A guide to Manuel Antonio! Manuel Antonio was one of our favorite stops in Costa Rica. Filled with lush jungle and right on the beach, it was a hotspot for wildlife. Looking to see an abundance of monkeys and sloths? This is the place to go! This is by far the most wildlife-dense area we visited while in Costa Rica and we loved it. Read on for info on:
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Where to eat in Manuel Antonio
- Where to stay
- Recommended length of stay
Manuel Antonio National Park
If you are headed to Manuel Antonio, there is probably a 90% chance you are planning to go to Manuel Antonio National Park; it is the main attraction. It is a small park compared to most national parks and is navigable by foot only. Manuel Antonio National Park consists of a coastal rainforest with nice beaches and forest trails. However, it is known mostly for its abundant wildlife. Our opinion was that the entry fee was worth seeing all the monkeys, sloths and beaches!
A few things we would have found useful to know before going to the Manuel Antonio National Park:
- Cost: $18 per person
- Open 7am-4pm and CLOSED on Tuesdays
- Time: at least 3 hours
- As you drive toward the park, several men will try to stop you to park about 2 km away from the entrance. They are very convincing (badges that looked as if they worked for the park) and make it look like you HAVE to park with them. FALSE. Keep driving until you can’t drive anymore.
- If parking gets full toward the entrance during busy season, you can always turn around and park further away. But for us, we got there early and there was parking right near the entrance
- $7 USD
- Also, when you park there will likely be people come up to you asking if you want to pay for a guided tour. The gentleman who we paid to park wanted us to agree to a guided tour. He initially said it would be $50 per person ($150 for the three of us) and when we declined he dropped it to $50 for all three of us. We politely declined and did a self-guided tour through the park; just be aware.
- I believe even the pre-purchased guided tours on the main website are about $50 per person as well, so if you DO want a guided tour you MAY be able to get it a little cheaper outside the park entrance.
- The park was easy to navigate and the monkeys hang out in the open along the beach trails
- Sloths are extremely hard to see on your own. However, there were a lot of people in Manuel Antonio and each time there was a sloth, someone had already spotted it for us and showed us where it was
- A perk of a tour guide is they provide scopes to see the sloths more close up and they know where the sloths typically hang out. You decide if it is worth it to you, but we felt good with our self-guide
Food in the park
Snacks are NOT allowed. They will confiscate at the gate. You can bring your own water. If you are afraid of getting hungry, there is a small cafe within the park where you can get ice cream, sandwiches, slices of pizza and a few other foods!
- A good portion of the park has wooded walkways that are easily accessible. There was even someone getting pushed in a wheelchair on the Perezoso trail
- The Punta Catedral loop is the only trail with a real elevation gain
- Cliffside views of the Pacific
- Recommend hiking shoes of some sort because it is typically wet and muddy
- Peresozo= Sloth in Spanish. It was our Spanish vocabulary word of the trip! Take the Peresozo trail to find your sloths. The likelihood of seeing a sloth even without a guide is probably at least 90%.
- Several people (guide and non-guides) had spotted the sloths and were gathered where the sloths were visible. We were able to see three on the trail without a guide.
Pro Tip: bring your own binoculars if you are searching for sloths on your own. They are HIGH up in the trees and hard to spot at times!
Punta Catedral climb, flat sandy trail along the beach and the boarded Peresozo Trail
Tickets must be purchased ahead of time (don’t know if it has always been or if it is due to Covid). You have to provide name, passport, etc on everyone in the group. Click here to purchase your tickets (you will have to create a login).
Where to eat
Guide to Manuel Antonio food! One road goes along Manuel Antonio toward the national park. Along the road there are several restaurants. We took recommendations from the friendly front dest worker at our hotel. Among his recommendations were:
- Agua Azul
- El Avion
- El Wagon
We headed to Rafaeles, but unfortunately it was not open while we visited. Give it a try if it is open when you go! I recommend at least going to El Avion for a drink during the day. It is definitely geared toward tourists with its old plane sitting in the middle of the restaurant. However, it has a great view of the ocean from the restaurant and honestly the plane is pretty cool. El Wagon is owned by the same people (I believe) and has a cute patio in the jungle. The fish wrap was amazing!
The old plane and views at El Avion
Where to stay
Along the main road 618 through Manuel Antonio, again, there are many places to stay among all of the restaurants.
- I recommend staying between the town of Manuel Antonio and the national park on rd 618 due to its proximity to the park and with many restaurants in walking distance.
- However, be warned that the road is hilly and curvy! Quepos is nearby, but it is a little out of the way from the national park. However, you’ll likely save money staying there!
As you drive along the main road 618, you will see the Zip Coaster.
- It is only $12 to either do a short, quick zip-line type ride or a slow zip coaster.
- The zip coaster is intended to go slow and see wildlife from higher in the canopy. It is not intended for an adrenaline rush 😆. We were lucky and saw a sloth while on the ride!
- The staff was super friendly and pointed out two other sloths located near the zip coaster as well. For $12 we got to see 3 more sloths and MANY monkeys that crossed the road to the trees near the zipcoaster.
Recommended length of stay
We spent 8 nights in Costa Rica and allotted two of the nights in Manuel Antonio. Spending about 3 hours in Manuel Antonio National Park in the morning, we had plenty of time to explore the town afterward. We opted to do the Zip Coaster following the park. The beaches are also nice in Manuel Antonio.
Two days is plenty of time to see Manuel Antonio National park, spend some time at the beach and do an excursion of your choice in the area (zip-lining, water rafting, horseback riding, hanging bridges, etc). Many of the towns in Costa Rica will offer similar excursions so you will have to decide what you want to do and where you want to do them (recommend zip-lining in Monteverde and white water rafting in Arenal/La Fortuna!)
Guide to Manuel Antonio Recap!
Your guide to Manuel Antonio! We loved Manuel Antonio mostly for the monkeys and sloths 🦥 . It is the go-to place for increased chances of seeing both (outside of the rescue ranches/refuges). There are hanging bridges at the Rainmaker park about 30 minutes outside of Manuel Antonio. However, I recommend saving your $ and going to the hanging bridges in Monteverde or Arenal!
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