iguanas, butterflies, colorful crabs near the beaches, and especially monkeys (howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys). Be careful; capuchin monkeys (cappuccino) and raccoons are not very shy and greedy animals.

They do not hesitate to approach you and search in your bags for a cookie or, even better, a sandwich. It would be a shame to have planned a good picnic and not be able to enjoy it.

The park offers several trails and different hikes. My advice is to get off the main path quickly, which is no longer a path but a highway!

Read also: Tips for visiting Nauyaca Waterfalls

Manuel Antonio National Park opening hours

Significantly, Manuel Antonio Park, according to current information, is open every day except Tuesdays and open on holidays as well. Park hours are 7 am to 4 pm. The beaches and trails inside Manuel Antonio Park are open during park hours. Playa Espadilla Norte public beach is open from 5am to 6pm. You can only purchase park entrance tickets online. 

You will need your passport number when purchasing. Importantly, if you book a guided tour, it includes the park entrance fee. The tour guide then holds the park entrance tickets. You cannot bring any food into the park. Drinks (water, soda, juice) are allowed. It is not permitted to enter with a pet. You are also not allowed to use drones. 

Importantly, there is no official parking in front of the park entrance. There are private parking spaces nearby. For a fee of 4000-5000 CRC, you can park your car there.  Beware of scammers who try to sell parking spaces and tours at inflated prices.

Things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park 

Manuel Antonio National Park offers visitors many things and activities to make their free time enjoyable.  Manuel Antonio National Park is the only reason most people visit Manuel Antonio, as it is one of the most popular parks in all of Costa Rica.

In 1972, the people of Costa Rica decided to preserve 683 hectares of some of the most beautiful and biodiverse areas in the world. That’s how Manuel Antonio National Park came into being.

Although it is the smallest national park in the country, it is home to a charming combination of habitats, including rainforest, beaches, and coral reefs.

That means that there is a wide variety of wildlife and vegetation. As you walk along the well-maintained trails in the national park, you’ll want to watch sloths, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, and many birds.

If you look down, you may see a deer leaping through the jungle, coatis foraging for food or thousands of colorful crabs on the move.

Once tired, you can spend the rest of the day lounging on the national park’s beautiful beaches

What to do in Manuel Antonio?

One day in Manuel Antonio

Visit the National Park of Manuel Antonio. One day in Manuel Antonio would be an exciting adventure! You can visit Manuel Antonio National Park with or without a guide. I recommend hiring a guide if you want to spot more animals, learn more about them, and understand the national park’s history.

Entry to the park without a guide costs $18 per person, which must be purchased online.

Although Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. The fact that it is so popular has also made it very touristy!

For those looking for untouched, uncrowded jungle, this national park may not be for you. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend checking out guides to Corcovado National Park or Tortuguero National Park.

Itinerary for a perfect day at Manuel Antonio National Park

To get the most out of Manuel Antonio National Park and its equally sublime surroundings, I recommend spending a minimum of 24 hours there. Below, I propose my itinerary for a perfect day, from morning to night. This perfect day implies spending at least two nights on site.

If you are short on time, an alternative would be to arrive at noon, spend the afternoon at the beach outside the park, sleep there, and then visit the park the following day. Read my ebook ‘Costarica guidebook’ in which you will find lots of advice on how to get around Costa Rica, how to find cheap accommodation, where to eat, where to rent a car, and much more.

Morning : visit without guide of the National Park Manuel Antonio

After waking up early in the morning to arrive at the park’s opening at 7 am, I arrived at the park’s entrance to find that the smallest piece of land was a paid parking lot! To avoid paying too much, park in one of the “farthest” and walk a few hundred meters to the entrance. If you are visiting the park without a guide, present your ticket reserved online at the gate, and the show can begin!

After analyzing the trail map on Maps.me (ultra complete in Costa Rica), I decided to start my visit with the interior trails and then come back by the beaches (to do the ascents and descents before it gets too hot). So I started by taking the first fork in the road to the right, a short round trip that leads to a small waterfall. There is an excellent chance to see animals there, but I was not lucky this time.

I then took the main trail back to the park's shop bar. On the Perezoro Trail, I saw a lot of monkeys! I efficiently managed to see the three main species of monkeys in this park: the squirrel monkey, the white-faced capuchin, and the howler monkey (the rarest). I love watching monkeys, and being surrounded by a group of monkeys, as I was several times in this park, is always a unique moment.

Hiking in Manuel Antonio

So, there is more current on this site, which explains the crowd of tourists on the other beach, surrounded by monkeys and agoutis picking up human waste.

At the end of the beach, a small footbridge crossing the mangrove allows me to reach my starting point. It took me about 4 hours to complete the walk, stopping for pictures and observing the animals, but without swimming. However, you should know there are showers to change and wash near the beach. But if you only have to swim, wait for the excellent plan I will share next. Hiking in Manuel Antonio is an amazing experience.

In the end, I didn’t regret not taking a guide here. There are so many people that you have to stop when you see a guide pointing at something, so you will have more chances to see the most complex animals I managed to see the sloth this way). But the different species of monkeys are the main interest of this park (besides the beach), and they are impossible to miss!

You will most likely hear them moving and screaming if they are there! If you visit the park without a guide, I recommend that you linger, especially on the small side trails where I saw the most animals. Since there are fewer people, the animals tend to show themselves more.

Spend the day lounging on the beaches of Manuel Antonio

There are spectacular beaches inside and outside of Manuel Antonio National Park.

Inside the park you will find two popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. These two beaches are on either side of the land bridge that connects the two sections of the national park.

Playa Manuel Antonio is the beach facing south. It is a picturesque half-mile-long white sand beach, perfect for spending the day frolicking in the paths or relaxing on the palm-lined beach. Playa Manuel Antonio is the most frequented. It is large and fortunately leaves room for coves and spaces a little more intimate.

It is the best place to go for a walk with fins. So don’t forget to bring your masks and snorkels. For more comfort, you can get fins. There are small ones that don’t take up too much space. Think about it. The big fins take up much space and can hinder your hikes. In short, the beautiful beach of Manuel Antonio is, of course, unmissable in the park and even in the country!

What to do in Manuel Antonio?

The best beaches of Manuel Antonio

Playa Espadilla Sur is just as spectacular, but the currents are more robust, so if you’re not a good swimmer, I recommend staying on the other beach.

Playa Gemelas is a beach separated in two by many rocks. It is said to be constantly changing due to the erosion caused by the winds, the movements of tectonic plates, and marine currents. 

Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio are back to back and separated by a thin strip of forest forming a whale’s tail, visible from the sky. Not to be confused with the famous Las Ballenas beach in Ballenas de Uvita National Park. 

In the park, you will pass by the mangrove, which covers 18 hectares of the park. The mangrove is formed when saltwater and freshwater meet and includes a unique ecosystem. The vegetation of this mangrove is mainly composed of mangrove trees. These giant trees look like they are floating with their roots in the air if you knew!

You will also have the chance to walk to a small waterfall. Be careful; it is only visible during the rainy season (or green season), which extends from May to December. Don’t hesitate to ask at the park entrance if you can see it. If you are wondering when to go to Costa Rica, this information can be helpful too.

View points of Manuel Antonio National Park

For the good walkers, do not hesitate to go up to the two viewpoints of the Park: El Mirador Punta Serrucho and El Mirador Puerto Escondido. I prefer Puerto Escondido, which gives a spectacular view of the beaches. 

In short, something to keep you busy all day (and more); something for everyone, young and old, walkers and beachgoers; many ecosystems are present in this must-see park.

Mancenilliers, as beautiful as they are, line the beaches. If it rains, do not seek shelter beneath. The sap and leaves of the tree are poisonous. Rainwater runoff causes seve.

Beaches outside Manuel Antonio National Park

Playa Espadilla, not to be confused with the one inside the national park, is a large public beach near the national park entrance.

It is one of the most popular beaches, so it can get very crowded, but since it is over a kilometer long, you can always find your secluded spot.

If you’re looking for a more secluded spot, head to Playa la Mancha. The best things in life aren’t always easy, and that’s the case here. To get to the beach, you’ll have to take a small, challenging path.

But it’s worth it when you see the peace of this black sand beach.

If you stay at a resort, you will have your little beach reserved for guests. Private beaches do not exist in Costa Rica, but they can privatize the access road.

Playa Biesanz is one of the prettiest beaches in Manuel Antonio. Well known by the locals, it is quieter. I won't tell you how to get there, you have to earn it (especially the walk to get there!), and you might as well avoid making it overcrowded.

Where is it? In Manuel Antonio itself or the National Park.

Learn to surf in Manuel Antonio

Although Manuel Antonio doesn’t have the same surfing reputation as places like Tamarindo or Santa Teresa, it is still a great place to learn to surf.

Espadilla Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach are two of the best beaches to try to catch a wave. The waves don’t tend to be too big, so it’s an excellent place for beginner and intermediate surfers.

Many surf companies in the area offer individual or group lessons.

You can book a 3-hour small-group lesson with the highly regarded Dantes Water Sports for $65. This price also includes transportation to the beach and snacks such as fruit, water, and coconut water.

Take a night trip to observe the fauna of Costa Rica

Take a night trip to observe the fauna of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is well known for its extraordinary biodiversity. But suppose monkeys, sloths, and birds are the most visible part. In that case, this biodiversity includes an impressive number of species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects, many of which come out only at night.

Don’t hesitate to offer yourself a night tour to observe species that you won’t see, or only rarely, in the daylight. Depending on your luck, you may see many species of frogs and snakes, kinkajous, opossums, and, if you are fortunate, ocelots.

Different structures offer night tours, but I heard great things about Jungle Night Tour Manuel Antonio, which was also recommended to me by friends who have done it.

Where to go? Pick-up in Manuel Antonio or Quepos.

How much does it cost? 50$ per person.

Precautions to take

It is best to arrive early to avoid queuing at the entrance. Be careful. There is no parking. The organization of the entry of this park is still artisanal. It is the Pura Vida! 

You will often be under the sun, don’t forget to bring hats, sunglasses, and protection. Be careful with the sun creams! Take mineral creams, and be respectful of the environment.

When you arrive, the park staff will check the contents of your bags. Indeed, to preserve the environment, it is strictly forbidden to take plastic packaging (packets of chips, packages of cakes) and plastic bottles. Preferably take sandwiches and fruits and don’t forget your water bottles, it’s hot! Alcoholic drinks are forbidden. 

Visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park

It is also forbidden to feed the animals.

There are no restaurants on-site. Only toilets and showers are available on site. Be careful and always respectful of the environment; soap and shampoo are forbidden.  

So, visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the must-do activities during any stay in Costa Rica. If you have to choose a park to see, it is this one. It is not where you will have the most complicated or extended walks, for many other hiking trails exist in the country. On the other hand, they will serve you in terms of breathtaking landscapes, so do not hesitate anymore! 

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