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Manuel Antonio National Park – A Complete Guide

manuel antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica is the most popular national park in the entire country. Travelers flock to this spot on the Pacific coast to hike the well-maintained trails, relax on the white sand beaches, and of course, to see wildlife up close!

There are some things we think you should know before visiting Manuel Antonio National Park in order to make your visit as amazing as possible.

So, let’s get to it!

Manuel Antonio National Park History

manuel antonio national park

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?

Important Info About Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio national park

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.

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 “Marlins” on the corner.

manuel antonio directions

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

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.

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Parking

There is parking right next to the entrance of the national park. It cost us 3,000 colones (about $5) to park our car for the day.

The reason I stressed in the Directions section to take a left instead of following the road to the end is because people at the end of the road will tell you there is not another parking lot and you should park with them. They will charge you about $7 for parking. Don’t listen to them! Drive up to the park entrance to park your car.

Cost

Manuel Antonio National Park costs $18 for adults. Children under 12 are free. The park accepts dollars or colones for payment.

If you are a Costa Rican resident the cost is 1,600 colones.

You can now purchase your tickets ahead of time online. Yeay! The system is a little convoluted, but we tried it out last time we visited and it definitely saved us time waiting in line at the park. 

Plus, if you pre book your ticket you can be assured that you will be able to enter the park on the day of your choice. The park only sells a set number of tickets per day. 

At the park entrance, a national park ranger will check your tickets and possibly check your bag 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 is a public restroom near the main beach, outdoor showers, a small cafe with drinks and lunch items, lockers for rent at the cafe for 3,000 colones per day, 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. 

We suggest bringing: 

Binoculars (they are good to have for looking at wildlife), a lot of water, Gatorade (I like to have Gatorade because it is so hot and humid here and the electrolytes save me), 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).

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.

Wildlife

wildlife manuel antonio

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!

Hiring a Guide

It is possible to hire a guide at the entrance to the park. The rate varies by number of people in the group and the season. Last time we were there we paid about $20 per person for a guide. We will get more into our opinion on hiring a guide at Manuel Antonio National Park later in this article.

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 ahead of time 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.

The Manuel Antonio National Park Hikes

manuel antonio national park

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.

manuel antonio park map

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).

manuel antonio waterfall

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.

Our Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio playa

Get There Early

Manuel Antonio opens at 7am and you should be waiting to enter at that time. The park only allows a certain number of visitors in at a time. If you arrive later in the day you could end up waiting in line for a while before you are able to enter. Plus, it is nice to enjoy the national park before it gets crazy full.

Ignore the Parking Lots

If you have the option of walking from your hotel or taking a shuttle from your hotel to the national park, do that. Parking here can be an experience.

I already mentioned it, but just as a reminder, as you drive up to the park there will be people telling you to park with them and that the official lot is closed. Ignore them. There is an official lot and it is 3,000 colones. Just keep driving until you are about at the park entrance and there will be a parking area for you to use.

Follow the Rules

There are some rules at Manuel Antonio National Park such as don’t feed the animals and be careful of rip currents. These rules are not put in place to annoy you but actually for your safety. Monkeys have been known to attack people for more food and the beaches are known for sometimes having strong rip currents.

Hike all the Trails

For the price you pay to enter the national park you should try to get the most out of it. We like to hike all of the trails, not just the main path. By doing this you can experience more of the park and you get away from the crowds. Keep in mind that some of the trails are intense with a lot of steps.

Should I Hire a Guide at Manuel Antonio National Park?

manuel antonio guide

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 hang 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. ↓

manuel antonio sloth

The downside of having a guide is that they are not cheap. I believe we paid about $30 per person for our guide for about 1.5 hours with a group. You can also opt to have a private guide for a higher rate.

Before you pay for your admission you will be bombarded with people asking if you want a guide. It is best to make your decision ahead of time and give them a firm “no” if you are not interested. Otherwise, they will try to convince you for as long as it takes. 

Also, don’t hesitate to say it if their rate sounds too high to you. They are often willing to go down in the price.

If you would like to prebook a guide, here are some great options for you. 

Is It Worth A Visit?

manuel antonio national park

We think, yes. Manuel Antonio National Park is an interesting place a lot of amazing wildlife in a condensed area while also enjoying tropical beaches. The popularity is definitely the biggest downside.

If you would like to visit some less crowded national parks in Costa Rica we suggest Cahuita National Park and Curu Refuge.

What to Do After Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio downtown

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!

Here are some other great ideas!

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

Let us know if you need any help planning your trip to Manuel Antonio National Park in the comment section below. We are always happy to give you tips. Also, if you have visited the park and have tips for fellow travelers, we’d love to hear them!

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We’re Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).

We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and now live in sunny Costa Rica. It was a spontaneous decision to move here, but it was the best decision!

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5 Responses

  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.

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