Among the 26 National Parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is the most famous and visited one. We know why and you will also after reading this article. This unspoilt setting facing the Pacific Ocean is a magnificent place where fauna and flora live in harmony. It was declared National Park and therefore has been highly protected since 1972. Spending one day in this beautiful Park is the promise of an enchanted interlude.
Presented Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest Park of Costa Rica (16.24 km²). Despite that, It is the most visited one in the country. You will see many surprises with an extraordinary fauna and flora and several heavenly beaches.
It is the perfect spot for a perfect day with your family and friends. There are plenty of activities for everyone either in the Tropical forest or at the beach, in the middle of the mangrove, or next to a waterfall. Follow us…
The landward side of the Park
In the tropical forest, there are more than 340 different kinds of trees and plants to see as well as more than 100 mammal species and 340 bird species to observe.
You will see the emblematic sloth as well as racoons, iguanas, butterflies, colorful crabs and many monkeys (howler monkey, squirrel monkey, capuchin monkey…). Note that Capuchin Monkeys (cappuccino) and racoons are not afraid of you and are gourmand animals. They will not hesitate to come close to you if they smell food in your bags. Be careful !
There are several different trails in the Park. We suggest you leave the principal trail where most of the visitors stay. If you go deeper in the jungle it will be less crowded.
The Seaward Side of the Park
You cannot visit Manuel Antonio National Park and miss its wonderful beaches :
- Playa Gemelas is a beach divided in two parts with rocks. We say this beach never looks the same because of the erosion caused by winds, currents and tectonic plates movement.
- Playa Espadilla Sur is more secret than the others. That makes it even nicer and more peaceful. Sometimes, the waves can be high and strong and offer you a beautiful natural show. However, if you want to swim on this beach, it is better to go there at low tide.
- Playa Manuel Antonio is the most famous and frequented beach of the park. Hopefully, it is a big beach with small coves for more intimacy. It is the best place for snorkeling.
Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio are back-to-back, separated by the forest. From the sky, this area looks like a whale tale. There should be no confusion with Playa Ballenas in Ballenas National Parc in Uvita.
In Manuel Antonio National Park you will go through the mangrove and see its unique ecosystem.
You are also going to walk to reach a beautiful waterfall. Be careful. You will be able to see it only during the raining season (also called green season) that goes from May to December.
If you like to walk, there are 2 spots you want to reach to enjoy wonderful landscapes : El Mirador Punta Serrucho and Mirado Puerto Escondido. We prefer Puerto Escondido that gives a spectacular view on the beaches.
You will not waste your time here, for sure ! there are plenty of things to do in one day (and even more).
CAUTION : Several Manchineel Trees line the beach. Do not put your towel under the tree, especially when it rains as its sap and leaves are toxic and can cause severe burns.
Visit the park with a guide
It is better to visit Manuel Antonio National Park with a local guide who perfectly knows the area. You can start by going hiking for 1 hour to discover the local wildlife. Then, go for another walk with a guide who will show you everything you missed and then spend the rest of the day on the beach. Sounds like a perfect plan.
Guides hired by the Park are used to find animals and more particularly the sloths that are harder to find. On the other hands, when you visit the park with a guide, you help the local economy. He will be your teacher, your ears and your eyes… Priceless ! If you come to Costa Rica, you do not want to miss anything and if you can learn from the best well… Do it ;-)
Finally, if you are not convinced yet, note that a guide can have access to trails usually closed to the public.
What to do next ?
Where to stay for the night ?
It is better to stay in a hotel or guest house in Quepos to enjoy the astonished view of Quepos bay and Manuel Antonio. You are in Paradise, enjoy it to the maximum. You will find there places to stay for every budget.
Most of the restaurants, grocery shops and bars are located in Quepos. Do not miss the local market of Quepos to buy fruit and vegetables. They are delicious. Quepos has the reputation of being the most gay friendly city of Costa Rica.
Our piece of advice : Go to Quepos Beach in the evening and drink coconut water watching the sunset.
What to do next to Manuel Antonio ?
In Quepos, there are 1000 things to do. Do not tell us you got bored there. Here is a few very nice activities in Quepos, enough to stay for a few days :
- Horse Riding
- Scuba Diving
- Mangrove visit
You can go next to Uvita and visit Las Ballenas National Parc. If you go there between December and April, you might have the chance to see whales coming close to Costa Rica to give birth.
You should also go to Dominical Beach to watch and support surfers.
What you need to know
How to go to Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the Central Pacific Coast next to Quepos. From Tamarindo or San José, it is better to go to the Highway where any kind of rental car can go. For once, an all terrain car or SUV is not necessary even though it’s way more comfortable.
You will have to drive 3 hours from San José (102 miles) and only one hour from Jaco
The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday as well as bank holidays from 7am to 4pm. You are not allowed to access the park after 3pm.
The Manuel Antonio National Park is very famous. We suggest you go very early in the morning, preferably at the opening time. There is no parking lot, the earlier you arrive, the easier you will find a parking spot next to the entrance.
Some of the trails are adapted for persons with reduced mobility. Unfortunately it doesn’t concern the trails leading to the beaches.
You will have to pay to access the park : $16 per person above 12 years old. You can pay by cash, debit or credit card.
It’s better to arrive early in the morning to avoid a long queue at the entrance. As we said, there is no parking lot… Pura Vida ;-)
The sun is very strong in Costa Rica. Don’t Forget to bring hats, sunglasses and mineral sunscreen.
When you arrive, your bags will be checked. In order to preserve the environment, it is forbidden to bring any kind of plastic packaging (biscuits packs or crisps bags, plastic bottles…) Bring sandwiches and fruit and water in a non plastic bottle. Alcohol is prohibited inside the park and it is also forbidden to feed the animals.
There is no restaurant in the park, you really need to think about bringing a picnic. The only amenities you will find are showers and toilets. Soap and Shampoo as forbidden inside the park.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most important activities to do in Costa Rica. If you are to choose 1 park among all, pick this one. However, if you are looking for more challenging hiking, there are plenty of wonderful hiking trails in Costa Rica.
One thing for sure, Manuel Antonio National Park won’t disappoint you.