National

One of the Top Places to Visit in Costa Rica 2021

Written by Marisol

The small coastal village of Manuel Antonio has a plethora of luxury lodging, tasty eats, beautiful sights, exotic wildlife and fun activities for all travelers, especially families.

For these reasons, it holds many of the bests in Costa Rica: one of the best places in Costa Rica, best beaches in Costa Rica and best beach towns in Costa Rica. If you’re planning on visiting, read our guide to help plan your trip.

Click the section to skip to it.

Location

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Map.

Map
Click here to go to our interactive map

Manuel Antonio is 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast from San Jose on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica in the Puntarenas province. The closest town is called Quepos and the area from Quepos to the national park is known as Manuel Antonio.

How to get to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Click the link for more details on getting to Manuel Antonio from San Jose, Guanacaste and other destinations.

Driving to Manuel Antonio

We recommend to use a GPS device, Google Maps or Waze to help you get to Manuel Antonio.

manuel antonio driving
Driving through Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a 3 hour drive from San Jose Airport.

This entire route is on a well paved highway. When you first get on the highway from San Jose Airport, there are 4 toll booths along the way charging from 190 to 800 Costa Rican colones (~$.20 USD to $1.50 USD). We recommend to pay the tolls in Costa Rican colones.

Once you get to Quepos, drive through town to go up the Manuel Antonio hill.

Safety tip: Roads from Quepos to Manuel Antonio National Park are super narrow and curvy. Make sure to drive carefully! Additionally, parking is quite tight, especially off the main street. You may need to have a passenger help you get out of the parking lot since cars drive fast.

Manuel Antonio Public Bus

There is a direct bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. There is a daily direct bus from Calle 5, Ave 18/20 with Terminal Transportes Tracopa at 6, 9 (Mon-Sat), 12 PM, 2:30 PM (Mon-Sat), 6 PM and 7:30 PM. This takes about 4 hours and costs around 4500 colones (~$8 USD). There is also a colectivo bus (makes a lot of stops) from San Jose (same terminal) at 7, 10, 2 PM, 4 PM and 5 PM (Mon-Fri). The bus stops at Quepos.

From the Quepos bus station, there are buses go the national park entrance every half an hour or so starting at 530 AM and ending at 930 PM.

From Jaco, there is a direct bus to Quepos and then you’ll switch buses from Quepos to Manuel Antonio National Park to get to the park. You can find more information in this guide to taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio.

Shuttle Van

You can take private or shared shuttles to Manuel Antonio. A private shuttle from San Jose is around $220 USD for 1-8 passengers and from Guanacaste, around $290-350 USD.

A shared shuttle from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is $57 USD with Interbus.

Flying to Manuel Antonio

Quepos has its own local airport. It’s about a 10 minute flight from San Jose and costs around $75-$100 USD one way with SkywayCR (get 10% discount and extra 10 lbs of luggage). The local airport is 5 minutes outside of Quepos.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Weather

manuel antonio national park aerial view

Manuel Antonio weather is hot and super humid with year round average day time temperatures in the high 80s F and low 90s F (32 C).

This area experiences typical tropical weather so you have the normal dry season from roughly beginning of December – end of April and rainy season from beginning of May to end of November. For the best weather, dry season is obviously the best.

In rainy season, it stays very hot and humid. Mornings are usually sunny and clear and it will start raining in the afternoon. September, October and beginning of November are the rainiest times.

February, March and April are the hottest months in Manuel Antonio. We have visited in February, August, September,  November and December. August, September and November gave us off and on showers in the afternoon with clear mornings and hard rains starting in the afternoon going off and on throughout the night. Early December had clear but cloudy mornings and was very rainy in the evening and night.

We had two days in September when it rained all day. February was very hot with clear sunny skies all day long!

Manuel Antonio Beaches

Manuel Antonio is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. The main beaches in Manuel Antonio are Manuel Antonio, Biesanz, Espadilla Sur and Espadilla Norte.

The most visited beaches are Espadilla Norte and Playa Manuel Antonio inside the national park. In the Central and South Pacific of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is the best area for white sand beaches and bright blue waters.

Manuel Antonio beach
Playa Manuel Antonio inside the park

To get to the beaches inside the national park, you have to pay the national park fee. Biesanz, Espadilla Norte and Playitas are free as they are outside the national park.

manuel antonio national park playa espadilla norte
This is Playa Espadilla Norte outside the park. There is no entrance fee since it’s outside the park.

At Playa Espadilla Norte, you can go parasailing, jet skiing, surfing and swimming. If you would like to rent beach chairs and umbrellas in Manuel Antonio, you can find them on Playa Espadilla Norte for 5000 colones (~$9 USD) a day including drink service. This beach is the most popular beach outside the national park for tourists since it is easily accessible and very beautiful. I highly recommend watching a sunset at this beach!

Just be aware that these guys can be a bit aggressive if you’re walking on the beach, trying to get you to buy activities and rent chairs. If you have a reservation with a company like Aguas Azules already for parasailing, just keep on walking and let them know you have a reservation.

Aerial Video

See what Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, the national park and the beaches look like in our aerial video.

Now let’s talk about the wildlife in Manuel Antonio.

Animals in Manuel Antonio

If you want to get up close with wildlife in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is one of the top places to see animals like monkeys and sloths. Some of the most common animals in Manuel Antonio are 2 and 3 fingered sloths, white face, howler and squirrel monkeys, macaws and raccoons.

manuel antonio national park wildlife. Animals seen in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica animals: 3 fingered sloth, howler monkey, white face moneky and squirrel monkey

A lot of hotels have wildlife on their property so you can see animals right from your balcony or the pool. I’ll talk about our favorite hotels in a second.

Manuel Antonio Hotel Recommendations

There are no shortages of hostels, resorts, apartments and hotels in Manuel Antonio. If you’re here for a romantic getaway or luxury vacation, you have many 5 star ocean view resorts to choose from. Likewise, there are plenty of budget and mid range options and hostels.

Luxury

$200 USD and up a night.

Manuel Antonio hotels
View of Issimo Suites and Shana by the Beach Hotel
  • Hotel La Mariposa, an upscale hotel with a great view of the national park.
  • Arenas del Mar, beachfront luxury resort with 2 restaurants, pools, spa and on-site activities. Rooms have an amazing balcony ocean view.
  • Si Como No, beautiful ocean view resort with its own wildlife refuge, spa, restaurants, pools, and a separate family and adult only section. Highly recommend a night walk at their private reserve.
  • Makanda by the Sea, adult only hotel with direct beach access, spa and pools.
  • Parador, very nice modern hotel with ocean views, nature trails, fitness room, spa, restaurants and pools
  • Gaia, adult only resort with their own private reserve, spa, pools and very spacious rooms. Lots of wildlife. Gay friendly.
  • Hotel Costa Verde, ocean view rooms and a suite made from a refurbished 1965 Boeing 727. Has 4 restaurants.
  • Tulemar, a luxury vacation rental that has its own private beach access and offers an exclusive sloth walk to guests. You can rent 2-5 bedroom houses or 1 bedroom bungalows. Great for large groups, families or couples. Tons of wildlife!

Mid Range

$80-200 USD a night.

  • El Faro Beach Hotel and Hotel San Bada for the closest location to the national park. They’re literally right in front of the entrance.
  • Jungle Beach Hotel, a comfortable “rustic” hotel very close to the beach.
  • Tres Banderas, a clean and comfortable hotel with a restaurant and bar.
  • Plaza Yara, a boutique hotel and art gallery with apartments and suites.
  • Tico Tico Villas, adult only furnished apartments. More like apartment rentals than a hotel (no breakfast included). Good for long term.

Cheap/Hostels

Less than $70-80 USD a night.

  • Vista Serena, a hostel not too far from the national park with a great view.
  • Hotel Mandarina, small hotel with cozy rooms and a small pool.
  • Selina Hostel, a new hostel chain in Costa Rica. Has its own yoga deck and restaurant. Great backpacker atmosphere.

Vacation Rentals

With so many hotels that offer houses and fully furnished places, there are just a handful of VRBO’s or Airbnbs (get $40 USD credit). But we saw Villa Manuel Antonio that looked super nice and has a spectacular view of the national park.

Where to Eat in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio restaurants
Patacon tower at Cafe Agua Azul

You can find a wide variety of food in Manuel Antonio but the touristic restaurants are pretty pricey. You can find a few cheap eats.

  • Cafe Agua Azul: Nice ocean view, yummy smoothies, good sandwiches and burgers. Great place for happy hour and ocean view. $$
  • Cafe Milagro: Best place for coffee and cake. Also has good dinner and a really nice patio with live music. They have their own coffee. $$-$$$
  • Emilio’s Cafe: Nice place with a beautiful view for a fancy dinner. $$$
  • Restaurant El Arado. Good place for typical Costa Rican. $$
  • Rafaeles Las Terrazas (Raphael’s Terrazas): Beautiful view, great place for sunset happy hour, has great sushi.
  • Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar. Healthy, delicious wraps and falafel. $-$$
  • Jolly Roger. Chicken wings and burgers. $-$$
  • Barba Roja. Nice ocean view restaurant with burgers, wraps. $$
  • Z Poolside Bistro. Steakhouse, seafood, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. $$
  • Sancho’s. Mexican place with good tacos and fun vibe. $$
  • El Chante Soda (Costa Rican restaurant). One of the few cheaper eats in Manuel Antonio. This is a typical traditional Costa Rican restaurant with plates for 3500 colones (around $6) for lunch. Right by the national park behind the Coopealianza office.
  • Musmanni: Cheap bakery with pastries, sandwiches, etc.
  • Soda Angel: A cheap Costa Rican restaurant.

We also recommend to go down to Quepos or Marina Pez Vela for a meal or two. You can find a bit cheaper food and a more local experience. We like Soda Sanchez, Tiquicia Delicias, Mira Olas and Jardin de Mar in Quepos. In Marina Pez Vela, Doublehook has a fun bar atmosphere and nice view of the sunset and marina.

Things to do in Manuel Antonio

Adventure, wildlife and nature is what you’ll mostly find for things to do in Manuel Antonio. Here are some of our most recommended Manuel Antonio activities. Don’t forget to get our Manuel Antonio/Quepos tours discount here!

Manuel Antonio National Park

You can’t miss the the national park! Hike, see wildlife, swim, lay at the beach and enjoy the gorgeous views at the most visited national park in Costa Rica. We highly recommend walking some of the Manuel Antonio National Park trails to explore the rainforest.

Manuel Antonio National park
The national park

The Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee is $16 USD per adult and we recommend to purchase tickets in advance (in person at the ticket office). Check out our guide to Manuel Antonio National Park for more information.

White Water Rafting

Near Manuel Antonio are a couple of excellent rivers for rafting. Raft through Class 2, 3 and 4 rapids surrounded by pristine rainforest!

Sailing Cruise

Go for a morning or sunset sail out of Quepos marina for snorkeling, beautiful ocean views or whale watching (months of July – September).

You can read our post things to do in Manuel Antonio for more ideas.

There are lots of stores in Manuel Antonio. There are a bunch of souvenir stores near the entrance of the park where you can find typical Costa Rican souvenirs like shirts, dresses, clothes, and little trinkets.

For more variety, there are some nice stores in Manuel Antonio like Jungle AV Artesanal, Cafe Milagro gift shop, Yara art gallery, Besos Locos, BamBamBoo, Modern Primitive living, Altair and Mariposa gift shop and gallery.

Things You Need to Know About Manuel Antonio

  • Manuel Antonio is very gay friendly and is one of the most popular spots for gay travelers in Costa Rica. Please keep in mind that Costa Rica is a very open country, especially in touristic areas and are quite accepting of all people.
  • Manuel Antonio is expensive! You can easily blow through lots of money here without really thinking about it. Restaurants, supermarkets and stores are pricier in this destination. Be prepared.
  • There are many local hawkers near the national park. You will also find lots of “parking guards” who will stop your car and try to steer you into their parking lot. It can get annoying, especially in high season but just move on and ignore them if you’re not interested.
  • Parking is very tight in this area due to the narrow roads and limited space.
  • Manuel Antonio hill is very steep and doesn’t really have any sidewalks so be careful when walking.

Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is beautiful any time of year. However, there are a few things to keep in mind about visiting this national park.

Manuel Antonio Crowds

It is very crowded end of December – end of April. This is high season and this area gets incredibly busy. July is also a busy month. For the national park, they are limiting the amount of people in the park to 1600 total a day and 600 at a time so plan appropriately.

If you visit during those times, make sure you get to the park early. We have met people who visited in February and had to wait for 3 hours! People start lining up by 6, 630 AM during those months. It’s a little bit like Disneyland!

September – November are best times for less people. I visited once mid November and there weren’t very many people. We have also visited end of September and we felt like we had the place to ourselves! When we visited beginning of December, the park was full but not crazy full. However, these are the peak rainy months. Make sure to go as early as possible in the morning for less people, less chances of rain and more wildlife.

For all our visits during those months, we had great weather in the mornings and it started raining in the late afternoon.

Itineraries

If you want to visit Manuel Antonio, here are some sample itineraries we’ve made that include this destination.

One week Costa Rica itinerary: San Jose, Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Uvita

10 day itinerary: San Jose, Puerto Viejo and Manuel Antonio

10 days chasing waterfalls: Liberia, Rincon de la Vieja, Bijagua, Bajos del Toro, Manuel Antonio, San Jose

1 month road trip: San Jose, Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Playa Hermosa, Samara, Manuel Antonio, Uvita, Drake Bay

Our tips

The best airport to fly into is San Jose International Airport. It is a 3 hour drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. A lot of people don’t want to drive so they take a local flight to Quepos, rent a car in Quepos during their time there, return the car and then fly back to San Jose.

You can definitely use Manuel Antonio as your homebase because you can drive down south and visit those areas quite easily. You can find plenty of supermarkets, laundromats, pharmacies, banks and gas stations in the area.

We highly recommend renting a car if you’re staying for more than a couple nights to get around and explore the area. Personally, we don’t recommend staying only in Manuel Antonio for your entire time in Costa Rica since there are so many amazing places in the area but you can!

Most people stay an average of 3 nights in Manuel Antonio.

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