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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
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.
Step 2: Register a new account
Step 3: Fill in the details to register an account (you can change between Spanish nad English in the top right corner)
Step 4: Receive Confirmation and Log in to the SINAC booking system. Click “Buy”
Step 5: Select “Manuel Antonio National Park
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
Tour with Transportation from Manuel Antonio
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.
National Park Tour from Jaco
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
Manuel Antonio Day Tour from San Jose
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
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?
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.
They’ll even help you take photos through the telescope so you can get close-up pictures like this. ↓
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
- 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
- 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
Wednesday – Monday 7am to 4pm. In other words, keep in mind that the park is closed on Tuesday’s and plan your trip accordingly.
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.
- 10% discount for Costa Rica Vibes readers
- Free second driver
- 0% deductible on Liability Protection Insurance
- Excellent customer service
- New fleet of well-maintained vehicles
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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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