Manuel Antonio National Park (Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting)

Manuel Antonio is among the must-visit locations for many visitors to Costa Rica. However, some tourists still express their dissatisfaction with this park online.

The kind of experience you’d get from your trip would depend on the information you have beforehand, especially if you aren’t looking to splurge too much. 

I had a fantastic trip to Manuel Antonio and still had to learn some things the hard way. So, in this article, I have researched and gathered all the relevant information you’ll need for planning your trip to this great park. 

Key Takeaways

  • You need at least one day to enjoy most of the activities at Manuel Antonio National Park.
  • The entry fee into the park is $18.08 for adults and $5.65 for children.
  • SINAC allows you to buy tickets online in advance.
  • For the best experience, go with the first time slot in the morning at 7:00. There are other opening times. 
  • The best time to visit the park is when it’s dry and sunny, between December and April. Afternoon showers are frequent between May and November.
  • You don’t need a guide. But it becomes necessary if you want to see more wildlife.
  • Fun things to do include hiking any of the available 11 trails or exploring any of the four beaches.
  • It’s best to hire a tour guide online in advance.
  • For hotels in Manuel Antonio Park, consider The Shana Hotel for families, Si Como No Resort, Los Altos, Tulemar Resort, and Hotel Parador. 

Manuel Antonio National Park Address

Manuel Antonio National Park is located in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica’s west coast. It’s named after a nearby town, Manuel Antonio, but most people consider Quepos the closest town, just a short 15-minute drive north. 

On Google Maps, the location of the park is “Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica.” 

How Do I Get to Manuel Antonio?

To reach the park entrance, there are two main routes. The more popular one involves parking your car in one of the unofficial parking spots (we’ll touch on those later) and following the road to Manuel Antonio Tico Lodge and Gelateria El Parque, which marks the official entrance and the start of The Park Trail.

If you’re arriving by bus, you’ll likely be dropped off at the end of 618 Road near Espadilla Norte Beach. 

From there, you can take the Beach Trail uphill to reach the main entrance of the park.

Now, if you’re staying in Quepos or Manuel Antonio and want to reach the park, you have several options:

Driving to the parkIf you have your car, getting to the park is straightforward. You don’t need a 4×4 vehicle due to the paved road. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Quepos, even shorter from Manuel Antonio. However, parking can be a challenge.
Taking a public busThere’s a bus service that runs between Quepos and the park throughout the day on Route 618, approximately every 30 minutes, starting around 5:30 a.m. The bus stops at various points along the route and drops you off at the beach, from where it’s a short walk to the entrance.
Going on a tourIf you’re considering hiring a guide for your visit to Manuel Antonio, consider booking an all-inclusive tour that includes transportation to the park (perhaps not back, depending on your plans). This can be a convenient option.
Taking a taxiIf you prefer to avoid the hassle of parking or taking the bus, you can take a taxi from your accommodation. The cost varies, but depending on your location, expect to pay between $10 and $20 or more.

Manuel Antonio National Park opening times 

Manuel Antonio National Park welcomes visitors from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day, except Tuesdays.

During these hours, you can explore the park’s trails, but the beaches close at 3:00 pm to ensure everyone has enough time to exit.

Espadilla Norte, the beach just outside the park, is open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m..

I later learned that the park doesn’t open on Tuesdays to give animals a break and allow park staff to focus on conservation efforts.

While the park remains open on holidays, such as Christmas, beach access inside the park ends at 3:00 pm to accommodate departures by 4:00 pm.

Friendly Advice: 

  • When you purchase your ticket, you’ll need to select a time slot for entry. Time slots range from 7:00 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. for the earliest slot, with the final slot extending from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., offering a longer visit window. 
  • You can arrive at any time within your chosen slot.

After purchasing a self-guided tour ticket for Manuel Antonio National Park, you can enter the park during the following time slots:

07:00–07:40

08:00–08:40

09:00–09:40

10:00–10:40

11:00–11:40

12:00–12:40

13:00-14:30

When is the best time to visit Manuel Antonio Park? 

The best time to visit Manuel Antonio Park varies depending on the time of day or year. 

The dry season, which runs from November to April along the Pacific Coast in Manuel Antonio, is typically the best time of year.

Meanwhile, it’s also the busiest time, especially during the bustling months of December, January, and February.

I went in May and had a great day with fewer crowds.

The best time of day is earlier! I suggest grabbing the first entry at 7 a.m. to catch wildlife before the heat and crowds kick in.

If you plan to hit the beach after the trails (which I highly recommend!), ensure you have enough time, as beaches close at 3 p.m. Arriving late could cut into your beach fun.

  • Despite ticket limits, Manuel Antonio can get very crowded, especially after 10 a.m. when big tour groups start arriving.

That’s why I recommend staying in Manuel Antonio itself if you are going to visit his park. Otherwise, if you’re coming from Jaco (2 hours away), Dominical (1 hour away), or Uvita (1.5 hours away), you’ll need to start your day super early for a 7 a.m. entry. Do you get the picture now? Right. 

Fun things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park

The beaches, the trails, and the general hike are the highlights of visiting this park. 

The beaches within Manuel Antonio National Park are worth visiting.

Manuel Antonio National Park has four beautiful beaches within its boundaries, plus four more nearby.

  • Manuel Antonio Beach: Positioned near the park’s café, this beach is a hotspot for visitors. Its serene bay offers a perfect spot for relaxation or a refreshing swim. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife among the lush vegetation nearby. Convenient facilities such as showers, toilets, and a kiosk are located just outside the beach entrance.
  • Espadilla Sur Beach: It splits into two sections. The northern section lies in Manuel Antonio town, while the southern end extends into the national park. Although it offers scenic views, be cautious of strong currents in this area. So, it’s not ideal for beginner swimmers.
  • Gemelas Beach: Tucked deeper into the park, Gemelas Beach is a favored spot for glimpsing the elusive squirrel monkey, and you might also spot crabs and iguanas on the rocky shores.
  • Escondido Beach is the farthest from the main entrance. Surrounded by dense jungle, it provides a secluded setting for a leisurely swim.

THE TRAILS

In Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll find 11 different hiking trails.

If you’re a big fan of hiking, you could explore all of them in a single day. But if you prefer a good balance between walking and beach time, you should pick a few trails to explore.

These trails will take you through a variety of environments within the park, including forests, mangroves, lagoons, sandy beaches, and coastal cliffs.

Friendly Advice: 

  • Most of these paths are pretty easy to walk on, with flat surfaces made of gravel, concrete, or wooden boardwalks. 
  • The only one that might give you a bit of a challenge is the Mirador Trail, which has quite a few stairs.

Each trail offers a unique glimpse into a different part of the park’s ecosystem and offers different opportunities to spot wildlife.

While I wasn’t able to explore all the trails, I have researched and put together a table showing each trail’s length, terrain, difficulty level, and the kinds of animals you might see.

MA Hiking TrailDistanceWhy I Recommend
Entrada Principal/AAccess Road1.1 km/0.7 miLots of wildlife and guided tours
Waterfall Trail (Sendero Catarata) 700 m/0.4 miBest for seeing waterfalls and frogs
The Sloth Trail (Sendero Perezoso)600 m/0.4 miI am seeing sloths and going through a dense jungle.
The Mangrove Trail (Sendero El Manglar)1 km/0.6 miA wholesome wildlife and rainforest experience
Espadilla South Beach Trail (Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur)1 km/0.6 miFor a quiet beach and a shaded sandy trail, hike
The Manuel Antonio Beach Trail (Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio)400 m/0.25 miThe most beloved beach in the park
Cathedral Point Trail (Sendero Punta Catedral)1.2 km/0.75 mi (loop)Offers the best ocean view
Gemelas Beach Trail (Sendero Playa Gemelas)400 m/0.25 miTo see more monkeys and for quietness.
Lookout Trail (Sendero Mirador)1 km/0.6 miTo enjoy stunning views 
Howler Monkey Trail (Sendero Los Congos)300 m/0.2 miFor a shorter trail, you want to see more monkeys.
Hidden Port Trail (Sendero Puerto Escondido)400 m/0.25 miAnother excellent hike to get a glimpse of the ocean

 

THE ANIMALS AND WILDLIFE

During trails, you’ll mainly spot different animals. According to the park’s data, visitors can find 109 other mammal species and 184 types of birds within the park’s boundaries. 

Among them are sloths, monkeys, birds, armadillos, coatis, agoutis, deer, reptiles, frogs, and snakes. 

Manuel Antonio National Park Tickets Online

The ticket prices for entering Manuel Antonio National Park are as follows:

  • Adults: $18.08
  • Children (2 to 11 years old): $5.65
  • Guided tours: $65 for adults, $50 for children
  • Private tours: $75 for adults, $60 for children

When you want to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll pay in US dollars, but the actual charge will be in Costa Rican Colones. 

To avoid extra fees, it’s wise to have a bank account like Caxton or Revolut, which can handle different currencies.

A GUIDE TO BUYING YOUR TICKET(S)

You can buy tickets for guided tours or self-guided visits. 

Self-guided tour tickets are only available on the park’s official website. 

To book online, create an account with SINAC (National System of Conservation Areas), provide your personal and payment details, and choose your visit date and time. You’ll need your passport number.

You have to book ahead.

Yes, you must book in advance. You can’t enter without a reservation, and each day is divided into time slots. 

You pick your time when booking.

Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Many visitors arrive at the park and immediately hire a guide. There are usually people hanging around outside, offering their services. It’s easy, but there’s a risk involved because you can’t be sure if they’re really knowledgeable about the park. A

To play it safe, it’s better to book a tour online before your visit. This way, you can read reviews and make sure you’re getting a qualified guide.

Some online tours only include the guide, so you’ll need to buy your own ticket to enter the park. Others are more comprehensive, and they may cover your entrance fee and even transportation. But generally, they last 2 to 3 hours. 

You also need to consider the maximum number of people in a group allowed for the tour you’ve chosen. Here are three of the best Manuel Antonio tours that I can recommend booking: 

Manuel Antonio Park Nature-Guided Tour

  • 5-star rating: 2,093
  • Free Cancellation
  • Duration: 4 hours.
  • Price: Starts at $45

Manuel Antonio Park Tour and Its Amazing Wildlife and Beaches

  • 5-star rating: 803
  • Free Cancellation
  • Duration: 2 hours.
  • Price: starts at $30 (varies by group size).

Manuel Antonio National Park (CUSTOMIZED TOURS OPTIONS)

  • Private Tour
  • 5-star rating: 493
  • Duration: 2–3 hours 
  • Price: Starts at $79

Meanwhile, you do not necessarily need a guide.

Once you’ve got your ticket, you can totally roam around Manuel Antonio National Park without a guide. However, having a guide can be helpful, too. They’re experts on the park’s plants and animals, and they’re really good at spotting wildlife. 

Plus, they’ve got this excellent telescope that lets you see animals up close and snap photos through it with your phone.

If seeing wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park is a big deal for you, having a guide is a smart move. They’ll help you spot way more animals than you could on your own.

But getting a guide isn’t for everyone. If you’re trying to save money, don’t like being in big groups, or already know a bit about Costa Rican wildlife, you should skip it. 

For example, in my situation, I had already seen some animals in Costa Rica before visiting Manuel Antonio. So, I decided to skip the guide. 

Despite that, I still saw plenty of critters on my own. 

So, should you get a guide? It depends on how much you want to see wildlife, if you’re not doing any other guided wildlife tours in Costa Rica and if you’re interested in learning cool facts about the park and its animals. 

If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, go for it!

Visitors to Manuel Antonio Park: Rules and Regulations

  • Bringing pets into the park is not allowed, except for service dogs, which require a permit from the guard station.
  • The national park forbids drone flying.
  • The park forbids the use of single-use plastics like bags and water bottles.
  • Items like surfboards, beach umbrellas, coolers, and footballs are among the restricted items.
  • Security personnel at the primary entrance conduct bag checks to ensure compliance with park rules.
  • Don’t leave your bags unattended, as it may attract theft and wildlife scavenging for food.

My Manuel Antonio National Park Reviews

My husband and I had a great time, especially at the beach. The park’s beaches were lovely, and we found clean shower and bathroom facilities available. 

Meanwhile, most of the animals we saw were small, like grasshoppers and bats. In the future, we plan to visit early in the day and bring our telescope lens camera for photographing larger animals.

PROS OF MANUEL ANTONIO PARK 

  • The park boasts diverse wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, iguanas, crabs, raccoons, and various bird species. There’s also a chance to witness whales from designated viewpoints.
  • The pathways leading to the beach are well-maintained and accessible for individuals with disabilities.
  • The park limits daily visitor numbers, though it can be challenging to gauge this accurately.
  • The park features beautiful beaches.
  • While guides are available outside, spotting wildlife independently is feasible if you possess keen observation skills, and exciting sightings often draw crowds.

CONS OF MANUEL ANTONIO PARK

  • Some pathways can be hazardous, particularly when wet, as they consist of slippery wood, with some sections missing or broken.
  • Despite being a national park, it appears that tourists have modified some areas, compromising the park’s natural integrity.
  • Many vendors sell souvenirs on the path to the park gates, and some offer assistance with parking, creating an atmosphere more akin to a theme park than a national park entrance.

What Are the Best Manuel Antonio Family Hotels?

Because Manuel Antonio receives a lot of tourists, numerous accommodation options are available. 

However, I’ve had the best experience at the Shana Hotel. It is by far the best option for families in Manuel Antonio, and they have beach access via a trail onsite. Expect to see a lot of monkeys and sloths here, too. 

Other options include Si Como No Resort, Los Altos, Tulemar Resort, Hotel Parador, Arenas del Mar Beach & Rainforest Resort, Makanda by the Sea, as well as Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort.

I’ve created a separate review guide for each of these Manuel Antonio hotels so you can read it and know what to expect when you stay in each of these places. 

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About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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