The ideal blend of beach and rainforest, Manuel Antonio is the top destination for travelers of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast. The rich biodiversity of this area, coupled with a wealth of tours and activities, offers something for everyone. The adjacent town of Quepos serves as the gateway for visitors arriving by car and plane. You won’t find any massive all-inclusive resorts in Manuel Antonio; the mid-size boutique hotels are designed into the rainforest hillside, offering incredible views of the Pacific and lush tropical surroundings. Families, couples, groups, and even solo travelers can find enough to do in Manuel Antonio to fill an entire week, at least. These are the Costa Rica Experts recommendations for the best things to do in Manuel Antonio and Quepos area:
Visit Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but one of the most popular. Visitors come to catch a glimpse of Capuchin, Howler, and Squirrel Monkeys, sloths, iguanas, agoutis, and hundreds of species of birds before hitting one of the park’s beautiful beaches.
In a recent attempt to curb visitor influence on the park’s ecological balance, the Costa Rica government has mandated a limit on daily visitors to the park at around 1200 people per day. Book an early morning guided tour of the park with a professional naturalist guide to avoid the crowds and increase your odds of seeing more wildlife. Naturalist guides have an eye and an ear for locating wildlife that most people miss. Manuel Antonio National Park is closed on Tuesdays.
Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park
You’re sure to see plenty of wildlife throughout your stay in the Manuel Antonio region, but hiking the trails within Manuel Antonio National Park will certainly bring you up close to many of the shyer rainforest animals. Plus you’ll get to take in the rainforest views from a unique vantage point. The main trail within the park is a 1.3-mile flat, sandy trail that links the park’s beaches. This trail is perfect for travelers of all ages. Our Experts recommend visiting the park with a professional, naturalist guide and hitting the trails early to avoid crowds and see more wildlife! Another slightly more challenging trail for the adventurous is Punta Catedral, a beautiful 0.9-mile loop trail of moderate difficulty and some steep inclines. The trail is accessible from both Manuel Antonio Beach and Espadilla Sur Beach.
Related Article: 16 Best Hikes in Costa Rica
Hit the Manuel Antonio Beaches.
Inside Manuel Antonio National Park are some of the region’s best beaches – Escondido Beach, Manuel Antonio Beach, and Espadilla Sur can all be accessed via low-intensity trails. There are great options outside of the park, too. Playa Manuel Antonio and the long stretch of beach known as Playa Espadilla are the main scenes for Manuel Antonio’s visitors. You can find drink stands, surf lessons, snack bars, souvenir vendors, parasailing, and all kinds of beachy fun walking down Espadilla. If you’ve already explored the beaches inside the park, head to Playa Biesanz, located in a crescent bay on the end of Quepos Point, opposite Playa Espadilla. Because of environmental restrictions, the hotels in the Manuel Antonio area are not beachfront but set cliff-side with sweeping views. Only a few Manuel Antonio hotels have direct beach access; Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort is located on Playitas Beach and guests of Tulemar Resort have direct access to their own quiet stretch of sand.
Related Article: Best Beaches of Costa Rica
If you want to try out surfing during your Costa Rica vacation, Manuel Antonio is a great place to learn the basics. Those with more advanced surf skills might find the waves on Playa Espadilla less intimidating than the waves of Nazaré or Oahu’s North Shore, but still worth a paddle out. Surf lessons can be arranged as part of your pre-planned vacation package or you can ask your hotel concierge about board rentals at check-in. The southern end of the beach at high tide is good for beginning surfers, while the northern end of the beach often sees bigger waves. If you have a rental car, consider driving south to some of the beaches near Dominical or Uvita for some extra surfing opportunities away from the crowds.
Marina Paz Vela – Quepos Sportfishing
Sportfishing from Quepos is a must-do for fishing enthusiasts who find themselves on the Central Pacific coast. Quepos has been called the Sailfish Capital of the World, but depending on the season, you might also reel in marlin, tuna, dorado, wahoo, snook, roosterfish, and snapper. Marina Paz Vela is the best place to start your fishing adventures, with 195 boat slips, floating concrete docks, and a custom-designed dam system to protect the many vessels that operate in the marina’s waterfront. Paz Vela can arrange fishing tours, catamaran cruises, parasailing, jet ski excursions, and more. The commercial plaza offers 5 restaurants, a full-service deli & bakery, and a gelato shop.
Related Article: Top Destinations for Sportfishing in Costa Rica
Explore the Damas Island Mangrove Estuary.
Cruise the waterways of Damas Island Estuary on a boat or kayaking tour. Just a 15-20 minute drive from the Manuel Antonio hotels, Isla Damas is a unique coastal ecosystem where monkeys, snakes, sloths, and crocodiles slink about the waterways and contribute to the ecological landscape. This is a wonderful adventure for travelers of all ages and activity levels; both the boat tour and the kayaking tour are done with a naturalist guide who will explain the intricate balance of rainforest life in one of the planet’s most important environments.
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Hike and Swim at the Nauyaca Waterfalls
About an hour south of Manuel Antonio, adventurous travelers can find the impressive Nauyaca Waterfalls, tucked away in the mountains off the coast of Dominical. This is a great day excursion for anyone who wants to go beyond the main Manuel Antonio area and experience the country’s most picturesque waterfall scenery. Join a guided tour and spend the day hiking and swimming in this natural wonder, which boasts two tiers of cascades. Costa Rica Experts tip: Nauyaca isn’t the only waterfall in the South Pacific region – take the Full-Day Waterfall Adventure Tour for a more in-depth excursion off the beaten path.
Taste the Local Flavors on a Food Tour.
Manuel Antonio is known for its national park full of wildlife and warm Pacific beaches, but there’s also something to be said for its culinary traditions. If you’re interested in learning about the real Costa Rica – beyond the zip-lines and beach resorts – the ‘Local Flavor’ food tour in Manuel Antonio will give you the perfect taste. You’ll have a hand in picking out local products at the market, which will then be prepared into a delicious meal of Costa Rican staples as you learn about agricultural and culinary traditions on a local ranch.
Explore After Sunset on a Guided Night Tour.
In Costa Rica, the sun usually sets between 5:30 pm and 6:00 pm – the perfect time to find out what happens in the rainforest after dark! Check out the night tour at Sukia Park to learn about the secrets of the local rainforest inhabitants, like tropical frogs and exotic reptiles. This tour is a highlight for wildlife lovers and anyone who is nocturnal by nature.
Whitewater Rafting on Rio Savegre (class II-III)
Arenal isn’t the only place to catch an adrenaline rush in Costa Rica. If you’re craving a bit of adventure during your time in Manuel Antonio, the Savegre River is the perfect whitewater experience for beginners and rafting enthusiasts alike. The inland rainforest river scenery is a highlight of the trip, which includes a hearty picnic lunch.
Immerse Yourself on a Costa Rica Cultural Tour.
The nearby mountain village of Santa Juana feels a world away from bustling Manuel Antonio, providing a unique escape into the campesino lifestyle of rural Costa Rica. Located 45 minutes in the Central Pacific mountains, it’s an easy day trip from Manuel Antonio hotels. On the tour of Santa Juana village, guests are given the chance to try traditional Costa Rican cooking, tilapia fishing, and jump in a hidden waterfall.
Costa Rica Experts Tip: For the full immersive Santa Juana experience, spend 2 nights at Santa Juana Lodge on your way to/from Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio Restaurants and Dining Options:
Dining on freshly caught seafood that goes right from dock to dish, fresh tropical fruits, and a surprising variety of international cuisine mixed with Costa Rican staples. Given its beachy vibe, the “downtown” part of Manuel Antonio – on the south end of Playa Espadilla near the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park – offers appropriately casual restaurant options with a Costa Rican twist. This small strip is home to Restaurant Baru and Marlin Restaurant, both solid options for a casual lunch or dinner overlooking the beach. While you’re there, you can also hit up Shibuya for sushi or Baldi’s Fresh for smoothies and other familiar treats.
For Thai, check out Samui or head to Enso for great sushi. Café Milagro is still one of the best spots in town for coffee and bakery-style bites. There are also a number of casual bars and grille restaurants along the main road that offer live music, drink specials, and typical Costa Rican food.
Unique and Picture-Worthy Dining
Looking for something unique and picture-worthy? En Todas is a repurposed school bus that evolved into Manuel Antonio’s most beloved beach-adjacent restaurant. The picnic table setup is the perfect casual spot for burgers or fish tacos after a day of fun and sun. Head up the road to El Avion – Manuel Antonio’s famous airplane restaurant to round out a day of transportation-themed dining.
The more upscale dining is typically found at the hotel restaurants; Karolas at Los Altos Resort and La Luna at Gaia Reserve are long-time favorites. Check out Claro Que Si Seafood restaurant at Hotel Si Como No for the special whole-fried snapper! Mirador restaurant at beachfront Arenas del Mar is the perfect blend of elegant and beachy fine dining.
Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants
Vegan and vegetarian diners have great options in the Manuel Antonio dining scene. As its name suggests, Casa Planta is focused on bolstering its menu with ample plant-based selections. Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar isn’t specifically vegan, but the Mediterranean menu naturally caters to folks who don’t consume animal products. Near the park entrance, you’ll find Natural Food, and Varuna is a plant-based food and juice bar.
Manuel Antonio FAQ:
- Arenal: 4.5 - 5.5 hours by ground or 30-minute private flight
- Monteverde: 3 hours
- Jaco/Playa Herradura: 1 – 1.5 hours
- Uvita/Ojochal: 1 – 1.5 hours
- Sierpe: 1.5 - 2 hours
- Drake Bay: 1.5 - 2 hours by ground to Sierpe + 1 hour by boat on the Sierpe River
- Puerto Jimenez: 3.5 hours by ground
- San Jose: 2.5 - 3 hours by ground or 30-minute domestic flight
- Central Highlands (San Ramon, Bajos del Toro, La Paz): 3 – 4 hours