Manuel Antonio is one of the top visited locations in Costa Rica for its beautiful beaches with warm sand and blue waters in addition to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park that calls this region it’s home. With diverse wildlife, ecotourism activities and countless hotels to base your adventures, it is easy to see why it has become so popular. Not sure what to do in Manuel Antonio? My family and I spent 3 nights in the area and want to share our favorite things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica including our favorite tours and attractions.
1. Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
One of the most famous places in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park. I highly recommended a Manuel Antonio guided tour in order to see the diverse wildlife that lives within and around the 5,000-acre park. We hired a private guide from Manuel’s Tours in order to provide the best experience for our five-year-old son who was traveling with us. Our guide Berny did not disappoint. He came well equipped with a spotting scope and made the visit a once in a lifetime experience. We were easily able to spot toucans, frogs, sloths, two different types of monkeys, bats, insects, and lizards.
Manuel Antonio National Park is open from 7 AM till 4 PM Tuesday-Sunday (Closed Mondays). Tickets to enter are $16 for ages 12 and up. If you have your own transportation, you can park at one of two parking lots near the entrance (avoid the scam to park at the beach). If you do not have your own transportation, you can either book a tour that includes transportation or you can take the local bus that runs from Quepos to the National Park each day and stops close to the entrance for the cost of 340 colones.
You can do a self-guided tour, but if you are starting your adventures in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio, then I suggest hiring a guide so you can truly enjoy the park.
2. Snorkeling: Manuel Antonio
Almost everyone comes to Manuel Antonio to enjoy the warm waters and the coast. There are multiple options for getting out into the water. One of the best activities in Manuel Antonio is a Catamaran Cruise! We were celebrating our son’s birthday, so we picked Ocean King. They feature large boats with two hot tubs, nets you can lay on to enjoy your mixed drinks and a top deck for lounging.
You can either park at the local marina or Ocean King will arrange transportation from Quepos or Manuel Antonio.
Cruise down to Manuel Antonio National Park before you anchor near a snorkeling spot just off the coast. Enjoy the 80-degree waters while you swim with the fishes. Then climb onto the boat to zip down the two huge slides off the back before enjoying a traditional Costa Rican lunch. It’s the perfect way to enjoy the laid back days in Costa Rica.
If you are looking for things to do near Manuel Antonio, don’t miss the chance to check out the views from 600 feet in the air with this high flying adventure! If you are looking for things to do in Costa Rica with kids, don’t miss the ability to parasail on one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Harness up with Aquas Azules and jog along the beach until you are pulled into the air for a 15-30 minutes ride high above Manuel Antonio National Park. If that’s not enough, they also offer jet-skiing, banana boats and boogie boards for a full day’s worth of adventures.
Aquas Azules can help arrange transportation, or they offer to park just behind their sign down at the beach.
4. Rainmaker Park
Another beautiful forest to explore is located 30 minutes from Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It is a prime forest that features hard to find poison dart frogs, morpho butterflies, and hanging bridges! Do a self-guided tour using the easy to traverse trails or hire a guide to give you in-depth knowledge of the park and its inhabitants. Bring a bathing suit to enjoy swimming below the waterfall located along the trail and grab a traditional lunch of casado after your hike.
5. Manuel Antonio Beaches
No visit to Manuel Antonio is complete until you enjoy soaking up the warmth of the sun on one of the many beautiful Manuel Antonio Beaches. With so many Manuel Antonio attractions, it is nice to enjoy some downtime and relax on the soft sand.
There are two public beaches that I would recommend. One is located in Manuel Antonio National Park and requires an entrance fee to the park ($16), however, it pairs well with a visit to the National Park for the morning and then enjoying a beach afternoon. There is a small restaurant located just up the hill from one of the beaches as well as restrooms and changing areas.
The beaches are typically uncrowded (due to the entrance fee), but you will have to carry your items from the car down to the beach, which is about a 25 minutes walk.
The second option is Espadilla Beach which is located 5 minutes before reaching Manuel Antonio National Park and is close to many of the hotels and resorts in the area. It is a wide and long sandy beach with plenty of tour operators offering jet skiing, banana boats, parasailing and beach chairs for rent.
The only complaint about Espadilla Beach is the number of locals trying to hustle you for everything from parking to beach chairs and beer. Stay vigilant and do not leave your belongings left alone on the beach nor in your car.
If you want to avoid both options, I suggest looking for a hotel or resort with a private beach. We stayed at Tulemar Bungalows and Villas because it offers a private beach with free boogie boards, chairs, loungers, kayaks, life vests, and bar service. The staff is super friendly and the beach is stunning.
You can read more about our stay at Tulemar to see if it would be the right choice for your family.
Planning your trip:
If you are just starting planning your trip to Costa Rica, check out these helpful guides to help you decide which areas to visit, how long to stay and the best things to do in Manuel Antonio.
Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio
- This area is popular for visitors, be sure to book your accommodations early, especially during high season (December-April).
- It can be hot and humid with the possibility of insects, bring sunscreen and bug spray. I’ve included links to our favorite brands.
- Manuel Antonio is a 3.5-hour drive from Juan Santamaría International Airport (San Jose). I recommend making the drive in the daylight hours.
- If you are visiting during the rainy season (May-November), book your tours early in the morning to avoid the afternoon showers. We visited for 3 days in early November and lucked out with very little rain.
- I recommend staying at least 3 nights, but you can easily spend a week exploring all the things to do in Manuel Antonio area.
- It is recommended that you book your Manuel Antonio tours and activities before you arrive. This is especially true during the busy holiday season (Christmas, Winter Break, Spring Break). You might be able to be a bit flexible in the low season, but tour operators often run fewer tours, so it’s best to check at least a few days ahead of time.
- What are the best things to do in Manuel Antonio? If you have limited time, be sure to book a guided tour through Manuel Antonio National Park in the morning and then spend the afternoon at the beach.
- Bring clothing to enjoy the beaches, light quick-dry clothing for hikes and ocean activities as well as a hat.
- What are the best tours in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica? The guided tour of Manuel Antonio was amazing, we also really enjoyed the catamaran cruise, so I’d recommend both of those options. There are also various tour operators that offer ziplining, fishing, mangrove kayak tours and more.
Here are some of our recommendations for the top things to bring with you to explore the Manuel Antonio region. I’ve only included gear that we actually use and recommend.
1. Wildlife viewing: One of the fun activities in this area is watching the various wildlife. You can be a casual viewer with a pair of binoculars or if you are really dedicated, bring along a spotting scope with a tripod. In addition, grab an identification card to be able to document which animals you’ve seen. The identification card was one of our favorite items we brought along on our trip!
2. Day Pack: You’ll want to carry a lightweight and water-resistant day pack with a reusable water bottle, rain jacket or poncho, snacks and necessary daily items. Having a rain cover is a bonus since it rains unexpectedly throughout the year. We’ve used our packable day pack for several years and it’s great for quick trips and then folds into a small pouch when not needed.
Top Restaurants near Manuel Antonio
There are so many amazing places to eat near Manuel Antonio, it’s often hard to choose! Here are our recommendations for the top places to enjoy a meal during your stay.
Breakfast: El Patio de café Milagro and Tule Cafe: Tulemar Resort
Lunch: Emilios Cafe and Rainmaker Conservation Project Cafe
Dinner: El Wagon and El Avion
If you’d like to read our full recommendations on where to eat when visiting Manuel Antonio, check out the link below to the post.
Do you have a favorite activity in Manuel Antonio? Feel free to leave a comment or find 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 Tulemar, Parasailing 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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