Manuel Antonio is an oceanside village on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, made famous for its notable national park. The Manuel Antonio National Park is unique in that it combines both gorgeous nature trails to walk AND beautiful beaches to lounge on. It’s the best of both worlds.
The area of Manuel Antonio is a great, lazy, beach destination for those looking for a hot, sunny vacation to relax. However, there is also a ton to do if you are the kind of person that can only spend so many days sitting on the beach (like me).
Where to stay in Manuel Antonio
There are a few different areas you can stay in with easy access to the Manuel Antonio National Park. First off, you have Quepos. Quepos was once a small fishing village and now is lined with shops, restaurants, banks, supermarkets, etc. It’s not really necessarily known to be a “beautiful” town or anything special, and the beach you’d want to visit in this area is not in Quepos, it’s in Manuel Antonio. Buses do run frequently between Quepos and the Manuel Antonio Park area every 20-30 minutes during the day and are really easy to navigate. There are also taxis readily available too. For context, Quepos to the National Park is about an 18-minute drive.
Saying that I would recommend staying in Manuel Antonio for convenience alone. The town itself is pretty minimal with primarily just restaurants so it doesn’t really overly matter where you stay as the bus runs frequently down to the park and beaches. However, I opted to stay as close as I could get to the National Park and the beaches. There are a ton of hotels in this area. I chose the Jungle Beach Hotel. When selecting a hotel, make sure to refer to a map so you have an idea of what it’s closest to. For us, this hotel was less than a 5-minute walk to Espadilla Beach, and only about a 10-minute walk (or less) to the entrance of the National Park.
Where to eat in Manuel Antonio
There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in and around Manuel Antonio. Here are some of the ones I ate at or that came highly recommended in my research:
- Marlin Restaurant (one of the few on the beach)
- Ronny’s Place (a bit remote but worth it for the sunset views – make a reso in advance if you can for the best tables)
- Cafe Aqua Azul (in Hotel Los Altos)
- Emilio’s Cafe (great seafood and brunch)
- El Avion Bar & Restaurant (a bit of a tourist trap but located in/around an old plane which makes it really cool. I’d opt to just go for a drink or two in the bar located in the plane instead of eating here)
- Falafel Bar
- Baldi’s Fresh Restaurant (beach views)
- Food Truck “En Todos” (a fun restaurant/food truck out of an old school bus)
Here is a great list by Two Weeks in Costa Rica
What to do in Manuel Antonio
There are a ton of great activities in the Manuel Antonio area, however, it’s also a great destination to just kick back and relax on many of the beautiful beaches. You can choose how adventurous you want to be. Here are some activities for inspiration:
Of course, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches to lounge on in Manuel Antonio. The best beaches you’re going to find in the area are within the national park. The only downfall of these beaches is that there are no lounge chairs or umbrellas, and there isn’t food or drinks allowed on the beach. Saying that though, if I could’ve spent every day on these beaches, I would have. They are spotless and gorgeous. They’ve done a fantastic job at preserving them.
Knowing you probably don’t want to pay for entry into the park every day, you can also visit some of these beaches:
- Playa Espadilla
- Playa Biesanz
- Playa La Macha
Here is a great guide on the different beaches in the area
Manuel Antonio National Park
The crown jewel of Manuel Antonio, the national park is a must-do while in the area. If you were going to do one thing, I’d recommend this. The national park is open every day except for Tuesday, from 7am-4pm, and admission is around $18 US for adults and $6 US for kids. It’s recommended that during high season you purchase tickets in advance or get there early as they only allow so many people in the park each day. I’d personally book a tour guide as well that will help you spot wildlife. What we did was had a guide for 2 hours that brought us through the trails, then we ended and stayed at the beach for the rest of the day.
A few things to know about the park:
- You cannot bring single-use plastic into the park so bring a reusable water bottle
- Food is prohibited to bring into the park – there is a little café that you can buy food and drinks from
- Umbrellas, beach toys, etc. are all not allowed in the park
If you’re looking for a great guide, you should book Henry through HP Tours
Other popular activities:
- Kayaking in the Mangroves
- Parasailing from the beach (there are a million people on the beach promoting this, just go up and ask one of them for details)
- Catamaran cruises
Day trips from Manuel Antonio
On top of the activities to do around Manuel Antonio, you can also opt for a day trip nearby. These activities do require you to book a tour (most hotels can help you do that) or to have a car to navigate yourself there on your own.
I really wanted to do a day trip here, but unfortunately, our hotel needed two people to run the tour so I wasn’t able to go. Nauyaca Waterfalls is a beautiful set of waterfalls that you can hike into, horseback into, or take a 4×4. It’s located about an hour out of Manuel Antonio.
This is often a stop on your way to Manuel Antonio but you can also visit this little town for the day or enjoying its beaches.
Tortuga Island boasts a beautiful white sand beach. You can snorkel, rent a jet ski, hike, or just lounge in the sun. Most companies will require a minimum of 4 people to run this tour but enjoying the cruise through the Gulf of Nicoya looks stunning.
Known for some of Costa Rica’s best snorkeling and diving, Cano Island is a biological reserve and will definitely beat any snorkeling you’ll find in Manuel Antonio by a long shot.
Where can I rent beach chairs and umbrellas?
There are a ton of places on Espadilla Beach that will rent you loungers and umbrellas. Just walk over to any loungers you see and usually, the person renting them will approach you to provide you with a price.
Can I get food and drink service on the beach?
Yes, many of the places offering umbrellas and chairs offer food and/or drink service but you can also pack a cooler and stop at a local grocery store for cheaper options.
Do I need a car in Manuel Antonio?
No! The town is very accessible by regularly running buses that you can take up and down to the beach and where all the restaurants are. There are also taxis available.
How do I get to Manuel Antonio?
We were heading from Monteverde and rented a shuttle service to pick us up at our hotel and drive us there. There were about 10 people on the bus, and it was cost-efficient if you don’t have a car.
Do you have any recommendations for Manuel Antonio? Share them below in the comments!