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Ultimate Manuel Antonio Guide

by Sam
Main beach, Manuel Antonio guide

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With hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting every year, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. The famous national park boasts stunning beaches amidst vast tropical rainforest and is home to an abundance of wildlife. Without a doubt, Manuel Antonio is our favourite place that we visited in Costa Rica. We spent two nights in the nearby town of Quepos, using the time to visit the national park and the surrounding areas. This Manuel Antonio guide covers everything from accommodation options to activities outside of the national park.

What you need to know

Manuel Antonio National Park closes on Mondays. This is essential information when planning your trip. We only found this out a few days before our visit and almost missed out on the park itself.

On every other day the park opening hours are 7am-4pm. The driest months are December through March, and so this represents the best time to visit. However, this does mean you’ll be visiting at the most popular time of year. If you decide to visit at this time, be sure to book accommodation in advance due to lower availability.

Monkeys in the forest, Manuel Antonio guide

 Getting in/out Manuel Antonio

Plane – Flights operate from Costa Rica’s capital San José daily. Prices can vary but returns can be found from ₡75,000 (Costa Rican Colónes).

Bus – There are two types of service from and to San José – direct or collectivo. The direct option takes 3 and a half hours, costing ₡4,000 one way. Alternatively, the collectivo costs ₡3,400 one way and takes around 5 hours. If you’re heading to San José airport the collectivo service does go there, whereas the direct does not.

If you’re looking to get to Manuel Antonio from another city/area, our best advice is to speak to your hostel/hotel regarding your transport options. They should have information on public buses to help you get there. If you prefer you can also arrange a shuttle, however we were quoted extremely high prices of around ₡35,000 each for any shuttle journeys. We recommend avoiding this option unless you have a lot of spare cash or are working on a tight schedule.

 Where to stay in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio – There are a number of accommodation options in the area outside the park, spanning luxury hotels to budget backpacker hostels. Agoda is a great place to start when searching for accommodation options, with rooms often heavily discounted when compared to other sites. Click here to see Agoda’s latest prices for accommodation in Manuel Antonio during your visit.

Quepos – Better value for money can be found in the small town of Quepos. It’s a 15-minute bus journey to Manuel Antonio from here, costing ₡295 one way. Accommodation here tends to be cheaper, and you also have access to less touristy restaurants, which again brings down the cost. If you’re looking to save yourself some money, click here for Agoda’s latest prices in Quepos for your stay.

The best food we had in Costa Rica was at Marisqueria Velamar in Quepos. For just ₡4,500 you can get fresh fish with two sides – which is incredible value for Costa Rica.

A green lizard, Manuel Antonio guide

 Visiting the park

The park itself encompasses lush tropical rainforest as well as beautiful white sand beaches. Spend your day gazing towards the treetops in search of monkeys and sloths, appreciating nature at its finest. Make some time to enjoy the wonderful beaches, but watch out for the raccoons that rummage through unattended belongings. Manuel Antonio really is a haven for wildlife. The park is home to colourful Toucans, coatis, dolphins, snakes, hawks and occasionally even migrating humpback and pilot whales. With many trails to explore, and beaches to relish, you could easily spend more than one day here without doing everything. 

The best advice we can give you is to part with the extra cash and pay for a private Manuel Antonio guide. Your experience will be improved tenfold for it, we promise. We paid $30 (approximately ₡17,500) each for a private guide, as opposed to $20 (approximately ₡12,000) for a guide in a group. While guides are completely optional, we saw many people in the park without guides struggling to see any wildlife. Our guide spotted everything from smiling sloths to sleeping bats to miniscule yet beautiful colourful grasshoppers. Having the guide’s telescope too dramatically improves the experience – allowing you a close up perspective of the wildlife. Guides can even take good quality photos for you to cherish, using their telescopes and your phone camera. Without hiring our own guide, we wouldn’t have seen a quarter of what we did and our photos wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. Do yourself a favour by getting a guide and truly making the most of this wonderful park.

Sloth, Manuel Antonio guide

 Other activities

Being such a popular destination, there’s plenty of things to do in Manuel Antonio. You can fill your days zip lining, sportfishing, scuba diving, white water rafting, surfing and more.

With so much choice, here are our recommendations of what to do with your time:

Hacienda Baru – A great option for wildlife lovers, and an option if you’re in the area on a Monday. If you want something to do while Manuel Antonio is closed, you can take a bus towards Dominical for ₡1,500 and ask the driver to drop you off at Hacienda Baru. A self-guided tour here is $8 USD, which will be converted to colónes on the day if you wish to pay in local currency. We saw just 3 other tourist groups in our whole day. This works to your advantage for spotting wildlife. With 4 different trails to choose from, you can easily spend a day or two exploring. The park also has accommodation available if you do wish to take your time. Taking our time meant that we saw a Toucan high up in the canopy, as well as lots of monkeys and raccoons. The park is home to a huge list of species, which can be viewed here. Some of the highlights include Pumas, Ocelots, Boa Constrictors, and crocodiles. If you have a spare day and want the chance to see even more wildlife, this is the place for you.

Walking in Hacienda Baru, a must do in Manuel Antonio guide

Whale watching – If your trip falls between November and March or July and September, you’ll have the opportunity to take a whale watching tour. With some luck you’ll get to see magnificent humpback and pilot whales migrating through the area. Dolphins are often spotted on these tours too so keep your eyes peeled! A word of warning for booking these tours – we’ve heard that some companies mislead customers by booking them onto a booze cruise under the pretence that it’s actually a whale watching tour. Be careful when you book your tours not to be tricked, and always try to check reviews in advance of payment. Prices generally start from ₡50,000.

Damas Island – Home to boa constrictors, crocodiles, caimans, sloths, monkeys and more, Damas Island presents an opportunity to see even more of Costa Rica’s fascinating wildlife. Take a boat tour and be guided through the mangroves and estuaries from the comfort of your vessel. For the more daring, you can kayak through the islands mangroves. Prices start at around ₡35,000.

Playa Espadilla – If you’re looking for a beach day without having to pay the national park entrance fee, this is the place for you. Unfortunately though, Playa Espadilla does not compare to the alluring white sand beaches found within the park. It does, however, back on to towering rainforest. This makes it possible to see wildlife such as sloths, monkeys and even crocodiles. While it may not be the perfect beach for a traditional beach day, you can still relax here and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area. It’s certainly one of the best free things to do in Manuel Antonio.

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Marine @ 1001 Travel Blogs July 1, 2017 - 10:40 am

Thanks a lot for this interesting article! I’ve never been to Costa Rica but it looks like an amazing country to discover!

Sam July 1, 2017 - 4:58 pm

Thank you! It really is one of the countries we have to get back too and see more of!

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