Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. With a gorgeous beach, lush rainforest, and tons of wildlife, it is no surprise that it’s a favorite among visitors. Although part of Manuel Antonio’s appeal is how convenient it is to activities and tourist amenities, the small community sometimes can feel a bit congested, especially during peak travel months. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path things to do just a short drive from town. Below we share seven day trips for exploring the Manuel Antonio area off the tourist trail.
1. Hiking and Hanging Bridges at Rainmaker Conservation Park
Manuel Antonio National Park right in town is no doubt a great place to see wildlife. But it can get crowded, with long lines to get in and busy trails. If you’re looking for somewhere more authentic, consider Rainmaker Conservation Park. Rainmaker is a 2,000 hectare (5,000 acre) reserve just north of Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Although it is only a half-hour away, the setting is completely different. Once you get off the main highway, you’ll travel on a quiet dirt road through quaint Tico towns without a tourist in sight.
The reserve itself has a nice trail that loops past several waterfalls and along rustic hanging bridges. Rainmaker is mostly primary rainforest so it doesn’t have as many monkeys as Manuel Antonio, but it does have lots of other interesting wildlife like glass-winged butterflies, poison dart frogs, tons of birds, and even snakes.
Cost: $20 for a self-guided tour
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: About 30 minutes
For more information on visiting Rainmaker, check out our separate post: Rainmaker Conservation Park: Unspoiled Nature Near Manuel Antonio.
2. Hiking, Waterfalls, and a Cable Car at Los Campesinos
For those wanting an even further off-the-beaten-path activity, there’s Los Campesinos. Los Campesinos is a little known rural tourism organization deep in the mountains north of Quepos. It takes about an hour from Manuel Antonio to get there. Along the way, you’ll pass through charming Tico villages in the heart of the countryside. The drive is a bit of an adventure, along bumpy and sometimes steep dirt roads, but entirely worth the effort. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a friendly local at the small ticket booth/store where you can buy your tickets for exploring this wonderful nature reserve.
Los Campesinos has a few different trails. One shorter trail goes down to a river and waterfall where you can take a dip in the refreshing water. Another goes deeper into the jungle and up to a lookout where on clear days, you can see Manuel Antonio National Park in the distance. On this trail, you have the option of flying across a shallow valley in a self-propelled cable car! The third trail, which is the highlight for most visitors, is the one right near the entrance. This one crosses an extremely long hanging bridge over a lofty waterfall. In addition to the hiking, a highlight of Los Campesinos is the traditional lunch that local women prepare over a wood-burning stove for $10.
Cost: ₡4,400 (about $8) for a self-guided tour. Local guides from the association are available for an additional fee.
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: About 1 hour
3. La Iguana Chocolate
One of the most delicious tours near Manuel Antonio is the La Iguana Chocolate tour. The Salazar Garcia family has been farming a four hectare (10 acre) plot in the mountains of Mastatal for nearly 30 years and recently started focusing on cacao. They grow some of the finest bean-to-bar organic chocolate we’ve ever tasted, flavoring it with fruits and spices that come straight from the farm. We’ve been on a few different chocolate tours before, but what we really liked about La Iguana was the intimate feel. The son of the family, Jorge, personally took us around the property, showing us each step of the chocolate-making process. We got to try our hand at grinding the raw cacao and even practiced tempering the liquidy chocolate goodness.
Cost: $20 per person
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: 2-2.5 hours. La Iguana is located in the hills on the road to Puriscal, which used to connect Quepos to San Jose before construction of the new highway. While it takes some time to get there because the road is rough, the drive is scenic through rural villages and pineapple fields.
For more information about La Iguana Chocolate, read our separate post: Making Organic Chocolate at La Iguana Chocolate.
4. Spice Farm Tour at Rainforest Spices
For a food tour closer to Quepos and Manuel Antonio, check out Rainforest Spices. This working farm 16 km (10 miles) outside Quepos grows a plethora of spices and exotic fruits. Vanilla and ceylon cinnamon are their specialties, but they also cultivate cocoa, black pepper, allspice, turmeric, and much more. The tour takes place at the plantation. For part of it, you’ll walk along a jungle trail, learning more about how the different spices are grown. Later on, you get a chance to taste them. The in-house pastry chef is known for preparing some delicious treats showcasing the spices that will have you stocking up on your own supply to bring home.
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: About 30 minutes
5. Kids Saving the Rainforest
Since 1999, Kids Saving the Rainforest has been rescuing and rehabilitated rainforest animals that are injured or orphaned in the wild. They treat over 130 animals a year and are one of the most well-respected wildlife centers in Costa Rica. KSTR made international news earlier this year after performing the world’s first ever C-section in an effort to save a mother sloth and her baby.
You can tour the Kids Saving the Rainforest wildlife sanctuary to learn more about this organization’s amazing work and of course to see some creatures close up. Some of the animals you might see on the tour are several types of monkeys, including spider monkeys, white-faced monkeys, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, marmosets, as well as sloths, kinkajous, and parrots.
Cost: Suggested Minimum Donation, Adults- $60; Children under 12- $45; Children under 3- free. All proceeds go to helping the animals.
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: About 20 minutes
6. Playa Biesanz (Biesanz Beach)
Everyone who visits Manuel Antonio goes to the main beach, Playa Espadilla, but there’s another lesser known spot that is worth a visit. Playa Biesanz is a deep cove with sparkling turquoise water and peaceful jungle surrounds. It’s a favorite beach among the locals, and on weekends, you’re likely to see families stocked up for the day with bags full of food and maybe even hammocks. The best part about Playa Biesanz is that, while many of the beaches in the Manuel Antonio area have rougher water, Biesanz has calm water that is perfect for swimming. This makes it a great place to bring children.
Cost: Free. If you have a car, there is sometime an attendant who will keep an eye on it for you for a small tip.
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: N/A, right in town. Playa Biesanz is located on the road to Punta Quepos near the Parador Resort. To access the beach, you have to walk through the forest for about five minutes. Look for a small opening in the gate on the right side of the road at the bottom of the hill.
7. Quepos Farmers Market
If you’re going to be in Manuel Antonio on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to hit up the farmers market in Quepos. This is one of the bigger ferias in the area and it offers an assortment of goodies. You can find everything from exotic fruits and veggies to artisanal cheeses, homemade pies, breads, and ice-cream, and even handcrafted souvenirs. Visiting the farmers markets will not only teach you about the multitude of produce that is grown locally in Costa Rica, but will also show you the culture. Most of the patrons at the feria are locals out in their daily routines, picking out produce for their restaurants or families.
The feria is open on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Look for it on the seawall in downtown Quepos.
Travel Time from Manuel Antonio: 5-10 minutes
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Manuel Antonio may be best known for its namesake park, beautiful beach, and abundance of tours, but there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path things to do in the area. Each of these seven activities is sure to give you a taste of authentic Costa Rica.
What has been your most memorable experience in Manuel Antonio? Let us know in the comments below.