Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica - beautiful tropical beach

Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park: Private Guided Tour

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Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-see when visiting Jaco or Quepos. It is a 4,900-acre park teeming with flora and wildlife, but you can only explore a small portion of the park on 5.5 miles of trails. Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica and it is easy to see why. Touring with a guide is also highly recommended to see the variety of wildlife that calls the park it’s home.

Parque Nacional Manuel Anotnio Costa Rica Sign

Where is Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)?

Manuel Antonio is located in the southern region of Costa Rica and approximately 2.5 hours south of the International Airport in San Jose. One of the main features is Manuel Antonio Park which receives almost 500,000 visitors each year.

Map of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park Map

Only a small portion of Manuel Antonio is accessible to visitors along their 5.5-mile trail system that covers forest walks, mangroves, beach trails, and viewpoints. It is easy to explore the park on your own with plenty of maps located throughout the park, but you’ll see below why hiring a guide is worth the cost.

Manuel Antonio National Park has also made extensive renovations over the years to make the park handicapped friendly for visitors with paved and level paths. The path through the mangroves is a new addition to their trail system.

Hiking trails Manuel Antonio National Park Map

Weather Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica)

The temperatures in Manuel Antonio are consistent throughout the year ranging from mid-60’s to mid-80’s with the rainy season occurring between May and November.

Manuel Antonio Tours

One of the big decisions you’ll need to make when booking your travel to Costa Rica is whether or not to book a guided tour inside the national park. It is truly a personal choice, but I’d highly recommend having a guide to explore Manuel Antonio National Park. Our guy Berny was able to spot animals that we couldn’t even see once he told us where to find them! He was an expert at knowing where each animal might be located and asked us if there were any special animals that we wanted to find. It made the experience much more enjoyable and educational.

See if you can find the grasshopper on the pole. We couldn’t even see if after Berny told us where to look. 🙂

Who should I hire for a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park?

  1. Manuel’s Tours: This is who we booked our tour through. We joined over 600 positive reviews on TripAdvisor with our private tour through Manuel Antonio National Park. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to ask for Berny, he is amazing! You will have the option of taking a private or small group tour.
Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park with our private guide Berny.

Still undecided? Jump down to the bottom of this post to see my top 5 reasons for hiring a guide.

Important Information for Manuel Antonio National Park

As Parque Manuel Antonio continues to increase in popularity, new rules have been put into effect in order to limit the number of visitors who are able to enter the park. As of 2019, only 600 visitors are allowed into the park during any given time, with a maximum of 1,600 people per day. If you are visiting during the peak travel season (December-April), it is highly recommended that you arrive early in order to purchase your tickets.

Parking for Manuel Antonio: Scam Alert

As with any tourist attraction that gains in popularity, there is bound to be a few scammers waiting to take advantage. One of those traps is an “official” looking gentleman wearing embroidered shirts saying that you should park down by the beach because the parking close to the park is full. This is a scam. Just keep driving down the road until you are within a few meters from the entrance. There is parking located on the right and on the left for 2000-3000 colones, depending on the season.

Use the map below to locate the parking area located close to the park.

If you have transportation included, you won’t have to worry about this scam, but we were driving our private vehicle, so heads up.

Another scam is buying tickets to the park from a “helpful” gentlemen, also wearing a nice embroidered shirt. Don’t trust anyone. Be sure to purchase your tickets from the official ticket seller located on the right before you reach the gates. It is actually a bank called Coopealianza that handles the ticket sales.

Manuel Antonio National Park Entrance Fee

Now that you know to avoid the scam of purchasing tickets from someone along the entrance road, you’ll proceed to the official ticket office located just steps from the entrance at the Coopealianza. Line up inside and you can purchase your tickets either US dollars, Colones or credit card.

The entrance fee is $16 per person (ages 12 and older). There is no fee for children. You can pay with cash or card.

Park Hours

The park is open from 7 am – 4 pm every day except Monday. As mentioned above, it is recommended that you are in line by 6:45 am to guarantee your ticket into the park during the high peak travel season.

Entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park. Large metal gates.

What to Expect Inside the Park

Once you have your tickets, you’ll enter through large gates. There are bathrooms are located on the left and the bag check and ticket check are located to your right.

Note: No snacks are allowed inside the park. Picnic foods are ok like sandwiches or fruit with drinks. We were asked to put any candy and items like goldfish and granola bars in the car. This is due to people attempting to feed the monkeys. (There is a restaurant inside the park for additional food.)

Inside the Park:

Once inside, there are a variety of paths to explore. Many are stroller and wheelchair friendly for guests, which is a new improvement over the last few years.

Hiking Trail Manuel Antonio National Park
Boardwalk in forest Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

This is also where hiring a guide is really worth it! Our wonderful guide Berny was able to spot animals before we even entered the park! He spotted a sloth, toucans, a large grasshopper, and iguana just from the entrance area.

Once inside the park, the animal spotting continued. He knew the sounds that each bird made and how to note the difference. Berny knew which trees each animal liked and thus was able to find small frogs, hummingbirds, and even bats to our son’s delight.

His knowledge of each animal was paramount and of course, he was wonderful with our son answering all of his questions and helping him stay interested in the animal spotting. He came well prepared with a spotting scope and binoculars to make it much easier to spot animals hidden in the trees, along vines or on the leaves.

In addition, he knew about the history of Manuel Antonio National Park and the push towards ecotourism. We loved sharing his passion for the animals and protecting them for future visitors.

There were plenty of visitors that just strolled right underneath a sleeping Sloth or walked right by a poisonous frog enjoying a nap on a vine. Hiring a guide truly added to the experience and is highly recommended.

Sloth sleeping in the trees of Manuel Antonio National Park

As you continue to explore the park, you’ll reach a small café/restaurant with souvenirs. We grabbed a scoop of ice cream and sat down to watch the howler monkeys passing through the trees and the leaf-cutting ants hard at work.

Leafcutter Ants

Best Beaches in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park features a variety of landscapes to enjoy, including beautiful and pristine beaches. Some guests spend multiple days in the park, including one day to enjoy the beaches and another to find wildlife along the trails.

Manuel Antonio National Park Beach
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica – beautiful tropical beach

Just down the hill (past the bathrooms) is the first of three beach areas. As you reach the first beach area, don’t forget to peek into the pond nearby, there might be a crocodile lurking below the waters. We arrived at the end of the caiman enjoying a nice lunch.

Costa Rican caiman inside Manuel Antonio National Park.
Close-up image of a large crocodile in a shallow lagoon in Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

From there, you can walk along the Manuel Antonio National Park beach or the shaded path to the lookout tower. Climb up to the top and see if you can spot any birds from above. Then you’ll head to the other side of the island for another beautiful sandy beach.

Manuel Antonio national park beach trail.

As you walk back inland, you’ll see a nicely paved path that leads you into the mangroves. This was recently built in the last few years and is a great spot to find crabs, fish, and other small animals depending on the tides.

You’ll cross back over to the main path and the same path that you entered on. Be sure to keep an eye out for the capuchin monkeys. We were delighted to find an entire group eating and playing in the trees just before we exited on the road that runs parallel to the boardwalk.

Top Five Reasons why you Should Hire a Guide:

  1. You’ll have expert knowledge of the history of Manuel Antonio National Park including its unique flora and animal inhabitants.
  2. A guide knows the best trails to explore and how to avoid the crowds, especially during the high season.
  3. You’ll see 2x as many animals, including those that are harder to find. Our guide spotted frogs, bats, toucans hidden under the leaves of trees, hummingbirds, sleeping sloths and so much more!
  4. The photos your guide will help you capture will be stunning.
  5. Your guide will have all the proper gear including a spotting scope and animal identification book. Not to mention the knowledge of animal species, diet, bird calls, and migration patterns.

If I haven’t convinced you enough, here are some beautiful photos captured through the spotting scope during our 4-hour visit to Manuel Antonio National Park.

Be Prepared: Items to Bring

Manuel Antonio National Park is well maintained, so you won’t need to pack extensively, but here are some items that we found helpful while on our private guided tour.

  • Waterproof backpack with rain cover. We love our lightweight day pack with pop out rain cover for travels. It is durable and has plenty of zippered pockets to stay organized.
  • Costa Rica’s weather is a bit unpredictable (don’t rely on the weather reports), we carried packable raincoats the entire trip. We love Columbia raincoats because they pack small and are durable.
  • Before we left on our trip to Costa Rica, we purchased some gear to enjoy our visit. That included personal binoculars, a Costa Rican Wildlife laminated pamphlet (our most loved item) and a nice camera to capture the beautiful flora and wildlife. We currently travel with a Canon Mirrorless Camera.

FAQ: Everything You Need to Know

  1. How long do I need to explore Manuel Antonio National Park? That is partially personal preference, but I suggest at least 3-4 hours if you do not plan to play on the beach. We were able to tour the park before driving to Monteverde and we felt as though 3-4 hours was plenty of time.
  2. What foods are allowed inside the park? You can bring sandwiches, fruit, and non-alcoholic drinks. Even though we were traveling with a small child, they did not permit snacks such as granola bars, goldfish and candy items. There is a bag check at the entrance. If there is something you MUST have that is not approved, I suggest putting those items in your pockets.
  3. What types of animals are inside Manuel Antonio National Park? You’ll see a variety of wildlife, including iconic Costa Rican animals such as capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, toucans, parrots, sloths, iguanas, lizards, hummingbirds, raccoons, coatis, deer, and parakeets.
  4. Should I take a self-guided tour or a guided tour? After spending two weeks in Costa Rica and doing a variety of self-guided and guided tours, I highly suggest a guided tour while visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. It is an easy place to find wildlife and provides quite a variety. Although you would be able to see some animals, the knowledge that a guide possesses is paramount.
  5. Any recommendations on what to bring inside the park? I suggest bringing a backpack with freshwater, sandwiches and rain gear. If you’d like to spend some time at the beach, then you’ll need beach supplies including towels, swimsuits and some beach toys for the kids.
  6. Is Manuel Antonio National Park stroller and handicapped friendly? YES! They have made many improvements over the years to make the trails accessible. For strollers, be sure to secure any belonging, especially at the beach. There is a particular monkey named Scar-Face that likes to wreak havoc on unattended and unsecured belongings.

Final Thoughts

We loved our private guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. It was the start of our trip and we were able to check off so many amazing animals during our 4 hours guided tour. Our son loved the scavenger hunt aspect of the adventure and both my husband and I enjoyed being immersed in a beautiful forest full of wildlife. Our favorite moments were watching a group of capuchin monkeys playing in the trees, grooming each other and feeding on the plants nearby. They crisscrossed our path across the road many times and walked directly behind our son without any concerns.

Feel free to ask any questions by contacting me, leaving a comment or finding me on Facebook or Instagram. I created this travel blog to help other families to explore the world with their kids and I hope I’ve inspired you. Want to read more about Costa Rica? Check out my posts about our stay at nearby TulemarParasailing and taking a Catamaran Cruise. Or head over to my destinations page and explore my interactive map, it’s pretty fun. Until next time!

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Want to read more? Check out these posts about Costa Rica!

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