As one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio features beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, and a variety of excursions that offer something fun for every kind of traveler. It’s easy to feel like a character out of Treasure Island as you stroll down the pristine white-sand beaches tucked between the tropical rainforests. So sit back, relax, and let us help you plan your trip to this must-see destination!
Manuel Antonio National Park
Above: A white-faced capuchin reaches out to grab Pat’s hand in hopes for food. Do not feed the monkeys!!! You will see many tourists offering them food, don’t follow in their footsteps! The monkeys are becoming increasingly dependent on humans for food, diminishing their ability to survive in the wild on their own.
The top attraction in Manuel Antonio is the national park. Walk along one of the park’s trails and you’re likely to see three-toed sloths, howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, and plenty of vibrantly-colored birds. Entry is 9,200 CRC ($16), but keep in mind that they charge you more for using a credit or debit card. Since these are run as cash advances, it’s really up to your bank how much extra you will be charged. Children under the age of 12 are admitted for free.
The park is closed on Mondays! Many people don’t realize this and end up missing the park completely. We recommend going in the afternoon, as there are less people in the park at this time. However, if you are traveling on holidays arrive at the park as early as possible (7am) in order to get in, as they stop letting visitors in when the park reaches capacity.
Above: A white-faced monkey snags some food left over on a picnic table. Again, don’t feed the monkeys! They are fearless of humans and becoming aggressive. They will steal your food, so keep it close and remain aware of your surroundings. These monkeys (and the raccoons) will steal backpacks if they know that there is food inside
Keep in mind that Costa Rica’s dry season is from December to March, meaning that there will be more tourists during this time of year than in the summer. Even though we went in the low season (mid June) we still found Manuel Antonio to be a very touristy area. For this reason, we don’t recommend going during high season if being surrounded by huge crowds of tourists isn’t your thing.
What To Bring
Make sure to pack a bag with plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray, and bring some food if you are planning on being in the park for more than a couple of hours. Once inside, there are no stores to purchase food or water, and they don’t allow re-entry into the park after you exit.
If going in the rainy season don’t forget to bring a waterproof backpack and a rain jacket or poncho. We us Zak Noyle’s RVCA Waterproof Gear bag to protect all of our gear and love it’s’ built in rain cover for extra protection against the elements. Plus, it’s one of the best looking waterproof gear bags on the market (aka you don’t look like you’re wearing a turtle shell with it on).
If you’re into photography, make sure to pack a zoom lens as this will help you spot and photography wildlife. We brought our GoPro and GoPro dome along with us as well to get some shots at the beach.
Fun Fact: Quepos and Manuel Antonio were discovered in 1519 by Ponce De Leon on his search for the fountain of youth.
Outside of the park you’ll see many guides all offering to show you through the park. One advantage of going with a guide is that they bring telescopes and point out wildlife along the trails.
The park also offers set-priced guided tours for $51 for adults and $35 for children, and private tours are available for $71 for adults and $55 for children. These include transportation to and from your hotel, the entrance fee into the park, and certified guides. They last about 2-3 hours, including some beach time as well. If you choose to stay in the park after keep in mind you will need to take a bus or taxi back to your hotel.
You can also find locals near the entrance offering to guide you as well. They offer reasonable prices that can be haggled with if you are looking for a cheaper alternative to the park’s guided tours, and going in groups will decrease the cost per person as well.
Getting To Manuel Antonio
From San Jose. The cheapest way to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose is by bus. Tracopa has buses that leave from San Jose to Quepos/Manuel Antonio six to twelve times a day every day for about 4365 CRC ($8 USD). The trip takes about 2-3 hours depending on traffic. The bus is air conditioned and comfortable, but note that it doesn’t have a toilet so make sure you go to the bathroom before your departure (although it does stop by a roadside soda along the way for a snack/bathroom break). You can also fly from San Jose to Quepos for $57 via Sansa Airlines. The flight is short, only lasting about 20 minutes, making it a good option if you have the money and don’t have a lot of time in the area.
From Montezuma/Santa Teresa (via Jaco). Zuma tours has a great deal for $65 USD where they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel/hostel. We used their taxi boat and shuttle services to get from Manuel Antonio to Montezuma, and also Montezuma to Monteverde. The staff was friendly and helpful and it was a great experience exploring Costa Rica by speedboat.
A cheaper option is to take the ferry to Jaco, and then either shuttle to Manuel Antonio (1 hour, $35 USD) or take a bus to Quepos for 1300 CRC (you have to pay in CRC!). Go to the Best Western in Jaco and the bus stop is right out front. You’ll recognize the bus heading to Quepos by the initials T.Q.P. (Transporte Quepos Puntarenas). Click here to see the public bus schedule for all of Costa Rica (scroll down for the schedule for Quepos with departure from Puntarenas). From Quepos, take the local bus to Manuel Antonio for 310 CRC (read below for more details).
Getting Around In Manuel Antonio
Packed with over-priced restaurants, souvenir shops, and hoards of sunburnt tourists, Manuel Antonio is positioned 15 minutes south of the town of Quepos. We much preferred the much less touristy Quepos over the village of Manuel Antonio, and therefore chose Quepos as our home base for our time in this region.
Via Bus. The public bus runs between Quepos and Manuel Antonio every 15 minutes from 5:45am to 9:30pm (respectively), and for 310 CRC (about 50 cents USD) you can hop on to get to and from the national park. This is certainly the cheapest way to get between the two towns. Keep in mind that Costa Rica runs on it’s own schedule so don’t freak out if you wait longer than 25 minutes without a bus showing up (although this didn’t happen to us it has been known for buses to show up every 30 minutes sometimes in the high season).
Via Taxi. Taxi’s are abundant in Manuel Antonio. Just look for a red car (a legal taxi) with a yellow sign on each side. These taxi’s will have either a meter or an established rate between your hotel (or hostel) and the national park. We recommend flagging one down in the street rather than having your hotel/hostel call one for you. If you do chose to go through your accommodation expect to pay $4.00 more each way.
If you decide to ride with an illegal (non-registered) taxi, always establish the rate with your taxi driver before hand to avoid getting ripped off. These guys won’t have the yellow placard on the side of their car, nor will they have a meter or credentials hanging up inside the vehicle. There’s nothing wrong with riding with a non-registered taxi (it’s how we got around in Peru). Just remember that you can haggle with them. If you don’t like their price and they won’t drop it down, just walk away and find a driver who will.
Where To Stay
Cost: dorms: $13 USD/night; Private rooms: starting from $50/night
We stayed at Hostel Plinio, located south of Quepos on the way to Manuel Antonio. The hostel is located right across the street from the bus stop so getting to the national park from here is easy and you never have to wait very long.
Breakfast is included, and consists the typical Costa Rican Gallo Pinto dish (rice, beans, eggs, and tortillas), fresh fruit, and coffee. Like most hostels in Central America, there is no AC, as the rooms are open air, but they do have fans and we slept very comfortably. From the dorms you get some great views of the ocean. One drawback (especially for us as bloggers) was that there was only WiFi down in the lounge/reception area, and it didn’t reach all the way up to the rooms. This meant the lounge could get crowded and WiFi was slow at times when everyone was on it at once.
We definitely recommend Hostel Plinio if you are okay with simple living (no AC, spotty WiFi, etc). There is also a (pricey) restaurant and bar down by the pool. We spent about $30 USD for two meals and two drinks each during happy hour (the drinks were buy one get one free). There is also a kitchen you can use from 7am-10pm.
If you want to go to the top-of-the-line hostel in Manuel Antonio, Selina is for you. For only $3 USD/night more than you would pay at Hostel Plinio, you can get AC, access to Selina’s three pools, and good WiFi. Note that breakfast is NOT included here, so expect to pay an extra $5-10 a day if you are eating breakfast out every morning (or less if you decide to go to a grocery store).
This hostel is pet and kid friendly, making it a nice option for families traveling on a budget. Selina is also right in front of a bus stop. Just make sure you ask reception where to go, as many of their stops are not marked. Also note that there is not a kitchen you can use here, so if you do grocery shop it’s best to stick to foods you don’t have to cook or refrigerate (get used to lots of sandwiches). Note that this hostel boasts a good party atmosphere, so if your room is next to their bar or restaurant bring earplugs if you plan on going to sleep early.
Jungle Beach Hotel
Cost: Private rooms from $60/night
This budget hotel is a great option for couples or families. It includes breakfast, has an outdoor pool, and is only a 10 minute walk away from the national park, saving you time and money as you won’t have to take the public bus. It was WiFi, AC, multilingual staff, and private bathrooms. This is our top recommendation for those traveling with children, especially since it’s within walking distance and you won’t have to take them on the crowded public bus.
Where To Eat
Manuel Antonio is expensive! For budget travelers we recommend shopping at grocery stores and cooking your own food. We packed plenty of snacks and sandwiches, and cooked lots of rice and beans while here.
If you do decide to go out, eat off of the beach. There’s this Costa Rican bakery chain called Musmanni where you can get a sandwich and a drink for 1,065 CRC (about $2)!
What To Do
Sport Fishing. Quepos is known throughout the world for it’s sports fishing. Even beginners can benefit by booking a tour with a bilingual guide. These guys know the best hot-spots for catching fish such as wahoo, snapper, sailfish, amberjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna, marlin, and more. The top tours to book through are JP Sport Fishing and Jackpot Sport Fishing. Keep in mind that these are expensive! JP has a half-day charter for around $625 USD, and full-day charter from $900.
Surfing. Manuel Antonio has a few great surf spots for beginner and intermediate level surfers, including Playa Manuel Antonio. Experienced surfers won’t find the most challenging waves here, unless there is a big swell. The best times to surf here are from May to November, during the rainy season. Boca Damas is a great remote beach for experienced surfers, located on Damas Island. Make sure to watch out for rip currents and crocodiles though! Surf board rentals are about $10-15/hour here, which is expensive in our opinion (we rented in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua, for $10/day!). If you need to take lessons there are many options, but the average price is about $50 for two hours.
Waterfall Rappelling. Xtreme Tours Rappelling has the best rappelling tours in Manuel Antonio. Their waterfall rappelling tour includes 5 rappels (2 of which are down waterfalls), a free fall into a natural pool, swimming in two natural pools, a suspension bridge, hikes up to the waterfall locations, pick-up and drop-off, and typical Costa Rican cuisine for lunch. The price is $85 USD per person for groups of 2-4, and $80 USD per person for groups of five or more.
Zip-Lining. Although we recommend zip-lining in Monteverde if it is on your Costa Rica itinerary, it is definitely something that should be on any thrillist’s trip-list and is sure to satisfy no matter where you are in the country. Spot monkeys, sloths, and exotic frogs as you glide along one of the 12 zip-lines Titi (pronounced TEE-TEE) Canopy Tours has to offer. Jump off the ledge and free fall on their Tarzan swing (if you’re brave enough!). The tour costs $80 for adults and $65 for children 4-12.
Go To Damas Island. Damas island offers great breaks for more advanced surfers, but is also a great destination for non-surfers as well. Book a mangrove boat tour or go kayaking into the mangrove forests and see monkeys, sloths, boas, and more!
White Water Rafting. H2O Adventures has three white water tours in Manuel Antonio ranging from class II to class IV, depending on the river each is on. Prices range from $70-$95 each for an entire day trip. Adrenaline seekers can raft between rock walls in the narrow canyon of El Chorro amongst class IV rapids, or for a less extreme course take the Savegre River tour on class II and III rapids.
Snorkeling/Diving. We recommend Oceans Unlimited Scuba Diving. They go to 15 local dive sites, as well as other sites further away. A local two-tank dive is $109 USD per person (certification required). They also have affordable scuba diving courses with experienced PADI divers that start at about $160 USD if you are considering getting certified.
Sunset Sailing. One of the most popular excursions in Manuel Antonio is their sunset boat tours. Keep your eye out for humpback whales and dolphins as you sail alongside the setting sun on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast! Sunset Sails offers tours for $20 USD per person.
Looking for a guidebook to Costa Rica? We recommend this one by Lonely Planet.
Have you guys ever been to Costa Rica? What was your favorite beach? Tell us about your experiences below! (:
Sara + Patrick