Don’t miss Manuel Antonio National Park – The crown jewel of Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the smaller national parks in Costa Rica. However, Forbes named it one of the world’s 12 most beautiful parks! It’s one of the most visited parks in the country for many, many reasons.
Manuel Antonio is located on the pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the Puntarenas province. It’s about 80 miles (130 km) from the capital of San José. (Figure that to be about a three-and-a-half-hour drive or bus ride coming directly from San José.)
The nearest proper city to Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos, about 4 miles (7 km) to the north. This is a quaint little tropical town if ever there was one. Some of the bridges into town are pretty rickety, so if you’re driving in via rental car, be brave.
Flying into the area is also an option. A flight from San José is a short 20-minute plane ride. As a bonus, you’ll be treated with some of the most amazing views on your approach.
|A section of Playa Manuel Antonio.|
Manuel Antonio beaches – Some of the best beaches on the Pacific
Manuel Antonio National Park is unique in that the lush rain forest runs right up to the idyllic, sandy white beaches. There are four main beaches in the park, and they are some of the most spectacular along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
After entering the park at the ranger station, Playa Espadilla Sur is the first beach you’ll encounter. It’s usually not as populated as Playa Manuel Antonio, which is safer for swimming and better for snorkeling the coral reefs. Playa Manuel Antonio is over a half-mile long, however, so there’s plenty of room for folks to spread out. This beach is considered by many to be the crown-jewel beach of Costa Rica.
In between the two beaches, there’s a trail up to Punta Cathedral (Cathedral Point) that will reward you with some spectacular overlooking views of the sea and the park.
The two other lesser-traveled beaches are Playa Escondido and Playa Playita. They’re not as easily accessible as the other two. Playa Escondido is a bit rockier. Playa Playita is the country’s only (unofficial) nude beach, should that be your thing.
Hiking throughout Manuel Antonio National Park
The trail system within the park is well-marked and well laid out. Because the park is heavily trafficked by visitors, the animals seem to be used to people and you’ll have some of the best opportunities to see white-faced capuchin and howler monkeys, coatis, iguanas, and sloths. Not to mention all the species of birds!
|These iguanas are everywhere in the park. At every turn, you’ll find another one basking in a tree.|
We were also able to see bats, all types of beetles and bugs, and off in the distance, we were able to spy a caiman lurking under the surface of an inland swampy cove.
I totally recommend hiring a tour guide to show you through the park. The guide will pick out things you’d normally just walk by and will point out some of the unique plants, animals, insects, and reptiles that call the park home.
Our guide carried around a telescope he would set up pretty frequently to show the group some of the hidden secrets. That’s how we saw the caiman.
Park times, costs, and entrances
Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7 am to 4 pm. (Yes, it’s closed on Mondays.) Get there early as during the week the park is kept to a maximum of 600 guests (800 on the weekends). During the green season you should have no trouble getting in, but during high season lines do form (especially around holidays).
|A guided tour at Manuel Antonio National Park. The guide provides a scope to get up-close-and-personal with the park inhabitants.|
The park entrance fee ranges from $7 to $15, depending on the season. A group tour with an English-speaking guide (again, highly recommended) will run about $25 – $45 per person. Tours run two to three hours and are scheduled throughout the day.
Once you’re in, you’ll need to cross a little estuary to get into the rest of the park. At low tide, you might just be able to walk through a rowboat to get across. At high tide, that same rowboat will ferry you across for a dollar or two.
There’s an alternate park entrance to the north that passes this little river, but it’s a longer hike to the beaches.
Things to do in and around Manuel Antonio National Park
In addition to hiking and exploring the park and hitting the beaches, the road leading up to the park is peppered with hotels, restaurants, and other opportunities for adventure.
Manuel Antonio National Park is an ideal place for horseback riding and you’ll find many operators offering tours. There are a number of boat tours available, and if you want something a bit more active and up close, take a kayak tour.
Sport-fishing charters can be booked in town, and you can either hit the open seas or fish inland in some of the many estuaries and little rivers throughout the area. Head out to sea to fish for marlin, sailfish, and dolphinfish. Inland you’ll find snook, roosterfish, snapper, and many, many other fish.
Of course, canopy tours (zip-lines) are available here. Mountain biking, jet ski, and ATV tours round out the offerings.
And some of the best scuba diving in the country is available at nearby Caño Island.
This incredible range of things to do is why this area is one of the most popular in Costa Rica. In addition to the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park, anything you might want to do while in Costa Rica is right here in the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area.