Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular national parks, but it’s also a cute little beach town, which people often forget to mention.
The star of the show, Manuel Antonio National Park, is a stunning combination of dense, green jungle and unspoiled white-sand beaches. A lot of the locals enter the national park just to spend the day at one of the perfectly picturesque beaches.
It’s also teeming with wildlife and diverse nature. Offering some of the highest chances of spotting monkeys, sloths, anteaters, coatis, ocelots, crocodiles, iguanas plus lots more.
The national park is the main reason why most people visit the town of Manuel Antonio. Little do they know that there’s actually an abundance of things to do both in Manuel Antonio and its surrounding areas!
You can spend days there without running out of things to do. There’s visiting waterfalls and exploring nearby towns such as Jaco and Uvita. Or something completely different like joining a tour and learning how chocolate is made.
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Manuel Antonio and how to experience them.
Need help planning your trip? Check out our tips for visiting Manuel Antonio — you’ll find the best restaurants, where to stay, how to get around and more!
Top tours in and around Manuel Antonio
- Guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park for $29
- Night Walk around Manuel Antonio for $60
- All-inclusive catamaran cruise for $85
#1 Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is most people’s sole reason for visiting Manuel Antonio because it is one of the most popular in the whole of Costa Rica.
In 1972, the people of Costa Rica decided to preserve the 683 hectares of some of the most beautiful and bio-diverse areas in the world. Hence Manuel Antonio National Park came into existence.
Despite being the country’s smallest national park, it’s home to a charming combination of habitats, including rainforest, beaches and coral reefs.
All of this means that there’s a diverse variety of both wildlife and vegetation. As you wander along the well-kept paths of the national park, you’ll need to keep your eye out for sloths, squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys and numerous birds.
Cast your eyes to the ground and you might see a deer leaping through the jungle, coatis foraging for food or thousands of colourful crabs scuttling around.
Once you’re tired out, you can spend the rest of the day lounging on the gorgeous beaches inside the national park. (We go into more detail on these beaches in #2)
Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio can be visited with or without a guide. We’d recommend hiring a guide if you want to spot more animals, learn about them and also understand the history of the national park.
Entrance to the park without a guide costs $18 per person, which has to be bought online beforehand.
However, you can also join a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park with an experienced guide for $29 per person.
The park is open everyday except Tuesdays, from 07:00 to 16:00. We’d recommend getting there as early as possible, as this is when the animals tend to be more active.
Is Manuel Antonio one of the best national parks in Costa Rica?
Although Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. The fact that it’s so popular has also made it pretty touristy!
For those looking for an unspoilt jungle with not that many people, this may not be the national park for you. If that’s what you are looking for, we’d recommend checking our Corcovado National Park or Tortuguero National Park guides.
Book your tickets here:
#2 Spend the day lounging on the beaches of Manuel Antonio
There are spectacular beaches both inside and outside of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Inside the park you’ll find 2 popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. These two beaches sit on either side of the land bridge that connects the two sections of the national park.
Playa Manuel Antonio is the south facing beach. It’s a picturesque half-mile-long white-sand beach, perfect for spending the day frolicking in the ways or chilling on the palm tree-lined beach.
Playa Espadilla Sur is just as spectacular, but has stronger currents, so if you’re not a strong swimmer we’d stick to the other beach.
Beaches outside Manuel Antonio National Park
Playa Espadilla, not to be confused with the one inside the national park, is a large public beach located near the entrance of the national park.
It’s one of the most popular beaches, so it can get pretty busy, but being over a mile long, you can still find your own secluded spot.
If you’re looking for a more secluded spot, then head to Playa la Mancha. The best things in life don’t come easy, and that’s the case here. To get to the beach you’ll have to walk down a pretty small trail that can be a little tricky.
It’s worth it though when you see the peace and tranquility of this dark-sand beach.
#3 Splash around at Nauyaca Waterfalls
There are lots of nice waterfalls in Costa Rica, but Nauyaca Waterfalls may be some of the best in the country.
They’re a 50-minute drive from Manuel Antonio if you have a car. For those without one, you can get the bus to San Isidro de El General and ask the driver to stop near Nauyaca Waterfalls as they’re near the bus route. The bus does take a bit longer, around 1.5-2 hours.
As well as being absolutely stunning, they’re also a great place to chill for the day and escape the Costa Rican heat.
At the entrance to the waterfalls, you’ll need to pay $10 per person. From here it’s a 3 km walk to the waterfalls, which should take around 1 hour depending on how fast you walk.
You can actually visit the different layers of Nauyaca waterfall. We’d start with the upper section of the waterfall that boasts cascades 45 metres high.
The power of the water is immense and infinite. From here you can also get a sneak peak of the lower falls, where you’ll be heading next.
This is where visitors spend most of their time as you’re able to swim in the waterfalls pool.
There are plenty of rocks submerged in the pool, perfect for lounging on and soaking up the sun.
The 6 metre deep pool is surrounded by dense jungle, creating a relaxing jungle background symphony.
The best time to visit
We’d recommend visiting between December and April. This is when the water levels are at their best, not too much water and not too little.
During the rainy season, the water can get too strong and make the pool unsuitable for swimming in.
Do get there early in the morning though if you want to avoid the crowds during the peak months. Nauyaca waterfalls are open Monday to Friday from 07:00 to 14:00 and on Sundays from 08:00 to 14:00.
New to Manuel Antonio? Check out this compact Manuel Antonio guide to find the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Manuel Antonio!
#4 Take to the oceans on a Catamaran Cruise
Embarking on a catamaran cruise has become a popular thing to do in Manuel Antonio. It’s a must-do if you’re visiting Manuel Antonio during whale and dolphin migration season between December and April.
As well as being a great day full of food, drink and beautiful views, you may also be able to spot some of these magnificent creatures.
Even so, it’s a fun day getting to admire Costa Rica’s coastline, snorkel around uninhabited islands and spot a variety of seabirds.
This all-inclusive catamaran cruise for $85 lasts for 3.5 hours and even has its own jacuzzi and waterslides. You can make the most of the free alcoholic drinks, snacks and fresh fruit that are onboard, as well as the delicious dinner that’s included!
It’s guaranteed to be a day full of sun, sea and spectacular sights!
Book here: All-inclusive catamaran cruise for $85
#5 Explore Costa Rica in the dark on a night walk
Another side of Costa Rica comes alive when the sun goes down. Many rainforest inhabitants are nocturnal, making the rainforest an exciting and new place after dark.
A night tour is something you can’t leave Costa Rica without doing!
You’ll get the chance to see moths, iguanas, frogs, spiders and even snakes. Things that you often don’t see in the daytime.
If you’re a budding photographer, it’s one of the best times to get some incredible images of these nocturnal animals.
A night walk around Manuel Antonio lasts for around 2 hours and costs $60.
Book here: Night Walk around Manuel Antonio for $60
#6 Learn to surf in Manuel Antonio
Espadilla Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach are two of the best beaches to try and catch a wave. The waves don’t tend to get too big, which means it’s a perfect place for beginner and intermediate surfers.
There are plenty of surf companies in the area that offers 1-1 or group lessons.
You can book a 3-hour small group lesson with the highly-rated Dantes Water Sports for $65. This also includes transportation to the beach, plus snacks such as fruit, water and coconut water.
Book here: 3-hour small group surfing lesson for $65
#7 Kayak around Damas Island mangroves
Damas island, also known as Damas Mangroves, is one of the most significant remaining ecosystems in Costa Rica. It’s one of the largest mangrove systems in the whole of Central America!
This thriving natural habitat is home to a vast number of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects.
The best way to explore these mangroves isn’t by foot, but by kayak. As you glide through the natural canals, you’ll be surrounded by intertwining roots and branches from the vegetation growing straight from the water.
A kayaking tour around the Damas Mangroves lasts for around 4 hours and includes a guide, transportation and lunch for $73.
Book here: Kayaking tour around the Damas Mangroves for $73
#8 Visit Kids Saving the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary
If Manuel Antonio National Park didn’t satisfy your wildlife cravings, then you can also visit Kids Saving the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary.
It’s a non-profit organisation offering educational tours of its wildlife sanctuary that’s home to nearly 50 animals including monkeys and sloths.
Their primary goal is to rehabilitate the animals that they rescue to release them back into the wild. However, this isn’t always possible with all animals.
The wildlife sanctuary is a great place to spend a few hours, and you know that your money is supporting a good cause.
Visiting the sanctuary is only possible if you join a tour, which you can book on their website. These run every day apart from Tuesday, from 09:30 to 11:00. An adult ticket costs $65, whilst a child’s is $45.
#9 Join a chocolate and coffee tour
If we had to name some of the top things that Costa Rica is famous for, coffee and chocolate would be at the top of that list.
Costa Rica produces over 1.5 million bags of coffee per year, whilst cacao production is quickly catching up as the years go on.
We often consume both of these products without really knowing how they’re made or where they come from. This is why a coffee and chocolate tour can be very interesting and eye-opening.
Manuel Antonio is one of many places in Costa Rica where you can join a coffee and chocolate tour to learn about the cultural, economic and social influences these two raw materials have on the country.
For 2 hours you can join an experienced and knowledgeable tour guide to visit a nearby plantation. This tour costs $60 per person and includes transportation and refreshments.
Book here: Guided Coffee and Chocolate Tour (incl. transportation) for $60
#10 Gallop across the beach during sunset
There’s nothing more peaceful than riding along a beach on horseback, taking in the sights of the ocean and listening to the waves crash against the shore.
It can also be an exhilarating experience if you want it to be, as you gallop along the shore, embracing the movement of the horse.
This 5.5-hour horse-riding experience for $84 takes you through the forest and up into the mountains. You’ll get the chance to stop for a swim in a refreshing waterfall and enjoy a delicious organic lunch made from local ingredients.
Book here: 5.5-hour horse-riding experience for $84
#11 Enjoy a drink inside an airplane bar
El Avion bar has become famous throughout Manuel Antonio and amongst travellers.
The two-level bar and restaurant has been built in, around and above the C-123 Fairchild cargo plane. It’s a unique dining experience or place to grab a drink, plus a great place to capture a great picture!
The El Avion Pub, situated inside the cargo plane sells cold domestic and imported beers, exotic tropical cocktails and quality wines.
Just as impressive as the plane, are the views from the outside bar and restaurant. The open-air spaces overlook Manuel Antonio and are the ideal place to catch the sunset.
#12 Take a day trip to Uvita
Uvita is a small beach town 2-hours down the coast from Manuel Antonio. If you don’t have enough time to actually stay in Uvita, a day trip gives you a good chance to see the main sights of the town.
You can drive or catch the bus to Uvita. The bus costs just $2.70.
Uvita waterfall is an adult playground. As well as being a stunning waterfall, it doubles as a natural slide.
You can climb up the cliff face using the ladder, before sliding down the waterfall. It’s not that high, but boy is it fun! There are also a number of other jump-off points and turquoise pools to relax in.
Entrance to the waterfall is $4 and also includes access to a butterfly garden.
Ballena National Marine Park
Uvita is also home to Ballena National Marine Park, which is where you’ll find the iconic Whale Tail Beach, also known as Punta Uvita.
Every day during low tide, the sandbar in the shape of a whale’s tail emerges from the ocean. It’s a stunning sight! You can spend the day enjoying the beach and swimming in the warm waters.
An added bonus, if you’re there between December to March and July to November, you may be able to spot Humpback Whales carrying out their migration!
Entrance to the park costs $6 per person.
#13 Visit the popular beach town of Jaco
If you’re a big party-goer then we’d recommend spending a night in Jaco to experience one of the things it’s famous for, it’s nightlife.
For those with not enough time, you can visit Jaco from Manuel Antonio for the day. The best way to get there is by car, as the journey time will only be around 1 hour 20 minutes as opposed to over 2 hours on the bus.
Jaco is geared towards tourists which means that there’s a lot of infrastructure set up for them. You’ll find a huge choice of restaurants and bars here where you can enjoy some delicious meals.
Jaco beach is not just known as a surfing destination. The beach boasts kilometers of golden-sand, ideal for laying down a towel and picking up a book. If you can stay till sunset, definitely do!
The sunsets from Jaco Beach are pretty incredible!
#14 Spend the day on Tortuga Island
That tropical island paradise that you’ve been dreaming of? Tortuga Island is probably pretty close to that with its golden-sand beaches lined with palm trees and clear turquoise waters.
Sun lovers will be happy to see a number of sunbeds to spend the day relaxing on. Whilst water babies will be thrilled at the sight of the hundreds of fish that dash around the boat as you make your way to the island.
More than just chilling at the beach
The day on Tortuga Island is likely to fly by with so many things to keep you busy. Aside from lying on the beach, you can go snorkelling, diving, hiking or eating your body weight in delicious food.
The best way to visit Tortuga Island from Manuel Antonio is by joining a tour. This way everything is arranged for you and a boat cruise is necessary to get to the island.
A tour should cost you around $150 and usually last for more than 12 hours, so it’s a pretty packed day.
Most popular ways to get to Manuel Antonio
Rounding it up
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in Manuel Antonio, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. Not sure how to plan your trip? Our guide is here to help! You’ll find out how long to stay in Manuel Antonio, where to eat, how to get around and more. Happy planning!
Millenium Manuel Antonio - Treating Yourself
You can’t really ask for a better location in Manuel Antonio than this one. Millennium Hotel is only 100 metres from Manuel Antonio National Park! That also means that you’re super close to the beach.
The hotel has its own outdoor swimming pool, perfect for a refreshing swim after walking around the national park. The rooms are spacious and offer everything you could need during your stay. A delicious breakfast is also offered for free in a nearby restaurant.
- The best location
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Tasty breakfast included
- Friendly and helpful staff
Double rooms start from $90 per night
Tico Tico Villas - Treating Yourself
Tico Tico Villas tick all the boxes. Swimming pool, beautifully designed rooms and a cosy terrace area surrounded by nature. The location of the hotel is also great! All your needs will be fulfilled here.
Especially thanks to the friendly and helpful staff who will make your stay perfect. You can even enjoy a BBQ as there are facilities available in the hotel.
- Outdoor swimming pool
- BBQ facilities
- Amazing staff
- Close to Manuel Antonio National Park
Double rooms start from $90 per night
Peace of Paradise - Mid Range
Peace of Paradise feels exactly that. All you have to do to see wildlife is sit on your balcony and wait. Before long, you may be able to see monkeys, toucans, birds and maybe a sloth passing by.
The rooms are large and spacious, offering their own kitchen facilities. You can make yourself a coffee or cook a full-blown meal. The hotel has a great location in Manuel Antonio though, not far from bars and restaurants which may be more tempting than cooking your own meals.
- Lots of wildlife around the hotel
- Great location
- Private balconies
- Private kitchen facilities
Double rooms between $50-$90 per night
Hostel Plinio - Budget Friendly
Whether you’re travelling solo, as a couple or in a group, Hostel Plinio will suit your needs. There are both dorms and private rooms available, depending on what you’re looking for.
With the outdoor swimming pool and onsite Mexican restaurant, the place feels more like a mini-resort than a hostel. The breakfast in the morning will set you up perfectly for the day ahead, especially the delicious gallo pinto. And don’t forget to try out their tacos!
- Onsite Mexican restaurant
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Shared kitchen
- Delicious and filling breakfast included
Double rooms between $15-$50 per night
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