When travelers visit Manuel Antonio National Park, most of them stay around two sections of the park: Playa Manuel Antonio and the main path from the entrance. However, there are several trails in the national park that are worth exploring as they lead to beautiful viewpoints, beaches and a waterfall.
The trails are where you can see more wildlife since there are less people and less disturbance. You may run into agoutis, see hummingbirds up close and get a monkey butt to the face (this happened to me). Since less people hike the trails, you can have it all to yourself!
If you’re interested in venturing into the rain forest, here is our guide to hiking Manuel Antonio National Park.
***As of February 2018, the national park has opened a brand new universal trail for those with disabilities and is wheelchair friendly. The new trail goes from the entrance down to the beach and the signs are also in Braille.***
***New rules for the park 2019: For March and April, they are now only allowing 600 visitors at the same time and 800 on weekends. They recommend to arrive at the park at 6 AM in order to purchase tickets and get in line. If you arrive too late, you will have to wait for people to leave to enter and they let in a total maximum amount of people of 1700 a day. Remember, there is a ticket line and entry line so if you can, have one person in your group get tickets, another to stand in line. You can also purchase tickets to Manuel Antonio National park the day before but still arrive at the park at 6 AM to get in line to enter the park.*
Hiking Manuel Antonio National Park
Sendero La Catarata (waterfall trail)
This short trail is just a couple hundred meters away from the entrance of the park and leads to a small waterfall.
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 also skip this one if you’ve already walked the other trails and are tired. 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 short trail runs parallel to the main one through the park (the other name for this trail is Sendero Paralelo).
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!
Punta Catedral (1.4 km)
Punta Catedral used to be an island but over time, it united with the continental landmass by way of sediment and sand build up.
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.
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!
This is a short path that connects the Sendero Playa Gemelas to the Sendero Mirador.
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)
This path, Sendero Mirador leads to the view of Punta Serrucho (saw tip).
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.
If you want to discover all the gems of this area, you must go hiking Manuel Antonio National Park. They’re not difficult and the views alone are make it all worth it!
Tips for Hiking Manuel Antonio National Park
- You don’t necessarily need hiking shoes. I’ve walked some of it in flip flops.
- You can wear or bring your swimsuit, there are changing rooms
- Bring a day back pack for water, a hat, suncreen, bug repellent, sunglasses and towel
- Bring plenty of water and get an insulated water bottle to keep it nice and cold. I recommend bringing at least 1.5 liters for each person if you plan to spend all day hiking at the park. It is very hot and humid!
- You can do all these hikes in one day but go as early as possible so you have time to relax.
- If you want a guide, I recommend hiring one from a tour company or your hotel. There are guides at the national park entrance, just ask for their certification. If you want a guide for the entire national park hike, I recommend hiring a private guide or else you will get stuck with a big group, going slow and not at the pace you want.
- Not sure if you should get a guide? Read our thoughts on booking guided walks.
- Manuel Antonio National Park entrance hours are 7 AM – 4 PM Tuesday to Sunday.
- Park entrance fee is $16 for foreigners, $3 for locals
- Keep your camera handy
- Don’t stray off the path and don’t feed the animals
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