Manuel Antonio National Park, North Puntarenas

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Natural Paradise of Manuel Antonio National Park

Travel to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast of North Puntarenas from the San José International Airport (Juan Santamaria) or the domestic Quepos Domestic Airport and you’ll find the beautiful, coastal town of Manuel Antonio. The city’s most popular attraction, and one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica is the lush, tropical paradise known as Manuel Antonio National Park.

This must-see stop on any Costa Rica itinerary is one of the best vacation spots for nature lovers in Costa Rica and the entire world, boasting incredibly high levels of biodiversity nestled among truly beautiful surroundings.

Manuel Antonio National Park includes 682 hectares (7,000 acres) of land, as well as 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) of marine park. While it may take more than one day to fully explore if you want to sample all the park has to offer, it’s actually one of the smaller national parks in Costa Rica. However, its small size doesn’t stop it from being an incredible travel destination and one of most popular tourist attractions in the country!

There’s plenty to do in Manuel Antonio National Park whether you’re in search of an adventurous, active vacation or a more relaxing, leisurely time. Head to one of the park’s four beaches to take in the gorgeous coastline and enjoy popular activities like sunbathing, surfing, exploring tide pools, snorkeling, swimming, and more.

Hike up and down the trails with the assistance of an experienced, local guide or on your own, exploring the lush greenery that surrounds you. Keep your eyes peeled for rare and endangered species like exotic birds and various types of monkeys.

If you’re flying into the SJO International Airport in the capital city of San José, Manuel Antonio National Park is 140 kilometers (87 miles) away. The park is 69 kilometers (43 miles) from the popular beach town of Jacó, but you can also take a quick, domestic flight to the airport in Quepos, which is just 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) away. You can easily travel to Manuel Antonio National Park by bus or car from any of these three towns.

Keep in mind that the park is closed on Mondays with the busiest time to visit being during Costa Rica’s dry season, from December to April each year. Also, no matter what month you plan to visit, weekends tend to be the most crowded.

Know too that there is a small admission fee to enter the park. The fee is under $20USD for adults and less than $10USD for kids 2-11 years old, but be sure to check with the park directly as admission costs are subject to change at any time.

From animal encounters to beach day vibes, Manuel Antonio National Park is a can’t-miss attraction for anyone planning a vacation to Costa Rica!

Explore Manuel Antonio National Park’s Best Sights and Attractions

Among the many things to see and do in Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll find multiple beaches, plenty of hiking trails, and endless possibilities for exploration, discovery, and education!

Four Beautiful Beaches inside the Park

Manuel Antonio National Park includes not only primary and secondary rainforests, but also several attractive beaches, making it especially unique even among the other jungles of Costa Rica. Visitors to the park can spend a fun day in the sun, or just take a quick splash in the Pacific Ocean to cool off before continuing to explore the rainforest.

Throughout the park, hiking trails branch off at various points leading to the incredible beaches. These beaches are Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Espadilla Sur, Playa Las Gemelas, and Playa Escondido.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Playa Manuel Antonio is the most popular of the beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park, and with just one look, it’s easy to see why. The coast here stretches for about half a mile, featuring pristine white sand as well as numerous schools of tropical fish and a large coral reef directly offshore.

Many tourists visit to swim and snorkel, but you don’t have to get your feet wet to catch a glimpse of marine life. During low tide, tide pools form in Playa Manuel Antonio beach’s uneven terrain. Peek inside to see crustaceans, small fish, and marine plants.

Crowds at Playa Manuel Antonio typically thin out as the day goes on. Locals know to stick around until sunset to catch an amazing view of the sun reflecting on the waves.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Playa Espadilla Sur is just one half of a larger beach known as Playa Espadilla. The northern half, Playa Espadilla Norte, is outside the park and therefore publicly accessible, while the southern half, Espadilla Sur, can only be accessed with admission to the national park.

Espadilla Sur is the second most popular of the beaches, separated from Playa Manuel Antonio by a narrow land bridge. You’ll need to commit to quite the hike to reach it, but the journey is well worth the reward. The beach’s surroundings are more secluded, giving it a more laid-back feel with perfect sunbathing conditions.

Immerse yourself in nature on the beach, go for a dip in the water, or take a stroll along the sands.

Playa Escondido

Playa Escondido is a small beach tucked into a cove in the park. Like all beaches here, the view is incredible, only aided by the scenery. Relax with the rainforest at your back and the majesty of the Pacific Ocean stretched out as far as the eye can see in front of you.

Keep in mind that during high tide, only a thin strip of beach remains, so plan your visit for low tide if you want to spend any time on the shore.

Playa Las Gemelas

Playa Las Gemelas is fairly small, and it is only accessible during low tide. Despite this, it remains a great spot to spend the afternoon if you can time a visit just right! Playa Las Gemelas is definitely off the beaten path and it takes a bit of hiking to get here but it is well worth it.

A word of caution, keep your stuff with you as the monkeys might run off with your bag. They are looking for food and they know bags often have food.

Hike the Trails

Various trails criss-cross and wind their way across Manuel Antonio National Park, each one providing a unique experience for hikers. Some offer easier walks, while others pose more of a challenge. There are 10 different trails in the park, the most notable of which is the Perezoso Trail.

On the Perezoso Trail

The main trail, and perhaps the best hiking trail through Manuel Antonio National Park is the Perezoso Trail, also known as Sendero Perezoso, or the Sloth Trail. The nickname comes from the sloths that can often be spotted among the trees above the trail, but there are plenty of other aspects that make this hike one of the most enjoyable in the park, even if the sloths are hiding in the dense canopy overhead during your trip.

As you walk Sendero Perezoso, you’ll reach platforms with stunning views of the surrounding area. You can look out as far as the Pacific coast, and you’ll also be able to spot the park’s offshore islands. These spots make for especially picturesque photo opportunities!

The Perezoso Trail is fairly easy to follow, but you may still want to consider hiring a certified guide so you don’t miss out on anything. With an experienced, local guide, you won’t need to worry about finding the best scenic views for yourself, as the guide will lead you right to them. They can also point out and identify native wildlife, so you have a higher chance of seeing more elusive animals and learning something about any species you may be unfamiliar with as well.

Other Trails

There are a number of other trails throughout the park, from the wheelchair-accessible Sendero Elevado El Manglar near the entrance to the jungle to the Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur, which leads all the way to the most remote beach in the national park.

Some trails are best during certain seasons. For example, Sendero Catarata, the Waterfall Trail, leads to a waterfall that only flows during the wet season in Costa Rica.

Other trails, like Sendero Miradores, are primarily made up of stairs, and are therefore highly challenging during the hottest parts of the year. Whenever you plan to visit, be sure to check the weather forecast and plan appropriately!

Nature Tours and Other Activities

When you’re unfamiliar with the area, trying to navigate and look for wildlife at the same time can be a daunting task. On a nature tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, not only will you have an expert to guide you through the trails, but you’ll also have the benefit of insider knowledge about where and when to find some of the forest’s most reclusive animals.

Nature tours are a great educational experience as well, as tour guides can provide invaluable information about the different plant and animal species you’ll see during your visit. They’re a popular way to experience the park for families and nature lovers alike.

Other unique ways to explore Costa Rica’s rainforests include via a Mangrove Boat Tour, Rainmaker Park Bridge & Waterfall Tour, and the Night Jungle Tour!

Exotic Birds and Animals Abound

The most exciting attraction at Manuel Antonio National Park is the incredibly high biodiversity that can be found in the park. The protected rainforests are home to 350 species of birds, over 100 species of mammals, and plenty of other animals like reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and more.

The park is a bird watching paradise. Among the many birds you’ll see and hear in the park are toucans, motmots, scarlet macaws, parakeets, tanagers, and hawks.

Similarly, various species of monkeys live in the jungle canopies as well. These include spider monkeys, mantled howler monkeys, and the white-faced capuchin monkey. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a red-backed squirrel monkey, which is endangered.

Monkeys will frequently come right up to the park entrance and greet guests as they arrive. However, while you’re free to take pictures, remember that feeding any of the wildlife in the park is illegal.

Other animals that are commonly seen in Manuel Antonio National Park are coatimundis, iguanas, armadillos, peccaries, and both two- and three-toed sloths.

Nearby Hotels and Activities

If you want to spend multiple days at Manuel Antonio National Park, or if you just want to arrive early and get a jump on exploring, the best places to stay are at nearby hotels in the area. Luckily, there are plenty of great options in the vicinity of the park!

Parador Resort & Spa

The high-class, luxury accommodations at Parador Resort & Spa are ideal for couples planning a romantic getaway, but they work just as well for anyone seeking relaxation after a long day hiking. The hotel property includes four restaurants and bars, three pools, a jacuzzi, a golf course, and a spa where you can visit the steam room, get a massage, or take a yoga class. Enjoy the conveniences of WiFi, complimentary breakfast, and air conditioned rooms.

Additionally, the hotel is mere minutes away from Manuel Antonio National Park. The hotel staff can assist guests who want to book adventure tours in the park.

Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort

Immerse yourself in a soothing atmosphere full of nature when you stay at Arenas del Mar Beach and Nature Resort, which features tastefully decorated rooms with incredible views of the rainforest and ocean. Jump in the pool or splurge on deluxe rooms that come with a private jacuzzi, all while taking advantage of the hotel’s free WiFi, complimentary breakfast, spa, and on-site gift shop.

Dine on fresh-caught seafood served at the on-site restaurant, or make your own tortillas at the resort’s unique cooking class. Room amenities include air conditioning, TVs, mini-fridges, and laundry services.

Selina Manuel Antonio

The layout of Selina Manuel Antonio is a bit more like a small town than a typical hotel, which reinforces its sense of community. If you’re taking a working vacation, make use of the hotel’s coworking space, and consider signing up for the nightly Meet and Eat, where you have dinner with other hotel patrons.

In between trips to Manuel Antonio Park, which is just a few minutes away, take a break to lounge by the pool with a drink, dine on gourmet meals, swim in the rooftop pool, or take a yoga class.

Si Como No Resort Spa and Wildlife Refuge

Known for its stunning cliffside views and high-class accommodations, Si Como No Resort, Spa, and Wildlife Refuge is an oasis of restoration for your body and mind. The resort offers a whole host of amenities such as two pools, a spa, free WiFi, two restaurants, a breakfast buffet, and an on-site movie theater.

Si Como No is the perfect spot to relax to your heart’s content, especially since it’s only a short walk away from Playa Espadilla. You can also arrange for beach shuttle service for full relaxation.

Gaia Hotel and Reserve

The modern, adults-only Gaia Hotel and Reserve has plenty of amenities to offer its guests, including complimentary breakfast, a gym, a pool, a spa, a 5-star restaurant, and shuttles that service the airport and beach. It’s a popular choice for honeymooners and couples seeking adventure, as the hotel makes it easy to book packages with various rainforest excursions.

The Gaia Hotel and Reserve is involved with conservation efforts for the rare scarlet macaw, which can be seen around the property.

Expert Tips for Exploring Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is a rainforest unlike what you’ll find anywhere else in the world, and the thought of exploring the region can be a little daunting. Use these tips to plan your trip and make the most of your time in the park.

When is the Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio National Park?

If you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Manuel Antonio National Park is mid-week during the offseason, or green season.

The park is busiest during the dry season, from December to April. A good local tip is to follow the trails to beaches deeper in the rainforest, which tend to have less heavy traffic. Additionally, know that the park is closed on Mondays with the busiest and most crowded times being on the weekends.

Animal Active Hours

Some animals native to Manuel Antonio National Park are active during the day, while others are nocturnal. If you want to see it all, plan to visit at different times of the day. Consider taking a sunrise or night tour, then hiking through the park in the afternoon.

Stock Up On Supplies

Manuel Antonio National Park is a rainforest and coastal area with unmatched, and often untouched beauty!

With that in mind, there often isn’t anywhere to resupply in the park, so make sure to bring the essentials with you, and be wary of sunburn. In addition to snacks or a light lunch, you’ll want to bring sturdy shoes, bug spray, sunglasses, a hat, and of course, plenty of water.

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Where to Stay near Manuel Antonio National Park

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