Manuel Antonio, located just south of Quepos, is one of Costa Rica’s most popular attractions. Hundreds of rare species including 109 mammals and 184 birds call Manuel Antonio home. Just beyond the tropical forest trails are beautiful white sand beaches to take a dip at the end of your hike.
Manuel Antonio is a must-see in Costa Rica for families and animal lovers — if you can make it there:
Before, you go, make sure to account for drive time. Costa Rica is a small country, but very mountainous and difficult to travel around. From Jaco, the drive is just over an hour, though it is much longer for other areas. For example, if you’re visiting the Caribbean side of the country, keep in mind you’ll have a long drive.
If Manuel Antonio fits is on your Costa Rican agenda, here is everything you need to know:
Grab a guided tour:
Manuel Antonio is one of the few places I think a guide is fully worth the cost. The park’s guides provide telescopes to view animals, birds, and insects that are far away. Not only can you see them truly in the wild, but you can take incredible pictures with your smartphone (!) using the telescopes. Guides also have years of experience in the park. You’ll be amazed what they can spot out in the distance. With their trained eyes, you’ll see a ton more, and you’ll actually know what you’re looking at. I recommend booking directly with the park for the best tours — plus, that have a bunch of other activities in the area.
Start your day early:
Opt for a morning hike. It is less likely to rain in the morning and more animals are likely to be out and about. In any case, it’s probably going to rain at some point during your visit. The park closes at 4pm (and closes all day Monday) so it’s a good idea to get their early to avoid having to rush. And be sure to take more than one hiking trail so you can cover more ground and see more.
Grab a camera (or three):
Seriously, I brought (and used) three cameras in Manuel Antonio. You’ll need a smartphone to take pictures through the telescope. If you have a GoPro, that works great in the rain and at the beach. And a DSLR or mirrorless camera is perfect for your high-quality and long range shots. However, a smartphone is really the only one you need!
Bring a stroller for the little ones:
This surprised me, but I saw some strollers at the beaches in Manuel Antonio. You wouldn’t expect to be able to see sloths and howler monkeys with a stroller in hand, but it’s totally doable. Only more durable strollers will work (i.e., not an umbrella stroller), but if you’ve got the gear available, I definitely recommend it. You’ll be happy you’ve got a stroller when the kids get tired halfway through a day of hiking.
Grab lunch and/or dinner locally:
Quepos, the city just north of Manuel Antonio, is a fantastic coastal city with tons of great places to eat. We had dinner at El Avion, a bar and restaurant that has been converted from an old cargo place. You can have dinner on the coast and look out into mountains and the ocean. It is absolutely beautiful. There are plenty of other great places to check out too if you decide to stay for longer!