Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s 28 national parks. It is the smallest park in the country, yet considered one of the most popular national parks of Costa Rica. This is in part due to its easy access, stunning landscapes, incredible diversity of plant and animal species, and some of the best beaches in the country.
Manuel Antonio Park is located on the central Pacific coast, which makes up the west part of the country. It is about 10 km off of coastal route 34 (Carretera Pacifica Fernandez Oreamuno — Costanera Sur). Coastal route 34 is an easy drive, which consists of a one-lane highway.
It is roughly:
- 180 km from the capital of San Jose
- 150 km from Punta Arenas
- 78 km from Jaco
- 68 km from Uvita
- 7 km from Quepos
You can get there by:
- Car: Official parking is available at the park. Be aware of unofficial parking attendants who try to solicit and misguide visitors.
- Bus: Buses from San Jose go to Quepos or directly to Manuel Antonio Park several times a day. The Puntarenas to Quepos bus line runs roughly every hour starting at 4:30am, and passes through Jaco, making other stops along the way, as required. Once in Quepos, there are Manuel Antonio buses that run roughly every half hour to the park from the main bus terminal.
- Shuttles, Tours & Taxis: You may arrange transportation through your hotel or purchase a tour package, which will take you to the park.
Best Time to Visit
Manuel Antonio Park is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 7am to 4pm. December through March tends to be busier than April through November. Weekends and holidays tend to be the busiest at the park. It is usually best to visit first thing in the morning, right as the park opens, or later in the afternoon.
The park has regulations in place to limit the amount of visitors present in the park at any given time, which may result in needing to wait in line. Limits are set at 600 people on weekdays and 800 people on weekends and holidays.
Entrance Fee and Payment Options
The cost of admission to Manuel Antonio Park for visitors to Costa Rica is currently $16 USD. You can also pay in Costa Rican colones, but the park charges the price in colones like a currency conversion from USD based on the daily rate, which currently works out to be around 9,000 CRC. Children under 12 are free.
Either way, it is best to pay by cash, as the park only provides a credit card option as a cash advance, meaning that it will cost you extra fees and interest from your bank and/or credit card company.
The park does not offer any discounted multi-day or monthly passes.
Coopealianza assumes the exclusive sale of entrance tickets to the Manuel Antonio Park. They have a location about 300m from the main park entrance where you can buy the tickets the day of, or in advance for a future park visit. (The tickets do not have a date stamp.) Tickets can also be purchased from their offices or some tour operators.
If you get to Manuel Antonio and need to buy tickets, the Coopealianza kiosk is located on a side road, which leads to the park entrance, off of the main road in Manuel Antonio (ruta 618). The side road is to the left, right after El Sol restaurant, across from the beach, which will get you to the ticket kiosk first, and then bring you to the park entrance further down. Alternatively, you can go to the very end of the main road, where the road ends and loops back around. There is a noticeable foot path to the left, across from the beach, before the loop, which will bring you right to the park entrance. You can also backtrack from there to the Coopealianza kiosk to buy your tickets. Both areas have signs announcing the direction to the park.
If you visit the Manuel Antonio area with plans to come back specifically to the park, you can buy your tickets in advance and go straight to the park entrance on your scheduled trip day. This can help you maximize your time in the park so you don’t have to wait in line to buy your tickets that day. Keep in mind, there may be another line to enter the park itself, depending on what day you come and what time you get there.
Hiring a Guide
Whether you should explore the park on your own or hire a guide will depend on your preferences and desires.
- If you are an independent nature enthusiast, you will most likely not want or need a guide, but prefer to explore the park on your own. All the trails and areas are easily marked, and there are some educational boards along the trails with images and information about some of the plants and animals.
- If you want to have someone spot animals for you, show you them up close via a telescope and teach you a bit about the biology and ecology of the park’s plants and animals, then you will most likely want to hire a guide. Guide prices range depending on group size, time required, etc.
What to Bring
What you will need to bring will depend on how long you are planning on staying in the park and on your or your group’s particular needs. In general, you should bring:
- Water. You can refill water in the park, but there are no options to buy any foods or drinks.
- Food. Bring enough food from home for your trip, but know that generally only foods like sandwiches and cut up fruits/veggies are allowed. The park prohibits other foods, especially convenience foods, due to the environmental impact of their waste, and foods like chips, crackers or nuts, also due to the problems it creates with feeding animals.
- Proper sun cover, such as a hat, sunglasses, and natural sunblock.
- Camera, to take photos and/or video of your trip.
- Beach gear, like a bathing suit, towel or umbrella if you plan on enjoying any of the beaches.
- Binoculars or telescope, if you want to get a better view of plants and animals.
Note, that insect repellents are typically not required at the park, as there is no problem with any biting insects during the hot days, especially in the dry season.
What Not to Bring
- Alcohol. It is prohibited in the park.
- Soap and/or shampoo. It is prohibited from being used in the park showers.
- Camping gear. This park does NOT have any overnight camping accommodations.
- Anything that will generate a large amount of garbage.
- Anything else that would pose a danger to the environment, animals or other visitors.
How to Dress
As most parts of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio Park has a very hot climate. Therefore shorts and t-shirts or tank tops, along with desired sun-cover clothing is best.
The trails are very well maintained, but because there are a lot of stairs and inclines, with some uneven surfaces, closed footwear, such as running shoes or sneakers are best.
What to do There
- Walk / hike
- Bird and animal watch
Eating at the Park
The park does not sell any food or drinks. At the park entrance, the rangers do a general check of visitor’s bags, to make sure that any food and/or drinks brought to the park are in accordance with the park guidelines.
Manuel Antonio Park has one main eating area, with picnic tables and washroom facilities. Whether you eat your food there, or on the beach, be sure to watch out for the monkeys, but especially the raccoons, which roam around freely right between visitors and are very determined to get their hands on bags, which may have food. Do not leave anything unattended and know that animals will likely approach you if you are eating. To avoid aggressive behavior or further nuisance, do not feed them anything whatsoever.
Manuel Antonio Park has 11 trails that range in length from about 300 meters (0.2 miles) to just over 1 kilometer (0.75 miles). The trails are short, but many of them have lots of stairs and/or inclines, which can make them a bit challenging.
The trails each vary greatly in terms of the plant life and forest type that they provide. From dense jungle habitats with large trees, to more sparse forest settings with small trees, and even mangroves, there are many biodiverse habitats to experience. All of the park trails can be done within a few hours or half of the day, in a semi-relaxed manner, leaving the other half of the day to enjoy some beach, swimming and relaxing time.
A big board with the park map (as seen below) is present at the park entrance. Paper maps are not provided, and visitors can simply snap a photo of the map upon arrival.
The Waterfall trail does not have a running waterfall during the dry season. The Mangrove and Sloth trail provide an alternate route for those wishing to avoid the large groups with guides along the Vehicular trail. The Cathedral Point and Puerto Escondido trails provide the best lookouts.
Manuel Antonio Park has 3 beautiful beaches.
- Playa Espadilla Sur is the longest beach and ranges from being very busy (most south) to very private (most north). It can be calm or full of small to large waves.
- Playa Manuel Antonio is the mid-sized beach, the most busy and popular with tourists. It typically has calm water, great for kids, as well as snorkeling potential along its edges.
- Playa Gemelas is the smallest beach in the park, and least populated. It has the most rock formations, and given its small size and tucked away location may or may not feel very private or practical to access.
If you plan on swimming and/or spending time at the beach, there are several washroom, change room and shower facilities. Currently, these are not in the best of conditions, but do provide visitors the convenience of rinsing and changing, as needed.
Sightings of animals, including insects, birds, reptiles and mammals will vary based on season, month and time of day.
You are pretty much guaranteed to see (if you go to the Manuel Antonio Beach and picnic area.):
- White-faced Capuchin monkeys
- Iguanas or other lizards
You may also typically see on some of the trails:
- Other monkey species
- Some birds
- Some insects
Safety and Precautions
- Do not feed the animals. It can harm them and other visitors. Animals can get sick from various human foods or foods that have been in contact with humans. Also, by learning to expect food animals can get increasingly aggressive and endanger their own safety or that of other visitors.
- Stay on marked trails.
- Stay hydrated.
- Be sun smart to avoid burning or heat stroke.
- Be mindful of the terrain while walking to avoid slips or sprains.
- Do not leave any bags, food, or valuables unattended. Aside from petty theft, you have to watch out the most for the animals (raccoons and monkeys) that readily take visitor bags and belongings in search of food.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Manuel Antonio Park is a natural area, not any kind of sanctuary, enclosure or zoo. This means that animals live and roam around freely amongst a large space, and are not densely populated or typically abundant for viewing, aside from the main beach and picnic area. As with all wild areas in nature, the more time you spend there, and the more in tune you are with the environment, the higher are your chances of animal sightings.
So stay mindful and observant to have a safe, fun and enjoyable time, and be considerate of the environment, wildlife and other visitors. Wishing you a great time!