Manuel Antonio National Park is probably the most popular destination in Costa Rica. It is the smallest nature reserve in the country and you will undoubtedly notice it in the number of tourists: it can be quite busy. Don’t let that put you off: it’s really beautiful. The not-so-small park is full of animals: monkeys, sloths, deers, iguanas, a diversity of birds, reptiles, insects, and so on. The squirrel monkeys are brutal (watch your belongings!) and photogenic. The various beaches are all beautiful and reason to simply pay the $18 entrance fee.
Hike for hours through the woods, climb through the mountainous landscape, and at the end splash in the refreshing water. There is a good chance that an iguana will come to keep you company.
How do I get from San Jose Airport to Manuel Antonio?
It is recommended to rent a car in Costa Rica. The distances between the different parks are considerable and public transport messy. And of course, you can always stop by car; you will find beautiful nature in the craziest places in Costa Rica. This way of moving will save you so much time, so I guess that’s the ultimate tip.
But of course, you can also take the bus: public transport is cheap. For about 9 dollars and in four hours you are in Manuel Antonio National Park from the capital San José. The buses depart from Tracopa Bus Terminal, more than twenty kilometers from the airport. Do not confuse this with Terminal 7-10, the station that is more famous. However, few buses go from the airport to this bus stop and a taxi will cost you at least 25 dollars. So that is not ideal.
Once at Tracopa Bus Terminal, nine buses a day go directly to either Manuel Antonio or the nearby town of Quepos. Don’t worry, it’s easy to get to Manuel Antonio from Quepos.
I stayed at Hostel Plinio, which is closer to Quepos than Manuel Antonio. Buses run constantly to the park, so you will never have to wait long. This is just public transport, stops right outside the door and costs next to nothing. Hostel Plinio has a restaurant next to it, where you can have really excellent food and breakfast.
I myself went from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. That is with a stopover in Punta Arenas. It takes you three and a half hours by car, and 14 hours by bus. It’s like I said: just rent a car.
Is it better to stay in Quepos or Manuel Antonio?
That doesn’t matter much. I would recommend staying on National Route 618, but somewhat near the Quepos bus station might as well. There are plenty of hotels along this route and the city bus runs on this road. There are more than enough bus stops, so you’re always close by. In the morning hundreds of monkeys swing along the electricity wires, which really gives an amazing picture. Isn’t that an ideal view for your breakfast? From Quepos it is about twenty minutes by bus. In short, it doesn’t matter where you sit, as long as you are somewhat close to the bus line.
Do you need a guide for Manuel Antonio National Park?
Then the park itself. The entrance costs about 18 dollars, which you can only pay by credit card. I didn’t have a credit card myself at the time, so I had one of the employees pay for me. Add a small tip and you have your ticket. I myself went to the park for two days. The first day without a guide, the second day with. You really see a lot more with a guide. They are trained to spot animals. On my own, I of course saw the hundreds of monkeys and some iguanas, but with a good telescope and a sharp guide, you can see at least ten times as many.
So definitely is worth it. Scroll down in this article to see some of those animals.
I chose a private guide. Slightly more expensive, although that was not so bad. I just have a hard time sharing a telescope with ten people and being part of a large group in nature. Now I sound like a rich dude, but I am not. But how often are you here?
Is Manuel Antonio Costa Rica safe?
As always, you have to look after your belongings. Manuel Antonio is no more dangerous than any place but touristy. And tourists and crowds are simply interesting for the pickpocket. But there is one more thing to keep in mind. Most food and drinks are prohibited in the park, as are cigarettes. I will explain why.
I saw a family in the park. They had a bag full of food, like chips. Quickly monkeys robbed the entire bag and ran off with it. All snacks have of course plastic, which is also eaten. The monkeys are very fast and it happens before you know it. So don’t bring it with you. And if you decide to do (and if you succeed, because there is quite a strict control): take the animals into account and do not use plastic.
What Beaches are recommended?
Manuel Antonio Beach is a feast for the eyes, but also by far the most popular beach. It is almost always very busy. I prefer the one that is exactly the opposite: Espedilla South Beach is a lot bigger and super quiet. The two beaches are the prelude to Cathedral Point, the pimple that is a bit higher. You get to the top with rickety stairs. During your walk, you will encounter many beaches.
The walks are about 1 to 3 kilometers and at times intense. And even when it is very busy, you sometimes have whole sections to yourself. Outside the park is Espadilla Beach, which is really crowded. Playa la Macha is super quiet and beautiful. It’s only a long and hard way to reach it. Take your Google Maps and escape from the tourists!
The entrence of the park
As said: a ticket costs 18 dollars. Then you don’t have a guide. Via the Manuel Antonio website, you can get tickets including a guide in advance for 55 dollars. The park is open six days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is only closed on Tuesdays. It is advisable to come early because that is when the animals are most active.
What else is there to do?
Just before the entrance of the park, there is a large free beach. It is often busy, but because it is so large you can always find a nice spot. You can surf all the way in the back. But there are more beaches that are quiet and offer more privacy. Playa La Macha is beautiful and quiet, but quite a walk to get there. Especially in the last meters, there is a lot of climbing, with some danger. Playa Tulemar is a private beach of Tulemar. At all these beaches you can also encounter monkeys and other wildlife.
Didn’t do it myself because I had only two days in Manuel Antonio, but there is a lot of coral just off the coast. It seems to be wonderful snorkeling and diving here, full of beautiful fish. Here you can also encounter whales in certain seasons. Damas Island is fifteen minutes from Quepos. These are mangroves, which you can access with a boat or kayak. This is a unique ecosystem, where you can spot monkeys, snakes, sloths, crocodiles in their natural environment. You cannot come here without a professional guide.
Is Manuel Antonio just perfect?
We also have to be honest. The area is beautiful and the animals amazing. During corona, however, a lot of animals were gone. Gone. Normally, tourists feed the animals, leaving them to stay. That seems like a good thing, but of course, it isn’t. The food that tourists give is almost never good for them. Moreover, these are wild animals, not farm or zoo animals.
In addition, the entire park is now circled by hotels and therefore people. The animals can’t go anywhere. Manuel Antonio allows a maximum of 600 people in the park and 800 on weekends. The Costa Rican government is trying to spread tourists more and more: Manuel Antonio has become too popular.