Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica and is one of the best places for first timers for many good reasons. First, it’s insanely beautiful. If you’re looking for beaches with that sparkly turquoise water and soft white sand enveloped by a lush green jungle, Manuel Antonio is where you have to go.
Pair that with incredible wildlife watching, a beautiful national park and luxury resorts and you can easily see why visitors fall in love with the area.
So if you’re planning on visiting Manuel Antonio but are worried there may not be enough things to do, don’t worry! Manuel Antonio has plenty more than just the national park (which is amazing but is small enough to hike in one day). Whether you’re staying 2, 3 4 days, or even a whole week, you won’t be bored. Here are 10 awesome things to do in Manuel Antonio.
10 Things to do in Manuel Antonio
Hike the National Park and See Wildlife
This is definitely a must for things to do in Manuel Antonio. Forbes once called Manuel Antonio National Park one of the most beautiful in the world! The national park has well maintained hiking trails with the perfect combination of jungle and beach and is absolutely teeming with wildlife. If you really want to see a sloth in Costa Rica, this is one of the best places to see them.
You can easily hike the national park in one day. There are several trails that lead to beaches and viewpoints and along the way, you can run into monkeys, frogs, snakes, deer and more. We wrote a guide to hiking Manuel Antonio National Park you can read here.
Though wildlife is everywhere in the park, you can hire a guide if you’d like to learn more about the flora and fauna in the area. Most guides have a telescope so you can see the animals up close and use your phone to take a photo.
You can also walk to one of the beaches and spend the day swimming and relaxing but since the beach right outside the national park is free, I recommend hiking the park instead.
The national park is open Tuesday- Sunday 7 AM to 4 PM and the entrance fee is $16. There are buses that run from Quepos to the national park entrance all day long and they make stops on the hill. If your hotel is on the hill and you don’t have a car, take this bus which costs 310 colones. You can get off at the last stop and walk to the park entrance.
Go on a Night Walk at the Si Como No Private Wildlife Refuge
If you want to see more wildlife, go on a night walk at the Si Como No wildlife refuge. They are also a beautiful high end hotel. This is an excellent option for wildlife photographers who want to get macro shots of frogs, insects, snakes and more.
During the 2 hour walk, your guide will point out the different creatures that come out when the sun goes down and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about them. The jungle changes completely when night comes around!
This is also a nice tour for kids who want to see more wildlife since the national park closes at 4. It costs $39 for adults and $29 for kids under 12. You can book the night tour at the Si Como No Hotel online or when you get there. The hotel is on the hill between Quepos to Manuel Antonio.
On Playa Espadilla Norte, the beach outside the national park, you can go parasailing. You get a spectacular view of the national park from the air, a view that you can’t get any other way.
It’s not a cheap activity but the views are one of a kind. A lot of things to do in Manuel Antonio aren’t cheap but it’s worth splurging!
You can take a 15 or 30 (luxury) minute ride. It costs $85 for a single for 15 minutes, $140 for a double and $185 for a triple. You can book it right on the beach or contact the parasailing company Aguas Azules. They offer transportation to and from hotels in Manuel Antonio.
Visit Kids Saving the Rainforest Sanctuary
This sanctuary works hard to rescue and rehabilitate injured animals in the Manuel Antonio area and it was indeed founded by kids, in fact two 9 year old girls in 1999. Kids Saving the Rainforest helps the local communities to educate, promote and raise awareness about the environment.
Visitors can take a tour of the sanctuary to learn about how they heal and rehabilitate various wild animals such as monkeys and sloths. A tour costs $60 for adults and $45 for children under 12 with transportation included. The sanctuary is about 4 miles outside of Quepos on the Blue Bayann Inn property.
Experience the ocean by taking a sunset cruise or a snorkeling tour. The visibility in this area is not the best for snorkeling but it is possible to see dolphins and whales on the way.
There are a couple of catamaran companies in Manuel Antonio, each catering to different travelers. If you want to party on a booze cruise, go on the Ocean King. They have a huge boat that fits up to 250 people, has two floors with jaccuzzis, slides, bathrooms, showers and trampolines. If you want a quieter cruise, check out other companies like Planet Dolphin.
There is an adventure park in Manuel Antonio called MidWorld that offers ziplining, ATV tours, rappel and more. If you want to add a bit of excitement to your vacation, visit the park for a fun day!
Take a Day Trip to Dominical or Uvita
If you’re staying in Manuel Antonio for most of your vacation, you can take a day trip to Dominical or Uvita to see more of the South Pacific. These two beach towns are not foo far, Dominical is only a 45 minute drive away so you can easily spend a whole day there. There are a ton of fun things to do in that area and you’ll be surprised as to how much the landscape changes just 29 miles away!
For day trips, we highly recommend visiting Nauyaca Waterfalls. You can hike or take a horseback riding tour to the beautiful waterfalls and spend the day swimming in the pool.
If you’re renting a car, you just need to drive south on the Costanera Sur. If you’re taking the bus, there is a bus from Quepos to Dominical at 5:30 AM, 11:30 and 3:30 PM and returns 8:30 AM, 1 PM and 5 PM. I recommend getting to the bus stop at least half an hour before since the bus comes from San Isidro and can be late/early depending on how many people they pick up.
To get to Nauyaca waterfalls, it is best to rent a car or book a tour since there is no bus that takes you directly to the waterfalls office. You can ride the bus from Quepos to San Isidro and ask the driver to stop at the office but you will be on a time limit to catch the bus back and it is an entire day activity.
Visit Playa Biesanz
Though there are 4 stunning beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park, they are usually very crowded. But as we all know, in every touristic area there are hidden gems and Playa Biesanz is the one in Manuel Antonio.
You have to walk a ways to this beach and it’s very rocky so wear water shoes or closed toed sandals. Make sure to check the tide because it comes in really high so it’s best to go before high tide and if you don’t want to climb up the rocks back to the path, you can walk to the Shana Hotel. The entrance to this beach is on the hill, all the locals know this beach so you can ask them for the directions.
There are vendors selling drinks and renting snorkel equipment but visibility is not great at that area. Playa Biesanz is ideal for kids because it’s in a bay so the waves are very calm.
Kayak Through Damas Island Mangrove
The nearby mangrove is an excellent place to enjoy a leisurely day wildlife watching. You can kayak which is the best way to see wildlife as you are not disturbing them with a motor or take a boat ride if you don’t feel like exercising. Your guide will point out different wildlife like anteaters, snakes, birds and more.
Even though you can see plenty of wildlife in the national park, the mangrove is home to different animals. It’s not very busy which is why we like kayaking through mangroves. I love the feeling of gliding silently over the water to get up close to the wildlife, surrounded by only the sounds of the jungle.
Watch the Sunset from the Hill (Or Beach)
And of course, you can’t miss watching the sunset at the beach! This is one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio to wind down the day.
Since all the high end hotels in Manuel Antonio offer a splendid view of the park and the beach, you’ll have a wonderful view of the sunset. The first time we visited Manuel Antonio we stayed at Hotel La Mariposa which has an amazing infinity pool.
If your hotel doesn’t have a view, watch the sunset from Playa Espadilla Norte. It is equally as lovely!
Many restaurants on the hill also have a beautiful view. The El Avion Restaurant (airplane restaurant) has a wonderful view. Food is not great and it’s pretty expensive but the sangria is yummy.
Manuel Antonio Travel Tips
- Manuel Antonio is 2 hours from San Jose/SJO airport. From San Jose, you can fly to the local Quepos airport or take the bus to Quepos (6, 9, 12, 2:30 PM, 6 PM and 7:30PM from Calle 5, AV 19/20 Terminal Transportes Tracopa) and then take the bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio. Or you can rent a car from San Jose and drive. Get our 10-25% car rental discount here.
- This area is very hot and a bit humid so bring plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and mosquito repellent.
- Majority of the hotels are on the hill which is pretty steep and may be hard to walk for seniors. There are several hotels down by the national park entrance such as the El Faro Hotel.
- The busiest times in Manuel Antonio are January – April and July. End of December is also quite busy. Quietest times are September – November.
- If you visit during rainy season (June – November) and want to hike the national park, go early as possible. In rainy season, it is usually sunny in the morning and rains in the late afternoons.
- Quepos is the closest town to Manuel Antonio and there is a bus from Quepos to the national park that runs all day and costs 310 colones. Some hotels offer free shuttles to the national park.
- It is best to book tours before your trip in high season (December – April). Manuel Antonio is a very touristic area so you want to reserve your spot.
- You don’t need hiking shoes/boots for the national park. Closed toed sandals like KEEN are excellent. This is what we always wear at Manuel Antonio.
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