While much of Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast has larger waves for surfing, there are a few beaches with nice calm water. One such place is Playa Mantas. This cove, just north of Jaco, has turquoise water and a thick backing of jungle. Because of its beauty, it is a popular spot. In this post, we’ll explain more about the beach and give some tips on the best times to visit.
Playa Mantas is located about 15 minutes north of the tourism hotspot, Jaco. It is not far off Highway 34 and can easily be visited on a day trip from Jaco. See directions below.
Playa Mantas is one of the closest scenic beaches to San Jose, at just over one hour. Because of this, it is very popular among locals. Costa Ricans from the capital city and elsewhere flock to this beach on weekends. The parking lot often fills up, so if you’re planning a visit on a Saturday or Sunday, be sure to arrive early.
Playa Mantas is one of the beaches that fronts Punta Leona Resort. Punta Leona is a fairly large, more basic all-inclusive resort. It is spread out along the beach, and has different sections with bungalows and condos.
Punta Leona also has direct beach access to the neighboring Playa Blanca (see more below). Since all beaches in Costa Rica are public, you can access Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca even if you’re not staying at the resort.
About Playa Mantas
Playa Mantas is a wide cove, flanked by a rocky outcropping on one end and a vegetated point on the other.
The sand is a pretty gray color. The waves are gentle and perfect for swimming, even with young kids. In dry season when there is little rain (December to end of April), the water is a gorgeous turquoise shade.
The northern end of the beach is the quietest because it is the farthest from the main path.
This stretch, in our opinion, is one of the nicest parts of the beach. A steep green hillside backs the sand, creating a layer of shade during much of the year. A large outcropping of rocks forms the northern boundary. Here, you can find crabs and other sea creatures, making it a fun spot to explore.
There are also the remnants of some pilings here, probably from an old dock. We’ve seen people walk out to this area for pictures.
The middle section of beach is the busiest. This is because it’s right where the walking path from the road ends.
This area has some tall palms and thick shrubs. Large groups set up here for the day, or even the whole weekend. You’ll see barbeques, tables with food and drink, and maybe even tents for camping.
The southern end is also very pretty but usually busy too. This area has more palm trees and several thick, shady almond trees. The very southern end has large rocks that form pools at low and mid tide.
Access to Playa Mantas
Unlike most beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Mantas has a designated public parking lot run by the municipality. The lot has a guard and gate.
Although it is large, it does fill up on weekends and holidays, as we mentioned above. When it’s full, the attendants will put up a sign to let you know.
Tip: If you can, visit Playa Mantas during the week (Monday-Friday). It is almost always empty on weekdays. Weekends and holidays are the busiest, especially around Christmas, Semana Santa (Easter Week), and other long holiday weekends. If you’re only able to visit on Saturday or Sunday, arrive by 9:00 a.m. at the latest to ensure you can get in.
Parking is 1,000 colones an hour (about $1.50). Payable in cash only.
When you come to the gate, you’ll take a ticket. Hold onto it, then you’ll present it to the attendant on your way out. There’s also a QR code they recommend you can scan in case you accidentally lose the ticket.
Parking hours are from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
From the parking lot, there’s a path to the beach. It is well maintained and leads to the southern end.
A benefit of the parking lot is that you can use the outdoor showers to rinse off after. There are about eight of them, near where the beach path starts. A bathroom is also located in the guardhouse.
You also can walk into Playa Mantas. Right before the parking lot on the right is an unmarked, but very visible, path (different from the other path from the parking lot). If you take this, you can walk right to the beach without paying anything.
It is about a five-minute walk from the road to the beach.
The walking path drops you off in the middle of the beach. If you head right (north), the path leads behind the trees along the fringes of the Punta Leona Resort. If you want to go to the southern end of Playa Mantas, you’ll just head left towards the water and walk on the sand.
One of the cool things about Playa Mantas is that you can often see wildlife.
White-faced monkeys love to hang out in the middle area where there are a lot of people. These guys can be aggressive, so be sure to keep an eye on your bags. They will try to steal your food!
You also can see Scarlet Macaw parrots. These are big red birds with blue and yellow that are relatively common in the Jaco area, but still special. They feed in beach almond trees. You can often hear their loud squawk before you see them.
We’ve also seen iguanas, Jesus Christ Lizards in the stream along the walking path, and pelicans feeding in the sea.
Another highlight of Playa Mantas is its proximity to Playa Blanca.
Just on the other side of the southern point is this gorgeous beach.
Playa Blanca has fluffy white sand. This may seem like a small detail, but most of the sand on the central Pacific coast is volcanic and fine. At Playa Blanca, the texture is thicker, making it feel nice and fluffy under your toes.
You can’t drive to Playa Blanca unless you’re a guest at the Punta Leona Resort. But you can access it by walking south along the sand from Playa Mantas. This is best done at low tide.
Read our post, Playa Blanca: A White-Sand Oasis Near Jaco, for more details.
Directions to Playa Mantas
Take the coastal highway 34 to Punta Leona. If you’re coming from Jaco, the road to Playa Mantas will be on the left, shortly before the main entrance to Punta Leona Resort. Look for the large restaurant, Los Guarumos, as you’re coming down the hill. The left is a few hundred meters after that.
This is called Calle Vieja, the old road to Playa Mantas.
There will be a tiny grocery store on the left after you turn and some condos. The road will be paved for a few minutes, then turn to dirt (usually with many bumps). This stretch is rainforest-covered and not very developed.
When you get closer to Punta Leona, it’ll turn to bumpy pavement again. You’ll pass some houses and condos, another mini-super grocery store, a pizza restaurant, and Pops ice-cream shop.
After driving for about ten minutes total, you’ll come to the parking lot on the right.
4×4 is not necessary for the drive but be careful as the road is narrow in some places.
Playa Mantas is definitely one of our favorite beaches along Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. Although it can be busy on weekends, this is also a fun, festive time. From your beach chair, you can catch a glimpse of the local culture, all while enjoying the beautiful tropical scenery.
Have a question about visiting Playa Mantas? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town – Jaco has a fun vibe and great restaurants. Check out our post for activity, hotel, and food recommendations.
La Fortuna: What to Expect – La Fortuna/Arenal pairs well with a visit to the Jaco area. Our post has details on things to do like volcano hikes and zip lining as well as tips on where to stay.
Best Beaches for Families in Costa Rica: Interested in visiting more beaches with calm water? This post has six ideas.