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Must-Know Info About Manuel Antonio Costa Rica From Frequent Visitors

Must-Know Info About Manuel Antonio Costa Rica From Frequent Visitors

Last updated on May 15th, 2022 at 07:18 pm EST

We love Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

If you’re familiar with our blog, you probably already know that in part due to our work for Pura Vida! eh? Inc. (our Costa Rica discount business), we’ve spent years exploring Costa Rica in search of the best experiences you can have here. It may surprise you, though, to learn that when we established our business nearly 15 years ago, the first coastal destination we set out to research was Manuel Antonio. Why? Because Manuel Antonio has long been our favorite beachfront community in Costa Rica. It offers an endless list of things to see and do, it has several beautiful beaches and a national park that’s easy to access and full of social wildlife, and it offers everything you might want or need during your visit, including a variety of accommodations, restaurants, shops, and services that range in price, quality, and offerings. Since Manuel Antonio keeps getting better with time, we visit it as often as we can, not only to stay on top of new developments and experiences (so we can report back to you about them) but also to return to the beachfront community we feel most at home in.

To save you from the many “Manuel Antonio city guides” you’ll find online that don’t offer much beyond links to hotel and tour booking sites that provide monetary kickbacks to the guide’s creators, we’ve compiled the below resource. Our Manuel Antonio city guide provides new and sound information about Manuel Antonio Costa Rica that’s based on knowledge and firsthand experience acquired over several years, compiled by individuals who have long had (and continue to have) close ties to the town. If this kind of resource is up your alley, continue reading below and know that we’re grateful you prefer valuable content.

Visiting multiple destinations in Costa Rica? Don’t miss our other free Costa Rica city guides:

La Fortuna / Arenal City Guide
Monteverde City Guide
Puerto Viejo City Guide
San Jose City Guide
Alajuela City Guide
Grecia, Sarchi, and Zarcero City Guide

Manuel Antonio basics: What to expect

A sample of our personal photos from around Manuel Antonio:

Layout

Manuel Antonio’s layout is unique in that the destination is not contained within a concentrated geographical area. Instead, the area most commonly referred to throughout tourism discourse as “Manuel Antonio” is a community that spans the vast central Pacific mountainside that splits the port town of Quepos (to the north) and the Manuel Antonio National Park (to the south). Though Quepos and the national park both sit at beach level, most Manuel Antonio businesses and establishments are spread out over the stretch of the mountainous landscape that divides the two areas.

Atmosphere and presence of tourism

There’s no doubt about it: Manuel Antonio is touristy. You’ll find a ton of tourism development in and around the community, from accommodations and restaurants to adventure centers and tourism offices. You’ll also find a ton of variety within each of these categories, from hostels to high-quality hotels; fancy places to eat and quaint, trendy cafes; large-scale adventure parks and small, intimate-feeling attractions; and reputable tour operator offices and street-side salespeople (especially around the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park). Though the abundance of tourism that exists in Manuel Antonio repels some travelers, most others are drawn in by the ample opportunities there are to craft an ideal vacation. Regardless of whether you’re on a budget or on your dream honeymoon, or whether you’re a solo backpacker or a parent with kids in tow, you can build your dream Costa Rica vacation with the diverse tourism that abound in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.

Despite being a small, rural, mountainside community with a fishing-town vibe, the group of modern, tourism-centered establishments that dot Manuel Antonio give the destination an urban feel. You’ll find tons of development between the town of Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park, though some of it is built back from the main street (Road 618) and hides among the area’s lush slopes. Around nearly every curve you’ll find a well-kept hotel, modern restaurant, or tourism outfit, which confirms you’ve rolled into a tourist town despite finding yourself in the middle of a natural-feeling, rainforest-wrapped mountainside. Adding to the area’s metropolitan state are the banks, ATMs, gas stations, a medical clinic, a hospital, pharmacies, a police station, a post office, laundromats, grocery stores, and other services scattered around (or just outside of) Manuel Antonio and Quepos.

Also worth mentioning is that, although Manuel Antonio isn’t a party town per se, it has a bustling (albeit understated) nightlife. If you’re interested in the night scene, there are clubs, low-key bars, LGBTQ bars, and casinos you can spend time at.

Language: Is English spoken in Manuel Antonio?

English (broken) is widely spoken in Manuel Antonio. Though most Costa Ricans aren’t bilingual, the majority of locals who work as tour guides, restaurant wait staff, and hotel reception staff in Manuel Antonio are able to converse in Spanish and English. Many other individuals who work in the tourism industry, including drivers and hotel cleaning staff, as well as other townspeople, such as individuals who work at banks, pharmacies, and grocery stores, have at least a basic understanding of English. Since Manuel Antonio’s economy relies heavily on tourism, tourists (and the practice of the English language) is welcome in Manuel Antonio.

Accommodations

A sample of our personal photos from some of the Manuel Antonio hotels we’ve stayed at:

Manuel Antonio attracts such as wide range of visitors in part due to the plethora of accommodation options offered in the area. Accommodation options vary across type (e.g., hostels, mid-range hotels, resort-quality hotels, and Airbnb/vacation home rentals), structure (e.g., low-rise buildings, high-rise buildings, and individual suites/villas), style (e.g., modern, classic, and outdated), size (e.g., some properties only offer a handful of rooms and others have more than 50 rooms), features and amenities (e.g., pools, bars, and a complimentary breakfast), and price (e.g., a bed in a hostel dorm can be obtained for $20/night but private villas and resort-quality accommodations can run around $500/night). Several hotels in Manuel Antonio recognize Costa Rica’s high and low seasons and change their prices accordingly. Click here for more information about Costa Rica’s high and low seasons, including when is the least expensive time to visit (trips to Manuel Antonio included).

Manuel Antonio accommodations also differ by location. Though accommodations of economy, standard, superior, and resort quality are interspersed throughout Manuel Antonio, it’s important to note that some accommodations are situated in Quepos, others near the Manuel Antonio National Park, and most are found in between. Since it takes approximately 15 minutes to drive from Quepos to the national park (or vice versa), where you choose to station yourself in Manuel Antonio will affect how much time you spend driving, taking taxis, or riding the bus around the area. If you plan to spend the majority of your time lounging on the beach or exploring the national park, choose an accommodation that falls along the southern half of Road 618 or the unnamed side road that leads to the entrance of the national park. If much of your time will be spent in Quepos, mainly fishing, sailing, or scuba diving from the town’s marina, station yourself in Quepos or at an accommodation that falls along the northern half of Road 618.

Note that, for the most part, accommodations in Quepos are considered “Manuel Antonio hotels” by tour operators. This means that the Manuel Antonio tour operators and adventure parks that automatically include complimentary transportation to/from Manuel Antonio hotels with their tours will include a pick-up and drop-off service at hotels in Quepos for free. For more information about this topic, please see our related blog post Costa Rica Tour Transportation: Hotel Pick-Ups And Drop-Offs.

Restaurants

A sample of our personal photos from some of the Manuel Antonio restaurants we’ve eaten at:

Like accommodation options, dining opportunities in Manuel Antonio are abundant and vary across type, style, offerings, and price. Due to the heavy presence of tourism in the area, you’ll find far fewer traditional Costa Rican restaurants (called soda restaurants) around Manuel Antonio than progressive, tourist-geared restaurants that fuse Costa Rican cuisine with international dishes. You’ll also find an ample supply of health-conscious restaurants, cafes, and food stalls that cater to vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free diners, as well as travelers who simply prefer to eat clean. From meat plates and fresh fish caught locally to pitas stuffed with falafel and smoothies blended with superfoods, it’s all available to order in Manuel Antonio.

Most tourist-friendly restaurants sit along Road 618 between Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park. In addition, most hotels in the area have their own on-site restaurant that’s open to the public. In general, meal prices at hotel restaurants are higher than meal prices at the restaurants you’ll encounter along (and just off of) Road 618.

Tours, activities, and attractions

A sample of our personal photos from some of the Manuel Antonio tours and activities we’ve experienced:

Since the inland destination of La Fortuna is revered for being Costa Rica’s epicenter of adventure, Manuel Antonio is like a seismic wave that rolled out from La Fortuna and settled along the coast. Though Manuel Antonio’s swoon-worthy beaches and national park scoop up most visitors’ attention, there’s truly enough to see and do in the area to fill several vacation days. Choose this Costa Rican beach destination if you’re eager and excited to explore, and come ready to spend money on nature and adventure experiences. Even though some experiences can be had on the cheap, given the sheer volume of offerings in town, you’ll likely spend more on tours and activities in Manuel Antonio than at any other Costa Rican beach destination you choose to visit.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Here’s a list of tours and activities you can experience while in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica:

  • ATV Tours
  • Bird-watching
  • Boat Tours
  • Canopy Tours (Zip-lining)
  • Canyoning/Rappelling Tours
  • Cultural Tours
  • Dolphin- and Whale-Watching Tours
  • Food Tours (i.e., Spice Plantation Tour)
  • Hiking Tours
  • Kayaking Tours
  • Mangrove Tours
  • National Park Tours
  • Night Tours
  • Rafting Tours
  • Sailing Tours
  • Scuba Diving Tours
  • Snorkeling Tours
  • Superman Cables
  • Tubing Tours
  • Via Ferrata Tours
  • Waterfall Visits
  • Wildlife Center Visits

Popular adventure centers, parks, and refuges in the area include:

  • Manuel Antonio National Park: a government-protected national park that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided hiking, bird-watching, and swimming at a few beaches within park boundaries
  • Isla Damas (Damas Island): An isthmus comprised of mangrove ecosystems that sits roughly 10 minutes northwest of Quepos and is accessible to the public via guided boat and kayak tours
  • Greentique Wildlife Refuge: a privately-owned refuge that consists of a butterfly atrium, amphibian gardens, botanical gardens, and a crocodile lagoon that’s open to the public for guided and self-guided exploration during the day, as well as guided night tours
  • ADR Adventure Park: a privately-owned adventure park that’s open to the public for a guided full-day combo tour (called the 10-in-1 Adventure Combo Tour) which includes a nature walk, waterfall swimming, a dry rappel, a waterfall zippel, a free-fall rappel, a free fall into a waterfall pool, a Tarzan swing, a via ferrata, 3 jungle ziplines, and 4 canyon ziplines
  • MidWorld Costa Rica: a privately-owned adventure park that’s open to the public for a variety of guided tours including zip-lining tours, Superman cables, ATV tours, and an obstacle course called the “Spider free fall”
  • Santa Juana Lodge: a privately-owned, rustic adventure park that’s open to the public for guided cultural tours that feature nature hikes, waterfall swims, visits to a trapiche (sugarcane mill), and an opportunity to fish for tilapia

Surely, you won’t have an endless amount of time to do and see everything you wish in Manuel Antonio, so one of the first things you should do if you plan to visit Manuel Antonio is decide which tours and activities interest you the most. Several are half-day tours which means you can experience two in one day. In addition, a few Manuel Antonio tour operators including Amigos Del Rio and MidWorld Costa Rica offer 1-day Combo Tours that combine several activities into a full-day event.

It’s also important to note that some of the experiences you can have in Manuel Antonio, like white-water rafting, zip-lining, and canyoning, for example, may also be experienced in other areas of the country, such as La Fortuna or Monteverde. If you plan to visit La Fortuna and/or Monteverde before settling in at a beach destination like Manuel Antonio, the tours and activities you intend to experience in those areas of the country (and surely how much money those experiences will cost you) will likely impact your decision to be active by the beach. For this reason, we recommend planning and booking tours or activities for La Fortuna and/or Monteverde prior to planning or booking experiences you wish to have in Manuel Antonio.

Don’t miss the free discounts we offer for Manuel Antonio tours, activities, and attraction entrance fees in our discount database:

Manuel Antonio Tour Discounts

Here’s a sample of the Manuel Antonio tour discounts you’ll find in the database:

In addition to everything you can do in the Manuel Antonio vicinity, there’s plenty more you can experience within a few hours’ drive. Day tours to several of Costa Rica’s top attractions, including the Carara National Park, the Marino Ballena National Park, the beach caves at Playa Ventanas, and the two-tiered waterfall at the Cataratas Nauyaca are a few of the more popular day trips you can make from Manuel Antonio.

A sample of personal photos from some of the day trips we’ve made to and from Manuel Antonio:

Getting to and from Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Transportation options

Manuel Antonio sits an approximate 3-hour drive from Costa Rica’s SJO Airport (near San Jose) and an approximate 4-hour drive from the LIR Airport (near Liberia). Transportation options to and from Manuel Antonio via either airport include:

Of the people who do not travel to Manuel Antonio from San Jose or Liberia, most visit from La Fortuna or Monteverde. Transportation options between La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio include all of the options listed above. Transportation options between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio include all of the options above with the exception of domestic flights (Monteverde does not have an airport).

Map of Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Road conditions

The main roads that most visitors travel in Quepos and Manuel Antonio are paved. These include:

  • Road 235: The “V”-shaped principal access road that delivers visitors to Quepos (and later, Manuel Antonio, via Road 618) from Highway 34. Note that there are two cutoffs along Highway 34 for Road 235 (the two cutoffs that connect to Quepos are what give Road 235 its “V” shape): The westernmost cutoff is the most popular and direct; it has two large supermarkets on the corner. The easternmost cutoff, which has a gas station on the corner, will also lead you to Quepos, albeit via a slower and curvier route.
  • Road 618: Manuel Antonio’s main road, which begins at the south end of Quepos, continues south along the mountainside, and ends at Playa Espadilla Norte, Manuel Antonio’s principal public beach
  • The unnamed road that leads to the Manuel Antonio National Park: This short road branches off of Road 618 at Playa Espadilla Norte and leads north before curving east and ending at the entrance to the national park. The intersection of the unnamed road and Road 618 is marked by the Marlin Restaurant, a commonly cited point of reference.

Buses

The main bus station in the area is in downtown Quepos (on Avenida Central between Calle Central and Calle 2). Buses arrive into and depart from the station to/from several destinations in Costa Rica, most notably San Jose, Puntarenas, Dominical, and Uvita.

Getting around Manuel Antonio

Town setup

As noted under the “Layout” section above, Manuel Antonio is a mountainous destination. The inclines, declines, and curves you’ll travel along Road 618 aren’t difficult to maneuver in a rental car but can be a challenge to cover on foot or on a bike, not to mention dangerous. Road 618 doesn’t provide sidewalks, and since cars sometimes speed around corners with little regard for pedestrians, it’s best not to stroll (or ride) along the street. Stick to the flat, beach-level section of Road 618 opposite Playa Espadilla Norte if you wish to roam along the side of the road. Otherwise, drive, taxi, take a bus, or hop on a hotel shuttle (assuming the hotel you select offers one) if you wish to go anywhere in the Manuel Antonio vicinity.

Parking

The community of Manuel Antonio doesn’t have public parking lots so parking opportunities are scarce. Parking opportunities spotted along Road 618 typically belong to hotels, restaurants, and tour operator offices that provide spaces to paying customers or guests. You’ll find the biggest collection of parked cars in Manuel Antonio—and if you’re lucky, an open parking space—near the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park. Be prepared to pay roughly $10 for the spot for the day.

Buses

Buses can also be caught along Road 618 as they travel between Quepos and Playa Espadilla Sur (and vice versa).

Taxis and hotel shuttles

Official red taxis can be hailed around Manuel Antonio if not hired from where they park (usually around the bus station in Quepos or near the end of Road 618 opposite Playa Espadilla Norte). Alternatively, local establishments like hotels and restaurants can call a cab to pick you up.

Some high-end hotels in Manuel Antonio offer guests a complimentary shuttle service between their property and Playa Espadilla Norte and/or the Manuel Antonio National Park. Shuttles usually run in both directions and according to a set schedule determined by the hotel. If you plan to stay at a mountainside hotel and you don’t want to rent a car in Costa Rica, hotel shuttles can help you get around.

Itinerary planning

One of the most common questions we’re asked about Costa Rica itinerary planning is: “How many days should I spend in Manuel Antonio?” While we’d love to be able to deliver a quick and easy response (most resources suggest 2-3 days), the truth is, the most accurate answer depends largely on how much time you wish to lounge by a beach and whether you want to be active. If you want to be active during your time in Manuel Antonio, how many days you’ll need at the destination will depend on the types of experiences you want to have, how long they take, and when they’re available.

To answer these questions for yourself and to formulate your own ideal Manuel Antonio itinerary, follow these 5 steps:

  1. Determine which things you want to do and see in Costa Rica (i.e., create your Costa Rica bucket list).
  2. Determine how many of those things you can experience in Manuel Antonio. Note that, as mentioned in the “Tours, activities, and attractions” section above, some of the things you can experience in Manuel Antonio can also be experienced in areas like La Fortuna or Monteverde. If you plan to visit either/both of these Costa Rica destinations in addition to Manuel Antonio, be wary of duplicate experiences.
  3. Of the things you wish to experience in Manuel Antonio, find out how much time you’ll need for each (i.e., determine the duration of each guided or unguided activity you want to participate in).
  4. Of the things you wish to experience in Manuel Antonio, find out the daily schedule for each (i.e., determine whether they’re available once daily at a set time, whether they’re available several times daily at set times, or whether they allow you to select your own preferred times).
  5. Lastly, as if you’re doing a puzzle and each thing you want to experience in Manuel Antonio is its own piece, fill your travel days one by one according to the duration and schedule of each tour or activity. To this number of travel days, add the number of days you want to spend at a beach, either relaxing, swimming, or sunbathing. The total number of travel days you fill is how many days you should spend in Manuel Antonio.

Alternatively, if your time is flexible but your budget is tight, follow the steps outlined above and prioritize costs. In other words, once you narrow down the things you want (and are able) to experience in Manuel Antonio, determine the cost of each, then fill your travel days until you run out of funds. How many days you can afford to be active is how many days you should spend in Manuel Antonio, unless you plan to relax at the beach the entire time.

If you need help identifying which specific tours and activities are available in the Manuel Antonio area, feel free to browse through the various options on our sister site’s Manuel Antonio Tour Discounts page for inspiration. If you click on any tour or activity listing on that page, a new page will open that displays the available start times, the duration, and the cost of the experience. With this information, you’ll be sure to build a Manuel Antonio itinerary chock full of everything you want for your trip and not an item more.

Other things worth knowing about Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio terminology

“Quepos” is the name of the town that sits just north of Manuel Antonio. In contrast, “Manuel Antonio” encompasses the mountainous area that lies between Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Elevation

At the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Quepos sits only 5 meters above sea level. Much of mountainous Manuel Antonio, however, has a higher elevation, reaching 175 meters above sea level in some places.

Ecosystems

The primary ecosystems you’ll encounter around Manuel Antonio are tropical rainforests and mangroves. Though you’ll experience the rainforest simply by visiting Manuel Antonio, as the destination is set on the slopes of a rainforest-covered mountain, you can explore mangrove ecosystems at two local sites of interest: the Manuel Antonio National Park and Isla Damas (see the “Tours, activities, and attractions” section above for more information).

Wildlife

Manuel Antonio presents many opportunities to spot wildlife. We’ve been fortunate enough to see countless species of resident and migratory birds (including toucans), butterflies (including blue morphos), sloths, monkeys (including all four types that reside in Costa Rica: howler, white-face capuchin, spider, and squirrel/titi), coatis, agoutis, bats, frogs, iguanas, lizards, snakes, spiders, and ants all around Manuel Antonio.

Weather

Manuel Antonio is located in the middle of the central Pacific coast—an area of Costa Rica that tends to receive a mix of weather conditions, including the dry heat waves that bake the northern Pacific coast brown for part of the year, and the humidity-fed bouts of rain that keep the southern Pacific coast lush and green year-round. For this reason, you’ll likely experience both climates while in Manuel Antonio. There’s a greater likelihood of sunshine during the dry/summer season (typically mid-December to April), as you might suspect. During the wet/winter/green season (roughly May to mid-December), Manuel Antonio remains warm but receives occasional cloud cover and rain showers. Temperatures average between 25-30 degrees Celsius by the beach and drop as the elevation rises among mountainous inland areas.

Additional resources

If you’re planning a trip to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, don’t miss these helpful resources:

Why The Manuel Antonio National Park Is Different Than Other Costa Rica National Parks

Manuel Antonio Sailing Tour With Snorkeling And Dolphin-Watching

Manuel Antonio Mangrove Tour Costa Rica

The Si Como No Resort: A Mountainside Oasis That Overlooks The Pacific

When To Go To Costa Rica According To Cost, Weather, Wildlife, And More!

A List Of 50+ Costa Rica Entrance Fees: How Much It Costs To Enter National Parks, Reserves, and Refuges

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to Manuel Antonio? What did you choose to do around the area?

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Must-Know Info About Manuel Antonio Costa Rica From Regular Visitors
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Must-Know Info About Manuel Antonio Costa Rica From Regular Visitors
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Our free Manuel Antonio city guide covers everything we've learned from exploring Manuel Antonio Costa Rica for years.
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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