Manuel Antonio National Park has quite a reputation. It’s the smallest national park in Costa Rica, consisting of 1,700 acres of land and over 130,000 acres of water. Don’t let the size fool you though, it has been rated as one of 12 most beautiful national parks by Forbes in 2011 and is one of the most visited parks in the country.
For anybody who is coming to visit Costa Rica and wants to see wildlife and beautiful beaches, Manuel Antonio has to be on their list of places to go.
If you’re planning on visiting, here are our Manuel Antonio National Park travel tips so you can get the most out of this small national park.
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- About the park
- Hours and fee
- The hiking trails
- Where to eat and sleep
- What to do
- Tips for visiting
Manuel Antonio National Park
About the Park
This park was established back in 1972 when Costa Rica decided to preserve the immense natural beauty and biodiversity found within. There is such a vast variety of wildlife and nature present that it is considered one of the most biologically diverse spots in the world.
The park has many hiking trails, a waterfall and several white sand beaches all home to a plethora of animals.
See what the park looks like from the air!
Hours and fee
Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tues-Sunday, 7AM – 4 PM. The entrance fee is $16 for foreigners. I suggest paying in cash since there is a fee for using credit card and they take dollars.
Manuel Antonio National Park is on the Pacific coast, 120 miles from San Jose, an hour drive from Playa Jaco and just south of Quepos. It’s easy to get to by car since it’s just one road.
You can also take the bus to the national park fairly easily. Read our guide to taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio.
You can also fly to Quepos, the town next to Manuel Antonio and then take a taxi or pick up your rental car at the airport. It’s about a 10 minute drive to the national park from the airport. Read our post about flying from San Jose to Quepos.
The beaches in the area are Playa Manuel Antonio, Gemelas, Puerto Escondido and Espadilla Sur/Norte. The most visited beach is Playa Manuel Antonio in the national park, a short walk from the entrance.
This is where most people spend their day, swimming in the waves, getting up close and personal with the white face monkeys and raccoons and relaxing on the white sand.
You can walk on the rocks at Playa Manuel Antonio and explore some of the tide pools. There are some fantastic coral reefs around the area and snorkeling is possible to do here but you need to bring your own equipment.
The other beaches, Gemelas and Puerto Escondido can by reached by the trails. Gemelas is a smaller beach that is also suitable for swimming. Less people go to this beach so if Playa Manuel Antonio is incredibly crowded, check this one out. Puerto Escondido is only accessible during low tide, you can hike to the viewpoint but check with the park rangers before you try to get on the beach itself.
Playa Espadilla Sur/Norte is right outside the park entrance and many people like to surf, sail, parasail and boogie board at this beach. You can rent surf boards but it is kind of expensive at $20.
From the most northern point of Playa Espadilla Sur, you can see Espadilla Norte and all the hotels on the hill.
Wildlife watching is one of the best at Manuel Antonio National Park. Over 100 species of mammals and 180 species of birds can be found in the park and it is common to see white face monkeys, the endangered squirrel monkey, iguanas and lizards and 2 and 3 toed sloths.
We saw several families of white face monkeys, a sloth, squirrel monkeys and lizards and iguanas. We were fortunate to see a white face monkey hunting, catching and eating a lizard! Awesome wildlife encounters like these are common in the park.
Be very careful with the white face monkeys and raccoons as they will try to steal your food and they have no fear of humans.
Other animals you can see are toucans, frogs, coatis, and out in the water it is possible to see dolphins and whales. No matter what day you go, you’ll be guaranteed to see some monkeys at the very least!
The Hiking Trails
There are several trails in the national park that you can spend a whole day exploring. They lead to beautiful viewpoints, beaches and a waterfall and since many people spend their time at the beach, you can have the trails all to yourself.
Though the beaches are really nice, I highly recommend hiking at least a couple of the trails. Venture into the hot and humid jungle and reward yourself with a refreshing dip in the bright blue waters.
Read our complete guide to hiking in Manuel Antonio.
General Information about the Park
The park has become a huge tourist destination and you’ll see lots of vendors, souvenir stalls and tour guides offering their services.
You can hire a guide to walk with you through the park and point out flora and fauna. It’s hard to miss them because they’ll come up to you asking if you want a guide. Prices vary and remember, always bargain. They offered me $40 for a guide for 3 hours.
The entrance of the park is easy to get to when you reach Playa Espadilla Norte, there are a couple of paths that lead there. You might walk to the entrance thinking it is a bit odd to see so many businesses and hotels located right at the entrance of a national park.
Tourism at Manuel Antonio has exploded and development has expanded into parts of the rain forest, but they work to keep the impact minimal and low. Infrastructure is quite modern and up to date with nicely paved roads and buildings.
This is probably the most touristic national park, next to Arenal but since this park is so small, all of the amenities and businesses are close together near the entrance.
Where to Eat and Sleep
There are many places to eat outside the national park but you won’t find any food stalls in the park so make sure you stock up on water and snacks. You’ll see a lot of vendors selling water and pipa fria (cold coconuts) outside the park. We have eaten at the restaurant on Playa Espadilla Norte a few times and it has decent local food like casados and sandwiches.
In Quepos, you’ll find lots of soda a bit cheaper than the ones at the national park. We love Restaurante Ticos, around the corner from Dos Locos (that’s a good place too with a yummy chifrijo). They have reasonably priced local food with a mean chilero (pickled vegetables).
El Avion is a popular restaurant on the hill since it has a great view. It is $$ and in our personal opinion, the food wasn’t that great but the sangria was delicious.
As for hotels, there are no shortages of hotels, resorts, and hostels in the area. You can find everything from a $15 a night bed in a hostel or a 5 star luxury resort.
If you want to splurge a little on your Costa Rica trip, we recommend doing it in Manuel Antonio since there are many high end hotels with incredible views of the national park.
Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park
- You can no longer bring food like chips or peanuts in to prevent feeding of wildlife. Park rangers will check your backpack at the entrance.
- Do NOT feed the animals! It may seem hilarious that the monkey stole your sandwich but it’s harmful to them.
- You can walk the trails with flip flops but hiking sandals like these are the best
- Bring your swimsuit. If you don’t want to wear it walking through the park, there are changing stations and showers.
- You don’t need to wear long hiking pants or shirts, the trails are nicely paved with platforms and you won’t be going in the forest. Just make sure to use mosquito repellent.
- If you drive, park at the lot by the roundabout. It’s free.
- If you decide to hire a guide, make sure he is certified by the ICT (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo). Some guides pretend to be certified and will try to charge you a ton of money
- Bring binoculars or a camera with good zoom lens (at least 250 mm) for photographing wildlife
- Bring your own water and snacks – it’s expensive to buy there
- There is a lot of other things to do in Manuel Antonio besides the national park so don’t worry about being bored!
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen
Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tues – Sunday from 7 AM to 4 PM.
Read about other national parks in Costa Rica!
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