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Your Ideal Guide To Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Posted by Emily Henkel on 11/13/20 1:02 PM

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Out of all the places to vacation in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio has all the beaches, jungle adventures, and sloths that you are looking for. 

Costa Rica doesn’t make it easy when you are trying to plan things to do … there are so many incredible sites to see, rainforests to explore and waterfalls to dive into it's hard to choose how to spend your time. Luckily, you can cross off a ton on your “to do list” just outside of the tiny city of Quepos.

Do more than just visit Costa Rica 
Get more out of your trip with this Central America Destination Guide

As an ILP volunteer, you’ll get vacation time to really explore Costa Rica — and we think Manuel Antonio makes for a perfect 4-day trip. Here's your itinerary:  

Tell Me All About Manuel Antonio 

Manuel Antonio is both a quaint town and a gorgeous national in Costa Rica, outside the city of Quepos. This dense, adventure-packed rainforest hugs the Pacific Coast, so you’ve got green jungles plus turquoise beaches filled with coral reefs. Perfect. Come here for a few days filled with zip line tours, waterfall hikes, rappelling, sloths, monkeys, snorkeling, mangrove tours, snorkeling and more — there is so much to do here. Get a peek at the tour options available here

Though it is the country's smallest park, Manuel Antonio is is one of the most popular and has been a favorite since it was established in 1972. The park is focused on preserving that incredible amount of bio-diversity, so plan on keeping to the park trails and respecting rules like not feeding the wildlife. The forests in the park are home to chattering squirrel and white-faced monkeys as well as colorful crabs, iguanas, and sloths. 

This park has another claim to fame: being discovered by the famous Spanish explorer, Ponce de León, who may be more famous for his search for the Fountain of Youth.

You can get more information about Manuel Antonio on their official website

Planning Your Visit 

We suggest spending 3-4 days in this area, with one day focused on the park itself (Manuel Antonio) and the other days exploring what Quepos and the actual town of Manuel Antonio has to offer. It's a chance to enter the National Park and tour the rainforest or conquer one of the many rainforest adventures here, or hang out at the beach inside of the National Park.

Most volunteers plan on spending money inside the park for 1-2 days, then splitting the rest of their time exploring the free beaches in nearby Quepos + the town of Manuel Antonio if that's helpful to you. 


What To Do There (+Costs) 

Like we mentioned before, there are so many things to do in this part of Costa Rica. Once you get to Quepos, pretty much every single hotel and newsstand will have shelves and shelves of pamphlets advertising tours for you to book and activities to check out.

Most ILP groups spend one day in the actual National Park, either taking a tour through the jungle with a guide or trying out a zip lining jungle adventure. Both options are pretty much half or full-day itineraries. There is also a beach inside of the park if you're interested in some swimming. 

We’ve mentioned a few here to help you out. These are not recommendations, just ways to help you know what's available and how much it could costAgain, once you arrive, you’ll see tons of agencies so you can shop around and find the company that seems like a good fit. 

Explore The National Park Itself

You have got to spend at least one day in the Manuel Antonio rain forest; it’s a national park that is one of the most visited in the entire country. The park is full of hiking trails, tons of animals, and even has a few waterfalls and beaches hidden inside. 

The trails are all easy access, with the main trail boasting a 1.3 mile track that links to the beaches found inside the national park. It's a rather easy walking trail. You can also tackle Punta Catedral which is just under one mile but loops to include some pretty steep inclines. You can access this trail from both of the beaches : Manuel Antonio Beach and Espadilla Sur Beach.

Hours + Guide Info 

The park is open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and is closed Mondays.  

The entrance fee is $16 USD — you can hire a guide for $20 USD which is recommended if you would like to see animals other than the white-faced monkeys while you hike! The monkeys are easy to spot, but other animals (like lizards, geckos and the elusive 2-or 3-toed sloth are very hard to see if you’re not an expert). Your guide will bring a scope along to make it easier to spot these animals. There also a $40 fee option if you'd like a private guide with just you or your ILP group. 

Plan on the tour lasting around 2 hours, and ending with a walk along the beach. Buy tickets here online, or at the COOPEALIANZA ticket office. 

ILP Costa Rica

Zip lining and Rappelling

There are tons and tons of tours, but just to give you an idea of what a tour is like (and the prices) here are a few: 

El Santuario Zip lining Tours has the longest zip line in Central America; plus there are zip lines that run parallel to each other, so you can race with someone in your ILP group.

For an idea on price, this tour is $75 USD per person, 5.5 hours long, and includes 13 zip lines to ride. Tours begin at 7:30 AM, 10:30 AM, and 1:30 PM. Head’s up: it’s a lot cooler in the morning so the earlier tour might be good (the jungle really  heats up). Lunch and transportation is included. 

ADR Adventure Park takes you through to the San Antonio de Damas park  (30 minutes from Manual Antonio) so you can swing on their Tarzan swing, take a zip line through the waterfall, and complete some canyoning. This tour is $130  USD for 7 hours, lunch and transportation is included. They have tours that start in 6:45 AM,  one at 8:30 AM and another at 10:30 AM. 

Xtreme Tours offers waterfall rappelling, a free fall into the swimming pool off a waterfall, upside down rappels and a challenge bridge. Lunch and transportation will be included. It’s $85 USD but you can get $5 off if you have a group of six. It’s 5.5 hours long, with tours starting at 7:30 AM and 12:30 PM.  

ILP Adventure


Manual Antonio Beach 

The most famous beach in the area is the Manual Antonio Beach, found inside the national park. If you're going for the day, you can block out some time to visit the beach while you're still inside the park so you don't have to pay the entrance fee ($16) on two different days just to access the beach.  The National Park closes at 4:00 PM, so you may want to get in your park exploring in early, then head to the beach before the park closes. 

It's a 25-30 minute hike from the park entrance to get to the beach, but it's well worth it. You'll find glittering waves and a gorgeous stretch of sand. Just a couple of tips: Visitors mention not wanting to visit the beach with a guide since they will limit your time on the beach. Also, there are loads of monkeys and raccoons that will try to take you snacks, so make sure they are heavily guarded! Oh, and keep your eyes peeled on your trek to the beach; you can often find a few favorite animals like monkeys, parrots, and the occasional sloth. 

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Espadilla Sur Beach

Manuel Antonio Beach is the more popular seaside escape (known for amazing views) but you can do your part to avoid the crowds a bit by wandering down to the Espadilla Sur Beach.  It's a fantastic place to learn how to surf or tackle the waves on your own. Hang around the southern end of the beach around high tide if you're a beginner, or hang out at the northern end for bigger waves. 

Manuel Antonio

Others In Quepos

However, if you're too busy having jungle adventures inside Manual Antonio, there are a couple beaches in Quepos you can explore. One that’s worth checking out is Biesanz Beach. It’s on the road to Punta Quepos near the Parador Resort. To get to the beach, you’ll walk through the forest for about five minutes (just look for the little gate on the side of the road, at the bottom of the hill). 

From Quepos, there’s a bus that runs to Biesanz Beach (for about $0.50). Look for the bus with “Biesanz Beach” in the front windshield. 

On most of the beaches you’ll find tours —  deep sea fishing excursions, snorkeling gear to rent, etc. These gals lucked out and found vendors selling floats for around $1.50.

A Few Recommendations

Where To Eat 

There is no food allowed inside of the park (you are allowed to bring your own water) and food options are very limited inside of the park. But the town of Manuel Antonio is boasting some really fantastic places to eat. It's small, but dozens of eateries come recommended. Here are just a few to check out: 

Emilio's Cafe serves up an amazing breakfast  and lunch (think French toast and yummy sandwiches) with a stellar view. This place is also open for dinner. 

Falafel Bar is the spot for Middle Eastern food in the area. Get good hummus and lots of veggies, and good luck deciding between falafel, shawarma, and kabobs. 

Restaurant Junior or Soda Sanchez are the picks for classic Costa Rican fare like rice and beans, plantains, and grilled chicken. 

Catch The Sunset 

Head to Playa Espadilla, which is west-facing, and gives you a pretty spectacular scene of the sun setting over the ocean waves. You can also get a good view by hiking up to Cathedral Point, which juts out from the park (just a 20-minute hike away). If you time dinner right, you can eat and watch the sun set from El Avion, which is a restaurant with huge windows and open seating. 

Playa Espadilla Beach in Manuel Antonio

A Bit About The Weather 

It's coastal but still has that rainforest environment. The dry season hits in the middle of December through April (though you'll still see some rain to keep everything green). May through November is that rainy season where it typically rains every afternoon. October is the rainiest month of the year. 

Where To Stay 

There are two sides to visiting Manuel Antonio — staying in Manuel Antonio or staying in Quepos. We have had ILP groups do both. There are pros and cons to either option, so just consider those before deciding (being closer to the park or having more things to do/restaurants available, etc).

If you opt to stay in Manuel Antonio, one ILP group recommended staying at La Posada. It was an affordable price when split between people, has a pool, and A/C. 

We have a few places in that Quepos post where ILP volunteers have stayed in the past. 

Things To Pack 

When you're visiting the park, make sure you have comfortable shoes for all the walking around. You may need to wear close-toed shoes for any zip lining adventure, so keep that in mind. It's also good to remember that Manuel Antonio is both a rainforest and a beach destination, so you'll want shoes that work for both. Sunscreen, bug spray, and a rain jacket also come in handy. 

Remember to bring cash or a card because you cannot bring your own snacks inside of the park. You'll want spending money to grab snacks, lunch, or dinner during your day of exploring. 

ILP Adventure

How To Get There (+Costs)

You’ve got a few options, especially if you’re starting from San Jose.

By Bus

It’s a 3.5 hour bus ride and costs around $8. (Pro tip: Taking a “directo” bus means fewer stops, so you’ll get there faster than if you took a “collectivo” bus). The bus goes from the San Jose Tracopa Terminal to the main station in Quepos; — then you can easily get a connecting bus to the National Park. That Manuel Antonio-Quepos connecting bus costs about $0.60 and runs all day long. 

San José Tracopa Terminal: Buses leave for Manuel Antonio (Quepos) from San Jose at 6:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 10:30 AM, 12:00 PM, 1:15 PM  Monday - Sunday. 
{You can click that blue Terminal heading to get more info.} 

We have more information on buses and bus schedules in Costa Rica, here. You'll get pretty familiar with traveling by bus in Costa Rica if you spend a few weeks here and don't want to spend money on airfare. 

By Plane

You can also take a short flight from San Jose to Quepos: a 25 minute plane ride gets you there for around $122 on natureair. 

Once you’re in Quepos, you can easily get a city bus to the National Park or to the beaches; There are also loads of taxis to take you around. Just know that the official taxi are bright red and always have a yellow placard on the side — there are lots of pirate taxis around that try to scam tourists. Expect to pay around $6-$7 to get between the Quepos and the national park, or the beach.

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Topics: Central America

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We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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