Although Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s smallest national parks, it is also one of their most visited. The park packs a lot of variety in such a small space. From jungles to wildlife to amazing beaches, Manuel Antonio is a top destination for anyone traveling to Costa Rica. It was even named by Forbes as one of the world’s twelve most beautiful national parks. High praise for such a small national park in such a small country.
How To Get To Manuel Antonio National Park
First off, you’re going to want to know how to get to Manuel Antonio National Park, which can be quite a task depending on where you’re coming from. Bus travel is the most common way for backpackers to get there, although renting a car or taking a taxi are also options if you are willing to spend more money. If you’re lucky enough to be headed there from San Jose, then your job of figuring out bus travel becomes significantly easier.
On a pretty tight schedule, my friend and I had to take a roundabout route from Monteverde. Our journey started at 5 AM and did not end until early in the afternoon. Despite Costa Rica’s small size, traveling on the roads often take much longer. We had to take the 5 AM bus, waiting outside on Monteverde’s main road, hoping that the instructions we received from a friendly stranger were correct. We had to take that bus to Puntarenas, and then another bus to Quepos, and then a local bus to our hostel close to Manuel Antonio.
In short, find the best way to get to Quepos from where you currently are and then take a bus or taxi to your hostel.
Where To Stay in Manuel Antonio
For a place to say, I highly recommend Hostel Selina. It easily ranks as one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. The price tag might seem a bit steep by backpacker standards (about $25 a night per bed when I went), but I think it was worth it. With three pools and a great location, you are always just a few minutes away from a refreshing swim to combat the hot Costa Rican sun.
Getting to Manuel Antonio from wherever your hostel is should be pretty easy. There’s one main road and you can wave over the bus once you see it coming. Let them know you want to go to Manuel Antonio, but most likely, you won’t have to as there will probably be quite a few people going there as well. You can also take a taxi if you don’t feel like waiting for a bus. If you rented a car, you will have to pay for parking if you want to park close to the entrance. It cost about $15 to park for the entire day, which split between the five of us was not too bad.
Should You Hire A Tour Guide for Manuel Antonio National Park?
Once you get there, you will likely be harassed by tour guides wanting you to choose them. Manuel Antonio is one of those parks that you will want to have a guide for, even if it’s only for the telescope that they have. I love exploring at my own pace, but I was thankful that we had a guide to find the animals. These guys are professionals. It blew my mind how they could see some of the animals that they did. You’re probably not going to spot a sloth if you go by yourself, and even if you did, you won’t be able to get a good look if you don’t have the equipment.
We paid about 16,000 colones ($30 USD) per person for entrance and the guide. I’ll admit that I was a bit grumpy at first for the guide costing almost as much as the entrance for a tour that lasted a little over an hour. By the end, I realized just how much having one improved the experience. We saw monkeys, sloths, and a variety of smaller, beautiful animals that none of us would have been able to see otherwise. Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America, but this price was worth it for getting to spend the entire day in this amazing national park.
In short, if you don’t really care about the wildlife or the fun facts about them and the park, then you don’t need to hire a guide. The beaches are an amazing attraction in their own right.
Like I said, the park is one of the smallest in Costa Rica, so you can explore most of it in a day. Once you enter, you take the Sloth Trail (sendero perezoso) to a bit of a split off point where you can choose between which beaches you want to go to. The sloth trail is your best bet to see sloths, and we saw about seven or eight of them! There’s also many more on the other trails, and we saw a mom and a baby on our way to one of the beaches.
The Beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and the beaches could not be any more amazing. Playa Manuel Antonio is the main beach, as it is the closest to the end of the Sloth Trail. It is a gorgeous beach but it is also pretty crowded. There’s no doubt that it was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to, but all of the beaches at Manuel Antonio are beautiful. Find yourself a quiet spot and laze the day away once you are done exploring.
My favorite spot was Playa Puerto Escondido. In hindsight, I think it was closed off when we went. You have to go down a pretty long ladder to actually get down to the beach from the viewpoint on the trail, and that ladder was definitely blocked off. I just read that you often have to double-check with the rangers to make sure this beach is open because, while beautiful, it is also more dangerous with the waves and the tides.
We went anyway, and had this beautiful spot all to ourselves.
After exploring, we nestled under a tree on Playa Espadilla Sur (the beach past Playa Manuel Antonio) for a siesta before swimming around until we got kicked out at a little bit past 4 in the afternoon. Oh yeah, keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Don’t worry about people, worry about the little monkeys and curious raccoons that have no problem with taking your food, clothes, or cameras. We saw raccoons snooping through our stuff and I ran out of the water to chase them to no avail. Those little guys did not care at all. Keep your valuables in your bags and keep them closed.
A day spent at Manuel Antonio is hard to beat. It’s got the perfect mix of adventure, fun, and relaxing. You’ll leave covered in sand, probably a little burnt, but I promise you will leave satisfied.
There’s also a number of free beaches outside of Manuel Antonio National Park that you can spend your time in Costa Rica in, so thankfully you don’t have to pay every time you want to go to a beach.