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.
The town also offers a relaxing beach vibe, with plenty of delicious restaurants, bars and public beaches to lounge on.
Is Manuel Antonio National Park worth it?
Like we mentioned above, Manuel Antonio National Park is a great place to admire biodiversity, wildlife and swim at stunning beaches.
However, word has spread far and wide about Manuel Antonio National Park, which now means it’s pretty touristy. Unlike other national parks, it now caters to the tourists, taking away the pure and untouched feel that other national parks in Costa Rica still have.
Entrance costs just $18, so it shouldn’t be the price of the entrance ticket that holds you back from visiting this stunning park.
TIP: Also check out our guides about Corcovado and Tortuguero, so that you can make sure you find enough time for the parks that interest you most.
When choosing where to stay in Manuel Antonio, you only have a few areas to choose from – Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
When we’re talking about Manuel Antonio, we’re referring to the beach area and the road that runs between Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
For us, we would stay in the Manuel Antonio area, but we’ve included a bit about Quepos too so you can make the decision for yourself.
Location #1: Manuel Antonio – the jungle road and beach area
This is our choice of where to stay in Manuel Antonio.
This area is what you imagine Costa Rica to be. Flourishing with nature and teeming with wildlife. The road that leads to Manuel Antonio beach area offers accommodation surrounded by jungle.
There’s also a bus that runs along this road every 15-20 minutes, so being slightly further out doesn’t really matter.
Mini beach town
Manuel Antonio beach area is like a mini beach town. Here you’ll find plenty of delicious restaurants, little souvenir shops, lively bars and of course – the golden sand beach right in front.
The added bonus? You’re only minutes away from Manuel Antonio National Park.
Within Manuel Antonio you’ll be able to find a range of accommodation options from hostels, homestays and Airbnbs to hotels and luxurious resorts. Prices for a private room start at around $30 per night.
Location #2: Quepos – the gateway town to Manuel Antonio
You’ll probably hear about Quepos when researching how to get to Manuel Antonio. This is because most buses actually stop at the bus station in Quepos rather than near Manuel Antonio National Park.
Don’t worry, the national park is only a short bus ride away.
Quepos used to be a small fishing village. Now there are all the amenities you can think of, shops, restaurants, banks and supermarkets.
Although some people do choose to stay here, we probably wouldn’t. There’s nothing particularly pretty about the town, accommodation isn’t cheaper and you’re further away from Manuel Antonio’s beaches and the national park.
Where to eat in Manuel Antonio
For a little town, Manuel Antonio has a surprising number of incredible restaurants! Pretty much all of them offer spectacular views too, whether it be of the beach or the jungle.
Here are our top 3 favourite restaurants in Manuel Antonio, so you can spend less time researching ‘the best places to eat’ and more time eating!
Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar – fresh, healthy and homemade mediterranean food
This Mediterranean street food restaurant will leave you feeling full and rejuvenated! Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar’s rustic interior is strung with fairy lights and dotted with green plants. It creates the perfect place to relax and enjoy great food.
You can choose from a huge range of dishes, such as kebabs, shawarma, hummus, hearty salads and falafel. Some people have said it’s the best falafel they’ve ever had. There’s only one way to find out if that goes for you too!
Cafe Agua Azul – delicious food with a view
Agua Azul’s view is what really steals the show here, but don’t get us wrong, the delicious food is definitely the cherry on top.
Here you can enjoy spectacular views of the ocean below, whilst savouring freshly caught fish from the very same ocean you’re looking at. Snapper and tuna are both very popular dishes on the menu.
Exceptional service, a beautiful view and a welcoming vibe. What more could you want?
Emilio’s Cafe – playful flavours, friendly staff and a great vibe
Literally just across the road from Agua Azul is Emilio’s Cafe, another great spot in Manuel Antonio.
This is the place to go for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks. They have an extensive menu that covers everything!
There’s no other way to describe the food than just wow! The flavours are playful, offering a spicy coffee seasoned steak and a yellow curry coconut ceviche concoction.
The main route in Manuel Antonio is the hilly 3.5km main road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park.
How you choose to cover this distance, mainly depends on you. If you’re looking for some exercise, you can easily walk wherever you want to go, or there’s also the local bus, taxis and a car if you have one.
For most people, this will be the best way to get around Manuel Antonio. You can use it to get from your accommodation to the national park because it stops right outside.
A public bus runs between Quepos and Manuel Antonio every 20 minutes or so. There are several bus stops along the way, so wherever you are along the route, you shouldn’t be too far from one.
The journey takes approximately 25 minutes, depending on how many stops it takes and costs $0.50.
The bus runs from 5:45am to 9pm every day.
Walking is also a possibility, but do keep in mind that it is a pretty hilly road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It will definitely give your calf muscles a workout!
If you’re staying in the beach area, then you’ll easily be able to walk to a number of restaurants, bars and supermarkets in that area.
By Taxi (And Uber)
You’ll find local taxis roaming around pretty much everywhere. It’s rare to go more than 2-minutes without seeing one of them.
You can recognise the official taxis by their red exterior and bright yellow sign on the side of the car. A lot of them do have meters, but won’t always use it. Make sure to either ask them to turn it on or negotiate a price before getting in.
Quepos to Manuel Antonio costs around $8 and takes 15 minutes.
However, we would recommend using Uber instead. It’s considerably cheaper, with a huge emphasis on considerably. The ride from Quepos to Manuel Antonio will only cost you around $2-3 with Uber.
Collectivo taxis also run along the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. You can recognise these vehicles by the blue circle on the door.
These trips cost just $1 per person, but there can be a number of stops along the way. The journey time can vary between 15-25 minutes.
Although a car isn’t really necessary in Manuel Antonio, because the public transport is so proficient and distances aren’t very big, you may already have one.
There are two recommended car parks for the national park, close to Bar Las Gemelas. Expect to pay between $5-8 for the day here.
You may see men on the side of the road trying to flag you down before this, ignore them and keep going. They will try and charge you extortionate prices to park in their car park. You can rent a car in Quepos from $25 a day, if you’d like to explore some of the surrounding area.
You can’t really ask for a better location in Manuel Antonio than this one. Millennium Hotel is only 100 metres from the national park! That also means that you’re super close to the beach too.
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. Breakfast is also offered for free in a nearby restaurant.
Peace of Paradise feels exactly that. All you have to do to see wildlife from here 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 simply 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.
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 Taco’s!