Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the best national parks in Costa Rica for hiking, wildlife and beaches. Although small in size, this park offers some of the most stunning tropical rainforest and beaches in the country.
If you’re interested in venturing into the rain forest, here is our guide to Manuel Antonio National Park.
This guide was updated Sept 30, 2019. We highly recommend to read the section and take notes on how to get national park tickets and where to park if you are driving. More on that below!
Click the section to skip to it.
- Location and Directions
- How to Get There
- Entrance Fee and Hours
- Road Conditions
- Guided vs Self Guided
- Tips for Visiting
- What to Wear
Manuel Antonio National Park map
Manuel Antonio National Park is in Manuel Antonio in the Central Pacific in the Puntarenas province, 170 kilometers (105 miles) from San Jose.
How to get to Manuel Antonio National Park
There are buses that go to the national park. All of them leave from the Quepos bus station and the buses stop on the hill on the way. So if you’re staying at a hotel on a hill and want to take the bus, there are lots of bus stops you can wait at. The bus costs 335 colones one way per person and leaves every half an hour or so starting at 530 AM until 930 PM.
The bus doesn’t go all the way directly to the park entrance. It will drop you off at the roundabout near the beach. From there, you need to walk the “Beach Trail” (You can find it on Google Maps) to get to the park entrance. You will walk on a bridge over a little river with a large sign showing you where to go. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the roundabout to the entrance.
From Jaco, take the bus to Quepos and then the national park. Read our guide to taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio.
Hours and Entrance Fee
Manuel Antonio National Park operation hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 7 AM – 4 PM, always closed Mondays. When it is around 330 PM, the park rangers will start going around telling people to leave. The park is open during holidays (if it doesn’t fall on a Monday) like Christmas and New Years.
The Manuel Antonio national park entrance fee is $16 USD for adult foreigners, no fee for kids under 12. I recommend to pay in cash since there is a credit card fee and they do take USD.
The ticket office is very close to the entrance of the national park. Look for the “Coopealianza” office, that is where you’ll buy the tickets. Buy your ticket first, then get in line to go inside the park.
After you purchase the tickets, you need to get in the line to go into the national park. There the guards will check your backpacks and tickets. You cannot bring food like chips, peanuts, pretzels, granola bars or snacks in the park so make sure to take those out. The guards will confiscate them if you have any.
Our Tips for Getting Park Tickets
During the months of December – April, we recommend to purchase your ticket the day before so you can save time. You can buy them Monday – Sunday from 7 AM to 3 PM at the Coopealianza office. We recently went to the park on Tuesday December 10 and purchased tickets on Monday which saved us some time. In high season, you may have to wait a long time in line as there are TWO lines. One to purchase tickets, the second to get in the park.
If there is a long line for entering the park, have one person stand in entrance line and another go buy tickets.
National park tickets are a one time entrance and cannot be used for multiple days. They don’t offer a package option to purchase one pass for several days, you will need to buy them every day you want to go to the park.
You can leave the park during the day and come back later but it must be before 330 PM. Do note there is a chance you may not be able to go back in because they only allow 600 people at a time, with a cap of 1600 people total for the day. If they are over the 1600 total cap, you won’t be allowed back in. Make sure to keep your park ticket as you will need to show it since they stamp the back of your ticket with the date.
Right now, they don’t sell park tickets online, only at the office.
Manuel Antonio National Park Parking
There are two parking lots at Manuel Antonio National Park we recommend. When you get down to the beach from the hill, you will see a turn to the left right between Bar Las Gemelas and Marlins. Turn left and continue on this narrow road until you are almost at the entrance of the national park.
You will see two parking lots, one on your right and one of your left. There will be guys who will walk in front of your car and wave to you to park. Either one is fine but I recommend the one on the right if you can. The guys stay there at the parking lot to watch it but I still recommend not leaving anything valuable visible in your car. Always lock your doors and roll up your windows.
We paid 3,000 colones for parking the whole day in September. In high season, December – April, it can be more. I recommend to pay in Costa Rican colones, not USD.
MUST READ IF YOU ARE DRIVING TO THE PARK!
Something very important to mention is that when you are driving down to the national park, at the bottom of the last hill, you will see guys waving at you from a parking lot to your right and you will see a beach back there. This is NOT the national park! You are still about 1 mile away from the park and these guys will offer you to park in their “national park” parking lot and try to offer their “guiding services.” Or tell you something like you can’t go in the national park unless you park there. Or you can’t go in the national park unless you hire them.
Do NOT park here. These guys are not telling the truth and trying to rip off tourists. Continue on until you see restaurants and stores to your left and you will see a small road on the left after you pass the Super Joseth convenience store. Turn left here and continue on this road past Hotel Vela Bar to get to the national park entrance and parking lots. It is a narrow road so drive carefully. On Google Maps, you can set the destination as “Welcome Center Manuel Antonio” or even Hotel San Bada as this hotel is right next to the entrance.
4×4 necessary? Road Conditions?
The road to Manuel Antonio National Park is completely paved. A 4×4 or high car is not necessary, you can perfectly get there in a sedan.
There are bathrooms at the entrance of the national park and inside the the national park at 3 different points. There is a small cafeteria inside Manuel Antonio National Park that sells drinks, souvenirs, water and ice cream between the intersection of Gemelas and Puerto Escondido. The cafeteria also has lockers.
Manuel Antonio National Park Video
Here’s a quick video of our first time at the national park. Video taken before the sloth and universal trail and cafeteria were built.
Guided or Self Guided?
You can visit Manuel Antonio National Park with a guide or without a guide. Whether you hire a guide is completely up to you and depends on the kind of experience you want at the park. Here are our thoughts.
Guide Vs Tour
You can hire just a naturalist guide or you can book a full tour. The difference is that with a tour, the company will provide roundtrip transportation, include the entrance tickets, and give you bottled water and fruits. They will take care of you from the minute they pick you up to the minute they drop you off.
Hiring a naturalist guide is just that – only a guide. You go to the park on your own by bus, walking or driving, hire a guide who will take you around the national park and then that’s it. They don’t provide anything else, just the guided walk. Good option if you don’t need the full tour because you rented a car or will be getting to the park on your own.
When you should hire a guide
You really want to see wildlife and learn more about the flora and fauna. Your naturalist guide will be able to find animals that are hiding or camouflaged such as sloths. Additionally, many guides have telescopes so you can see the animals up close and get photos through the telescope. The guide will share with you interesting facts and information about the wildlife and Manuel Antonio.
I highly recommend guides for families with curious children and anyone who wants to see wildlife. If you want to see a sloth, then definitely get a guide. Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see sloths but you will have better chances to see one with a guide who has trained eyes since sloths camouflage so well!
When you should book a tour
You don’t want to worry about driving, parking or buying park tickets. The tour company will take care of it all for you. I highly recommend this option for young families, big groups or those with only 1 day at the park and want to make the most out of their time in Manuel Antonio.
We did the Manuel Antonio National Park tour with Tucanes Tours and had a great experience. Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic and engaging, making our walk with him highly enjoyable. I learned a lot about the area I never knew even though we’d been to Manuel Antonio several times before. He also found a couple very fascinating birds of prey for us!
We went with Tucanes Tours who charges $59 per adult for the tour. Click here to book the tour and get our discount!
I think having an engaging guide like ours would make an experience for a family with kids incredibly nice as he would ask us questions to make us think and interact actively than just listen.
Tours are usually 2 hours long for the guided walk and they give you the option of going back to your hotel or you can stay at the park to explore more of it on your own. They’ll tell you where to grab a taxi or take the bus to get back to your hotel.
We made a short video of our guided walk which you can watch below.
Something to know about visiting in high season
During December – April, this national park gets crazy because it is the most visited national park in Costa Rica and that is the busiest time of year for tourism. If you go to the park on your own, here are our tips so you don’t get misled, confused, or even scammed in Costa Rica.
- If you drive, make sure you go all the way down to the entrance and park at those two parking lots I mentioned earlier. Drive all the way to the national park entrance to find parking.
- If you take the bus, the bus does not go all the way to the park entrance directly. I got off at the beach first and then walked the “Beach Trail” to the entrance. You can find the “Beach Trail” on Google Maps. You will walk on a small bridge over a river, see a sign for the national park ahead of you and it curves to the right. Continue walking past a couple of souvenir stalls and a restaurant and you will reach the main road. The national park ticket office and entrance is to your right.
- If you hire a guide at the national park entrance, go to the Coopealianza ticket office or right outside the park gate at the “Official Guide Costa Rica” to look for one. Do not find one at the beach or anywhere else. If you are the beach and someone tries to sell you a guided tour, walk away.
- Make sure to ask the guide for their ICT Certification and they need to show you a badge with their credentials.
- If you hire a guide at the entrance, don’t pay them right away. Wait until you have actually started the guided walk.
One of the advantages of booking a tour is that you don’t need to worry about any of this since the tour company takes cares of all of it. No worries about getting scammed or misled.
Who should go on their own
Anyone on a budget or just wants to enjoy the park at their own pace and doesn’t have their heart set on finding animals or learning about the area. We have visited Manuel Antonio National Park 4 times on our own and had a great time each time. We were able to see monkeys and sloths on our own all times except 2. One time we just wanted to hangout at the beach and another time we hiked with friends throughout the whole park at our own pace.
Where to hire a guide/book a tour
If you want a guide or tour, I recommend pre-booking with a tour company, especially during high season.
There are also guides at the national park entrance for hire, just ask for their guide certification (should be a badge with ICT certification). In low season, you can try to barter with them a bit. Once I visited with my friends in September and they charged us $30 per person for a 2 hour guided walk which we turned down as we weren’t interested.
If you want a more personal experience, I highly recommend a private tour, especially during high season and if you’re a photographer.
Please contact us if you’d like to book a guided national park tour! It includes roundtrip transportation, bilingual guide, national park fee, bottled water and fruits and costs $59 USD per adult. We also have a small 7% discount for the tour!
Manuel Antonio National Park Trails
Here is an overview of the Manuel Antonio National Park trails. You can get printed maps at the ticket office (free and you need to ask) but there are tons of maps and signs throughout the park. You won’t get lost!
For hiking the national park, here is all you need to know.
Sendero La Catarata (waterfall trail)
If you don’t do the other trails, this one is pretty short so you can wander over there to check it out if you’re short on time or aren’t interested in hiking the rest.
However, since the waterfall is kind of small, you can skip this one. You won’t be missing anything amazing (there are a lot more beautiful waterfalls in the South Pacific like Nauyaca).
I did see a couple of the poison dart frogs on the way so you might see something too. Otherwise I wouldn’t say this trail is absolutely necessary to walk on since the waterfall is fairly small.
The trail is paved for some of it and other parts has dirt.
Sendero el Perezoso (sloth trail)
This one takes you a bit deeper inside the forest, so you can see sloths hiding in the trees.
The trail is a platform that leads to the main fork of the national park where you go to Playa Manuel Antonio or the other trails, so if you decide to take this path, you’ll end up in the same place as the main trail. You could walk one path on the way in and walk the other path on the way out if you want to experience both.
We saw a 3 fingered and 2 fingered sloth on this trail so the trail lives up to its name but make sure you’re looking into the trees since it’s a bit more dense on this trail than the other one.
Keep your eyes out and look up often to see if you can spot one too! Don’t forget to look down too, I saw a mom and baby deer walking under the platform as well as some snakes.
If you look down, you’ll see a lot of the red land crabs scuttling around and we also saw a snake here. Wildlife is seriously everywhere!
The sloth trail connects to the brand new 2019 universal trail that the park just built. This universal trail is incredibly nice with a well built platform and signs with Braille every 50 meters or so. Only a few parks in Costa Rica are handicap friendly (Cahuita and Carara) and this is one of the nicest ones I’ve seen!
These signs also have super useful information about the surrounding flora and fauna so you can read more about what you’re walking through. This trail also connects to Playa Espadilla Sur, going through the mangroves which is incredibly nice.
Punta Catedral (1.4 km)
This strip connects Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur and you can walk the Sendero Punta Catedral all the way around for beautiful views.
You start at Playa Manuel Antonio and you can go either direction since it’s a loop. You can also do the short Sendero La Trampa trail (.2 km) and see the beach there.
This hour long hike gives you views of different parts of the park and islands. When you get to Playa Espadilla Sur, you can see Playa Espadilla Norte and all the hotels on the hill on the other side. You can also walk all the way to the other end of Playa Espadilla Sur (trail 2) which is a dead end.
It’s not a hard walk at all and the views are incredible. If there’s any trail you should go hiking at Manuel Antonio National Park, it’s this one.
Sendero Playa Gemelas
This fairly short path leads to Playa Gemelas beach and connects to the other trails on the western side of the national park. Playa Gemelas is on the other side of Playa Manuel Antonio and is a bit smaller.
If Playa Manuel Antonio gets too crowded, come to Gemelas. It’s still the same white sand, sparkling turquoise water beach but more cozy and intimate due to its smaller size.
If you walk all the way past the rocks, you get a a gorgeous views of the coast, the west side of Punta Catedral and a bit of Playa Manuel Antonio.
When I went to this beach, there were only two other couples there and it was really nice to sit on the rocks and enjoy the ocean views by myself for a bit.
Keep walking on this trail until you hit the mirador (view point) at the end to see Playa Puerto Escondido. The beach is gorgeous, I could never get tired of the quintessential “tropical jungle meets ocean” views!
Keep your eyes out at the beach, you may even run into some reptile friends who are basking in the sun!
So on your way back from the Gemelas trail, you can take this path instead of going all the way back to the start to get to the Mirador trail.
It’s named after the howler monkey, so here you can see lots of howlers and white face monkeys hanging out.
This is where I ran into a monkey butt. A few white face monkeys were playing on a branch right above the trail and one of them was dangling in the middle of the path so I unknowingly ran right into his butt!
So when you’re walking this trail, keep your eyes open for those little guys!
Sendero Mirador (1.3 km)
Punta Serrucho is a piece of land with a rigged coastline that guts out. It’s the result of many movements of the earth as it’s right on a tectonic fault. So now it looks like a saw, hence the name.
There’s a couple of viewpoints along the way where you can catch glimpses of bright blue water peeking through the trees.
This path has a lot of steps so take your time if you need to go slow. The viewpoints have benches to sit, have some water and take a breather.
Also read the information boards they have at every stop. You’ll find out exactly what you’re looking at, learn about the various flora and fauna that’s around and the primary/secondary rain forest.
Manuel Antonio National Park is popular for a reason: the lush jungle, abundant wildlife and exquisite beaches all rolled together in one big bundle bursting with nature.
Tips for Hiking Manuel Antonio National Park
- You can do all these hikes in one day but go as early as possible so you have time to relax.
- Keep your camera handy!
- There are benches at Playa Manuel Antonio.
- Don’t stray off the path and don’t feed the animals.
What to Wear/Bring
- Bring your swimsuit (there are changing stations) if you don’t want to wear it in, towels, water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
- If you’re visiting in rainy season, make sure you have a waterproof backpack or backpack cover.
- You can walk the trails with flip flops but hiking sandals are the best if you want to hike and go in the water.
- You don’t need to wear long hiking pants or shirts, the trails are nicely made with platforms. It is super hot and humid so I always wear shorts and a tank top. Just make sure to use mosquito repellent.
- For photographers or wildlife lovers, bring binoculars or a camera with good zoom lens (at least 250 mm) for photographing wildlife.
Read about other national parks below!
Rio Celeste (Tenorio Volcano National Park)
There are Amazon affiliate links in this post.