Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but don’t let the size fool you. 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.
Additionally, it is one of the best places in Costa Rica for first time visitors and families due to its easy accessibility and facilities. If you’re planning on visiting, read our guide to help plan your trip.
This post was updated March 2018.
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- Location and Directions
- Hours and fee
- National Park Map
- Guided vs self guided tour
- Tips for visiting
- Best Time to Visit/Weather
- What to Wear
Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica Map.
How to get to Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio is about a 2.5 hour drive from San Jose. You’ll first get on the Route 27 West and exit at the Jaco exit to get on the Costanera Sur. From there, you’ll drive straight south for about 1.5 hours. This is all on a well paved highway and a high car is not necessary.
Once you get to Quepos, drive through town to go up the Manuel Antonio hill. Continue down the hill and the official national park parking lot is at the end of the roundabout. This road gets very crowded so be careful since a lot of people park their cars on both sides of the road.
There are unofficial parking lots if you turn left at the first entrance once you are down the hill and by the beach but we recommend going to the one by the roundabout.
There is a direct bus from san Jose to Manuel Antonio. There is a daily direct bus from Calle 5, Ave 18/20 with Terminal Transportes Tracopa at 6, 9 (Mon-Sat), 12 PM, 2:30 PM (Mon-Sat), 6 PM and 7:30 PM. This takes about 4 hours and costs around 4500 colones (~$8).There is also a colectivo bus (makes a lot of stops) from San Jose (same terminal) at 7, 10, 2 PM, 4 PM and 5 PM (Mon-Fri)
From the Quepos bus station, there are buses go the national park entrance every half an hour or so.
From Jaco, take the bus to Quepos and then the national park. You can find more information on bus schedules in this guide to taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio.
From Tamarindo/Coco, you must first take the bus to Liberia, then Puntarenas and then Manuel Antonio. There is a bus from Liberia to Puntarenas at 5, 745, 830, 930, 1030, 1230, 2:40 PM and 3:30 PM every day. Then Puntarenas to Manuel Antonio is at 5, 7, 9, 11, 1:30 PM, 2:30 PM, 4:30 PM and 5:30 PM every day.
You can take private or shared shuttles to Manuel Antonio. A private shuttle from San Jose is around $200 and from Guanacaste, around $250-300.
A shared shuttle from San Jose and Liberia to Manuel Antonio is $54 and we have a 10% discount with Interbus, a shared shuttle company. Get the Interbus, Costa Rica shuttle discount here.
Quepos has its own local airport which both Nature Air and Sansa flies into. It’s about a 10 minute flight from San Jose and costs around $75 one way. The local airport is 5 minutes outside of Quepos. Read our post about flying from San Jose to Quepos.
Manuel Antonio Entrance Fee and Operating Hours
Manuel Antonio National Park operation hours are Tuesday – Sunday, 7AM – 4 PM. They let it only a certain number of people a day so if you leave the park, you will have to wait in line again. You can only go back in if when people leave.
The national park entrance fee is $16 for foreigners. I suggest paying in cash since there is a fee for using credit card and they take dollars. The office is about 20 meters from the national park entrance.
National Park Map
Here is a map of the park so you can see the hiking trails, different beaches and viewpoints on it.
They normally give you the Manuel Antonio National Park map when you buy tickets but don’t worry if you don’t get one. There are a lot of billboards and signs in the national park with this exact map.
Safety tip: If someone tries to charge you for it, don’t buy it! The maps are free from the ticket office. If you don’t get one, just take a photo of the board in the park or save our photo.
The Main Beaches in Manuel Antonio
The main beaches in Manuel Antonio are Manuel Antonio, Gemelas, Puerto Escondido, Espadilla Sur and Espadilla Norte. The most visited beaches are Espadilla Norte and Playa Manuel Antonio in the national park.
Manuel Antonio beach is a short walk from the entrance of the park. It has a lot of trees for shade, fairly calm waters and beautiful views.
In my experience, it’s generally the most crowded beach in the national park. A lot of white face monkeys and raccoons pass through here so people love seeing them jump and play around on the beach. No wonder people stay at this beach the longest!
On the other side of Manuel Antonio beach is Playa Espadilla Sur. I personally love this beach more because there isn’t as many people and you get a wonderful view of Manuel Antonio hill and Espadilla norte.
The other beaches, Gemelas and Puerto Escondido can by reached by the trails. Gemelas is a smaller beach that is also suitable for swimming.
When I stopped by Gemelas beach, there were only 6 people and tons of iguanas. Nice place to get away from the crowds!
And lastly, there is Playa Espadilla Norte which is right outside the park entrance. Since it is not in the park, it’s free.
You can go parasailing, jet skiing, surfing and swimming at this beach.
See what Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, the national park and beaches look like in our aerial video.
Animals in Manuel Antonio
If you want to get up close with wildlife in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is the best one to go to for that experience. Since the small national park is home to over 100 species of mammals and 180 species of birds, you can see a lot of wildlife.
Some of the most common animals in Manuel Antonio are 2 and 3 fingered sloths, white face, howler and squirrel monkeys, raccoons, agoutis and frogs.
As if it’s not enough to just see the animals, you can see some pretty wild things. Our first time at the park, we saw a white face monkey hunt down and eat a huge iguana right in front of us!
You can watch in the video below our experience at Manuel Antonio.
Guided vs Self Guided Tours
We recommend taking a guided tours in Manuel Antonio National Park park if you want to see wildlife. The guides have binoculars or telescopes so they can find animals for you. You can also use their telescopes to take pictures of the animals up close.
However, if you’re not that dead set on seeing wildlife, you can perfectly do a self guided hike at Manuel Antonio National Park. Signage is excellent, trails are well maintained and not too difficult so a self guided hike is definitely doable.
Hiking in the Park
Although most people like to stay at Playa Manuel Antonio, we highly recommend hiking a few of the trails in the park. Here’s why – Not as many people go to Punta Serrucho, Punta Catedral or Congo trails.
If you feel like the park is crowded, you won’t if you venture away from the beach area. When I hiked up to Punta Serrucho, I was the only one for a good amount of time even though there was a huge line. I even saw monkeys and sloths all by myself!
If you want to hike the park, read our complete guide to hiking Manuel Antonio Park.
***As of February 2018, the park has opened a brand new universal trail! It goes for about 1 kilometer from the park entrance down to Playa Manuel Antonio so that people with disabilities or wheelchair can go on it.***
Manuel Antonio Hotel Recommendations
There are no shortages of hostels, resorts, apartments and hotels in Manuel Antonio. If you’re here for a romantic getaway or luxury vacation, you have many 5 star resorts to choose from. Likewise, there are plenty of hostels and budget options.
Here are our recommendations for hotels in Manuel Antonio.
- Hotel La Mariposa, an upscale hotel with a great view of the national park.
- La Mansion Inn, a luxury boutique hotel also with an amazing view.
- El Faro Beach Hotel and Hotel San Bada for the closest location to the national park.
- Vista Serena, a hostel not too far from the national park with a great view.
- Selina Hostel, a new hostel chain in Costa Rica. Has its own yoga deck and restaurant. Great backpacker atmosphere.
- Tulemar, a luxury vacation rental that has its own beach and offers an exclusive sloth walk to guests.
Things You Need to Know About Visiting
- You can’t bring food like chips or peanuts in. Park rangers will check your backpack at the entrance and take them.
- There are bathrooms, showers and changing stations.
- They only let in a certain amount of people a day so if you leave the park and want to go back in later, you can enter again if there are enough space.
- Do NOT feed the animals!
- Do not walk off the trails.
- If you drive, park at the lot by the roundabout, it’s free. The parking lot by the entrance charges 3,000 colones.
- If you hire a guide, make sure he is certified by the ICT (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo). Some guides pretend to be certified and try to charge you a ton of money. Or book one through a tour company as they have certified guides.
- For guides outside the entrance, always bargain. They offered me $40 for a guide for 3 hours, 1 person.
- There is a lot of other things to do in Manuel Antonio besides the national park.
Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
You will be able to see wildlife and hike the trails any time of the year. However, there are a few things to keep in mind about visiting this national park.
The weather at Manuel Antonio is hot and humid with temperatures in the 90’s and high humidity. This area experiences typical tropical weather so you have the normal dry season from roughly beginning of December – end of April and rainy season from beginning of May to end of November.
Number of People
It is very crowded end of December – end of April. This is high season and this park gets very crowded Weekends and holidays (New Years, Christmas and Holy Week) are very busy. July is also a busy month.
September – November are best times for less people: I visited once mid November and there weren’t very many people. However, these are the peak rainy months. Make sure to go as early as possible in the morning for less people and more wildlife.
What to Wear and 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. I always wear shorts and a tank top because it’s so hot there. 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.
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