What are the best things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park? And what to expect when you visit one of Costa Ricas most popular national parks? During our Costa Rica road trip we always thought about whether we should visit the Manuel Antonio National Park or not. The ratings on the net are often very negative in relation to the mass of people. Far too many and noisy tourists are supposed to overrun the park.
In the end we decided (our host Ron in the Bolita Rainforest Hostel convinced us) to go to Manuel Antonio National Park and did not regret it in any way. There are amazing things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park. Although there were, despite the low season, a larger number of tourists in the park. But the many animals, which we saw partly directly beside the paths, and the ingenious beaches made the park worth the visit.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
Manuel Antonio National Park – Facts
The National Park
The Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most famous national parks in Costa Rica. The Park combines the rainforest with its colorful wildlife, the pleasure of swimming in the sea and relaxing on the white sandy beach. This makes it one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. The infrastructure at the park and also in the village close by is well developed.
Important to know:
- The park is at its fullest from mid December – April and July/August. Quiet times are September – November.
- During the rainy season it is usually sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon. So try to get there early to increase the chances of good weather.
- Most of the trails are well maintained and very easy to walk. You do not go directly through the forest, but always over wooden bridges or paved paths.
- You don’t need hiking boots or closed shoes for Manuel Antonio Park. We even saw people wearing flip-flops. But we were well advised with our hiking sandals.
Tuesday – Sunday 7.00 – 16.00 h
The park is closed on mondays!
How to get to Manuel Antonio National Park
The best way to get there is via Quepos. From Quepos you can either take the regular bus (approx. 300 Colones – 0,50€) or you can travel by car. In front of the Manuel Antonio National Park there are numerous (paid) parking lots.
From San Jose to Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is just 3 hours away from San Jose. From San Jose you can fly to Quepos Airport or take the bus to Quepos (6am, 9am, 12pm, 2.30pm, 2.30pm, 6pm and 7.30pm from Terminal Transportes Tracopa) and then take the bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio. Or you can rent a car in San Jose and drive the route yourself. The route is completely on paved roads and is easy to drive.
The Parking Lots
On the street in front of Manuel Antonio, the first parking lots are already offered in a few hundred metres distance. The employees of the parking lots are really brutal and want to try with all means to get you to stop. Just drive past them, even if they look like official parking attendants.
Shortly before the entrance of the park (you can see that the density of restaurants and hotels is increasing) there are some parking lots of which almost every one is the “last parking lot before the entrance”. Just drive through to the end and take the last parking lot. The prices are the same everywhere (2000 Colones, 3 Euro).
The entrance fee is 9,500 colones per person (approx. 14.50 Euro). The entrance fee has to be paid in front of the entrance gate on the right side at the Coopealianza. There you get your ticket and can then queue up after the gate on the left side. If it is crowdedl and there are two of you, one of you could get the tickets and the other one already queues at the entrance. So you are saving a lot of waiting time.
In the off-season (end of May) we arrived at Manuel Antonio in the morning around 8 am and hardly had to queue at both counters.
What to bring to Manuel Antonio:
- enough water, but there are some water dispensers in the park
- Food (there is only one restaurant in the park where you can buy something to eat/drink)
- Swimwear (can also be bought in the shop if necessary)
- Sun cream
- mosquito repellent
Take a Guide: Yes or no?
Since we like to do everything on our own, we decided against a guide. The paths in the park are well developed, so that you do not need a guide for the hike itself.
If you want to learn more about the animals and see them through really good binoculars, a guide makes sense and is one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio. They also have trained eyes and ears and find animals that we easily overlook. But you can also do it like we do, and just always look around where the other tourists with guides do. So you know at least approximately where should be something to spot.
Hotel Recommendation close to Manuel Antonio
We spent the evening in the recommendable Hostel Plinio*, enjoyed the view of the sea on the horizon and took a short swim in the pool. The hotel is located just a few kilometers from the park entrance and has a typical hostel atmosphere.
– great breakfast
– feels like a huge tree house
– amazing pool
The Best Things To Do in Manuel Antonio
The Hike in Manuel Antonio National Park
If you look at the ratings on Google, you read again and again how crowded the park is with tourists. In the high season this might be the case, but in the low season and during the week you can spend a relaxing day in Manuel Antonio National Park.
On the first path right after the entrance it got a little crowded during our visit. But despite the many tourists we saw the first animals immediately after the entrance.
A group of monkeys was jumping in the trees above us from branch to branch while an agouti scurried past us on the ground. While we were still marvelling at it, a deer stood on the other side, chewing on a few leaves with relish. Wow, just in the park, we were already impressed by the animal sightings.
The Hiking Trails
After a few minutes we could decide between the gravel road and a path over wooden footbridges. The groups with the guides used the gravel path, so we decided for the wooden footbridges and had this path completely to ourselves.
Next to the wooden footbridge there were always small and big crabs with their bright red claws sitting and watching us. But as soon as you came too close to the crabs they took off and hid under a leaf or in a hole in the ground.
Also we heard again and again individual noises from the trees and bushes. While we were still searching for the cause, a raccoon crept quietly and silently up to us. Now we have to be careful, because we read again and again that the raccoons like to steal from the tourists. But this one was quite peaceful and only sniffed at us for a short time in order to move on directly afterwards.
At the end of the wooden walkway, the path led back onto the gravel path where the guides and tourists already gathered and stared spellbound into the trees. When a guide left the group for a short time, we took the chance to look through the telescope of the guide and there it was. The first sloth on our Costa Rica trip. Completely overwhelmed we marvelled at the ball of fur hanging up there between the branches and didn’t notice anything of the hustle and bustle of the tourists.
The Restaurant in Manuel Antonio National Park
At this point of the park there is also a shop where you can buy food and drinks as well as ice cream and bathing clothes. If you go down the path on the right side you will come to the big beaches of the park, where most of the tourists go. If you go left along the small path behind the shop, you can walk on the less frequented hiking trails, which will take you to several viewpoints and another small beach.
Sendero Hiking Trail
We first walked along the left Sendero hiking trail to the viewpoint. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio. On the way we saw another sloth. This time it did not hang very far up and was hidden in the trees so that we could see it with the naked eye and marvel at it.
At the end of the Sendero path the first lookout was awaiting us. Here we got the first view of the shining turquoise blue sea. Since it was getting hotter and hotter in the meantime, we only had the wish to jump into the cool water at this sight.
Our next destination should therefore be the small and quite quiet beach. After about 30 more hot minutes of walking on the hiking trail we arrived at Playa Gemelas. There are two small beach sections which are separated by some rocks on the beach. In order to have a little more quietness we decided to go to the back section.
Also on the beach we were again very close to the animals. While we relaxed, we watched the monkeys sneaking up on the iguanas to pick up the surrounding fruits from the ground. One of the monkeys carried his baby on his back the whole time.
After this animal encounter, a nap on the white sandy beach and a refreshment in the beautiful blue sea, we went on. First back to the fork with the shop and then on to the two big beaches (Playa Manuel Antonio & Playa Espadilla Sur), where the other tourists also cavorted.
The Big Beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park
The two big beaches are only separated in the middle by a few metres. At the end of both beaches there is a small peninsula with a small hill on which one can make a circular path of approximately 30 minutes, the Sendero Punta Catedral. Here, there are several view platforms that repeatedely allow one to have a view to the sea.
At one of the lookout points a horde of monkeys climbed around on the trees and we could watch the monkeys playing and climbing only one meter away from them.
Besides the viewpoints, the path also offers access to a small bay that was inhabited by some iguanas during our visit. Since it was already afternoon the sea became more and more restless and the high tide was about to wash over the beach. The waves kept hitting the rocks and the spray splashed higher and higher.
In order to treat ourselves to a little cooling off before the park was supposed to close at 4 p.m., we went to the fuller main beach (Playa Manuel Antonio) and let the wonderful day at Manuel Antonio end comfortably before we started our way back.
Is Manuel Antonio worth the visit?
Even if we had doubts at the beginning, we have never regretted the visit. There were quite a lot of tourists on site (and in the main season there will be many more), but the number of animals you see in the park is definitely worth it. In no other park on our Costa Rica trip we saw so many (bigger) animals in such a short period of time.
If you don’t mind crowds of people and you want to see many animals, then you should definitely plan this park on your Costa Rica road trip.
Tips for Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica:
- try to be there early in the morning
- drive to the really last parking lot and don’t let the ruthless parking attendants confuse you
- If there is already a long queue in front of the park, one of you should buy the tickets and the other one should queue up for the park
- go to the more distant beaches, if you want to have a little more peace
Have you been to Manuel Antonio National Park? Then leave us a comment and tell us how you liked it.