Manuel Antonio Costa Rica: Complete Visitors Guide
A nice Pacific Coast beach town and home to Costa Rica’s most popular national park.
The Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Vibes
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is home to Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the most visited national park in Costa Rica due to its trails that are good for most physical levels and its abundance of wildlife.
There is a central downtown area near the national park with some shops and restaurants across from Manuel Antonio Beach.
But, most hotels and places to eat are located on a curvy hill road above the beach.
This town is popular with tourists and can be very crowded (especially during the dry season). Despite that, it is a beautiful destination that is convenient to get to from the San Jose airport.
Background Info About Manuel antonio Costa Rica
Nearest International Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose
Popular Things to Do
explore the national park, relax on the beaches, take a catamaran tour
Best Way to Get Around
Rental car, tours with transportation included, walking in the downtown area
Best Time of Year to Visit
Dry season is from late December until mid-April.
There is a grocery store on the main road through Manuel Antonio called Super Pura Vida. The sign outside says “Organic Market” in large letters. Just note that it can be difficult to park here and pull in/ out.
The most trustworthy ATM option is in Quepos at BAC Credomatic. Just keep an eye on your surroundings if taking money out here. There are often a lot of people walking around.
There aren’t any gas stations in downtown Manuel Antonio.
You will need to drive back out to the highway Route 34. Here you will find a gas station called Delta La Managua.
(keep in mind all gas stations here are full service. So stay in your car and an employee will fill your car up).
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Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).
We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and have called sunny Costa Rica home since 2016.
We are on a mission to help you plan the perfect Costa Rican vacation.
Map Of Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is located in the Puntarenas Province on the Central Pacific coast of the country.
It is south of Jaco and north of the Dominical/ Uvita area.
Flights to Costa Rica
The easiest way of getting to Manuel Antonio is by flying into the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose.
From there it will take about 3.5 hours to drive to Manuel Antonio.
For flight booking we suggest Skyscanner. They are our go-to flight booking site for great rates.
Driving to Manuel Antonio
If you plan to rent a car we suggest renting from our favorite local company called Adobe Rent a Car. They have a rental office at San Jose Airport, plus all around the country (including just outside of Manuel Antonio in Quepos).
Adobe has given us a 10% discount plus other great perks to pass on to you. You can book your car with discount here.
San Jose International Airport to Manuel Antonio Drive
The drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio will take about three hours.
Here are the directions:
Leave San Jose International Airport and head northwest on the main airport road, following signs for Route 1 (also known as the Inter-American Highway or Pan-American Highway).
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This road can be a bit hectic, especially during rush hour.
You will then merge onto Route 1, heading northwest towards San Ramon.
You will then exit onto highway 27 in the direction of Jaco/Quepos.
There are tolls on this first stretch. They do not accept credit cards but cash in dollars or colones is accepted.
Continue on Highway 27 until you reach the exit for Quepos/Manuel Antonio (Highway 34).
Take the exit and merge onto Highway 34.
Follow Highway 34 for approximately 37 miles until you reach Manuel Antonio.
The drive from SJO to Manuel Antonio usually takes around 3 to four hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.
Even though this route seem easy, it is best to use a GPS app because sometimes it is hard to tell where the road actually goes while you’re driving.
You can download offline Google Maps if you won’t have a network connection. We find that the free app Waze typically works best in Costa Rica.
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Private Shuttle to Manuel Antonio
From anywhere in the country it is possible to take a private shuttle to your hotel in the Manuel Antonio area.
We suggest this for families or groups who don’t feel comfortable driving or won’t need a car while in the area.
You can ask for a quote from our go-to private shuttle company here.
Public Bus to Manuel Antonio
If you are only going to Manuel Antonio and not planning on traveling to other places, the bus from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is your cheapest option.
The public bus will only cost you about $10 dollars and runs several times a day. It’s not the most comfortable and if it’s full you could be left standing for the whole ride, but hey, it’s cheap!
You can check out the full bus schedule. As your destination put in “Quepos”.
Domestic Flights to Manuel Antonio
Your other option is to fly. There is a small airport in Quepos and domestic flights from San Jose and Liberia fly here.
From Quepos, you can easily get a taxi to Manuel Antonio.
Sansa is the main domestic airline in Costa Rica.
The airport in Quepos is called Quepos La Managua Airport (XQP).
This is definitely the fastest way to get to Manuel Antonio, but if you have a fear of small planes, this is not the option for you.
Transportation In Manuel Antonio
Once you arrive in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica you will need transportation to get around town and to fun activities. Here is our opinion on that….
We always suggest renting a car because it gives you the most flexibility to do off-the-beaten-path activities and go to different restaurants.
If you opt to take the public bus, private shuttle, or domestic flight; you can always rent a car once in Manuel Antonio.
Our favorite rental car company Adobe, has an office in Quepos and will deliver your car to your hotel for you within 12 miles of their office.
You won’t need a car if….
– You are staying at one of the resorts and don’t plan to leave much.
– You plan on booking all activities with transportation included.
The thing about Manuel Antonio is that some restaurants are more spread out because there isn’t such a condensed downtown area.
And the main road is curvy and narrow in spots. I don’t really suggest walking on it, especially after dark.
However, you can always take a taxi.
If you opt to do this, I suggest asking at your hotel or VRBO for the contact of a taxi driver that they trust.
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Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Weather
From December until mid-April you can expect zero rain and hot weather in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.
Just keep in mind that this is also prime tourism time and this area tends to be one of the most full places in the country.
Also, by February everything starts to get a bit dried out and not as beautiful (in my opinion).
From mid-April until the end of July you can expect sunny and hot days with a daily afternoon thunderstorm.
The rain usually rolls in around 2 pm and typically does not last for more than a few hours.
Even after the rain ends for the day it tends to stay hot here.
From August until December the weather can be a total guess. Sometimes you’ll have nice sunny days and other times you might have nonstop rain.
Keep in mind that this is also the least popular time to travel so there are fewer tourists and everything is cheaper.
A Few Things to Note About Manuel Antonio Weather
- The sun rise between 5:15 and 5:45am all year round.
- The sun sets between about 5:15 and 5:45pm all year round
- Wildlife is most active in the morning, so get up early to see all the creatures.
- Manuel Antonio has some rivers and streams nearby. This area tends to be especially buggy once the sun goes down.
- The average daily temperature is usually about 90 degrees F in the dry season and in the mid 80’s in the fall.
- Keep in mind that Manuel Antonio is a tropical destination which is probably closer to the Equator than you are used to. As in, the UV index here is notoriously high. Bring all the sun protection.
Things to Do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Go on a Catamaran Tour
There is no shortage of catamaran tour options in Manuel Antonio. Usually, these tours include snorkeling or you can find a scuba diving tour.
Visit Nauyaca Waterfall
Nauyaca waterfall is located just south of Manuel Antonio in the town of Dominical.
If you do not have a rental car we highly suggest this amazing half day tour with lunch and transportation from and to your hotel.
It is also completely possible to visit this spot on your own with a car.
Expect an intense hike and swim under an impressive waterfall.
Check out our complete Nauyaca guide for all the details.
Take a Deep Sea Fishing Trip
The waters off of Quepos (town just before Manuel Antonio) are great for deep-sea sport fishing.
There are many experienced guides here who can help ensure you catch marlin, tuna, sailfish, and more!
Our personal suggestion is a half or full-day trip with Captain Benn on the Good Day. You are bound to have a great experience.
Go White Water Rafting
It is possible to go whitewater rafting from Quepos on the Naranjo or Savegre River.
The Naranjo is class III, IV, and V rapids.
We suggest this white water rafting tour on the Naranjo.
Stick to the Savegre if you are new to rafting and want class II and III rapids.
We suggest this rafting tour on the Savegre.
Go to the Quepos farmer’s market
The nearby town of Quepos has a farmer’s market every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. It is located along the sea wall in Quepos.
We suggest picking up some unusual fruits you’ve never seen before and trying them out.
The beach next to Manuel Antonio is one of the few places in the country where we have seen parasailing.
This is the perfect activity for those of you who are crazy about a unique adventure.
We suggest planning your trip with Miguel.
He will take great care of you and I’m sure you will have so much fun!
Watch the Sunset
Please don’t miss the sunset while you are here. It’s amazing! We suggest getting dinner on the cliffs for a good view (we have suggestions in the restaurant section) or watching it from Playa Espadilla.
The Manuel Antonio National Park
The main reason you are probably in Manuel Antonio is probably to go to the national park.
It is a great place to see wildlife (including many squirrel monkeys and sloths) and enjoy the beautiful beaches.
It is possible to explore the park on your own, but if you would like to see a ton of wildlife and learn all about the animals. We suggest going on a guided tour.
You can just show up at the park and hire a guide, but if you would like a tour with transportation we highly suggest a private tour with Manuel.
If you would like more info about the national park, we have a complete guide to the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Also, keep in mind that the park is closed on Tuesdays.
The Manuel Antonio Beaches
The Manuel Antonio area is home to several nice beaches. A few of our favorites are:
Locals hang out here and rent beach equipment for the day. It is possible to rent beach chairs, kayaks and snorkel gear, There are also vendors selling food and drinks.
We like this spot because the water is usually calm enough to swim in.
You can find out more in our Playa Biesanz guide.
Playa Espadilla is the main beach in the town of Manuel Antonio. It is located directly across from the small downtown area. This beach is long and flat.
Playa Espadilla Sur
This beach is located within the national park. It is one of the most popular beaches in the national park because it is easy to access and it’s beautiful.
Manuel Antonio Beach
This beach is located directly across from Playa Espadilla Sur on the jutted out piece of land of Manuel Antonio National Park.
This beach is also located within the national park. It is a bit more of a hike to get to, so it usually is less crowded than the other beaches in the park.
Manuel Antonio or Quepos?
As you are planning your trip you will probably see a lot of things about Quepos and Manuel Antonio basically being the same place.
So, I just wanted to clear that up.
Quepos is the name for the town located just next to the Manuel Antonio area. It doesn’t have the nicest downtown area, but it has a marina, so a lot of boat trips leave from here.
We do not suggest staying in downtown Quepos. It is not very nice, there is a lot of traffic, and it is most likely just not the vibe you want on your trip.
Instead, a stay in Manuel Antonio will likely be much more enjoyable.
That being said, keep in mind that some people use the two towns interchangeably. For example, you might see a tour that says “Quepos Costa Rica Surf Lessons”.
They most likely actually mean Manuel Antonio.
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Manuel Antonio Restaurants
There is no shortage of restaurant options in the Manuel Antonio area! Here are our faves.
La Luna Restaurant– Located in Gaia Hotel, this restaurant serves up very fresh food with a view. Everything is always delicious.
Emilios Cafe– They are open all day, but I personally love this place for breakfast and lunch. They have delicious cafe-style food. Save room for dessert. The cakes are excellent.
Rico Tico Jungle Grill– A great place for dinner with a view. Plan to get here around 5:15 to enjoy the sunset with your meal.
El Arado Restaurant– This place has a really fun relaxed atmosphere. There is often live music. If you want to really go crazy, get the lobster.
Claro Que Si Seafood– I’m all about this place for a delicious date night. Their seafood is what they are known for but there are plenty of other amazing options as well.
Falafel Bar – The perfect cute lunch spot. Their falafel is on point and the prices are good.
Backpacks Paradise Costa Linda – Your best bet for lunch after a day in the national park. Located down the street from the park, this hostel has good typical Costa Rican food at an affordable price.
Baguette – Pastry heaven. A seriously good little coffee shop which I would happily eat at every day and be huge from due to carb overload.
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Hotels
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is home to tons of great hotel options! Here are some of our favorites.
Tulemar Resort– Beautiful resort with private beach, restaurant, pool, and water sports on-site.
Los Altos Resort– Stunning modern property with pool, fitness center, private beach, spa, and restaurant.
Gaia Hotel & Reserve– Luxury hotel with spa, gym, pool, and a fine-dining restaurant on site.
La Vela Boutique Hotel Adults only hotel with pool. Located only .5 kilometers from Manuel Antonio National Park.
Hotel Villas Nicolas– Adults-only hotel with amazing Pacific ocean views. The property here is gorgeous!
Millenium Hostels– Located 20 meters from Manuel Antonio National Park, this hostel has private rooms and shared dorms. There is a pool and free parking for guests.
Vacation Rentals in Manuel Antonio
We always love renting a home or villa for our vacation in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.
Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double-check before booking.
Casa Fantastico – This was actually one of our top villa choices for our wedding.
Ultimately we decided we wanted a place directly on the beach so we didn’t rent this place.
But, it is such an amazing home.
This place sleeps 12 guests and comes with a private chef that cooks two meals per day. It has a gym, large outdoor pool, movie room, game room, six bedrooms, and 12,000 square feet of living space.
Casa las Brisas – We love this spot because the house and property have so much character. This house sleeps 12 guests, has three pools, has a game room, and comes with daily cleaning and a personal chef.
Villa Pelicano – This home is not as modern as some of the others in Manuel Antonio, but we like it because it’s one of the few places with a large property (5 acres). It would be the perfect place for hosting an event. The home sleeps 22 guests, has a pool, and comes with a chef and housekeeper.
Villa Preciosa – This place is perfect for a large group that wants an all-inclusive option. This house sleeps up to 24 guests, comes with a chef, housekeeper, and bartender. Yes, you read that right. You get your own personal bartender here. There is an all inclusive meal plan option so your group can fully enjoy all the food and drinks you would like.
WORLD FAMOUS 727 Airplane – You may have seen pictures of this place before (it goes viral from time to time). This is an old 727 airplane that has been converted into a 2 bedroom/ 2 bath home. If you are looking for unique, this is it.
Superb Villa with Ocean View – A 4 bedroom/ 4 bath villa that sleeps 8 guests. This is located in the hills above Manuel Antonio and has a private pool.
Casa Gina – A two bedroom house that sleeps five guests. This house has jungle privacy and a nice pool.
Casa 3 Palms – A two bedroom house that sleeps six guests. This house is located in the Manuel Antonio hills and has a small private pool.
Casa Amiga – 3 bed/ 2 bath home that sleeps up to five guests. There is also a private pool.
Multi-Day Tours to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Take the planning, stress, and guess work out of traveling by booking a multi-day tour with an experienced guide.
For more tour ideas check out Tour Radar.
Costa Rica Quest Tour
A 9 day group tour that offers a great mix of jungle and beach travel in paradise.
National Geographic Journeys
A 14 day group tour with a focus on natural beauty and wildlife.
Costa Rica: See & Do it ALL
An 11 day group tour focused on seeing all the best that the country has to offer.
Manuel Antonio Travel Tips
– Be careful when swimming and surfing. There are crocodiles that have been known to enter the waters near river mouths. Just ask someone where you can swim before getting in the water.
– This area can get really crowded during peak travel time. It is always best to book your hotel early.
– We have always felt safe in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, but please don’t walk around alone at night and don’t carry large amounts of cash on you. The most common crime is petty theft.
Packing for Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is one of those places in which you kind of need to pack a little of everything.
It is a beach destination so you most likely want bathing suits, plenty of sun coverage, and beach coverups.
But, you are probably also here to see wildlife and hike in the national park. So, you probably want hiking shoes (we recommend Keen’s for here).
Also, keep in mind that the mosquitos come out in full force here once the sun goes down.
Check out our Manuel Antonio Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials.
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica FAQ
Is Manuel Antonio worth visiting?
Yes, Manuel Antonio is definitely worth going to. It can be busy, but the Manuel Antonio National park is one of the highlights of Costa Rica.
How many days is enough in Manuel Antonio?
I think that 3 or 4 days is enough time in Manuel Antonio.
Why is Manuel Antonio Costa Rica famous?
Manuel Antonio is famous for the Manuel Antonio National Park. This park has a wide variety of wildlife in a condensed area with easy walking paths.
Is Manuel Antonio Costa Rica safe?
Yes, generally Manuel Antonio is safe. However, petty theft does sometimes happen. Always use caution and keep an eye on your belongings.
Where is it best to stay in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica?
There are plenty of great hotels and resorts in the Manuel Antonio area. There isn’t a “best place” but read reviews and look at ratings before booking.
Is it safe to swim in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica?
In most spots, it is safe to swim. However, look for red flags out at the beach and always ask someone before getting in the water to make sure.
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You Might Also Like Visiting
Herradura: A small beach village that is home to one of the most popular resorts in Costa Rica
Esterillos: A relaxed village with three parts that are perfect for long beach walks
Quepos: A bustling small city that serves as a gateway to Manuel Antonio
….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Guide to the Central Pacific Coast for more ideas of places to visit in this area.