Manuel Antonio, North Puntarenas

Why Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is a Great Coastal Getaway

When you think of Costa Rica, your thoughts likely include the coastline, complete with beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. If this sounds like a dream vacation to you, look no further than Manuel Antonio, which has everything you’re looking for and more!

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is an oceanside village located in North Puntarenas, Costa Rica, not far from Quepos, which is famous for sportfishing.

Located off Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, the area is a popular spot for tourists looking to get some sun, with plenty of visitors flocking to the sand and sea.

Beautiful view of Manuel Antonio beach
Beautiful view of Manuel Antonio beach

The beaches inside and around the Manuel Antonio National Park feature wide shores and calm waves perfect for beach day activities like snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, and even trying your hand at some surfing lessons.

Of course, that’s not all the area has to offer. In fact, the beaches only make up a small part of what makes the park and villa such an amazing vacation spot.

Manuel Antonio National Park is fairly small compared to areas like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the hiking trails that surround the hot springs in La Fortuna, but what it lacks in scale, it makes up for in its popularity!

Nature enthusiasts will enjoy getting a close look at the hundreds of plant and animal species that are native to the National Park, while those passionate about hiking and sight-seeing will find a lot to love along the trails.

Manuel Antonio is about a 153 kilometer (95-mile) drive south of the San Jose International Airport. Like many other notable tourist spots in Costa Rica, travelling to your destination can take a while.

An average car ride is about two hours and forty-five minutes on the main road, though some prefer to take the bus and enjoy the scenery or to stop by Quepos as well.

Keep in mind that if you’re in search of a beachfront hotel, you may have trouble finding one here, since most of the hotels are up on the cliffs that overlook the ocean with Manuel Antonio National Park in the distance. However, this means you can get a phenomenal ocean view from your hotel room, and there are a few places to stay that offer beach access as long as you’re willing to make the hike down to the ocean.

Whether you’re a nature buff or you’re just looking for a secluded spot to relax, you’re in luck: in Manuel Antonio, vacationers can always find a way to soak in the scenery and thoroughly enjoy themselves!

Best of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The beautiful and varied beaches of Manuel Antonio are only matched by its many other notable attractions, including a sprawling national park perfect for hiking and restaurants serving local favorites.

Crowded Espadilla Beach in Manuel Antonio
Crowded Espadilla Beach in Manuel Antonio

Playa Espadilla

Looking for something fun to do with the family? Consider making Playa Espadilla one of your first stops!

This beautiful beach is located right near the entrance of the Manuel Antonio National Park, making it great for young kids and older family members who might not enjoy hiking through the park.

Playa Espadilla has a laid-back vibe that’s perfect for a relaxing day at the beach. Some visitors enjoy playing soccer on the sand, while others like to go swimming or just lay back and soak up the sun.

There are lifeguards on duty at Playa Espadilla, but you should still be mindful of where you swim. The rip currents and undertow can become a problem, but if you avoid wading too far out, you shouldn’t have any issues. Check with lifeguards on the safest place to swim along the beach.

Playita Beach, Manuel Antonio
Playita Beach, Manuel Antonio

La Playita

The suffix “-ita” means small, so it’s no surprise that La Playita is a tiny, quaint beach tucked away on the far north end of Playa Espadilla. While it doesn’t have as much space to sunbathe, many visitors appreciate the great surfing conditions at La Playita.

Others like to go for walks along the shore. The trip to the beach can be a little rocky, so be sure to bring sandals or other sturdier shoes. Additionally, it’s best to visit at least an hour before or after high tide, as the beach becomes mostly inaccessible when the tide comes in.

If you like to surf, it’s worth noting that the beach can get good surf during the right swell and tide.

La Playita was previously a nude beach, but as the Manuel Antonio area has become a more prominent tourist destination with a booming hotel industry, this is no longer the case. The beach still maintains a prominent role in local culture thanks to its notoriety as a gay-friendly beach that frequently draws crowds of young men.

Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio
Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur Beaches

The Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur beaches are both located within the National Park itself. To reach them, you’ll need to hike about 30 minutes from the park entrance, but the journey is worth it: you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous, secluded beaches and an equally stunning scenic view.

Manuel Antonio Beach, also known as Playa Manuel Antonio, tends to be a bit more crowded between the two. Still, both beaches offer an ideal getaway complete with fun activities like swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling.

Sunset at Manuel Antonio National Park
Sunset at Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is considered to be the jewel of Manuel Antonio, and for good reason.

It’s a tropical wildlife refuge complete with its own rich biodiversity and unique ecosystem, featuring 109 different species of mammals and 184 species of birds.

If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a two-toed sloth, the mantled howler monkey or white faced capuchin monkey, or even the endangered squirrel monkey. Be sure to bring your binoculars and a camera so you can snap some photos of the plants and animals that inhabit the National Park including the tropical rainforest and the park’s beaches.

The park also features winding hiking trails which are perfect for anyone looking to explore and stay active on vacation. Take a walk through the rain forest to promote feelings of peace and relaxation, but make sure to bring supplies like bug spray and sunscreen.

If you’re looking for the inside scoop on all the best locales, consider booking a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park. You can also enjoy other fun activities like canopy ziplining.

Hotels and Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio features many amazing hotels and there is no shortage of great options when you’re looking to spend a night, or even a week, in the Manuel Antonio area.

El Parador Hotel endless pool, Manuel Antonio
El Parador Hotel endless pool, Manuel Antonio

Parador Resort & Spa

Stay at one of our featured choices like the Parador Resort & Spa, a luxurious hotel in close proximity to the reserve and beaches which also features its own spas and pool access. Parador Resort is Nestled among 12 acres of tropical rainforest with views of the forest and the beach.

Pool with Ocean View of Manuel Antonio at Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort
Pool with Ocean View of Manuel Antonio at Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort

Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort

Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort is one of the only hotels with beach access as well as rooms with cliff views. This resort boasts 11 acres of private rainforest reserve as well as trails and an internal road down to the beach where you can find a pool, restaurant and direct access to Playitas Beach.

La Mariposa Hotel

Standing on the highest point in the region, La Mariposa Hotel will take your breath away with panoramic vistas overlooking the Pacific Ocean if an ocean view is your style and views of Manuel Antonio National Park if a rain forest view is what you prefer. The property also features an open-air restaurant and cozy accommodations.

Gaia Hotel

The Gaia Hotel was featured on CNN as a top worldwide destination for eco-tourism, as the luxury resort utilizes 100 percent solar heating of the water and 5-star amenities. Surrounded by tropical forest, this high-end hotel may even afford you an opportunity to spot a scarlet macaw or one of the many toucans in the area as they sore between the trees that encompass the property.

More Hotel Options

If you’re still not satisfied that you have found the perfect Manuel Antonio hotel for you and your party, just minutes-away from Manuel Antonio National Park or even walking distance to the park entrance, there are a handful of other great places worth considering that will allow you to explore the diverse wildlife and natural wonders that await you in the area.

Overview of the Best Beaches

There are many Costa Rica beaches, or ‘playas,’ in Manuel Antonio. All of them are well worth visiting, but if you’re trying to decide which one you’d like to go to during your trip, it helps to know what makes each beach unique.

Beach umbrella and chairs on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio
Beach umbrella and chairs on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio

Playa Espadilla

Given its proximity to downtown and its size, it’s no surprise that Playa Espadilla is the most popular of all of the Manuel Antonio beaches!

If you’re looking for something more secluded, this may not be the spot for you, but with more than a mile of Pacific coast, there’s usually more than enough space to accommodate all visitors.

Playa Espadilla is an amazing family beach that’s very easy to access. The beach’s length makes it well-suited for strolling, but you can also enjoy plenty of other activities including surfing, parasailing, jet skiing, horseback riding, and banana boat rides.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Playa Espadilla Sur requires the longest hike to reach, as it’s located at the southern end of the National Park.

It’s much more relaxed and quiet with fewer families around as a result. Unlike Playa Espadilla, which is bustling with nearby stores and vendors, Playa Espadilla Sur provides its visitors with space to reflect and get in touch with nature.

Swimming and hiking are the most popular activities here, though more experienced surfers may also enjoy the challenge provided by the rougher waves.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Wildlife lovers should make their way to Playa Manuel Antonio, which has the unique feature of tide pools that form during low tide. As the ocean recedes, water and sea life get caught in the divots on the beach, creating pools of fish, crustaceans, and other ocean dwellers.

Playa Manuel Antonio is fairly popular, but stick around until sunset when the crowds thin out for an amazing view. There’s a good chance you might spot a few monkeys roaming the beach as well - just make sure to guard your belongings.

Playa La Macha

Playa La Macha is located at the end of a difficult 40-minute hike, but those who make the trip will reap the benefits of this secluded paradise. Be sure to pack anything you’ll need for the day, since you won’t have easy access to your hotel room.

Playa La Macha is an ideal spot for sunbathing, since there are few other beachgoers to disrupt your relaxation. Because there is less traffic, the area is frequented by many native species of monkeys up in the trees, as well as sea turtles and dolphins in the ocean.

Playa Biesanz

To access Playa Biesanz, you’ll need to complete another short but fairly steep hike. This beach is surrounded by cliffs and plenty of thick foliage, so it’s not the best for sunbathing, but it’s still an especially beautiful coastline.

Many visitors enjoy snorkeling and swimming at Playa Biesanz, especially if they want to catch a glimpse of the ocean life. Others rent paddle boards and kayaks from the beach’s vendors, which also include food and drink stands.

Tips on Who Should Visit Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is an incredible vacation spot for all, but it’s especially well-suited to those who love wildlife, who don’t mind exercising on vacation, and who love the beach.

Amazing three toed sloth in Manuel Antonio
Amazing three toed sloth in Manuel Antonio

Wildlife Enthusiasts

With lots of biodiversity, nature lovers are sure to enjoy Manuel Antonio. Spend the trip taking photos of animals in their natural habitats, or explore the beautiful plants that can only be found in Costa Rica.


The hiking trails in Manuel Antonio range from short and sweet to challenging. Exercise buffs will love taking a walk through the stunning scenery while keeping themselves fit.


Manuel Antonio is renowned for its beaches, and it’s not hard to see why. From sprawling family-friendly shores to secluded coasts, it’s the ideal place to relax and unwind.

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Distance: 100 miles / 160 km
Drive Time: 160 hr