Manuel Antonio National Park: A Full Visitor Guide

Would you like to visit Manuel Antonio National Park?

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica, also called Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio in Spanish, is the most popular national park in the country. 

Travelers flock to this spot on the Central Pacific coast to hike the well-maintained trails, relax on the white sand beaches, and of course, see wildlife up close!

In our opinion, it is definitely worth visiting Manuel Antonio National Park because it is one of the best places in the country to see an abundance of wildlife in their natural habitat. 

We have visited Manuel Antonio National Park several times throughout our years of living in Costa Rica and have seen how things have changed over time.

That being said, there are some things we think you should know before exploring this area in order to make your trip as amazing as possible.

So, let’s get to it!

Manuel Antonio National Park at a Glance

Opening Hours: 7am to 4pm every day except on Tuesdays. The park is closed on Tuesday.

Cost: $18.08 USD per adult. $5.65 USD for kids aged 2 to 11.

Note: You need to pre-book tickets online

Location: The town of Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

Guided National Park Tour (without transportation): Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Tour with Transportation from Manuel Antonio: Manuel Antonio Guided Walk – ALL INCLUSIVE TOUR

Tour from Jaco: Manuel Antonio National Park Hiking Tour from Jacó

Day Tour from San Jose:  Manuel Antonio National Park Sightseeing and Wildlife Day Tour

Nearby Hotels: Tulemar Resort | La Vela Boutique Hotel | Hotel Villas Nicolas | Millenium Hostels

Nearby Restaurants: Morpho Beach Bar | Restaurant Hostel Costa Linda | Marlin Restaurant

Best Time to Visit: Dry Season (mid-December through mid-April) and early in the morning

Manuel Antonio National Park Tickets

Manuel Antonio National Park now only sells tickets online. It is not possible to purchase tickets the day of, in person. You need to purchase through the government’s online booking system.

To book your tickets, head on over to the official Costa Rica National Park website (SINAC).

The booking process is a bit convoluted, so let me go through it for you.

Step 1: On the Manuel Antonio National Park website click “Buy” in the bottom right-hand corner.

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 2: Register a new account

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 3: Fill in the details to register an account (you can change between Spanish nad English in the top right corner)

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 4: Receive Confirmation and Log in to the SINAC booking system. Click “Buy”

Manuel Antonio National Park: A Full Visitor Guide

Step 5: Select “Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 6: Select your ticket date and time

Lately, tickets have been booking out several days in advance. So, book early if you can. Also, I noticed that the system is a bit glitchy. Sometimes it appears that all tickets are booked out. Refresh the date and try again.

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 7: Select the number of adult and child tickets you need. Make sure you select foreigner, not local (unless you are a Costa Rica resident)

manuel antonio national park ticket booking

Step 8: Complete your booking and receive a confirmation email. Note that in Costa Rica there is a 13% tax. So, the price for tickets is a bit more than it appears in the subtotal.

When you visit the park you will be asked to show your tickets and sometimes they will ask for a form of ID. You can bring your tickets on your cell phone. They do not need to be printed.

Again, here is the link to book your tickets

Things to Note About Manuel Antonio National Park Tickets

– Often you don’t need to book things too much in advance in Costa Rica, the Manuel Antonio National Park is the exception to that. If you can, book your tickets early. They have been selling out a lot recently.

– You can not just show up to the park and purchase a ticket. All Manuel Antonio National Park ticketing is now done only online.

– If you are unable to book tickets online due to them being sold out, we suggest arranging a tour with a guide. The park sets aside a set amount of tickets for guided tours.

Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Booking a guided tour either with or without transportation is a great way to ensure you will see wildlife. Plus, this allows you to skip the stress of purchasing a national park ticket online.

Here are our favorite tour options:

Guided National Park Tour (without transportation)

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  2 hours and 30 minutes | ✅ Book it!

This tour is only for booking a tour guide at the park. It does not include park admission or parking.

In our opinion, it is a better value to do the tour below with transportation and national park ticket included.

However, if you would like to spend a full day at the park, this is a better option. That way you can drive yourself and won’t be limited to just the tour length for exploration.

Book Your Manuel Antonio National Park Tour Without Transporation

Tour with Transportation from Manuel Antonio

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH: 2 hours and 30 minutes ✅ Book it!

This guided tour with transportation from Quepos and Manuel Antonio area hotels is awesome! It is done with a professional guide and includes entry admission to the park.

Book Your Manuel Antonio Guided Walk – ALL INCLUSIVE TOUR

National Park Tour from Jaco

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  7 hours | ✅ Book it!

On your fun-filled day you will be treated to:

  • Transportation from and back tp your Jaco area hotel
  • A hike at Manuel Antonio National Park on well-defined trails with a bilingual nature expert
  • A 45-minute leisure stop at one of the Manuel Antonio beaches
  • A delicious traditional lunch
  • This tour maxes out at 14 participants, so it is a reasonably small group size

Book Your Manuel Antonio National Park Hiking Tour from Jacó

Manuel Antonio Day Tour from San Jose

⭐️ RATING: 5/5 Stars | ⏳ TOUR LENGTH:  12 hours | ✅ Book it!

This tour includes:

  • Hotel pickup and drop-off from most San Jose area hotels
  • Transport by air conditioned vehicle
  • National park entrance fee
  • A delicious traditional breakfast & lunch
  • A visit to the Crocodile Bridge
  • A stop at a scarlet macaw observation place
  • Fruit stand & Jaco Beach look-out point stop
  • Professional and knowledgeable bilingual guide

 Book Your Manuel Antonio National Park Sightseeing and Wildlife Day Tour

Should I Book a Tour with Transportation?

Booking a tour with transportation has its pros and cons. Not having to drive yourself takes the stress out of parking and saves you from having to pay for parking.

However, the downside is it will limit your time in the park. When your tour with transportation leaves the park, you will need to leave as well.

Is it Worth it to Hire a Guide in Manuel Antonio National Park?

tour manuel antonio

We have hired a guide a few times and I’m happy we did it for the experience. Our guides have always been extremely knowledgeable. 

They also walk these trails every day, so they know exactly where the wildlife hangs out (pun intended). 

The guides also carry a telescope with them so you have the chance of getting a really close look at all the wildlife. 

guide manuel antonio

They’ll even help you take photos through the telescope so you can get close-up pictures like this. ↓

manuel antonio monkey

If you opt not to book a guided tour and book your national park tickets yourself, you can usually decide on the day of your visit to hire a guide.

Typically there are local guides standing outside the park that are happy to offer their services.

Pros and Cons of Booking a Guided Tour

Pros

  • The guides walk through the park every day and can spot all the wildlife
  • The guides can tell you all you would ever want to know about flora, fauna, history etc.
  • If tickets are sold out online, the guided tours can bypass this and get you into the park
  • You don’t have to worry about driving and finding parking

Cons

  • Sometimes you might be in a large group, which isn’t always the most enjoyable experience
  • If you take a guided tour with transportation you might not have a lot of time to explore other trails, beaches, etc on your own.
  • Guided tours cost a lot in comparison with just buying the park ticket

Important Info About Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio national park beach

Hours

Wednesday – Monday 7am to 4pm. In other words, keep in mind that the park is closed on Tuesday’s and plan your trip accordingly.

Directions

Manuel Antonio National Park is located in the town of Manuel Antonio (go figure). This is about four hours from the San Jose International Airport and an hour south of Jaco on the Central Pacific coast.

Just follow the highway down from Jaco until you get to Quepos. It gets a bit confusing around Quepos for a few minutes, so we suggest using your GPS then.

We like the Waze app for directions here. Just plug in “Manuel Antonio National Park” as your destination and you’ll be good to go.

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Manuel Antonio National Park: A Full Visitor Guide

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If you are in the downtown area of Manuel Antonio do not follow the beach road all the way to the end. Instead, take a left on the last possible road. You will see a restaurant called “Restaurant Marlin” on the left corner.

Follow that road and it will loop up to the park entrance.

There is also a good public bus in Manuel Antonio which will take you directly to the entrance for about $1.50. You can ask at your hotel about the schedule.

Note: If you would like to rent a car in Costa Rica we suggest our favorite rental car company Adobe. Book here and receive a 10% discount plus other great perks.

Parking

The reason I stressed in the Directions section to take a left instead of following the road to the end is that people at the end of the road will tell you there is not another parking lot and you should park with them. 

They have also been known to say that they are the only official parking lot.

Don’t listen to them! This is a lie. If you park here you will still have to walk about a mile to the park entrance. I have also heard stories of them drastically overcharging people.

As of now, there is no official lot.

Instead, you can either park on the street near the park entrance (if there are still parallel parking spots available when you arrive) or park at one of the private lots.

We suggest two parking lots located just next to the entrance. Both are private lots. You can expect to pay about 4,000 colones to park at either one. It is best to have this money in cash.

Here is a Google Map link with the two parking lots we suggest.

Cost

Manuel Antonio National Park costs $16 plus tax for adults. This comes out to $18.08.

The ticket price for children between the ages of 2 and 12 years old is $5. Plus tax this comes out to $5.65.

Children under 2 years old are free

If you are a Costa Rican resident the cost is 1,600 colones for adults (plus tax it comes out to 1,808.00) and 500 colones for kids ages 6 to 12 (plus tax it comes out to 565 colones).

At the park entrance, a national park ranger will check your tickets and possibly check your ID to make sure that your name aligns with your ticket.

Your bag will also likely be checked for any contraband goodies like cigarettes and beach umbrellas.

More on that later on in this article! 

Facilities

The facilities at Manuel Antonio National Park are impressive for Costa Rica standards.

There are multiple public restrooms located throughout the park, outdoor showers, a small cafe with drinks and lunch items, lockers for rent at the cafe, picnic tables, and more!

To Bring or not to Bring?

manuel antonio national park sign

Manuel Antonio National Park is a bit strict on what you can and can’t bring into the park. Let’s start with all the things you can not bring and then I will tell you the things I suggest packing.

You can not bring beach umbrellas, chairs, awnings, beach balls, cigarettes, hammocks, camping tents, drones, food, or bicycles into the park.

Yes, you read that correctly. No outside food is allowed inside the park. I know this sounds like an excessive rule, but there is a good reason for it. 

The monkeys love to steal food from tourists.

In the past, before this regulation, we witnessed a monkey steal a woman’s bag. When she tried to get the bag back the monkey clawed her down her whole back. It was really bad. We had some wound-disinfecting stuff that we gave her, but I’m sure she still had to get medical treatment.

What to Bring

Binoculars (they are good to have for looking at wildlife), a lot of water, a fast-drying towel (we like micro-fiber towels best), your swimsuit, a camera, bug spray, strong sunscreen, and a rain jacket (if traveling in the rainy season).

Note: Costa Rica has banned single use plastic bottles in national parks. Definitely bring a water bottle with you from home to use to refill during your vacation. We like Lifestraw bottles for some added bacteria filtration.

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What to Wear

It tends to get really hot here and some of the trails are intense. You don’t need to dress as if you are doing serious hiking, but instead, dress for the heat. I usually opt for shorts, a t-shirt, a hat, hiking sandals (like Chacos), and a backpack. 

If visiting during the rainy season you may want to wear a rain jacket and a rainproof cover for your backpack.

Also, you could wear your bathing suit under your clothes, but if you don’t want to, there are bathrooms near the beach that you can change in.

Check out our Full Costa Rica National Park Packing List on Amazon for everything you need!

Amount of Time You’ll Need

I would set aside a minimum of three hours. This will give you enough time to hike almost all the trails and relax a bit on the beach.

However, you could easily spend 6 hours or more here if you would like to turn your visit into a beach day.

The Manuel Antonio National Park Hikes

manuel antonio national park map

One of the best things about Manuel Antonio National Park is that it is easily accessible for everyone.

Most of the main trails are flat and paved. We have even heard of people taking wheelchairs into the park without much trouble getting around the main trails.

You will start at point 1 on the map. If you arrive early we suggest heading straight to point 3 (Playa Espadilla Sur), point 4 (Tombolo) and 6 (Playa Manuel Antonio) on the map. These are the nice beaches in the park.

If you get there early enough you can have them all to yourself for some beautiful pictures.

manuel antonio national park beach

The hike at Point 5 (Punta Catedral) is nice for some great ocean cliff views. Just note that it does involve a lot of stairs.

If you are interested in more hiking opportunities, I suggest the trails to point 9 (Mirador Puerto Escondido), point 10 (Mirador), and the trail near the park entrance to the waterfall (Sendero Catarata Estacional Trail).

These trails are all a bit more strenuous than the main trail, so they usually aren’t as heavily walked. Plus, most tours only go down the main trail. So, you shouldn’t run in to as many people here.

Also, just note they do not give you a map of the park at the entrance. We actually only found two spots where you could view this full map. 

We posted a picture of the Manuel Antonio National Park map for you at the beginning of this section. We suggest taking a screenshot so you can guarantee that you have a copy of the trails.

Manuel Antonio National Park Wildlife

The main attraction in the national park is definitely the wildlife. 

Some of the animals you will probably see include two and three-toed sloths, howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, and squirrel monkeys (which are actually endangered). 

You may also see iguanas, crazy insects, unique species of birds, deer, snakes and more!

Here is some of the wildlife we have been lucky enough to take pictures of in the park.

The Manuel Antonio National Park Beaches

There are two main beaches in the national park. These are Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio.

Playa Espadilla Sur is the better option for kids or if you want a wide beach.

Playa Manuel Antonio is smaller and is a bit rocky in some spots. However, I think the water on this side is usually a bit more calm because it is more of a cove.

Usually, it is possible to swim here. or at least wade out in the water, but always pay attention to signs and follow any instructions given by park staff. There are sometimes rip currents.

Best Time to Visit

Since this is the most popular national park in the country, December through April (dry season) are the busiest months at Manuel Antonio.

During this time of year, we definitely suggest booking your ticket online as soon as possible and arriving at the park when it opens. 

If you opt to visit during the rainy season we also suggest getting to the park early in the day. Typically the rain won’t roll in until 2 or 3 pm.

If you start your day around 7 am you will have plenty of time to explore the park while enjoying sunny and hot weather.

Another perk of visiting during the rainy season is that everything tends to be more green and lush.

Manuel Antonio National Park Hotels

manuel antonio costa rica view

There are not any hotels located directly in the national park, but there are plenty of hotels in the town of Manuel Antonio. 

Just note that a lot of these places are located in the hills above the national park. You will need a rental car or another transportation option in order to get to the national park. 

$$$
Tulemar Resort
Los Altos Resort
Gaia Hotel & Reserve

$$
La Vela Boutique Hotel
Hotel Villas Nicolas

$
Millenium Hostels

Places to Eat Nearby

After your adventure you can always leave your car where it is parked and go grab some lunch. A few of our favorite nearby places are:

 Morpho Beach Bar, Restaurant Hostel Costa Linda, Marlin Restaurant

Manuel Antonio National Park Photo Break

Manuel Antonio National Park History

The national park was founded in 1971 after strong pressure from the local community for further protection of this unique area. 

Although it is the most popular national park with tourists, it also happens to be the smallest national park in Costa Rica with an area of 1,700 acres of land.

It is estimated that as many as 150,000 people visit Manuel Antonio National Park annually.

That number seems very conservative to me. I would estimate the yearly visitor count to actually be much much higher.

But, what do I know?

Is It Worth A Visit?

manuel antonio national park beach

We think, yes. Manuel Antonio National Park is definitely worth a visit. It is the perfect place to enjoy hikes for all skill levels, see a lot of unique wildlife up close, and enjoy pristine tropical beaches.

The biggest downside in our opinion is definitely the popularity. You are most likely looking for a natural experience and the chance to see a lot of wildlife, not a theme park.

Unfortunately, if you arrive in the middle of the day during peak tourism season, it tends to feel a bit like the latter.

But, just book your tickets to arrive at 7 am and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery before most tourists arrive.

If you would like a less touristy place to enjoy some trails within this area, we suggest Carara National Park to the north or Nauyaca Waterfalls to the south.

What to Do After Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

There is plenty to do in Manuel Antonio! We are usually hungry after so we head straight to get some food downtown. There is also a huge beach there if you’d like to check that out.

playa biesanz

If you would like to visit another beach, we suggest checking out Playa Biesanz. It is only about a 10-minute drive from the national park. We love it because it is on a cove, is less crowded than the main beaches, and locals sell food, rent kayaks, and more!

Need more help with planning your stay in Manuel Antonio? Check out our complete guide to the Manuel Antonio area. It is filled with suggested activities, hotel, and restaurant recommendations.

manuel antonio infographic

Conclusion

In conclusion, we definitely suggest visiting Manuel Antonio National Park if you find yourself in the Central Pacific part of Costa Rica. Just remember to book your tickets early, arrive early in the day, wear lots of sunscreen, and take advantage of the beaches and trails.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below. We are always happy to help you out!

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Manuel Antonio: Complete Visitors Guide with Weather, Transportation and More

Costa Rica Travel Details: What You Need to Know

🚗 Should I rent a car in Costa Rica?

Having a rental car will give you the most flexibility when traveling in Costa Rica. This will also allow you to take fun day trips on your own.

🏄🏽 How can I book things to do?

We find that Viator tends to have the most comprehensive selection of activities with secure booking and good cancellation policies.

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Of course! I suggest joining our Facebook group for specific questions and head to our Start Here Page to get started planning.

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Usually, we have the best luck finding great prices with Skyscanner. Check for flights to both San Jose Airport (SJO) and Liberia Airport (LIR).

🛏️ What is the best way to book my Costa Rica hotels?

We highly suggest Booking.com for hotel bookings and typically use VRBO for Costa Rica vacation rentals.

🗣️What is the main language in Costa Rica?

The main language in Costa Rica is Spanish. Most people working in tourism speak at least some English.

💰 What is the currency in Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican colón (CRC). However, the US dollar is widely accepted in most tourist areas

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5 Comments

  1. We are traveling to CR next week with two teens. We will be spending 4 days in MA after spending 3 days in Arenal. Would love any suggestions for active family with teens 13 and 15. We have a catamaran snorkeling tour planned but nothing else. We were thinking of visiting MA National Park on our own but am seeing how busy it is and an wondring if better to book a tour to secure our ticket? What do you think? If we gonit on our own, How early do you think we need to line up to get in? For first timers, do you suggest we hire a guide and donwe just do that at the park? If so, any tips on choosing one? I read your article with tips on visiting the Park and the trails and it was great!

    1. Hi Tami! We have done it both ways. It can be pricey to do a tour for all 4 of you. However, it is definitely nice to be able to see the animals up close and personal. Also, the guides know exactly where to find the wildlife and so much info about all the animals. Your kids might love that. You could hire a guide ahead of time, but if you get to the park a bit before 7am (when it opens) you will have your pick of several local guides as well. This is usually a bit cheaper. The park has been crazy full lately from what I have heard. I would suggest getting there by 6:45am just to wait in line so you can beat the crowds a bit.
      Also, definitely visit Playa Biesanz in Manuel Antonio. It would probably be perfect for your family because you can rent kayaks and snorkel masks from locals for very reasonable prices. The water is very calm there and it’s the perfect place to spend half a day.
      Let us know if you have more questions!

      1. Thank you so much for your reply. Yes we do want to do a guided tour but are having a hard time figuring out if we need to go with a tour company or we can purchase a guided tour through MA National Park website. On the website, it looks like you can purchase a guided tour for a specific day and time for $50 (less $5 I’d buy online). I am inclined to do this but tour companies are leading me to believe that if I do that we may get to the Park at our purchases time and may not get in because they are full. This doesn’t make sense to me as we would have paid for our tickets and guide so I would think they would have to honor that—but maybe they do it differently in CR! Do you have any experience with purchasing a guided tour through the National Park website? Any advice? I so appreciate your help.

      2. That is weird. I have not purchased them through the Manuel Antonio National Park website.
        Ah! I just looked and figured out what you are talking about. So that site which I’m guessing you were on https://manuelantoniopark.com (is that the one?) is actually not an official national park site. The official site is http://www.sinac.go.cr/EN-US/ac/acopac/pnma/Pages/default.aspx I do not see any place to book guides there. Maybe I missed it though
        Anyway, last time I was there all the guided tours already had their tickets. In other words, if you book a guided tour ahead of time I think they pre-buy all the tickets for the people on their tour so they can guarantee you’ll get in.
        $50 is still a bit high (even though it includes the ticket). You can probably get it cheaper if you just show up to the park at 7am, however, because the park has been crazy busy lately the guides could possibly be charging more and you can’t guarantee that you’ll get a guide by just showing up. I guess I would book a tour ahead of time just to ensure you get one. Maybe just email the company before booking to ask how they can guarantee you get into the park.

      3. Thanks so much!