Nestled on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is a breathtakingly beautiful destination that offers visitors an exciting array of outdoor adventures, beaches, and jungle experiences. With its lush rainforest and abundant wildlife, Manuel Antonio is a nature lover’s paradise, but it also has plenty to offer those seeking thrills and excitement.
From surfing and zip-lining to kayaking and hiking, there are endless opportunities for adventure in Manuel Antonio. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or both, Manuel Antonio is sure to impress.
In this article, we’ll explore the top things to do in Manuel Antonio, as well as nearby areas to check out and answer some common questions to help you plan your trip.
Things to do in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio offers visitors a wide range of activities in a variety of habitats, from the jungle to the beach. Some of the most popular activities include hiking, wildlife watching, surfing, zip-lining, and kayaking.
Hiking in is a must-do activity in Manuel Antonio. The most popular place to hike is within the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio (that’s Manual Antonio National Park, in English). In the park, you can explore the lush rainforest and spot a variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds.
The main path from the entrance is actually a road, though not a publicly-accessible one. But since it’s a road, it’s gravel and easy walking. There are several hiking trails available, ranging from easy walks to more challenging uphill (and back downhill!) climbs. Many of these are boardwalks, but not all.
Above you can see the gravel road, and below one of the hiking trails and a boardwalk. As you can see, these aren’t challenging hikes. That makes them less interesting for avid hikers, but better for most people, especially families. It’s a great way to get some exercise and soak up the amazing Costa Rican fresh air.
If you find the main road too crowded, there’s a boardwalk that runs parallel to it. Supposedly, the guides aren’t allowed to use that with tour groups, so it is often less crowded.
The beaches in Manuel Antonio are some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. Within the national park (mentioned above), you’ll find Playa Manuel Antonio, which is a really beautiful beach and bay. (“Playa” means “beach” in Spanish, so you’ll see it a lot!)
Here’s a selfie I took at the beach. It’s not packed by any means, but there are lots of people around. There were just as many, if not more, off the left edge of this picture.
Playa Manuel Antonio can be crowded, so if that isn’t your thing, skip over to Playa Espadilla Sur (see photo below), just on the other side of the viewing tower. Since it’s the second one people come to off the main path, it tends to be less crowded. There’s also Playa Gemelas within the park, but we didn’t visit that one so I can’t speak to it personally.
There are lots of beaches outside the park, so don’t feel like you have to pay the park entrance fee just to see a beach. Playa Espadilla Norte is just north of the park and has a similar view. This is where our family took surf lessons, boogie-boarded, and soaked up the sun.
Finally, there is Playa Biesanz, which is usually uncrowded. It’s a little hard to find…if you’re driving along the road and you get to the Hotel Parador, back up, you’ve gone too far. The only parking is along the street by the trailhead. That road can be a little crazy to drive so be careful and take your time!
The beaches offer opportunities to swim, sunbathe, and relax, or you can take part in water sports like surfing and kayaking. You can snorkel, but it’s not the best here. If you want to snorkel and you’re staying in Manuel Antonio, your best bet is to day trip all the way down to the Osa Peninsula and book a trip to Caño Island.
Birding and Wildlife Viewing
Manuel Antonio and surrounding areas have great spots for seeing exotic birds and other wildlife. It’s a popular activity within Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, and we definitely did that! You can also see two- and three-toed sloths fairly easily at the park, and one of our daughters branched out on her own and even saw a mom and baby sloth. She also saw one of the Capuchin monkeys, too!
We were busy birding while she did this, but we also saw sloths (one of them is in the photo above). We got a lot of species of birds, and even saw two different hummingbirds on their nests (see one below)! We did this with a guide, who carried a spotting scope that really let us see the birds and sloths well.
But there are other better spots if you’re really into birding, so the next day, we went up into the foothills to an area called Esquipulas. We had hired the same guide, Berny Sanchez, for the park as we did for the next day. In Esquipulas, we saw even more amazing birds, and also enjoyed the best breakfast at a place called Equipulas Rainforest (see photo below). While we enjoyed our eggs, gallo pinto, and coffee, we watched birds at the feeders and among the flowers right by where we ate.
For more specific details on our birding adventures, you can check out my upcoming post (I’ll link it here once it’s ready). And if you don’t know what gallo pinto is, I suggest you check out my gallo pinto recipe as it’s delicious! That post will tell you all about it, too. (Hint: it’s the national dish of Costa Rica.)
You’ll see wildlife everywhere, though, so keep an eye peeled wherever you go. We saw howler monkeys running along the power lines, and spotted a sloth high up in a tree just outside El Avion, one of the more popular restaurants in Manuel Antonio.
White-water rafting is another popular adventure activity for those staying in Manuel Antonio. The nearby Naranjo and Savegre rivers are both popular rafting destinations, offering a thrilling adventure for both beginners and experienced rafters.
The Naranjo River is known for its intense rapids and steep drops, while the Savegre River offers a more scenic and calmer ride, surrounded by beautiful rainforest and wildlife. Many local tour companies offer guided rafting trips, including transportation, equipment, and experienced guides.
In fact, we saw a group of rafters about to embark on their Naranjo River journey while we were out birding near Esquipulas.
For those seeking a bit more adventure, zip-lining is a thrilling way to see the rainforest from above. There are several zip-lining tours available in Manuel Antonio, where you can soar through the treetops and take in stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
This isn’t really our thing, so I can’t offer a lot of advice on zip-lining, but lots of people love it!
The one thing we didn’t have time for that I wish we had done in Manuel Antonio, was a visit to La Iguana Chocolate.
La Iguana is a small-batch, artisanal chocolate factory that offers immersive, educational tours. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of cacao and the chocolate-making process, from bean to bar. You’ll have the chance to taste different types of chocolate, and even create your own chocolate bar to take home.
La Iguana is located in a beautiful setting surrounded by lush rainforest, making it a unique and memorable experience.
Exploring the surrounding areas
While Manuel Antonio has plenty to offer, there are also some great day-trip options nearby. The towns of Dominical and Uvita are both within a short drive and offer even more activities and natural beauty.
Dominical is a surfer’s paradise, with some of the best waves in Costa Rica. It’s also a great place to explore the local culture, with a variety of shops and restaurants serving traditional Costa Rican cuisine.
The photo above is Playa Hermosa near Dominical – not to be confused with Playa Hermosa near Jaco, or Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste. It’s a popular name for a beach, and Costa Rica uses it a lot!
Uvita is another nearby town that’s worth a visit. It’s home to Marino Ballena National Park, where visitors can snorkel or scuba dive in the beautiful coral reefs or relax on the pristine beaches. Uvita also has a variety of shops and restaurants serving local cuisine, making it a great place to experience Costa Rican culture.
Above you can see a view of the Whale’s Tail beach in Marino Ballena National Park near Uvita. We drove way up on a mountain to a resort called Vista Ballena to take this. The employees at the resort didn’t mind at all, they were so nice! I want to go back and stay there as a way to say think you, but also because the resort was beautiful.
If you’re planning a trip to Manuel Antonio, you may have some questions about the area. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions:
Where is Manuel Antonio located?
Manuel Antonio is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, about 3 hours by car from the capital city of San Jose.
Do I need to know how to speak Spanish?
While it can be helpful to know some Spanish, it’s not necessary. Many people in Manuel Antonio speak English, and you’ll find that most restaurants and tourist attractions have English-speaking staff.
The one exception we had as at Soda Sanchez (a local restaurant) in nearby Quepos. Our waitress only spoke Spanish, but I knew enough to get buy and I’m pretty sure she was used to Americans speaking Spanglish and pantomiming things.
Is Manuel Antonio safe?
Yes, Manuel Antonio is a safe destination for tourists. As with any travel destination, it’s important to take basic safety precautions, such as not leaving valuables unattended on the beach and avoiding walking alone at night.
How many days do you need in Manuel Antonio?
While you could spend weeks exploring everything Manuel Antonio has to offer, a minimum of 3-4 days is recommended to fully experience the area.
Manuel Antonio is undeniably a beautiful and exciting destination that offers a wide variety of activities for travelers. From hiking through the jungle to surfing in the Pacific, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant area of Costa Rica. The clear waters, abundant marine life, and stunning natural beauty make Manuel Antonio a must-visit destination for any traveler seeking adventure and relaxation.
With its diverse range of activities, delicious cuisine, and welcoming locals, Manuel Antonio promises to be a trip you won’t forget. So why not start planning your adventure today? You’re sure to create unforgettable memories in this beautiful destination that will last a lifetime.