Last Updated: May 20, 2021
Just 2.5 hours from Costa Rica’s San Jose international airport lies the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio. Thousands flock to Playa Espadilla and its surrounding sands each year, drawn by breathtaking views of the Pacific and pristine beaches. Although a wide array of tourism businesses have sprung up along the forested hills, Manuel Antonio has managed to strike a fine balance between development and nature. You might be staying at a luxury hotel with all the amenities, but that won’t stop troops of monkeys from pattering across your roof or iguanas from sunning themselves at the pool.
We’ve spent a lot of time in Manuel Antonio, both vacationing and living there. Below we share essential tips for planning your visit, including our favorite hotels, restaurants, and activities.
Manuel Antonio is about 100 miles (160 km) southeast of Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose on the central Pacific coast.
It has one, almost mountainous, main road that climbs from the small city of Quepos, flattens at the top, and then descends to the beach near the national park.
Although developed, Manuel Antonio still has plenty of thick tropical rainforest. Wildlife is plentiful all around town and is a highlight for most visitors.
When to Visit Manuel Antonio
The dry season, which runs from December to April, has the best, most consistent, weather and is the busiest time of year. During popular vacation weeks, especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the area can get congested. If you visit then, expect the beach to be near capacity, with tourists escaping the chill of winter and local families gathering to celebrate the holidays.
To avoid the crowds, plan your visit during the hedge months of May, June, or July. Although you might get an afternoon downpour, the rainy season doesn’t get too intense until later in the year. As a reward for putting up with some wet weather, you’ll enjoy lower hotel rates, more towel space at the beach, and the rainforest at its lushest.
For more information about visiting during rainy season, check out our post, Rainy Season in Costa Rica: How Wet Is It?
If you’re deciding whether to rent a car, know that everything in Manuel Antonio is located along one main road so it is possible to visit without one. A local bus runs frequently up and down the hill, and you will also find plenty of taxis.
Keep in mind, though, that the road is very steep in parts and walking to get around is not always easy due to a lack of sidewalks.
If you are interested in exploring the area, a car is a great option. The drive time from San Jose is only about 2.5 hours. In recent years, Costa Rica has improved the route from the capital to the central Pacific, so you’ll enjoy smooth travel along paved highways.
If you decide to rent a car, be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount to save some money.
Shuttles are another option if you’re not comfortable driving. Shared shuttles hold up to 15 passengers. These are very affordable at around $55 per person from San Jose (SJO) Airport. They run on a set schedule and do take longer since they stop at other towns and hotels for pick-ups and drop-offs.
Private shuttles are a faster option. These pick up at a custom time, are for only your group, and include some time to make stops along the way to see an attraction or get a bite to eat.
A private shuttle from SJO Airport to Manuel Antonio is around $190. We work with a reliable local company if you would like help making the arrangements. Visit our Private Shuttle Van Transfers page for more information or to make a booking.
The public bus is a great way to save some cash and will let you mingle with the locals.
It’s about a 3.5 hour trip from San Jose and costs about $8. Be sure to take a direct bus (directo), which makes fewer stops than collective (collectivo) buses. The bus will drop you off at the main station in Quepos where you can connect to the local Manuel Antonio–Quepos bus for about $0.60.
Activities in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is a convenient jumping-off point for almost any tour you would want to do in Costa Rica. Zip lining, hiking, whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, ATV tours, mangrove boat or kayak tours, jet skiing, sportfishing, sunset cruises, birding, and even parasailing tours are available.
Below are some of the can’t-miss activities as well as lesser known excursions that might not be in your guidebook.
Manuel Antonio National Park
You can’t come to Manuel Antonio without experiencing its famous national park.
With sloths, monkeys, and exotic birds along even the main trail, you won’t have to look hard to find wildlife. Many trails in the park have been improved recently, so you will find well-maintained paths that lead to spectacular viewpoints, secluded beaches, and small waterfalls.
For more information about visiting the park, including Covid protocols and how to buy tickets online, read our separate post.
Guided vs. Unguided Tour
Although wildlife is fairly easy to see along the trails at the national park, we still highly recommend hiring a naturalist guide. A good guide will teach you about the birds and animals you encounter and be able to spot more than you with their trained eye.
There are guides lined up outside the park every morning, but you have to be careful because not all of them are trained naturalists. We work with a company with excellent, certified guides and would be happy to set you up with them. Contact us through our Tour Booking Service page or simply email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincosta(dot)com for more information or to reserve a guide.
A fun way to take in Manuel Antonio’s scenic coastline is on a catamaran cruise. From the deck of this big 100-foot boat, you’ll follow the coast to enjoy views of the lush green rainforest. The boat visits the marine portion of Manuel Antonio National Park and then the secluded Playa Biesanz for some snorkeling in the jade green water.
The catamaran is equipped with jacuzzis, a slide for jumping in the water, and trampolines for sunning. Drinks are plentiful and it’s a party setting, although you will see many families on board too.
For more information, including how to book a cruise, read our separate post.
Kids Saving the Rainforest
Kids Saving the Rainforest is doing some amazing work to help ensure that Manuel Antonio’s development doesn’t harm local wildlife. They rescue and treat injured or orphaned animals like monkeys and sloths and have made great strides towards increasing the population of the endangered squirrel monkey. You will probably see some of their monkey bridges hanging over the road on your visit.
Tours of their wildlife sanctuary and volunteering programs are available. This is an especially good activity for children because they will be able to see wildlife close up.
Quepos is known worldwide for its spectacular sportfishing so if catching a trophy fish is on your bucket list, this is the place to do it.
Sailfish, Marlin, Yellow Fin Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and Wahoo are often hooked offshore. When the fishing is better inshore, you can find Roosterfish, Snook, Snapper, Mackerel, and Jacks.
Prices start at around $550 for a full-day inshore or $850 for a full-day offshore (up to 5 people). This is for a boat for only your group. In Costa Rica, shared charters are not common.
Quepos Feria (Farmers Market)
Take a stroll through the feria near the seawall in Quepos to see local farmers hocking mammon chino, tamarindo, guanabana, and other exotic fruits and veggies. Cheese heads should be sure to make a stop at the artisanal cheese stand—their Camembert is amazing!
The market is open Fridays in the afternoon starting at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday mornings until about 12:30 p.m.
Looking for more ideas for things to do? Check out our posts:
7 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio Activities Guide
Restaurants in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is one of the best places for dining in all of Costa Rica. It has dozens of restaurants with everything from authentic Italian, sushi, and falafel to American fare and fresh off-the-boat seafood.
Because these restaurants cater to tourists, prices are on the high end for Costa Rica. Dinner entrees range from $10 to up to $30. But like most areas of the country, there are options for the budget traveler as well.
We have been lucky to try many of the restaurants in Manuel Antonio because we live nearby. Here are a few that we find ourselves always going back to. For a complete list, read our post Manuel Antonio Restaurant Guide.
Our favorite restaurant in Manuel Antonio is Emilio’s Cafe. Emilio’s strikes the perfect balance of having nice ambiance, but in a comfortable environment. Their ocean view is outstanding from way atop the hill. (Update, May 2021: Emilio’s is currently doing contruction to get an even better view. In the meantime, the ocean view is somewhat obstructed.)
The food is great too and they have things that you won’t find anywhere else like homemade burrata cheese. Some of our favorite dishes are the octopus with garlic and potatoes and we love their sandwiches. If you like dessert, their homemade cheesecakes and mousse pies are outstanding.
Emilio’s recently opened another location in the Quepos Marina.
Most people don’t come to Costa Rica for Middle Eastern cuisine, but Falafel Bar is worth a stop. The falafel and hummus are some of the best we have ever had. Plates and sandwiches are served with delicious hand-cut fries and you can balance your meal with some super fresh veggies from the salad bar. They also make yummy fruit smoothies; one of our favorites is the mango-ginger.
El Patio de Cafe Milagro
For the freshest cup of coffee in town, head to local roaster Cafe Milagro. Enjoy your morning cup of joe on their nicely landscaped outdoor patio or try one of their creative dishes.
They offer three meals a day and incorporate a lot of local ingredients. For breakfast, we recommend the tasty banana pancakes or mango crepes. And for dinner, their brined meats are delicious.
Buena Vista Beach Club Bar & Grill
This spot is one of the only restaurants right on the beach in Manuel Antonio.
Buena Vista Beach Club Bar & Grill is run by friendly locals who serve up casual cuisine that incorporates local ingredients. You’ll find fresh seafood, healthy salads, and an assortment of sandwiches on the menu.
The food is good but the best thing about eating here is the scenery. Tables are set up right on the sand with palm trees and the ocean just steps away. Located at Buena Vista Beach Villas.
Marina Pez Vela
With the addition of the Quepos Marina, the area now has several more amazing restaurants to choose from. For a casual spot right on the water, there’s the Fisherman-themed Runaway Grill. For a fine dining experience, Gabriella’s is our go to. And be sure to finish your meal with a sweet treat from Gelateria Amorosi – we can never resist!
Lodging in Manuel Antonio
Like restaurants, lodging in Manuel Antonio is numerous and ranging. Over 50 hotels line the main road between Quepos and the national park, with more vacation rentals on side roads and in the hills. You can find everything from luxury bungalows and condo-style resorts to kid-friendly eco-lodges. Although prices tend towards mid-to-high end, there are plenty of budget-friendly choices as well.
Need more ideas? For a full list of hotels in Manuel Antonio, read our post, Manuel Antonio Hotel Guide.
Gaia Hotel and Nature Resort
For a luxury escape, head to the elegant Gaia Hotel and Nature Resort. The Gaia is a boutique hotel set in a nature reserve with beautiful jungle and ocean views. The property is very intimate, making it perfect for couples and honeymooners. Customer is king here, and a personal concierge is available to tend to your every need. $225-1,300/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
The Parador Resort is one of the most popular hotels in Manuel Antonio. It is a larger property located on a quiet point, surrounded by ocean and lush jungle filled with wildlife.
The resort has three pools, including one for families, nature trails on-site, a few restaurants, a spa, and easy access to the secluded Biesanz Beach. Because of its larger size, it can accommodate families and groups. $200-700. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel La Mariposa
La Mariposa is a mid-size hotel in a great location. It is perfectly situated at the highest point in town so has the best ocean views. Several restaurants and a market are within walking distance. The beach is a short drive away, but the property has a very nice pool on-site. $150-350. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Plaza Yara
An excellent value for the area is Hotel Plaza Yara. Plaza Yara is located right off the main road, closer to Quepos. The hotel is modern and tastefully decorated with local artwork throughout. Spacious, recently renovated rooms have kitchenettes for when you want to stay in. Has a couple of pools surrounded by forest. $120-200/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Costa Verde
Another good mid-range choice is Hotel Costa Verde. Costa Verde consists of a mix of traditional-style hotel rooms, freestanding bungalows, and even a couple of fuselage suites made from old airplanes.
It sits high up on a bluff giving some of the rooms sweeping ocean views and great sunsets. This hotel is especially good for families because wildlife like monkeys are always roaming the grounds. $100-400/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Millenium Manuel Antonio
This small hotel has private rooms right in the heart of Manuel Antonio. Millenium is located just outside the main gate for the national park and walking distance to restaurants, small grocery stores, and the main beach. Rooms are nicely maintained and have A/C. $100-165/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Manuel Antonio Hotel
Manuel Antonio Hotel is a simple, no-frills hotel in an excellent location. It’s at the end of the road right across the street from the beach and just a short walk to the national park. We stayed here years ago on one of our first trips to Costa Rica and loved the ocean view. The rooms are basic, but clean, and you can’t beat the location. Private room with A/C, $70-120/night. Check Rates and Availability Here.
There is much more to say about Manuel Antonio than we could possibly fit in this post. With all the opportunities for adventure and good food, one could easily spend a week or more exploring and enjoying the area. When we used to vacation in Costa Rica, we always made sure that Manuel Antonio was one of our stops. Now that we live here, we visit whenever we can.
Last Updated: May 20, 2021
Have you been to Manuel Antonio? What was the most memorable part of your visit? Leave a comment below.
Check out these posts for more information to help plan your visit to Costa Rica:
Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide: Trying to figure out which destinations pair together? This guide gives an overview of what the different towns are like so that you can plan quickly.
Best Airport Hotels Near SJO: Where to stay to get the most out of your overnight near SJO Airport.
Costa Rica Rental Car Discount: Save 10% on a car and get free extras with this special discount for our readers.
Family Travel: If you’re visiting with kids, be sure to check out our Family Travel articles for more ideas for places to visit and things to do.
I was in Costa Rica this past May and was lucky enough to visit the Carribean and the Pacific towns of this beautiful country. Manuel Antonio was by far my favorite. I can’t pinpoint one reason but it was the atmosphere, the people and the activities. I stayed at National Backpackers and was pleasantly surprised how clean and accommodating the hostel was. You don’t need a 5-star hotel to enjoy this lovely town. In fact I couldn’t get out and started with my day early enough. The locals are very inviting and I had a blast with our tour guide, Henry, at the National Park. The beach was filled with activities and sitting at one of the open restaurants people watching was relaxing. They take pride in their country and don’t take for granted its natural beauty. It’s something one must experience to understand.
Karin, thanks for reading our post. Glad you had such a great experience in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio is an amazing place, and you’re right that you don’t need to stay in a 5-star hotel to enjoy it. When we visited as tourists, we always stayed somewhere cheap and had a great time. With all of the things to do, we never stayed at the hotel much anyway so it wasn’t important.
Thanks for sharing your personal experience. What great information for other people planning their trip. – Jenn & Matt
Hi – came across this site, a lot of good info here. My husband and I are planning on visiting CR in December. We will fly into San Jose and then drive to Manuel Antonio where we have exchanged our time share for a week there. Our time share runs Saturday- Saturday but we actually were thinking of flying in on Wednesday to extend our trip and visit another town or two. Any suggestions of a location on the way where we might stay I’m not really sure what towns we pass through on the way.
Hi Tabitha, The best resource for finding another good town to stop at along the way is our interactive Map. You can use to search by location. There are a few different options on the way from San Jose to Manuel Antonio. Lots of other beach towns, but if you want to see what the mountains are like, Atenas would be a good choice.
My daughter is visiting manual Antonio mid October of this year. To her surprise she will be getting engaged. Are there any waterfalls in the area for that photo moment, that does not require a hike?
Hi Jolly, There aren’t really any waterfalls right in the Manuel Antonio area. The best option would probably be one of the smaller waterfalls to the south, like the Uvita Waterfall. This is only about a 2 min. walk down but keep in mind that it will be rainy season so there might be too much water flowing to make it all the way down to the falls. Maybe taking her to a secluded beach would be better? Arenas del Mar Hotel has a restaurant right on the sand that’s really nice. It’s on a beach that only hotel guests can access. Or the restaurant at Buena Vista Beach Villas can set up a romantic private dinner on the sand. The guys that work there are fantastic. Hope that helps!
Hi, My name is Paige.
I loved reading your blog post about costa rica. It was so helpful! I also loved reading how you guys did it and made the move and house sat. My husband and I are visiting again for the third time and have dreamed about moving to costa rica someday. We are only 22 so we probably need to increase our savings a bit more ;). As we have only visited northwest costa rica, we want to go down south. I really want to visit the volcano and then head to drake bay. I know manual antonio is very pretty but I disklike crowds and we will be going in january. I wanted your opinion for the third location. I was thinking around dominical or uvita but do not know much about them. Any advice would be awesome.
Hi Paige, Thanks for the kind words. It’s definitely doable to move here so keep dreaming. For a third destination to go with La Fortuna and Drake Bay, Dominical/Uvita would be a good option. It would make for a nice loop and has a lot of rainforest and wildlife like Manuel Antonio but is a lot less busy. You don’t feel the crowds because it’s more spread out and much of the lodging is located in the hills more privately. We have an article about this area here. Hope you both have a wonderful return trip!
Would it be unreasonable as far as driving to fly into San Jose, head to La Fortuna, then Tamarindo then Manuel Antonio? I was hoping to go straight from the Manuel Antonio to the airport but I don’t know if this makes sense as a route. Thanks for your help! We are staying for 11 days.
Hi Nicole, That is probably the best route for those destinations. The drive from Tamarindo to Manuel Antonio will be longer but doable. There are some good stops along the way too to break up the drive.
Great write up that is very helpful. Every place mentioned is definitely worth stopping at, especially Sol Frozen Yogurt in Manuel Antonio.
Sol is awesome. I’m sure we’ll make a stop there next time we’re in MA. Thanks for reading!
We are visiting Manuel Antonio next March and these tips are so helpful! Very excited. Question though – would you happen to know how the roads are from Manuel Antonio to Arenal area. I am concerned about San Jose to Manuel Antonio, 5 days here followed by 4 nights in Arenal area. But I have extreme motion sickness. Are the roads that bad for these routes? Are there paved highways?
Hi Puja, glad you are enjoying our blog. Good question on the roads, I have motion sickness too and can relate. The road from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is a breeze- it’s a well paved highway that isn’t too windy or hilly. But the road to Arenal is another story- La Fortuna is in the mountains so the trip up is hilly and windy in parts. Are you renting a car? That might be your best bet so that you can take it slow. The shuttles tend to cruise and I know I always get more motion sick in them than in a car. Hope that helps! Have a great trip. – Jenn
Thanks for the write-up on Manuel Antonio. We are blessed to be located right in the middle of most of these wonderful restaurants. Please visit us next time you are in town! La Luna’s happy hour with tapas was always one of our favorites, but unfortunately they are not doing it anymore 🙁 Thankfully there are lots of places to see the sunset and have a drink or 2. Pura vida!
We’ll be sure to come for a visit next time we’re in town. That’s too bad that La Luna isn’t doing the happy hour anymore. We were just there for it a few months ago and it was awesome. Thanks for the info, though, we’ll be sure to update the blog so no one is disappointed. Pura vida!
You share exceptional article and I really like it. Manuel Antonio is a beautiful place to visit. There are some phenomenal views that pull tourist. I am planning to visit Manuel Antonio this year with my wife. Your suggestions are useful for me and surely I will follow them.
Thank you for great information. I am excited to visit in two weeks. I’m traveling from Arenal to Manual Antonio and then back to San Jose. I hope you can tell me which direct bus I could take and whether I’d be better off reserving a stop on an interbus shuttle? Thanks!
Hi Rochelle, for the Arenal to Manuel Antonio leg, you’re better off taking Interbus because there isn’t a direct bus from La Fortuna so you’d have to go to San Jose first, making for a very long day. But for getting back to San Jose from Manuel Antonio, it’s easy to take the public bus. There are direct buses from Quepos and Manuel Antonio several times a day. The best thing to do is to buy your ticket at the bus station in Quepos a few days in advance to guarantee your seat. Make sure it’s for a “directo.” The trip is about 3.5 hours. Hope that helps. Have a great trip!
Thanks very interesting blog!
You’re welcome, Jacquelyn!
One of my fav spots on earth ( Until I visit the Osa next spring) Lots of good accommodation on Airbandb in the area..Also do not miss the ceviche at a wee stand beside the bus station in downtown Quepos.
I love your blog, I feel like it keeps me in touch until I can finally move!!
If you like Manuel Antonio, you’ll love the Osa, Rae-Ann. We’re going to Drake Bay again in Feb. and are psyched. Thanks for the tip on the ceviche too, we’ll have to check it out!
Hello, Jen and Matt,
My family & I have been to Arenal/La Fortuna, Nosara & Guanacaste areas a few years ago. We loved it! Now we are interested in exploring Manuel Antonio’s, then the OSA Peninsula w/ a couple nights in Panama….or should we keep to just the OSA Peninsula and not add Manuel Antonio area?
Hi Colleen, Manuel Antonio is great and different from the Osa, since there is so much more to do and more amenities. We think it would be nice to see it too.
I always love your travel guides. They’re so comprehensive with a range of things to do, places to stay at all prices points and great detailed logistical info. Thanks again!
Thanks Kelly. We try to give all the details and some insider info too…stuff that the guidebooks don’t always have. Thanks for reading!
Thank you for your wonderful blog! It is helping me plan my trip coming up January 17…can’t wait! First time in Costa Rica. We are planning on staying one night in San Jose, 5 nights in MA, and one last night again in San Jose- since this is where we fly in and out of.
Two questions… Do you recommend having a car during our stay in MA? or is it somewhere that we could get by without a car? We are staying at El Parador.
Second question, we are traveling with out 6 year old daughter… is there stuff to do with kids in San Jose? we are petty easy going- a park will do, but if there are things we shouldn’t miss that would be cool for her, would love to know.
Thanks and keep up the great work!
Hi Marisa, thanks for reading! The Parador is out on a beautiful point but is quite far from the local bus route. They do have a free shuttle service that will bring you to the National Park or beaches though. Once you are on the main road you can easily get around by bus or taxi. If you are planning to explore other areas that are further outside of Manuel Antonio or Quepos, a car would definitely be nice but you could just rent one for a day or two from one of the companies in Quepos. We get a nice discount for our readers through Adobe, who has an office in Quepos. There is more information on our page here.
For San Jose if you are staying near the airport, you will probably be closer to Alajuela which has several nice parks and once especially for kids called Calián Vargas Park (on google maps) that has a nice jungle gym type structure to climb and swing on. You could also check out The Toucan Rescue Ranch which is a wildlife center nearby for birds like Toucans and Owls as well as animals like sloths and monkeys. They do really personalized tours so you really get to know the animals and their story.
My friend and I are planning on going to Manuel Antonio from Feb 15 -19th. We are solely staying in Manuel Antonio, arriving from SJO. We’re still trying to figure out how to get to Manuel Antonio from the airport. Do you guys have any recommendations for our 5 days and 4 nights stay in Manuel Antonio?
Thank you so much!
Hi Caroline, you might want to check prices on small plane flights from SJO to Quepos (the town next door to Manuel Antonio). A lot of times you can get a flight for around $60 each way through Nature Air or Sansa, which isn’t much more than the cost of a shared shuttle. This is definitely the fastest option and would let you really take advantage of your five days. Otherwise, you could take a cab, which would run around $150-200, or rent a car. If you rented a car, you could get away with a regular sedan to save money because the roads aren’t bad around Manuel Antonio. If you need a car, check out our discount we get through Adobe Rent a Car: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/. Hope that helps! Let us know if you have any more questions.
Super Helpful! We are visiting the first week of May with my parents and two young children, and staying at Arenas Del Mar. We are also spending one evening at Fincas Rosa Blanca coffee plantation. Some good tips I haven’t seen anywhere else. I definitely want to check out kids saving the rainforest! Thanks!
Glad you found the post useful Annie. You will love your time at Arenas del Mar, we were just there recently meeting up with some friends and the grounds are beautiful. Kids Saving the Rainforest will be a really nice activity for the family too. They recently added a new part just for sloths, called the Sloth Institute, which is supposed to be great! Enjoy your time in Manuel Antonio and in the mountains at Fincas Rosa Blanca. 🙂
I just visited the park for the 5th time in the last 6 years. It is a nice place, no doubt, but this time around I was disappointed. It has become crowded despite the so called limits on daily capacity. I read a while back that the park capacity was 600 at one time, now I heard it was 900, but the day we visited, earlier this month, I was told by officials that 1,700 hundred people were in the park. So, obviously they over sell it to make a profit which detracts from the experience. One of the beaches was closed, so the next one was quite busy. The entrance to the park has changed, so, private busses leave you far away and visitors (in my case) had to walk through an alley and a flimsy bridge over some smelly stream. The area close to the entrance is filled with peddlers now and is not a pleasant first impression at all.
Hi M Taylor, Manuel Antonio National Park is no doubt one of Costa Rica’s busiest parks and it can get crowded. Park officials are supposed to only let 600 people in at a time, and we know from a local guide that they sell tickets every half-hour. Whether they are doing this correctly, we can only hope. The best time to go is during the week (not on weekends when there are lots of locals coming to go to the beach) and early in the morning. We have more tips and info in this post. We see your point about the peddlers, but we all have to remember that everyone is just trying to make a living and tourism is Costa Rica’s #1 industry. If you’re ever back in the area and want to see a much less crowded nature reserve, definitely check out Rainmaker near Parrita. We finally made it there recently and really love it.
Hi, guys! Just wanted to drop you a note & say “hola!” It was great meeting you both – and now that we’re back and we’re reflecting on our trip, we have to say that your latest guide book really helped out – it took the stress off of planning and we had a good idea what to expect. I’ve been recommending it to everyone that asks me how to plan a CR trip. Ha, ha. Our time there was awesome – We’re surrounded by snow right now… We’re definitely missing the beach 😉
G. & Dan
Thanks so much for the note, G. It was really great meeting you guys, glad it worked out. So happy to hear that the book made your life easier. That was the plan! Hope to see you again sometime. Let us know if you’re ever back in CR.
Thank you for the detailed information in your blog. Our family will be in Manuel Antonio the first week in May for a wedding week. The toughest thing now are planning activities to squeeze into this amazing week.
That always seems to be the toughest part, Jada. So much to see, so little time. Enjoy the wedding and your time in Manuel Antonio!
I’m planning my first International trip and making Costa Rica my first country happening at the end of this week! Not too much is planned (we want to plan on the fly), but Manuel Antonio is our first stop. Unfortunately the forecast says stormy and cloudy, but I’m sure it will still be beautiful 🙂
Don’t worry too much about the forecast, Derek. It is seldom reliable here! We live about an hour from Manuel Antonio and have been having sunny days almost nonstop lately with just a little rain every once in a while. Intense rain shouldn’t start up until May/June. Enjoy your visit!
We are planning a trip for 10 nights. We are a family of 4 with 2 girls ages 6 and 9. I know we’d like to go to MA for 4 nights but having a hard time deciding what other areas to visit. Any recommendations? Thanks!
La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area is a nice place to pair with Manuel Antonio for a family vacation. That way, you get to see the beach (in MA) and the mountains/volcano (in La Fortuna). There are tons of things to do with younger kids around Fortuna too- night tours to see frogs, safe hanging bridges, wildlife centers, etc. If you need more guidance, we have a chapter in our itineraries book for Family Travel that tells you the best activities in each location with more detailed info. Here’s the link to it on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1uv0Ctp. Best of lucky planning and have a great trip!
Thanks for your informative post. We are traveling to Costa Rica for the first time in two weeks and staying at Gaia Hotel. Really excited reading your post. We are traveling with our 6 month old son. Any suggestions on traveling with an infant?
Tala from the Hungry Nomad Blog
Hi Tala, we are far from experts on traveling with kids but one thing we usually recommend is bringing your own car seat if you’re particular about make/model. They have them here (they’re required by law) but a lot of times it just depends on what the shuttle company/car rental company has on hand. The only other thing I can think of is that railings are used a lot less here so if your baby is moving around a lot, you might need to do some baby proofing.
You’re going to love the food at the Gaia- enjoy!
Thank you for this post! My husband and I just planned a super last minute Costa Rica trip, and I’m trying to become as informed as possible. I think I’m good on transport and lodging (we decided to just do Arenal and Manuel Antonio, and are renting a car), but this really helped with dining (and all important drinking) options during the Manuel Antonio part of our trip. So thank you! I will be checking out the rest of your site starting right now.
Sometimes last minute trips are the best- less time to worry! Glad to help. Hope you have a fantastic trip.
We will be in CR next week. Flying into SJO and taking a private shuttle to Tulemar in Manuel Antonio. We have kids that range from ages 8-10. Can you tell me what you think the top 3 things to do may be? Thanks
Kids that age usually love zip-lining and Manuel Antonio is a great place to do it so that would be one of our picks. There’s also Kids Saving the Rainforest/Sloth Institute, which is a great wildlife rehabilitation center where you can see wildlife close up, and of course, Manuel Antonio National Park. Those are some can’t miss things- if you want more ideas, check out our post, 7 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio. Have a great trip!
Thank you so much for your informative post! I am thinking about getting married next May in Manuel Antonio. Do you have any recommendations for ceremony spots on the beach/reception locations? Thanks in advance!
Congrats on your engagement! Manuel Antonio is a wonderful spot for a wedding. A couple of hotels you might want to look at are the Parador and Arenas del Mar– they’re both located on a point so have gorgeous ocean views and do beach weddings too. You could also stay anywhere in Manuel Antonio and just have the ceremony on the beach, then the reception at a restaurant afterwards. If you want more help, we could work with some of our contacts in the area and get more concrete info. Just let us know!
Such great information! We are leaving next week for our trip to MA and I was wondering if you could give me any inside weather information. Being the green season we are prepared for rain, but of course the internet says rain all day. Are there still periods of sunshine in early to mid September?
Hi Laura, First off, you should read the post we just did on the weather in Costa Rica and how the forecast is not reliable. Here’s a link. The short answer to your question is not to worry too much- it shouldn’t rain all day, every day. Generally this time of year, we have mostly sunny/dry mornings and then rain in the afternoon and evening. We live very close to Manuel Antonio and it hasn’t been a bad rainy season so far so hopefully that keeps up. September is a rainy time of year here though so just be sure to come prepared with rain gear, etc. Have a great trip!
Hi, do you know if there is a bus from MA to Tamarindo?
Hi Alesha, We’ve done that trip before but in reverse. Here’s the best website to figure out the details: http://www.thebusschedule.com/cr/index.php. It’s a little confusing because you have to change buses in a random small town (Esparaza) so make sure to confirm with the driver every time you get on a bus that you’re in the right place. It’s a very long trip and was pretty expensive (around $20pp total) so you might want to think about a shuttle. It’s a little more expensive but might be worth it.
I am planning to spend December 13-17 in Manuel Antonio. I’ll be flying in from SJO to XQP, and I am staying at Hostel Plinio while in MA. I was wondering if you have any recommendations of how to get from the airport to my hostel? I am on a budget, and prefer not to rent a car.
Do you think this is a reasonable amount of time to spend in MA? Any recommendations for day trips elsewhere from MA? (I am in Costa Rica for 12 days, and am planning to spend a few days in San Jose, Fortuna, and Monteverde as well).
Hi Ania, XQP is Quepos airport and Quepos is the town right next to Manuel Antonio. You can easily take the bus from the airport to the bus station in Quepos for just a dollar or two and then take another short bus ride to Manuel Antonio. There’s a bus stop right outside the airport near the hospital- just ask someone at the airport where to stand. It’s only a 15 min. ride to the bus station in Quepos from there and then you can grab the bus to Manuel Antonio and ask the driver to let you off at Hostel Plinio. If you didn’t want to wait for the bus, you could always take a cab to the Quepos bus station for around $10-15. Four days is a reasonable amount of time to spend in MA. In addition to the activities we listed in this post, you can take a look at our post, 7 Off the Beaten Path Things to Do Near Manuel Antonio for more ideas. Have a great trip!
i am traveling with a group of ten including children ages 5-11. i need to get from san jose to hotel parador , what mode of transportation would you recommend and how much would it cost. on an off note, are there grocery stores near hotel parador that is accessible by foot or would i need some mode of transportation? thank you.
Hi Lee, For a group of that size, we would recommend a private shuttle. We know of a reputable company that has a 16 passenger van that would work (most of the vans only hold 9 passengers). They usually have very reasonable prices. If you like, we can get you a quote. Just send us an email at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)com. The Parador is located at the end of a road on a point. There are no grocery stores within walking distance but there is a small one about a five minute drive away and a larger one just a few more minutes away on the main road in town (Super Josef). I believe that the Parador offers a free shuttle to get around town and the beach, otherwise a cab wouldn’t be very expensive.
I just wanted to thank you for the info, I am an English teacher here in Costa Rica and I am going to have my sts read your blog. Thanks for the detailed info and for helping us, teachers, use real materials for our classes.
Hi your blog is extremely helpful in planning and preparing for our trip to Costa Rica . We are going to MA then la fortunate. I’m really concerned about the mosquitoes because they love me and I get bit easily. Are there a lot of them in these 2 areas?
Hi Anne, There are some mosquitoes in Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna but not a ton usually. You’ll see them most often when hiking in the rainforest or visiting mangroves, marshes, or rivers. If you’re traveling soon, it will still be the dry season for a few more weeks, when there are the fewest. Jenn gets bit a lot but finds that as long as she takes some precautions with repellent and clothing, she is fine. Take a look at our new post, Costa Rica and Mosquitoes: Tips to Prevent Zika, Dengue, and More, for more info.
Hi Jenn and Matt,
We’re trying to find a beautiful spot in nature to exchange our vows and have some beautiful pictures taken (it’ll be just us two and a photographer). Would you have some places to recommend in Manuel Antonio? Perhaps certain places for hikes (mind you I will be wearing a dress) or nooks on the beach? We’re not looking to spend a whole lot of money. Any and all recommendations would be extremely helpful!
Hi Sara, Manuel Antonio will make a beautiful backdrop for your wedding! Your best bet is probably the far northern end of the main beach. This part of the beach is less busy and has a picturesque point that juts out and some islands just offshore that make for awesome photos. We’ve also seen weddings set up on the very southern end in front of the rocks, where the waves often create a pretty spray of water. We had some Tico friends get wedding photos done at the park in Quepos near the marina too.
Thank you so much for taking the time to produce such an effective, informative blog! My girlfriend and I are doing a short notice trip to Manuel Antonio from May 23 to June 1st. From what I have read thus far, weather might be hit and miss this time of year, however one factor I have just read about is the El Nino effecting the region. Any indications that it will still be fairly dry as the El Nino slowly starts to dissipate or will it be rainy as usual for this time of year? Thank you!
Hi Jess, of course it is hard to tell but so far this year it has been much drier than normal in the Manuel Antonio area. Either way it most likely will be sunny during the day and you could get some showers or storms in the evening. Get your activities in during the morning/early afternoon and you should be all set. Enjoy!
Hi, we will be going to Manuel Antonio May 6-9. Is the Park closed on Mondays at that time?
Hi Eric and Susan, we just checked and right now the park is still open on Mondays. They keep changing it but yes it should be open for your visit.
We are flying from the UK to San Jose arriving on the 17th December (late) I have booked a hotel and still trying to decide how to get from the Hilton (Airport) Hotel to San Manuel (El Faro Beach Hotel) on the 18th December. I have seen some trips online which you can do in between SJ and MA – would this be worth doing?
Also I will be celebrating a big birthday on the 20th December as this is a busy month would you advise to book dining/ trips in advance or will we be okay to book when we arrive? One last thing we will be leaving on Xmas day to head back to SJ (very early flight on the 26th) will travel still be possible on xmas day?
Any information would be really appreciated.
Hi Holly, Not sure what you’ve seen for trips (there are many) so it’s hard to say if it would be worth the time. If you’re spending all your time in MA at the beach, though, it would be a good way to get in some time in the mountains, to see a volcano, etc. Poas Volcano isn’t too far from San Jose so that is an option.
Booking anything you know you want to do and restaurants in advance is a good idea because as you said, that will be peak travel season. Don’t worry about traveling on Xmas Day. Except for banks and government offices the country is very much open. Planes, shuttles and taxis will be running as normal.
Only been there 2x however I would fly!! out the next day to MA~and not rent a car…the insurance is thru the roof and it’s from everyone we have heard this from….plus… It’s a 20 min flight from (SJO) and then you can grab cabs the entire time you are in MA….We ate at a very nice restaurant…Gabriella’s. The food was amazing and is located in Quespos Marina…we had steak/scallops etc…another thing which was so fun was we had gone fishing (caught snook) and the Parador where we stayed cooked up the fish for us to eat which was amazing to say the least…have fun!! It’s beautiful…
We just returned from our 2nd trip to Manuel Antonio and loved it~We stayed at the Parador for the 2nd time and think its beautiful. They have expanded the main pool..and you cannot beat how kind the staff is…We didn’t rent a car this time and drive from San Jose..b/c insurance ran us about $700 last year..ridiculous to say the least..so we flew Nature Air which was beautiful and 20 min! We ate out quite a bit this time..and went to the Quespos Marina 2x/they have a free taxi which will pick you up and drop you off…great food/very Americanized. We also had pizza/burgers at The Wagon (super local/relaxed & good) The mangrove tours are amazing/tarzan ziplining/night tour at Parador/surfing ($40) and the list goes on…Where did you all decide to buy? We were considering renting for a good amount of time next summer and wondering what your thoughts were.
Hi Carol, Glad you had a nice visit to Manuel Antonio! The Parador is a wonderful hotel. We actually have a Tico friend who works there so that’s great to hear about the staff. Flying is a fun option and definitely saves a lot if time. Next time see if our rental car discount through Adobe will be less expensive on a car. $700 seems very high for the insurance unless you were here for an extended period of time. We love the restaurants at the marina too, haven’t tried Gabriella’s yet but Z has awesome fresh seafood and Runaway Grill is a nice chill spot with a great view. The new gelato place is also delicious!
We have not bought a place yet. We house sat for people for the first 1.5 yrs we were here all around the country and have been care taking at a property near Dominical since then. It’s actually not too far from MA- you should definitely check it out next time you come! So much rainforest, pretty mountains, and lots of secluded beaches.
Love your CR write-ups! I will be staying at the Altagracia near San Isidro for 5 days and plan to rent a car and visit Manual Antonio for 1 day (however the hotel offers a car service for the day for $400, which sounds like it may be cheaper and easier than renting a car! any thoughts on that?). I am trying to make best use of my time in Manuel Antonio and would love your opinion. Honestly my main goals would include relaxing on a great beach with a drink, lunch on the beach, and hopefully seeing some monkeys and/or sloths. How would you plan out your day? Any recommendations for your favorite beach and order of operations? Thank you!
Hi Jenna, $400 for a private driver seems high but it might be your best option. There aren’t many options for rental car companies in San Isidro. There is one company called Rioja but we don’t know much about it. You could always contact them to get a feel for them and find out more. The drive to Manuel Antonio isn’t too bad, but the part from San Isidro to the coast is mountainous and curvy, though paved. Might be worth the money not to have to deal with arranging the rental since Altagracia is a little far out and just have someone else do the driving.
As for how to spend your day, if it were me I would probably try and get to the national park early to see some wildlife, visit the beaches in the park for a bit, then grab lunch on the main beach (we like Marlin for good typical Costa Rican food). Have your hotel recommend a good guide for the park to see the most. Have a great time!
Love love love all your info on CR!!! My question to you is… If I have 8 nights/9days there, and I am planning on staying in Guanacaste ( at an all inclusive), and we wanted to see Arenal and Manual Antonio, would we be able to see both in that time? We are planning on getting a rental car while there. My main points were to see the volcano, Rio Celeste waterfall, the hot springs, gorgeous beaches, and maybe an adventure ziplining/white water rafting! Will we be able to pack that in to that amount of time??? Any advice would be super helpful! First timers here!!!
Hi Whitney, Sometimes the resorts in Guanacaste make it seem like they are really close to other places in the country like Arenal and Manuel Antonio, but they are actually several hours or more away. You can technically visit Arenal/Rio Celeste on a day trip, but you would be in the car most of the time and would only be able to do an activity or two. We would recommend spending a couple of nights in each place if you can to enjoy the experience more. As long as you order your destinations right depending on where you’re flying into, you should have plenty of time to do both Arenal and MA and spend some time at the resort in 8 nights. Hope that helps!
Thanks for the info! I’ll be in Manuel Antonio for a month starting August 20th to attend TEFL training (teaching english as a second language).
Do you have any recommendations on finding very affordable housing for a month?
Hi Melannie, You could ask the company you’re doing TEFL through if they have any leads since they probably get a lot of people in the same situation. Another idea is to post that you’re looking for something in the local Manuel Antonio Facebook group. I can email you with more info.
We are looking at staying in MA the last week of November for 5 nights and trying to figure out the best transportation option from the airport. Would you recommend renting a car? Taxi? or flight?
Also, any recommended companies for white water rafting?
Thank you for your blog! This is making me even more excited for our first visit than we already are!
Hi Amanda, Flights are fairly cheap if you book soon. We would recommend that over a cab. If you have a bigger group or want a car while you’re there, which is nice if you plan to do some exploring, rental cars should be affordable since you’ll be visiting in the low season. With our discount (more info here), a regular sedan is around $182 for 5 days and a mid size SUV is around $300.
For a good rafting company, check out Amigos del Rio. Hope that helps. Have a great trip!
I will be there with my family over xmas weekend (23-26th) . Would anything be closed at that time in terms of the tourist spots and restaurant ?
Btw- great info on your site has really helped me plan our trip for 12!!!
Hi Kish, Christmas and New Years is the busiest travel time in Costa Rica so just about everything will be open to take advantage. Tours will be running and restaurants will be open. The usual things like banks, government offices, and some of the museums in San Jose will be closed, but you shouldn’t be too affected in Manuel Antonio.
One thing to be aware of is that they typically reroute traffic on the highway back to the airport (Highway 27) on the Sunday after a major holiday so that all lanes go towards San Jose. They do this to alleviate traffic. I don’t think they’ll do it on the 25th since it’s Christmas but it is possible. You won’t be too affected since you’re coming from the beach but it’s good to know so you’re not surprised. Not sure which day you’re leaving to head back to SJ, but if it’s day of your flight, make sure to leave plenty early in case there is traffic. Hope your family has a wonderful visit!
Hi Jen and Matt
Love the site! Thanks for all the great info. We will be in CR for the first time Nov 14-20 and are planning on spending 3 nights in Arenal area and then 3 nights in Manuel Antonio. I wanted to get your opinion on a few things.
-With the multiple legs of the trip it seems like renting a car would be more economical and give us flexibility? Thoughts? Any concerns?
-We’re staying at Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens in Arenal but having a hard time deciding between Tulemar and Gaia resorts in MA. Seems that Tulemar might be closer to restaurants, etc. Is Gaia too remote if we don’t have a car? Do you think there’s a clear winner between the two resorts and why?
Any info would be appreciated…thanks!!!
Hi Christine, A rental car is the best way to see the country and you should be able to get some pretty good rates since you’ll be traveling in the low season. It will also be really nice to have in La Fortuna as things are more spread out and a little far from the Nayara (which is an amazing hotel by the way so good pick). In Manuel Antonio, a car is more optional for either hotel since there is a bus that runs regularly and cabs are fairly cheap. Tulemar is more centrally located to restaurants but is still too far to walk to the main beach. The Gaia isn’t more remote really, it’s right off the main road, just located farther from the beach. There are a few restaurants close by or a very short cab ride away though. Both are great options and you can’t really go wrong, but I lean towards the Gaia because it’s a beautiful hotel. It does have a similar feel to Nayara though in terms of more modern luxury so the bungalows at Tulemar might be a nice change of pace.
I would probably say just get a car for the whole time since you’ll want it in Fortuna and it will make getting back to the airport after MA easier. If you do decide to go with a car, make sure to check out our rental car discount as you’re shopping around. Hope you have a great trip!
We’ll be in MA from Nov 21 through Thanksgiving. First time in CR. Loving it! We tried to reserve a VRBO villa last night but haven’t heard back, so I’m wondering if we can just get there and find a place on the spot. We have a driver down but will be on our own after that. We also want to visit Arenal. Are there buses from MA? We’re hoping not to drive. How long will it take? Love your site. Thanks in advance for the information.
Hi GB, Hope it worked out with the vacation rental or you found something else. Not sure if your plans will change with the hurricane coming, but you can take the public bus from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. You do have to change buses in Puntarenas or San Jose though so it is a long trip. A much faster option would be to take a shuttle. Shared shuttles are around $50.
Great info! We are staying at Hotel San Bada Dec 25-28 after a week tour. We are flying there but wanted to hire a driver to San Jose for our return on 12/28. The driver says he’ll stop, where are some cool places to stop between MA and San Jose? We will have seen plenty of forests by then, so any cute towns to stop for a coffee or vista points? And, in MA other than the national park which we will do early on 12/26. What else should we do on Monday evening and Tuesday? Happy Holidays!!!!
Hi De, The Tarcoles River Bridge is a popular stop. It’s touristy but fun to see the huge crocodiles that live below. Another idea since you will have probably visited mostly the big destinations is Atenas. This is a little local town near the Central Valley in the mountains. It is a major producer of coffee so you can see it growing in the hills. There are some small restaurants on Route 3 with beautiful views. One is La Casita del Cafe. If it isn’t too cloudy, you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The downtown is cute too, with a Central Park and some cute restaurants within walking distance.
Another idea for an activity in Manuel Antonio is a catamaran tour. These are really popular because the view from the water is outstanding. They have them in the morning or for sunset. There are also kayak or boat tour to see wildlife in the mangroves, sport fishing, stand up paddleboard, and all the adventure activities like zip lining, whitewater rafting, etc. If you want any help booking a tour, we know of some good companies in the area so just let us know!
Hi, Jenn and Matt! My friend and I are planning an 11 day trip to Costa Rica in the end of January. We are planning to spend several days in Arenal area and then take a shuttle to Manuel Antonio. My question: is it possible to take a boat ride from Quepos to Drake Bay or the beaches of Corcovado or the only way is to get to Sierpe and start from there? Any other suggestions on must-sees in that area? I already studied all your posts :)) Thank you
Hi Anna, If you mean you want to stay in Drake Bay, the best/cheapest way to get there from Manuel Antonio is to take the boat from Sierpe. But if you wanted to just do a day trip to Drake or Corcovado, you could do a tour. There is a good one to Cano Island near Drake Bay that focuses on snorkeling or a day hike to Corcovado National Park. I think most of the tours leave out of Uvita, about an hour south of MA. Let us know if you’re interested and we can give you more info. Hope you and your friend have a great trip!
Thank you so much. I would appreciate information on the tours to that area as we are trying to plan our stay in Costa Rica as much as we can before we leave. We are also looking at an affordable way to get to La Fortuna from SJO airport. It looks like all public buses leave from SAN Jose downtown. Do any of them stop at the airport or the only way is to take a shared Interbus van at around 3pm?
As far as we know, the bus to La Fortuna only leaves out of downtown San Jose. There are buses that stop at the airport (like the TUASA to Alajuela), but we are not sure if there is one that would get you close to the bus station for Fortuna. The shuttle van would be much easier and faster too. We have taken the bus to Fortuna before and it felt like a really long ride because the road was very windy and it was crowded. We’ll send you an email about tours soon.
Those like me – unable to resist the sound of 2 hopefully succulent burgers for the price of 1 at the brilliantly situated Barba Roja – should know that the deal has been committed to the ashes of the past. Otherwise excellent recommendations, Jenn and Matt! The restaurant ecosystem in Manuel Antonio is nearly as resplendent as the park to the south!!
Hi KD, Oh no! It can’t be true! We loved the 2×1 burger night. Thanks for the heads up, we will update the post. Pura vida!
Love your blog, this was very helpful. I am currently traveling with a friend there for 4days from SJO, arrive late Thur Mar 23, depart on Tue Mar 28th. I am currently searching for a hotel but have no clue about what to do for the 4day trip. This will be my 2nd visit to Costa Rica, last time I enjoyed the Arenal area (esp. the zipline tour!) and Jaco (ok but not much to do). Any suggestions on what two relatively young adventurous men should do for 4days in Manuel Antonio?
Hi Larry, You could look at our Off the Beaten Path Things to Do Near MA post for ideas. There are some cool places to go hiking in there, one of which has hanging bridges. Other ideas are sport fishing (Quepos is known worldwide for it), ATV, and a catamaran tour (more info here) on a party boat. Whitewater rafting is also really good; there are a couple of different rivers with different levels of rapids. Let us know if you want any help with the bookings, we know of some great tour operators out of MA!
how far is zip lining from Manuel Antonio. Arriving this Saturday for the week and is something we’d like to do. Also if you know the cost?
Hi Chris, There are several companies in Manuel Antonio/Quepos that offer zip line tours. Most of them include transportation to and from your hotel to the site, which is often in the mountains. Prices range from around $60-100. We would be happy to help you book a tour if you still neeed help and don’t charge anything extra for this service. Just reply to this message if you’re interested and we will send you an email with more information.
Hi! I used your blog so much to help plan our trip to CR and really appreciate your work in putting it together. We arrived one week ago and spent the time with a rental car exploring the areas in the north. Yesterday we got to Quepos where we are spending the next month in an apartment just a 5 minute walk from town.
We just learned today from the management of our building that Manuel Antonio Park will be closed beginning Tuesday. Apparently the health department had given the park several warnings but this time it’s official. The word is that there is no drinking water in the park, and the admission lines are too long. This is a real bummer since we are staying here in order to be near the park. We did buy tickets today and will go tomorrow and maybe again Sunday, just in case they don’t reopen before we leave. I thought you might want to check into this and post about it if it’s true.
I will also post comments on the roads we drove to get here. I must say we are happy to have returned the car and not have to drive anymore!
Hi Marti, That’s great that you will have so much time to explore the area. We have heard that about the park too. We actually live not far from Manuel Antonio so follow the news there closely. We are hopeful that things will get straightened out with the infrastructure quickly because there are going to be a lot of disappointed people if the park closes. That national park is the most popular in the whole country.
Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Quepos. Make sure to check out the farmers market on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning if you haven’t already.
Hi Jenn and Matt,
Last news I heard is that the park will remain open for now, good news for us because we would like to go once more on the jungle night tour. Have you ever done that? Do you think it will be good in this dry season?
Yes, we hit the farmers market last weekend, and will go every weekend we are here; it is great!
The only other planned activity we want to do is tour Rainmaker. We don’t have a car, and may have to pay $80 for round trip transportation through our property, Manuel Antonio Estates. Do you know of a more affordable option?
We are so enjoying being in this area for the month, even if it is really hot!
We have done night tours before but not in Manuel Antonio National Park. I’m sure it will be good this time of year. Wildlife is still active and there are a lot of cool bugs, etc. to see.
$80 round trip to Rainmaker sounds reasonable. You could ask a few taxis how much they would charge to compare, though. There is usually a line of them parked across from the bus station in downtown Quepos. I know you said you are sick of driving, but renting a car would be a lot cheaper too. You would only need a regular sedan (not 4×4) and could see what kind of pricing you could get through our rental car discount (note that right now, the company we work with is having problems with their system so wait a day or two before trying it).
Thanks again for your great info. Just before walking to the farmers market on Friday we checked with a few rental car companies. At that point we weren’t sure if we would need a sedan or 4×4, so it’s good to know that a sedan will work. It is about $50-55/day so much cheaper than the transportation offered here unless we can share. My only other question, since I know of no one else who has driven it, is how hilly that dirt road is going into Rainmaker. If it’s too hilly, we might feel more comfortable with an automatic instead of manual. For one day, we are ok with driving again! Again, thanks for all your help and patience! We are so enjoying Quepos. (ps. We checked Barba Roja last night and they are still doing 2 for 1 burger nights on Tuesdays!)
The road isn’t hilly at all so just get whatever is cheapest.
Jenn and Matt,
We are very excited to visit in just a couple of weeks. You’ve provided some great information on this site. I was wondering if you can make any recommendations about places to stop on the way from San Jose? We are getting a private driver and will want to make a couple of stops on the way to Manual Antonio for sight seeing and / or food. We have a 10 year old so kid friendly would be best. Any suggestions?
Hi Keri, You should definitely stop at the Tarcoles River Bridge to see the huge crocodiles that live below. Your drive will know about it, it’s a must for first-time visitors. For food, the Pelican restaurant is in a really nice location right on Playa Herradura. The food is typical style – it’s decent but the appeal is more because of its location. Another idea is Jaco, which has some really awesome restaurants like Side Street Bistro and you could walk the strip along the beach to check out the souvenir shops. Hope that gives you some ideas!
Jenn and Matt,
Thanks for all of this info on Manuel Antonio. We are going in about two weeks, and we are wondering what the most reliable way to get from MA to the airport in San Jose is, so we don’t miss our flight home.
For hiking in the national park, would you recommend a guide or can we figure it our ourselves?
Also is there any snorkeling/kayaks to be rented at the beaches?
Hi Hannah and Josh, As long as you build in extra time for traffic, you could take a shared shuttle. That is the cheapest option ($55) if the schedule works with your flight time. It is a long trip though, about 4-5 hrs, and you should be at the airport about 2 hrs early. Another good option is flying on a small plane from Quepos right to the airport. It’s really fast and sometimes you can find deals last minute. A private shuttle ($180) is another option and would give you the most flexibility for your departure time and let you leave later because it’s much faster (2.5-3 hrs). We know of reliable companies for the shuttle options if you need a recommendation.
The trails at the national park are very easy to follow and you can still see a lot of wildlife on your own if you walk slowly. Guides are good because they will teach you a lot and help you spot things, but not necessary.
You can usually rent snorkel masks at Playa Biesanz, and we’ve seen kayaks for rent on the main beach.
Jenn and Matt thanks for all the great information..we are planning on vacationing next summer and we’re looking for VRBO in Manuel Antonio but found an amazing house in Quepos – not sure how far this is from Manuel Antonio or if it would be a place we would want to stay..there are a lot of great houses so not sure if we should keep looking – we will have our own car and want to se the park, beach, zip line, fish and relax
Hi Laura, We helped someone with a Quepos vs Manuel Antonio question recently so scroll down to our response to Alicia on July 20, 2017. That will help with how the area is laid out.
Also keep in mind that some properties are technically in Quepos but they are basically in Manuel Antonio. An example of this is places on the road to Punta Quepos where the Parador and many other hotels and vacation rentals are. I think this area is considered Quepos but it’s actually right in the middle of MA. So if you really like that rental, maybe contact the owner to find out exactly where it is.
Hi Jenn and Matt:
My husband and I are considering having a conference for a criminal defense organization in the winter of 2019. There will be approximately 50-70 members and spouses attending, They will be traveling from all over the U.S. We typically have meeting on 2 mornings, cocktail hour & dinners 2-3 evenings and the rest is free time. People usually stay several additional days to explore. I am having difficulty finding a hotel/resort that is on the beach, can accommodate this size group and is relatively easy to travel from either airport to the hotel. Also, all inclusive does not work well for us since we have private breakfasts and dinners on 2 days. It sounds like a private shuttle or small airplane may be a good idea. Do you have suggestions for hotels/resorts? The Four Seasons is a little too expensive. The Westin would be great (and we have not ruled out) but it is an all inclusive and not willing to make exceptions. The Marriotts don’t look very interesting. There are so many lovely smaller boutique hotels, but I’m just not sure which ones could accommodate our group. Our members pay their own hotel rooms. We would love to go to the MA area, but not sure if that’s too far for our members to travel after their flights from the U.S. Thank you! Piper
That’s great about the possible conference here in Costa Rica. We can see how finding the right location could be tough given the parameters. We’re going to email you with how we might be able to help.
Hello Jenn and Matt
Thank you for the information re: packing list for babies. Our Family retreat is in Early November and it looks like its rainy season. one concern, driving around with 12 month old twins. My husband and i would like to tour the hanging bridges with the twins. we will be using carriers like these ones https://www.rei.com/product/895652/osprey-poco-ag-plus-child-carrier. Will this okay? IF not, any suggestions where it would be nice to take the babies? We plan to also zipline leaving the twins with the nanny of course any suggestions? thanks again
Hi Rebecca, That carrier will be fine for bringing your 12 month olds on hanging bridges. We have taken our son in a baby carrier (both a soft Ergo-style and a hard carrier like the one you are looking at as he has gotten older) on all kinds of activities in Costa Rica. Hanging bridges are good and you can also do hiking and maybe even waterfalls as long as they are accessible without having to wade too much in a river. One thing to note- If you are visiting Manuel Antonio, the hanging bridges at Rainmaker can get slippery in the rainy season. If they are, you can easily avoid them, though, and still enjoy the reserve’s trail with waterfalls. If you happen to be going to La Fortuna or Monteverde too, the hanging bridges there (Místico in Fortuna and Selvatura in MV) would be better options. For other activities in Manuel Antonio, we brought our son on the catamaran tour when he was a year old and it went great. MA National Park is good too because the trails are fairly easy and it has nice beaches with calm water. Playa Biesanz is another calm cove that is excellent for swimming with babies. Hope that helps! I think you will find that CR is very baby friendly.
Great website, so helpful!
Hey there! I love your blog. My husband and I are wanting to go to Costa Rica in February. Just curious if you’d recommend staying closer to Quepos are closer to the Manuel Antonio Beach?
Hi Alicia, The Manuel Antonio area is set up along one steep hill. It starts in Quepos, a small, but busy, city where a lot of locals live and you will find numerous stores and local restaurants. From Quepos, you can access the road that runs through Manuel Antonio. It is along this road where the majority of tourism businesses are located like hotels and restaurants. This is where visitors usually stay. Some hotels are closer to Quepos and others are closer to the beach and national park, which are at the end of the road. If you have a car, you can stay wherever, but if you won’t, you may want to stay down by the beach or near the top of the hill so that you’re within walking distance to restaurants (area near Barba Roja Restaurant/Cafe Milagro all the way to the soccer field/Super Josef). There is a local bus to that runs back and forth on the main road regularly. If you do stay near the top of the hill, the beach is farther away (a short but steep walk down the hill), but the ocean views are spectacular!
Am struggling to decide where to stay, as ideally would like to be somewhere with several restaurants and places to get a drink within walking distance, rather than having to drive everywhere – plus our budget is relatively limited. Would Quepos be the best choice, or is there another part of Miguel Antonio that meets this criteria?
Hi Adam, We just responded to a very similar question today. See our response to Alicia, above. The top of the hill in Manuel Antonio is probably the best spot for restaurants and conveniences within walking distance.
Having visited Manuel Antonio straight after Tortoguero; the contrast was stark. I found Manuel Antonio a bustling, rather tacky, shabby place. The park was packed- mainly with loud groups heading to the beach. You couldn’t move for tripping over guides and the feeding of monkeys and the searching for food from traveller’s bags by the raccoons made it seem like a show- they were certainly no longer truly wild animals- a shame.
On the plus side we did sloths very close up- and not on the sloth trail.
We stayed in the SanBada hotel right next to the park entrance- a great spot to beat the crowds when wanting to get into the park, but not a great spot for having to push through the crowds lining up and all the hawkers to get back to your very tired and dated hotel.
We’re now on the Noraya peninsula ready to head to Monteverde. If I had my time again I would have missed out Manuel Antonio.
This thread provides lots of great info. I am struggling as to where to stay over the Xmas holidays this year. I know that it’s late to book, but I have two choices: Hotel San Bada or The Falls Resort on the road to the park. Still not sure if I will have a rental car, but I’m leaning towards getting one at SJO. My hesitancy about The Falls is the noise from the hostel next door. What is New Year’s Eve like in this area? I’m not looking for a loud, super late NYE party – just a nice dinner and some live music that only goes to midnight or so. Any comments?
Hi Sue, San Bada will most likely be quieter since it’s located more remotely at the very end of the road in Manuel Antonio, with the national park as its neighbor on one side. If you really want to stay at The Falls, see if they have a room farther from the hostel and also not next to the road if you are concerned about road noise. There’s not a huge party scene in Manuel Antonio, but there are always some fireworks and parties happening that time of year.
Hi, your website has been really helpful, so far. Would you do a day trip to Uvit/Dominical area or add an overnight stay? We will arrive in San Jose Tue nov, 21st and fly out Wed the 29th. Planning to do your two week itinerary go to arenal and then to MA. would like to add a 3rd place. What do you think?
Sorry, I mean the 1 week but we have an extra day.
Hi Jennifer, You could fit in 3 destinations with 8 nights and there is definitely enough to do in Uvita/Dominical to justify that. You could do 3 nights each in Arenal and Manuel Antonio and end with 2 nights in Uvita/Dominical. Just remember that Uvita is about 3.5 hours from the airport so you may want to reorder your trip- Arenal–>Uvita/Dom–>MA so that you don’t have to drive as far to get back to San Jose. If you only have one free night because of overnights near the airport, we don’t think it’s worth adding it as a destination- better to do it as a day trip in this case.
Great post! Thank you, planning a trip to Manuel Antonio, followed by Arenal. Are there any beaches, parks, etc that are worth stopping at between the two cities?
Hi Claire, The Tarcoles River Bridge is a popular stop on the way to and from Arenal. It has huge crocodiles that live below. Jaco is a fun town to check out too and has a lot of great restaurants. Just be careful with your bags- we recommend having someone stay with them, taking them with you if possible, or at least parking so that you can watch the car. Theft from vacant cars is relatively common in Costa Rica.
I will be volunteering in San Jose with FIMRC during the week of Jan 1/22 – Jan 1/26 then will have the weekend plus a few days to travel. I’m really interesting in visiting Manuel Antonio after this post! Where are the best places to stay and go? I saw someone mention National Backpackers. My friends and I want to visit on a budget, not spend too much on hotels. I also saw that you recommended flying from SJO to XQP to get to manuel antonio. What do you recommend doing if there is only a couple days? There is a beach correct along with a national park and good places to eat? Also, I wanted to know if it is relatively safe here.
I have really enjoyed all the great information, thanks. We will be in the area from December 23-26. I know that the Park will be closed on Christmas Day (since it is a Monday). Any suggestions fro things to do on Christmas Day?
Hi Jean, Most things will be operating on Christmas Day so there are plenty of options, but if you wanted to hike, a good alternative is Rainmaker Nature Park. They are definitely open on the 25th. Another good wildlife tour is the Isla Damas boat or kayak mangrove tour.
Thank you so much!
Thanks for providing such helpful information! Apologies if I’ve missed it, but do you have specific recommendations for shuttles or private drivers that would take us from SJO to MA and back? We are a family of four, so private would be preferential to shared, depending on the price differential. Thanks in advance!
Also interested in any fun activities in the area that would be suitable for a two and a five year old. We visited MA four years ago when the oldest was nearly two and were low key. Now hoping to explore a bit more!
Hi Mandy, We will send you an email soon with the airport transfer recommendations.
Some good activities with kids your ages are: the Isla Damas boat tour (easy wildlife viewing, especially monkeys), a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, visiting Kids Savings the Rainforest wildlife rehabilitation center, a catamaran cruise, and your oldest would probably really enjoy a night tour. If you will have a car, there’s a nice waterfall to the south in Uvita that is very easy to get to (1 hour away). We can help with bookings for these if you would like too, to help you pick companies and tour guides.
Any chance I can get the same information? We’re traveling with a two and five year old as well and still trying to figure out activities that will work. We’re interested in MA, Uvita, and Drake Bay… we were planning on staying in Drake Bay but it almost looks like we can do all of the same excursions from Uvita… what are your thoughts on that?
Hi Alison, Yes, all of those activities we listed above out of Manuel Antonio would work for your family too. It sounds like you haven’t decided on an exact itinerary yet. We would be happy to help you with tour bookings once you do, and to figure out what would work best with your 2 and 5 year old. It is true that you can do some of the same excursions out of Uvita as you could in Drake Bay. But some of them, for example, going to Corcovado National Park or Cano Island, require a longer boat ride and are a lot more expensive from Uvita. Those tours aren’t great with a 2 year old either. There are other good boat tours out of Uvita with toddlers, though. Once you have decided on an itinerary, let us know if you’d like more help.
Hoping you can share ideas for good cheap eats near Hotel Costa Verde for lunch and dinner. Thank you.
Hi Sherri, We have a whole blog post on this topic. Please read our Manuel Antonio Restaurant Guide. We love El Wagon, which is very close to Costa Verde (Costa Verde actually owns it).
We are going to be traveling there soon and am a little overwhelmed with where to start. Planning SJO to Arenal to Manuel Antonia. Reading up it seems that we might want to spend more time here than Arenal as we will have 2 4 year old kids. If we stay at an air b&b will it be easy to get to restaurants? or do you recommend a hotel. Any recommendations greatly appreciated. Loved your post. super helpful. Thanks Ashmita
Hi Ashmita, Arenal has a lot to do with kids your age too. Take a look at EcoCentro Danaus for one. They have a nice paved walkway through the rainforest and it’s much easier to see wildlife there than in the parks/reserves. You could also take them to the new sector of Arenal Volcano National Park out by Lake Arenal (Sendero La Peninsula), which has more nice paved paths and a cool tower with a view of the lake and volcano. For Manuel Antonio, it depends on the location of the AirBnb. If you stay near the top of the hill, you will be close to several restaurants and can easily grab the bus or a taxi to get down to the beach. This is the area near Barba Roja restaurant, Cafe Milagro, Agua Azul, etc. Just before that around Super Josef, Sancho’s etc. has a decent amount near it too. Down by the beach and national park is another good location, especially with kids, because you can walk to the beach. You should check out the Family chapter of our book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries. That chapter goes to La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio so you would get a lot of relevant tips about traveling to these destinations.
My wife and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica that includes an eight day tour. The tour includes Braulio Carillo National Park, Tortuguero, Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge, Arenal, Monteverde Cloud Forest, and then back to San Jose.
We are going to have five days on our own either before or after our tour, and we’re thinking about taking the bus to MA. We’re independent and adventurous and our main interest is seeing wildlife. Once inside the park, do we need transportation or is the entire park walkable? How many days should we spend in the park? Do you recommend any particular places other than the park for seeing wildlife? We would be willing to rent a car for a day or two. As for lodging, we don’t need anything fancy, just clean. Any recommendations?
Hi Dave, Manuel Antonio will be a good addition to that itinerary. You probably only need one day to explore the park itself, but there are lots of other interesting things to do to justify staying in that area for at least a few days. Yes, the entire park is walkable via a well maintained trail system. It’s a very popular park and if you are visiting during high season, it is likely to be busy. We recommend getting an early start to avoid the crowds. You can see a lot of wildlife right in town as well. For other places to see wildlife, you could check out Rainmaker (primary rainforest so not as many monkeys but interesting insects, butterflies, birds, and sometimes frogs, etc.) or Hacienda Baru to the south. These are best accessed with a rental car, but you could take the bus to Baru. For lodging, we have recommendations right in this post so scroll up.
Thanks so much for the great info!!! Our plans are firming up and it looks like we’ll be in the area around April 5. Looking forward to it.
Great info on your site and hoping you can add some of your amazing insight to our plans . We (4 of us) land in San Jose on 22 Aug 2018 and want to get an evening shuttle (5pm ish) to Manuel Antonio that night. Hope to stay 4 nights. Looking to stay in a 2 bedroom villa near or on the beach. Do you have any suggestions?
Our older son arrives on the 25th Aug (1.30pm ish) and hoping to book him an internal flight to join us later the same day.
We plan to leave on the 26th to go to Arenal but don’t know wether to get a private shuttle or fly. Do you know of any good reliable shuttle companies or do you recommend flying (5 of us flying seems expensive though) as it saves a lot of time.
The rest of the itinery is 3 nights in Arenal, take taxi/boat/taxi to Monteverde (2 nights) followed by 3 nights in Samara. Leave on 3rd Sept.
Hi Tig, There are a lot of options for vacation rentals in Manuel Antonio. Not many are on the beach but some are a short walk away. It really depends on your budget and what you’re looking for, but there are very good options.
For your shuttle to get to Quepos after your flight, we do work with several reputable shuttle companies if you would like help with the arrangements. Just let us know and we can send you an email with more information. For the day your son arrives and then when the 5 of you leave for La Fortuna, unfortunately, one of the major small plane carriers (Nature Air) has had some recent crashes and we are not recommending them right now. Sansa is another option, though, if they have a flight schedule that works for you so you could check that out. Otherwise, a shuttle would be your best option. For your son, you could do a shared shuttle if his flight gets in early enough. This would be the most economical option at around $50. A private shuttle is the other option. This would be a door-to-door transfer from the airport to your vacation rental for only him so it would be much faster (shared shuttles make stops to let other passengers on and off), and the cost is around $190. You have the same options for getting to La Fortuna. Just reply to this thread if you’d like help with your shuttle bookings.
Hi Jenn and Matt, what an amazing story! we are planning our first trip to CR with my family of 5 (3 daughters ages 11-15) and my brother’s family (2 kids ages 7 and 9) in June. We are flying into and out of San Jose and rented what looks like a beautiful house 3-4 miles inland from Quepo. We have the house for 5 nights but the last two nights were already booked. I was wondering if you had any recommendations on what to do the last 2 nights. Either stay in Manuel Antonio area, move up the coast towards Jaco, or go somewhere closer to San Jose so our drive back is easier? any help is much appreciated.
Hi Art, If you only have the house for five nights, we’d say to check out somewhere else for the remaining two. Jaco would be a good choice since it’s on the way back to San Jose. Jaco is a developed beach town but it shouldn’t be super busy in June. You could also look at somewhere in the Central Valley that is still scenic and not too urban. Atenas is a cute local town with some coffee tours, waterfalls, etc. Follow the links for more information about these places.
Hi Jenn and Matt. Thank you for this website its giving me a lot of the information that i need for my first trip to Costa Rica 🙂
I’m now planning going on the 10th of July for 7 days. Because of the long drive from San Jose thinking on getting to Manuel Antonio and stay all the time there. Do you advice going to somewhere close and spend some days there? I probably spend 3 nights at the Parador and the other 4 at La Mariposa.
I’m taking my 5 year old boy with me so I wanted to know if you have places that I should go and that he probably will enjoy. I know that at this time of the year there’s some rain in the end of the day but wanted to enjoy the beach so wanted to know the best ones on the area.
Thank you so much for all this information.
Hi Hugo, The drive from San Jose is a little long, but it’s worth it! There are plenty of activities and sites in Manuel Antonio that can keep you busy for seven days. If you wanted to see another town that’s closer to San José, you could check out Jaco for a few nights.
In Manuel Antonio, you should definitely go to Playa Biesanz. It’s a really beautiful beach with calm water for swimming. The national park has some nice beaches too. For activities, your son would probably enjoy a guided tour of the national park (our guide is great at finding cool wildlife), visiting a wildlife sanctuary, or a mangrove boat tour to see wildlife like monkeys. You both could also do a zip line tour, which is a fun adventure. If you’re interested in any of these, we work with some great tours operators and can help you with the arrangements. Just contact us through our Tour Booking Service page and we can get started right away.
Thank you so much, I think its a good idea to go to Jaco to break the traveling time from San Jose to MA. My question now will be if its worth it to lose a day over there or should i just go directly to MA. I have in mind booking the Parador and La Mariposa but if you think it would be nice to book something else in between I could check but its only 6/7 nights anyway in total.
Hi Hugo, It’s only 2.5-3 hours from SJO to Manuel Antonio so you can definitely head straight to Manuel Antonio so you don’t lose a day. The Parador and La Mariposa are both great hotels and good for kids, with a lot of wildlife around. The Parador has a children’s pool.
Hi Jenn and Matt,
We will be staying a Plaza Yara the second week of July. Looking for the best value on excursions. There are two adults and two 18 yr olds. They would prefer the beach and we want to explore. We have been to Tamarindo 7 years ago and are really looking forward to discovering the Manuel Antonio/Quepos area.
Hi Tracy, Manuel Antonio is one of our favorite areas, we think you will really enjoy it. If you would like help planning your tours, we offer a Tour Booking Service. There’s a small fee, but we can help you figure out where to get the most out of your money. Please contact us through that page if you’re interested. Thanks!
Hi, We are planning a trip to Costa Rica and will be staying at the Gaia Hotel and Reserve. We are trying to figure out the best time to visit. We were considering May, July or August 2019. We realize this is the “green season” and understand that there will be some rain in the afternoon. But is that a 30 minute rain shower or several hours? Also, what time of each month would you suggest?
Hi Barbara, Out of those months, early July typically has the best weather. The country usually experiences a mini-summer during that time when it rains less. It can also be a little more busy that time of year. Otherwise, May and August are both fairly nice in Manuel Antonio since it’s still early on in rainy season. Usually the rain is for an hour or so, sometimes longer as you get farther into the rainy season (e.g. August). There are times when it will rain off and on for the day but there’s usually plenty of sun too.
I am planning on visiting Manuel Antonio in about three weeks with my husband and two kids. I noticed that August is not one of the months that you recommend for a visit. Is that because of the rain? Is there anything I should consider or be aware of? Do you think it is still worth a visit in August?
Hi Michelle, August is a great time to visit Manuel Antonio too. We live not far from MA and the weather has been really nice lately so don’t worry! September and October are the rainier months.
Thank you! Your website has been a delight to read while planning!
HI Jenn and Matt. Thank you so much for this wonderful site! I haven’t been to Costa Rica in more than 20 years, but I’m thinking of traveling there this February with my husband and two children (6 and 8). The kids have never travelled internationally and are very excited to see all that Costa Rica has to offer (especially the rain forest and animals). We’re thinking of basing ourselves in Manuel Antonio, but I’m concerned about the roads from San Jose. I remember roads not being that great when I was there, but that was a long time ago. Can you let me know how safe they are now?
Hi Bonnie, We think you will be quite pleased with the state of the roads since your last visit. We traveled the old way from San Jose a long time ago, and thankfully, you go a different route now on smooth highway. The route is Highway 27 to Highway 34. Parts are a little mountainous, but not bad at all. Check out our Road Conditions post for more info. Also be sure to check out our article on Family Travel to CR if you haven’t already.
Hi Jenn & Matt,
You have a fantastic website, with so much useful information on it and your “about us” story is wonderful. What a life changer? We are planning a 2 week holiday in Costa Rica for 2019 and we have been looking at he last week of March, first week of April, but upon reading one of your car rental pages, decided to do a comparison between hiring a car in March versus May and there was a big difference ($300+). Would that be a fair assumption for accommodation as well? I imagine that is because March/April is key holiday season. Is May still a good time of the year to visit CR or can it be quite wet? We don’t want a rain affected holiday, although I know you don’t control the weather. A shower in the afternoon is fine, but not endless days of rain. At present we are a little like headless chickens trying to plan this holiday. Not entirely sure where to visit. Our aim is three locations to stay (4 nights at each). We want the beach, crocodiles, lot of birds, zip lines, ATV, Segway thus the area of Jaco and Manuel Antonio are top of our lists and will be definite stays, but can one cover those two areas in 4 days-6 days or should it be split 4 days each?
Hi Mike, Yes, prices for everything, including rental cars and hotels, are lower in May vs. March because May is low season. May is really early on in the rainy season so we usually have a lot of good weather still and definitely not non-stop rain. Rainy season doesn’t get too intense until September and October. See our Weather post for more details.
To do both Jaco and Manuel Antonio and not be rushing around too much, we’d set aside at least 5 days total. They’re only 1.5 hours apart so the drive time isn’t bad. If you had 3 days in each place, that would be even better since both have a lot of great activities. Hope that is helpful!
Mike I had to giggle while reading your comment – We are newlyweds planning a CR trip for March/April of 2019 as well and had the exact same questions! We have no bumped our planning to the first part of April due to cost as well.. and we want to catch a little bit of the beautiful rain but not a full days worth! We plan on doing M.A for a few days, then La Fortuna area for the wildlife and scenery as well. I just thought it was nice to see someone have the same questions planning the same trip! 🙂
Rachael & Jason – Alberta, Canada
Hi Rachael & Jason,
Glad I made someone giggle. We are all done with planning, booking of accommodation and car hire. In the end we decided on 1 night near the airport, 4 nights outside La Fortuna, 20 minutes from everything in that area. 3 nights near Jaco (PuntaArena) and then 5 nights in the forest north of Quepos, which is close to MA. All we have to do next is book activities. I’ve been doing my rain dance here in the UK, hoping it rains everywhere but Costa Rica in March and April. It seems to be working, so much rain here. Ha ha! Booked our car through this website. This for the discount TWICR. Mike & Jo United Kingdom ?
Heading to CR in March, planning La Fortuna for 2 days followed by Manuel Antonio for 3 days, San Jose for 1.5 days. Looking at Los Lagos Resort in La Fortuna and maybe Tulemar in MA. Any thoughts or suggestions on hotels before I book? Struggling more with finding one that feels right and convenient but still has an authentic CR feel in MA. Traveling with my mother (60) and 2 sons (13 and 10)
Hi Kristin, We have a lot of hotel options for La Fortuna in our La Fortuna Hotel Guide. If you want something nice and convenient but still authentic CR, we’d recommend Hotel El Silencio del Campo. Tulemar in MA is very nice. There aren’t a ton of authentic options in MA so get that in while you’re in La Fortuna.
Ended up booking Pumilio instead. Figured I’d just drive to MA instead of staying there.
I’m going to rent a car at least for Our “coastal” portion of the trip, but I’m wondering if driving from SJO to La Fortuna is a good idea. Recommendations?
Hi Kristin, The drive from SJO to La Fortuna isn’t bad as long as you do it during the daytime. It’s a beautiful, curvy mountain road, and is well paved. Our Road Conditions post has more details – go to Route 702. Be sure to check out our rental car discount as you’re shopping around as well!
Hi Jenn and Matt–great blog, so helpful! We are a grad student couple (26 years old) coming to CR for our spring break (third week of March). We are looking to do 3 days in Arenal and 4 days hanging out by the beach. For the beach, we initially picked Manuel Antonio since it looks amazingly beautiful and we’d love to see all the animals. However, after doing some more research, we’re a little concerned that MA might be too touristy, crowded, hectic, and expensive for our relaxing beach getaway, especially on a weekend in peak season, and also more oriented for families. We then discovered Dominical, which looks like it might have more of that low key, easy going, authentic Costa Rican beach town, with more of a young person vibe (we’re not huge partiers, but a cool bar to hang out and grab a couple drinks in the evening would be nice), and still allow us to do a day trip to MA to see the park. But on the other hand, especially for first timers who likely won’t have a car, the convenience and amenities of MA might be better for us. What do you think? Am I right about the vibes of each place? And even if so, does the convenience and sheer number of activities in MA (not to mention waking up every morning in such a paradise) still make it worth it? Also one of us is a vegetarian, so we can be a bit picky with food, if that makes a difference. Thanks so much!
Hi Z, You’re pretty much right on about the vibe of the two different towns. Dominical is great but it is very small. You might be better off in Manuel Antonio since there is so much more to do and the food choices are better (though Dominical does have a lot of vegetarian options). As long as you’re strategic with where you stay in MA, you shouldn’t feel the crowds too much in March. Try to find a place off the main road – it will be quieter there. We used to visit MA as tourists before we had kids and absolutely loved it, so while it’s good for families, I also think it’s great for couples. Hope that helps!
i am planning on bringing my family down for our first visit to Costa Rica at the end of March. We fly into Liberia and are planning on stopping by Rio Celeste on our way to LaFortuna. Should it be okay to link up with Hwy 4 and take that route into town or would you recommend something else. Thanks, I have really been learning a lot from your site!
Hi TJ, Yes, the route would be Highway 1 to Route 6 to Tenorio Volcano National Park, then after, heading east on Route 4 to La Fortuna.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the info above. You are so kind to help people with their planning. My husband, son(14) and I are coming to Costa Rica the second week in April. I love to dive and take photos while my hubby loves to fish and hike. Our son loves the ATV’s and we also don’t mind mountain biking. We are staying in MA for 3 days and then headed to Arenal Volcano for 3 more. We have the night in between that we haven’t booked. Any suggestions for a night between Hotel Parador and the Volcano Lodge Hotel? Any suggestions on dive companies/sites?
Hi Monica, There aren’t a ton of options for places between Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna but you could look at Sam Ramon in the mountains. That’s a pretty area and would break up the drive.
We work with a great dive company in Manuel Antonio as well as a boat for sportfishing. We also know of an excellent ATV tour in La Fortuna that takes you through the jungle and countryside. If you’d like any help making the arrangements for these, please contact us through our Tour Booking Service page. Thanks!
Thanks for the blog posts – so helpful! This is a very touristy question, but is American cash readily accepted or do we need something else? Also electrical plugs? We are staying in Manuel Antonio for a week this month and so excited to explore.
Hi Kayli, Yes, US dollars are accepted but it’s good to have local colones on hand as well. You can read our Money Matters post for more information. Electrical outlets are 120 V (same as in North America, if that is where you are traveling from). Hope you have a great time in Manuel Antonio!
Hello Jenn & Matt
Your site and blog posts have been super helpful for planning our upcoming vacation to Costa Rica. It really helped clarify our thoughts and narrow our itinerary and above all, alleviate the confusion due to the information overload.
We will be staying in the Manuel Antonio area for 6 days. Are there good hot springs in Manuel Antonio or nearby areas, if so can you suggest a good one.
Or Should we be doing a day trip to La Fortuna to experience hot springs and Arenal volcano? I understand that it takes a few hours of traveling to get there. I am just wondering if it’s worth it.
Hi Matthew, The closest hot springs are near Dominical in a tiny town called Dos Bocas, about an hour south of Manuel Antonio. They are more rustic than what you will find in La Fortuna but still quite nice and a lot of fun. Here’s a link to their Facebook page with more info and directions – you need a 4×4 vehicle. We wouldn’t recommend doing La Fortuna as a day trip because it’s too far away (about 4.5 hours each way).
Hi Jenn & Matt,
My family and I spent a week in Arenal a couple of years ago and have decided to go back this summer and spend a week in Manuel Antonio. My kids, husband and I (like most others) completely fell in love with the culture and people of Costa Rica. While in Arenal, we visited La Fortuna orphanage. We happily took them some supplies which we purchased at a nearby market and spent a couple of hours with the children. Do you know if there is an orphanage or similar organization where we can do the same in Manuel Antonio? I really like my children (8 & 12) to donate some time and supplies to children in need while on vacation. P.S. I have been reading your articles and find them SO helpful!! Thank you so much!
Hi Ingrid, We did some digging in a local Facebook group we’re in but couldn’t come up with anything. I know local schools always need supplies. Maybe your hotel would be able to help? Sorry we don’t have any specific info.
My family of 8 stayed at Tulemar Resort during our stay in the Manuel Antonio area. The resort was fabulous and highly recommended. We did the sloth walk with the guides of the Sloth Institute located in the resort area finding about 8 sloths and many monkeys. We also did the zipline and white water rafting tours. We will definitely be going back as we only scratched the surface on things to do, places to eat and relaxing on the world renown beaches.
What a great site! We’ll be using some of your links for our trip in February.
It’s our first time to Costa Rica and were looking at 5 days in MA then 3 in a beach town of Guanacaste.
Do you recommend that and if so can we drive or should we hire shuttles?
FYI we’re coming from Boston ?
Hi Trey, Yeah, that will be a lot of beach time but there’s nothing wrong with that! You will still get to see very different regions of the country. Renting a car is nice because it gives you flexibility to explore (there are good day trips to do from both areas), but not absolutely necessary. You can easily get around without a car in Manuel Antonio and in many beach towns in Guanacaste. Hope that helps!
Hi Matt and Jenn. Thanks for a great site. We’re coming to Manuel Antonio in early December and looking for tours/ideas for seniors. Some of us are quite fit and are up to some adventure tours, some of us are not and prefer cultural outings. We will not have a car. Suggestions?
Hi Cheryl, We have a lot of ideas in our Manuel Antonio Activities Guide. The Isla Damas tour would be a good option with seniors. We also know of a very light hike option that might be good. Feel free to contact us through our Tour Booking Service page for some more specific options.
Hope you read this in time to answer!
We will be in the Jaco area next week. 3/01/20
Will we have difficulty booking or getting in to
Manuel Antonio? Looking to do the Catamaran ride and
check out the park itself.
Hi George, Manuel Antonio is about 1 hour from Jaco so definitely doable as a day trip. We will send you some specific tour recommendations by email first thing tomorrow (Friday) morning. Happy to help!
We’re planning a trip next July/August, hoping to spend ~6 weeks in Costa Rica overall and looking for child care and a day camp for 3-4 of those weeks. Is there anything like that available in Manuel Antonio area (ages: almost 3yr old, and 11 yr old). Would love the kids to have an opportunity for some Spanish immersion if at all possible!
Hi Valery, Camp really isn’t available outside San Jose except during break from school for a short period of time. Some schools will do a couple of weeks right before school starts again for the year in January and as part of the other longer break in July (vacation dates vary a lot by school). There are day cares in the Manuel Antonio area, but we don’t know any specifics about which ones are recommended. You could try asking your hotel or host if you’re staying at an Airbnb/vacation rental.
If visited the Jaco area instead, there is a great option called Costa Kids near Herradura. They do babysitting and can come on tours to help out with the kids too. Jaco also has day cares.
Hello from Canada, Jenn and Matt! We are a family of four (me, my husband Asif, and two boys who are 5yo and almost 1 yo). I feel like we’ve found a soul mate in you!! We discovered your website last night and I think we’ve been through most of your posts twice already – love love love your posts!
We are thinking of going to CR for 1-3 months from August 2021 and we’re a pretty adventurous family. Ideally we will be vaccinated (COVID), we will continue to work virtually, and live near/on a beach (DREAM!). What places do you suggest for a long term rental with kids?
Hi Bushra, Funny about our parallel lives! 🙂
There are lots of choices for a family friendly beach town with good internet. The central Pacific coast (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/central-pacific-coast-regional-snapshot/) is a great option and it’s convenient to San José. There are also lots of expat families in Guanacaste (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/guanacaste-regional-snapshot/) on the N Pacific coast. If you want something wilder feeling and don’t mind being more remote, the Costa Ballena region (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/the-costa-ballena-uvita-dominical-and-ojochal/) is beautiful. Lots of secluded beaches and waterfalls there.
If you want to talk more specifics, you may be interested in our video chat service (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/video-chat-service/). We could help narrow possible landing spots and help with logistics. Hope that helps with your questions!
Thank you so much for all of this great info! My husband and I have been to Costa Rica many times and have aspirations of moving there sooner rather than later.
We’re planning on spending 2 weeks there in the near future. I’d like to start in Manuel Antonio, stay for a few days before we head to our next destination. We’re ending our trip in Tamarindo. What area do you recommend stopping at in between Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo?
Hi Jessica, Monteverde (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/monteverde-a-forest-in-the-clouds/) is a nice stop between Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo. Now that the road to Monteverde off Highway 1 (Route 606) is paved, it’s not a bad drive. Monteverde is nice because it would let you see a totally different area of the country – the cloud forest.
Another option is Bijagua (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/bijagua-gateway-rio-celeste/). This is a really pretty rural town with a beautiful waterfall called the Rio Celeste. Hope that gives you some ideas! Best of luck with your plans to move 🙂
Thanks to your blog we have decided to visit Manuel Antonio in June. You provided lots of helpful hints. We Will be traveling with 5 toddlers. Any tips? also when searching for Manuel Antonio is, Manuel Antonio, Puntarenas (province), Costa Rica the same area as the national park?
Hi Elizabeth, You should check out our Family Travel section: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/family-travel/ That has a lot of articles geared towards traveling with kids. In Manuel Antonio, some good activities with toddlers are the national park and Isla Damas boat tour to see monkeys. If you wanted to do a waterfall, the Uvita Waterfall about one hour south is a good option. For beaches, the national park has some calm options or Playa Biesanz.
And, yes, Manuel Antonio, Puntarenas is where the national park is.
Hope you all have a great visit!
Hi, I read on the Manuel Antonio Park page that no food is allowed in the park. They say “There is a kiosk at the beach area.” Do you know about this? What does the kiosk sell?
Older posts online say that you can bring food, but it needs to be fresh items like sandwiches or fruit. Do you know what is the case now? Are they strict about the no food policy? We are hoping to spend a good amount of our day hiking in the park and that will tricky with two kids, if we can’t bring in any food at all. Thank you!
Hi Pamela, Yes, they no longer allow any food in the park. There was a big problem with the monkeys and raccoons raiding bags and also with people feeding the animals. So no food unless you’re pregnant or for babies. There was a time that they allowed sandwiches and cut up fruit, but they don’t do that anymore.
There is a decent size cafe right in the national park near the end of the main trail/dirt road. We took a picture of the menu last time we were there, and they have:
-Sandwiches (ham, tuna, or chicken)
-Some baked goods like empanadas, cheese croissants, cinnamon rolls, cake
-Drinks (you can refill your water bottle here too).
Hope that helps!
Thank you! That is very helpful!
Perfect, thank you for this information!
Hello Jenn and Matt, your website is very helpful to plan the trip to Costa Rica! We are planning to go at the end of December 2021 and will stay for 17 day. We will travel with 2 older kids and plan to rent a car. We are fit and quite adventurous. We will land in San Jose and plan to visit La Fortuna, Arena, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio/Jaco. We plan to start our trip with activities such as visiting parks, hiking, etc and ending relaxing and spending 5 days on the beach. We are not sure where to start and what beach to spend the last 5 days: Tamarindo area or Jaco area? We love snorkeling, fishing, a little bit surfing, and swimming.
How would you recommend to plan the trip and what to focus on? I have read most of your articles but still lost in all activities. There is so much to do and see!
Hi Mila, If you have 17 days, it would be nice to see the Guanacaste region since it has really beautiful beaches, so I think I would recommend Tamarindo over Jaco. It has snorkeling nearby, sportfishing, surfing, and you can do day trips to nearby beaches with good swimming. Jaco is fun and has a lot of the same things but the beach itself isn’t as pretty, and you will be able to get a feel for the central Pacific coast while in Manuel Antonio.
Yes, there is a ton to do for activities! If you’d like any help figuring it all out, feel free to reach out to us through our Tour Booking Service.
As you’re shopping around for a rental car, also be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount.
Best of luck with the rest of your planning!
Hello Jenn and Matt, your website is fantastic ! We are planning to go to Costa Rica on August 2022 for 16 days. We will travel with children (11 and 16) and plan to rent a car. We will land in San Jose and we would like to visit: Park Tortuguero, Cahuita (Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica), Poas, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Park Manuel Antonio. Do you think it is possible to see it all having 16 days? How would you recommend visiting it one by one and how much time should we allocate to each place? Thank you very much !
Hi Kinga, It’s possible to do all those destinations in 16 days, assuming you don’t need to take away any nights due to an overnight needed at the airport. Here’s how we would break it down, considering drive times:
Tortuguero- 2 nights
Cahuita- 3 nights
Poas- 2 nights
La Fortuna- 3 nights
Monteverde- 3 nights
Manuel Antonio- 3 nights
If you don’t want a fast-paced trip, we would cut out one destination. Hope that helps!
Hi Jenn and Matt,
We are planning to visit the MA area in Feb ’23. We only have 6 days as our teen can’t miss much school. We are thinking of booking at the Shana resort as it seems to be a mid range hotel near the MA park as well as closer to the beach. Do you have any thoughts? Also, our friends suggested we try to be in Guanacoste instead of MA. Is there a difference? Thank you!
Hi Sarah, Manuel Antonio will be more lush and green in February than Guanacaste so we would do that. It’s a great home base for 6 nights since there is a lot to do.
The Shana is a very nice hotel and has access to a really nice beach. It’s on a side road a little drive from the main road so best with a car (unless you’re ok with taking taxis to restaurants and things). If you’d like to look at other options, we have a hotel guide to Manuel Antonio that will give you some ideas.
Hi Jenn and Matt,
Some girlfriends and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica March 4 through 11 next year. I have been once before and stayed in Pacifico in Playas del Coco and the others have not been to Costa Rica at all. We are outdoorsy. What do you think about Manuel Antonio in March? Your blog is a wonderful resource! So much so that we are considering extending our time to two weeks. Anyway, I enjoyed my week at Playas del Coco but want to experience more out into nature this trip. We’d like to stay in one place the entire week and venture out from there to various things instead of moving our home base mid week, if that makes sense. Thanks for doing what you do!
Hi Stephanie, We think Manuel Antonio would be great for your group if you’re looking for something more outdoorsy than Coco. Manuel Antonio is excellent for nature/wildlife and there is a ton to do, making it good for groups with many people and different interests. There is a ton to do out of this area as well, so it would be good for a longer stay. Hope you all have a wonderful time!