Manuel Antonio Costa Rica FAQ's
A Quick Guide To Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Is Costa Rica on your vacation radar? If so you are probably trying to decide which destination (or destinations for that matter) to visit in Costa Rica. If you are looking for wildlife but don't want to stray too far from the beach, Manuel Antonio should definitely be on your Costa Rica bucket list. Its breathtaking beauty and top-class infrastructure for tourism has earned Manuel Antonio a position among Forbes Magazine’s 12 most beautiful national parks IN THE WORLD. Trip Advisor has also named Manuel Antonio the best beach in Central America for its Travelers’ Choice awards!
To make it easier, we thought we would share some of our most frequently asked questions about Manuel Antonio to help you decide whether to include Manuel Antonio in YOUR Costa Rica vacation itinerary.
When is the best time of year to visit Manuel Antonio, what is the weather like?
What makes Costa Rica's rainforest so lush and beautiful? The rain of course. If you want to visit Manuel Antonio, you will get a lot less of the rain between December and March. December to March you are not as likely to get wet, but that does not necessarily mean that it is the best time to visit. The peak or "dry" season also brings more crowds and higher prices. May and November are transition months, but tend to be much less crowded and a healthy mix of rain and sunshine. Be sure to avoid Easter/ Semana Santa when everyone from the interior flocks to the beaches for a week long camping trip.
The average temperatures in Manuel Antonio are pretty consistent. Typically mid 20's Celsius, or Mid to upper 70's Fahrenheit. I like to use this handy tool to plan my vacations to places I am unfamiliar with. Keep in mind the humidity is a huge factor in the actual temperature vs. the "feels like" temperature.
How far is Manuel Antonio from San Jose?
Manuel Antonio is just over a 3 hours’ drive from San José, Costa Rica’s capital city and the Juan Santamaria International Airport. Although Jaco is the closest beach destination, Manuel Antonio is well worth the extra hour drive south. This is where Costa Rica's rainforest becomes most dense with wildlife. Just ask the 3 types of monkeys that call Manuel Antonio home.
How do I get to Manuel Antonio?
You can arrive to Manuel Antonio practically from any corner of Costa Rica. Whether renting a car, taking a shuttle or even public transportation, traveling by land is by far the easiest and most convenient way to get to Manuel Antonio. As we mentioned, Manuel Antonio is only 3 hours from San Jose, but it is also a stunning picturesque drive from both the Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde cloud forest.
Independent traveler wanting to drive yourself? We highly recommend you download the WAZE app to your smart phone, or rent the GPS along with your car rental. Google maps is not the most accurate in Costa Rica. I learned that lesson the hard way once driving from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. What was estimated as a 4.5 hour scenic drive turned into an 8 hour adventure just because we missed one turn. Google told me that I could turn around or adjust the route by 15 minutes. That was definitely not a 15 minute detour! Again, beautiful scenic highway, but had I not been with 2 other traveling companions I would have been scared driving those roads alone.
Not comfortable driving yourself but want your own vehicle? There are private transportation services available from just about everywhere in Costa Rica. If you are travelling alone or on a budget, there are also shared shuttle services linking just about any destination in Costa Rica. Public buses in Costa Rica are actually quite easy and cheap, but it is really important to show up early, avoid peek commute times and ensure you are on a direct route. The "colectivo" routes means there are several stops along the way. The 3 hour drive from Manuel Antonio to San Jose can turn into a very long 5 hours on a crowded bus.
If you are really short on time and have a few extra colones to spare, you can hop on a domestic flight and get to Manuel Antonio in less than 30 minutes!!
Where should I stay in Manuel Antonio?
Like most of Costa Rica, with the exception of Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio is full of unique boutique hotels, villas, cabinas and some great affordable hostels. Airbnb is also starting to emerge as a new contender for affordable and unique rentals in Costa Rica. It all really just depends on your budget and your taste.
I have stayed in the corridor, down next to the park, and in Quepos at varying price ranges. Traveling solo, I prefer hostels. Traveling with friends or other co-workers I like to try to find some sort of cabina. Traveling with my husband, I really want to spend the weekend at one of the cool eco-resorts with a few extra luxuries. There are super cool accommodations in Manuel Antonio for every budget and travel style, and most are completely immersed in nature.
One thing to keep in mind if you drive, if you plan to go out at night, then choose a place in or near Quepos. The highway out to Manuel Antonio is a killer and should never be driven even just after one drink.
What’s the main difference between Quepos and Manuel Antonio?
Quepos is the main city and capital of the Aguirre canton in Puntarenas province. Quepos is where you will find the church, soccer field and bus station that make up every recognized city in Latin America. If you are looking for nightlife, clubs and to be central to everything, Quepos is where it's at. Quepos is also home to the Marina Pez Vela, one of Costa Rica's world class marinas. Sport fishing in Quepos is top notch...which also means the restaurants in Quepos and Manuel Antonio have amazingly fresh seafood! Sushi and fresh tuna when in season is unbeatable in Quepos. Check out El Gran Escape in downtown Quepos.
Marina Pez Vela
Manuel Antonio is the location of the national park. There are several hotels and cabinas around the beach area and the national park, but only a couple restaurants. Things get pretty quiet out there after dark. Manuel Antonio is perfect for those who want a relaxing vacation but also access to the beach. The corridor and Quepos do not really have beach access.
The corridor between Quepos and Manuel Antonio is where you will find the majority of the nicer hotels with cliff side views of the Pacific. You can also find some mid-range options and a hostel or 2 along the corridor as well. You can find some nice restaurants and a variety of live music venues along the corridor between Quepos and Manuel Antonio too. Actually, the nightlife along the corridor is pretty hopping. Well, hopping for a small tropical destination anyhow. Bambu Jam is popular for Salsa Dancing and Cumbia. Sal Si Puedes and Barba Roja are popular live music venues and the local talent is pretty darn good. If you want sports, Byblos is THE place to be. Casino, Sports-books, pool, darts...you know, the standard sports joint requisites.
Do I need a guide to visit Manuel Antonio National Park?
Not necessarily...however we strongly recommend one. The first time I went I explored on my own and enjoyed myself, but the experience was not super "wow" or anything. The next time I went on a Manuel Antonio National Park guided tour and I was blown away. I have never seen so much wildlife so close up. Actually, to the point I was afraid to leave my windows open at night for fear of what may crawl in! Seriously, the telescope toting biologist guides know their stuff! I got close up photos of snakes, sloths, several monkeys, iguanas and a few different birds thanks to their expertise. I felt like a Nat Geo Explorer that day. So no, you don't NEED a guide...but why would you choose not to?
Manuel Antonio National Park
If you prefer to go solo, at least bring your own binoculars. Manuel Antonio National Park is open to the public from 7:00am to 4:00pm daily except Mondays. The current entrance fee is $16 per person over the age of 12, but be sure to look it up just before you come for the most accurate pricing. There is now a limit of the number of people that they will allow into the park daily, so you will need to show up early. Weekends tend to be a bit more crowded with national tourism. The beaches within the parks boundaries are absolutely pristine and stunning, so be sure to take a bathing suit, towel and maybe a good book for some great chill time in nature.
What else is there to do in Manuel Antonio besides the National Park?
Um...A LOT!!! Manuel Antonio National Park may be the highlight of this region, however there are a ton of different activities for all ages. You can start by checking out our list of most popular things to do in Manuel Antonio. Some of our favorite Manuel Antonio activities for adventurers include white water rafting, the quintessential Costa Rica canopy tours, exploring the forest on an ATV and canyoning. Aside from immersing in wildlife in the park itself, the Damas Island Mangroves are well worth exploring by safari boat or kayak day and night!
Then, there are the beaches in Manuel Antonio. Beautiful coconut palm lined white sand beaches. Down by the entrance to park, you will see all sorts of Manuel Antonio water sports activities such as surfing, parasailing, SUP, kayaking and even jet ski rentals. If you are just looking to relax on the beach with a good book, hike to the end of the beach. It is nice and chill there, just be careful about falling coconuts....yes that is a real danger. Oh the trials of life in the tropics! Actually, Playa Playitas used to be sort of a nude beach in Manuel Antonio, but now that there is a hotel there (and the fact that nude beaches are illegal in Costa Rica), it is just a great secluded beach for everyone.
Quepos is also home to the Marina Pez Vela which draws in sports fisherman from all over the world. It is also home to some great catamarans and sailboats. The legendary sunsets of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica are best viewed with a cocktail in hand on board a beautiful catamaran...am I right? Not to mention the amazing snorkeling opportunities from the coral reef just off shore. You really need to get out and explore Manuel Antonio by boat at least one day.
Is there surfing in Manuel Antonio?
Yes. The beach in Manuel Antonio is great for beginner to intermediate surfing and SUP. We also recommend a surf trip to Matapalo Beach which is our preferred surf beach near Manuel Antonio. For more experienced surfers, we highly recommend a trip one hour north to Hermosa or Jaco Beach.
Is Manuel Antonio LGBTQ friendly?
Yes, Manuel Antonio is the most gay friendly destination in Costa Rica. In fact the aforementioned Playa Playitas nude beach is most recognized and sought out beach of gay travelers in Manuel Antonio. There are several online resources that specialize in gay friendly vacations in Manuel Antonio. Just google it and there are a wealth of LGBTQ resources in Manuel Antonio.
We hope this helps narrow down your decision of whether to visit Manuel Antonio on your Costa Rica vacation. That pretty much wraps up the most frequently asked questions in Manuel Antonio, but we are happy to provide details on any other concerns or questions you may have. Just leave a response or contact us directly and we will gladly assist you.