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. It’s also one of the best places in Costa Rica for first time visitors due to its easy accessibility, conveniences and because you can experience both jungle, beach and wildlife.
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
- National Park Map
- The hiking trails
- Tips for visiting
- Best Time to Visit
- What to Wear
About Manuel Antonio National 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. This area has so much wildlife, you don’t necessarily need to go in the national park to see sloths and monkeys.
See what the park looks like from the air!
The national park is very close to Quepos, the main town. To get from Quepos to the national park, you have to go through the Manuel Antonio hill where most of the hotels and restaurants are located.
Manuel Antonio entrance fee and operating hours
Manuel Antonio National Park operation hours are Tues-Sunday, 7AM – 4 PM. 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, you’ll see a lot of people lining up there to buy tickets.
National Park Map
Here is a map of Manuel Antonio National Park. You can see the hiking trails, different beaches and viewpoints on it. They give you this map when you buy tickets so you’ll get a copy.
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 from San Jose through Route 27. Then you have to exit at Jaco and continue down south until you get to Quepos.
You can also take the bus to the national park fairly easily. Read our guide to taking the bus from Jaco to Manuel Antonio. There is also a bus from San Jose to Quepos every day at 6, 9, 12, 2:30, 6, 7:30 PM leaving from Calle 5, Av 18/20 from Terminal Transportes Tracopa.
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.
Manuel Antonio Beaches
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 along the sloth trail.
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.
On the other side of Playa Manuel Antonio is Playa Espadilla Sur. From the most northern point of Playa Espadilla Sur inside the national park, you can see Espadilla Norte and all the hotels on the hill.
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.
Playa Espadilla 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. Since this beach is outside the park entrance, there is no entrance fee.
You can also go parasailing here, jet skiing and swimming. Waves are great for short boards, not long boards since the break isn’t very long but waves are chubby for short boards.
Wildlife watching is one of the best at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. 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.
Manuel Antonio Hotels
There are no shortages of hotels, resorts, and hostels in Manuel Antonio, you can find the most luxurious hotels in this area in fact. If you’re here for a romantic getaway or luxury vacation, you have many 5 star resorts to choose from. Likewise, it’s a great area for backpackers or those on a budget as there are plenty of hostels.
Here are our recommended hotels in Manuel Antonio National Park and around 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.
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.
- There are bathrooms, showers and changing stations on the way to Playa Manuel Antonio.
- The national park can easily be enjoyed in one day. You can go as soon as the park opens if you want to hike all the trails or just spend a relaxing day hiking a little and relaxing at the beach.
- Do NOT feed the animals! It may seem hilarious that the monkey stole your sandwich but it’s harmful to them. Please zip close your backpacks, don’t leave food or even food inside bags out and do not feed the wildlife.
- Do not walk off the trails. The paths are there for a reason so please don’t wander off the path.
- 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. Or book one through a tour company or you hotel, they work with certified guides. For guides outside the entrance, always bargain. They offered me $40 for a guide for 3 hours, 1 person. One good thing about hiring a guide is that they will have a telescope which you can use to take pictures through your phone.
- There is a lot of other things to do in Manuel Antonio besides the national park so don’t worry about being bored!
Best Time to Visit Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
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.
It is very crowded end of December – end of April. This is high season and this park, being one of the most popular in Costa Rica, gets very crowded. It gets especially crowded on weekends and Costa Rican holidays as locals visit as well (mid July, Easter week and New Years).
September – November are best times for less people. I visited once mid November and there weren’t very many people on the beach compared to February when it was packed. However, these are the peak rainy months so you will need to keep that in mind.
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 especially 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 and you won’t be going in the forest. 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.
Manuel Antonio National Park hours are Tues – Sunday from 7 AM to 4 PM.
Read about other national parks in Costa Rica!