Why The Manuel Antonio National Park Is Different Than Other Costa Rica National Parks
Last updated on June 24th, 2021 at 04:22 pm EST
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Get the Costa Rica info you need by browsing our article's TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- What’s the deal with Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park?
- Manuel Antonio National Park tickets and entrance
- Manuel Antonio National Park trails
- Manuel Antonio National Park tower
- Manuel Antonio National Park beaches
- Manuel Antonio National Park wildlife
- Manuel Antonio National Park recommendations
- Manuel Antonio National Park map
What’s the deal with Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park?
If you’ve started researching Costa Rica for an upcoming vacation, you’ve likely already stumbled upon Manuel Antonio National Park, the most talked about national park in all of Costa Rica. You may even be sick of hearing about the place and are asking yourself “what’s so great about the Manuel Antonio National Park?” While the short answer is “a lot,” the better answer is “the Manuel Antonio National Park has something for everyone.”
Variety is what makes the Manuel Antonio National Park stand out among other national parks in Costa Rica. In short, the park is:
- Romantic enough for couples and honeymooners
- Full of entertaining wildlife that delights kids
- Accessible to seniors and individuals with physical disabilities including individuals who use wheelchairs
- (Arguably) inexpensive enough for backpackers
- Replete with the rich biodiversity that appeals to nature-lovers
- Equipped with trails that range in difficulty from easy to moderately challenging that appease both casual visitors and avid hikers
- Photogenic enough for photographers
- Blessed with an assortment of beaches that range in size, remoteness, and popularity
Metaphorically, we think of the Manuel Antonio National Park as a bag of trail mix. Like bland but powerful nuts and seeds, the Manuel Antonio National Park‘s complex trail system is the foundation of the mix. The tangy, dried fruit pieces you’ll taste on occasion, which sweeten the overall experience, are like the sporadic sightings of wildlife you’ll have in the park. Salty pretzel sticks, the unexpected delight you didn’t know you wanted, are the park’s convenient facilities, such as potable water, beach-side bathrooms, picnic tables, and an observation tower. Chocolate, be it chunks of rick dark chocolate, milk chocolate chips, or colorful M&Ms, represent the park’s drool-worthy beaches that are most inviting. They’re what you dig around the bowl for. They’re the reason you reach for the mix in the first place. They’re what draw in most visitors to the Manuel Antonio National Park and they’re the taste of Costa Rica that’ll stay on the tip of your tongue.
Why we like visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park
Though several of the below-mentioned qualities can also be found at other national parks in Costa Rica, here’s a list of everything you can find all in one place at the unique Manuel Antonio National Park:
- The Manuel Antonio National Park invites exploration of rainforest and mangrove ecosystems
- The Manuel Antonio National Park provides great wildlife-spotting (especially monkeys and sloths) and bird-watching opportunities year-round
- The Manuel Antonio National Park provides access to several beautiful beaches with white sand
- The Manuel Antonio National Park provides a variety of trekking options from short and easy trails to longer and more difficult hikes
- The Manuel Antonio National Park is a great place to relax, sunbathe, picnic, and swim
- The park’s trails are well maintained; one trail is wheelchair accessible
- Though the most popular areas of the Manuel Antonio National Park are busy, some trails lead to more remote-feeling areas and beaches
- The Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee is relatively inexpensive and, with a paying adult, children up to the age of 11 enter for free
- The Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee can be purchased in advance
- The Manuel Antonio National Park can be toured with or without a guide
- The Manuel Antonio National Park can be experienced in a short amount of time
- From downtown Quepos to the Manuel Antonio National Park, travel is quick, easy, and doesn’t require a 4×4 vehicle
Manuel Antonio National Park tickets and entrance
Unlike most other national parks in Costa Rica which require you to pay an entrance fee when you arrive at the park, to access the Manuel Antonio National Park you’ll need to pay the park’s entrance fee before you arrive at the park’s entrance (i.e., you must purchase advance tickets to enter the Manuel Antonio National Park). Tickets are purchased at one of two Coopealianza offices in the Manuel Antonio region. The most convenient and most visited office is located merely steps from the Manuel Antonio National Park entrance (this office is pictured in the photo above). Another office is located in downtown Quepos, an approximate 15-minute drive north of the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Manuel Antonio National Park hours
|Site||Hours of operation|
|Manuel Antonio National Park||7am-4pm Tuesday through Sunday (the Manuel Antonio National Park is closed on Mondays)|
|Coopealianza office in Manuel Antonio (at the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park)||7am-3pm Monday through Sunday|
|Coopealianza office in downtown Quepos||8am-5pm Monday through Friday and 8am through 12pm on Saturdays (the Coopealianza office in downtown Quepos is closed on Sundays)|
A note about the Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee
The Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee is valid for one full day (for entrance fee information, don’t miss our related blog post A List Of 50+ Costa Rica Entrance Fees: How Much It Costs To Enter National Parks, Reserves, And Refuges). Years ago, it was possible to pay the entrance fee once and come and go from the park throughout the day. In and out privileges are no longer offered; if you choose to reenter the Manuel Antonio National Park after exiting the premises, you must repay the park’s entrance fee.
What you’re allowed (and not allowed) to bring into the Manuel Antonio National Park
Once you’ve purchased your ticket to enter the Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll pass through a large metal gate to reach the park’s ranger station. There, you’ll be told which items you can and cannot bring into the park. Your bags will be searched. Below is a rough list of items you can and cannot bring into the Manuel Antonio National Park. Keep in mind that you must carry out any food, beverages, containers, and/or waste that you bring into the park.
|Items you’re allowed to bring into the Manuel Antonio National Park:||Items you’re not allowed to bring into the Manuel Antonio National Park:|
|Unwrapped snacks, such as cookies and/or crackers out of their packaging||Nuts, seeds, and/or items that contain nuts and/or seeds such as granola bars and trail mix|
|Peeled fruit and/or peeled vegetables (where applicable)||Unpeeled fruit and/or unpeeled vegetables (where applicable)|
|Non-alcoholic beverages, so long as they are not in cans, glass bottles, or bottles made from single-use plastics||Alcoholic beverages of any kind in any container|
|Pre-made meals (such as sandwiches) stored in paper bags and/or reusable hard-plastic containers||Plastic wrappers and/or items contained in plastic wrappers (such as granola bars and bags of chips); Cans of any sort and/or items contained in canned containers; Glass of any sort and/or items contained in glass containers; Aluminum foil and/or items wrapped in aluminum foil|
Manuel Antonio National Park trails
The Manuel Antonio National Park has one pubic sector that comprises several interconnected trails. The most popular route follows a combination of the Manglar trail (Mangrove trail), a wheelchair-accessible, raised boardwalk trail that cuts through the park’s mangrove ecosystem; the Perezoso trail (Sloth trail), an easy, forested trail where you’re most likely to see sloths snoozing in treetops; and the Playa Espadilla Sur trail (South Espadilla Beach trail), a flat, coastal trail that parallels the Pacific Ocean.
If you’re like most Manuel Antonio National Park visitors who want access to beautiful beaches via short and easy hikes, stick to this common route that cuts through the middle of the park and loops around its west side:
- From the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park, head south through the park on the Manglar trail, which is the park’s main trail.
- When you reach the junction of the Manglar trail and the Perezoso trail, take the Perezoso trail and follow it until it ends at Playa Manuel Antonio.
- Enjoy the beach at Playa Manuel Antonio if you wish or else follow the Playa Espadilla Sur trail to access and enjoy Playa Espadilla Sur instead.
- When it’s time to leave (from Playa Manuel Antonio or Playa Espadilla Sur), follow the Playa Espadilla Sur trail north until it connects with the Manglar trail. The Manglar trail will deliver you back to the entrance of the park, which also serves as an exit.
If you’d prefer to explore less visited areas of the Manuel Antonio National Park or relax at less popular beaches, consider hiking one or more of the park’s other trails which include the Punta Catedral trail (Cathedral Point trail), the Playa Gemelas trail (Twins Beach trail), the Puerto Escondido trail (Hidden Port trail), the Congo trail, and/or the Miradores trail (Viewpoints trail). All of these trails begin at or beyond Playa Manuel Antonio so you’ll need to get to the beach first (see the paragraph above for instructions on how to reach Playa Manuel Antonio via the Manglar trail and the Perezoso trail).
The Punta Catedral trail and the Miradores trail provide the most challenging hikes in the park but they’ll reward you with beautiful coastal views from lookout points through forest clearings. The Playa Gemelas trail provides access to a small, secluded-feeling cove on the park’s east side. The short Congo trail and Puerto Escondido trail are, in our opinion, the best for wildlife-spotting and bird-watching because they cut through quiet areas and are the least traveled trails in the park.
With a full day to spend in the Manuel Antonio National Park, it’s possible to hike every trail and visit every beach. Exploration must be made on foot, however. None of the public trails inside the Manuel Antonio National Park are accessible by car.
Manuel Antonio National Park tower
If you’re not scared of heights or sets of steep staircases, you may wish to climb to the top of the observation tower that overlooks part of the Manuel Antonio National Park. Though there isn’t anything to do at the top of the tower other than take in the view and watch white-faced capuchin monkeys play in the trees, it’s worth the ascent/descent if you want to capture a bird’s eye view of the park. You’ll find the tower sandwiched between the park’s two main beaches, Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur.
Manuel Antonio National Park beaches
Most visitors agree that the Manuel Antonio National Park‘s best features are its beautiful beaches. At most beaches within the confines of the park you’ll find light, soft, and supple sand, the kind that’s easy to sink your toes into. Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur, which sit on opposite sides of the Manuel Antonio National Park‘s tombolo (the sandbar that connects the park’s mainland to an island near the shore that’s known as Punta Catedral), are the busiest beaches because they fall along the most common route around the park (see above for details). Though popular, both of these long beaches offer plenty of room to stretch out on. In contrast, the rocky Playa Gemelas, which is actually two small beaches in one, is the park’s hidden gem. It’s much smaller than Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur, but if you happen to find the beach unoccupied, you’ll have one of the prettiest places in the park all to yourself.
Beware of greedy monkeys
Troops (groups) of white-faced capuchin monkeys are obvious residents of the park and mainstays at Playa Manuel Antonio. Known for having aggressive tendencies, the monkeys regularly forage for food and aren’t shy about taking what they find. Be forewarned: capuchin monkeys will root through your personal belongings, tear open food containers, and make off with your snacks if you leave them unattended. If you plan to swim at a beach inside the park, keep a close eye on your bags while you’re out of arm’s reach. Better yet, consider eating your snacks and packing empty containers away before you enter the water. Never feed any Costa Rican wildlife you encounter.
Manuel Antonio National Park wildlife
There’s plenty of wildlife to see inside the Manuel Antonio National Park, but like wildlife-viewing elsewhere in Costa Rica, spotting several species requires some luck. The fact that the Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica means that visitor flow is constant. To increase your chances of seeing wildlife in this park, walk slowly and quietly (talk quietly too, if you must converse) and scan the forest floor and treetops regularly. Some of the wildlife that we’ve seen during our visits include agoutis, sloths (two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths), monkeys (white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, and rare mono titi squirrel monkeys), deer, iguanas, lizards, ants, and several types of birds.
Manuel Antonio National Park recommendations
If you’re planning a trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park, we recommend keeping the below advice in mind.
- Give yourself a few hours at the park (at least) to follow the most common route and spend some time relaxing at the most popular beaches. Alternatively, give yourself a full day in the park if you wish to explore the entire park, including less visited trails and beaches.
- Don’t plan to visit the park on Mondays; it’s closed every Monday.
- Wear hiking sandals or shoes while touring the park and use flip flops only while at the beach.
- The Manuel Antonio National Park has change rooms and bathrooms where you can swap dry clothes for swimming attire (and vice versa). The park also has showers but the use of soap and hair-care products such as shampoo is not permitted.
- Pack a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a towel (if you wish to swim). You may also want to pack a reusable water container; the park provides potable drinking water.
- Familiarize yourself with our list of items that you can and cannot bring into the park to avoid disappointment upon arrival.
- Keep a close eye on your belongings when you’re at the beach and don’t feed the local wildlife.
Manuel Antonio National Park map
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you visited the Manuel Antonio national park? What did you enjoy most about the experience?