8 Best Things To Do in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

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If you’re looking to adventure on a beautiful coastal white sand beach with rich biodiversity surrounded by a lush jungle filled with incredible flora and fauna then Manuel Antonio is the place to go!

The town of Manuel Antonio offers places to stay and relax and the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park is known for its stunning must-see beaches when visiting Costa Rica.

The park is also filled with plenty of activities to enjoy your time here. Relax on the beach, cruise on a boat, or zip-line through the jungle. Some nearby outfitters also offer ATV adventures or the chance to explore wildlife by snorkeling. The opportunities are endless when visiting Manuel Antonio.

How to Get to Manuel Antonio National Park

San Jose to Manuel Antonio is a 170 km drive that takes about 3 hours and 45 minutes. While you can rent a car and drive, it’s easier to avoid the stress of driving in an unfamiliar place and hop on public transportation instead!

Depending on the size of your group, shared minivans, private transfers, and buses are all popular and affordable options. There are also 30-minute flights from the San Jose airport to Quepos, the town outside the park. While this may seem like an easier option it’s still a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Manuel Antonio so it’s not a very efficient option and much more expensive.

When to Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

The dry season in Manuel Antonio National Park is from December to April. This is the best time to visit the beaches for hot and sunny weather. Later into summer the waterfalls in the jungle dry up so try to visit them in early December at the end of the rainy season.

Best Things To Do in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

1. Explore the Beaches in Manuel Antonio

There are many beautiful beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park all with abundant wildlife and hiking trails. Manuel Antonio Beach is known for its iconic views and is a 30-minute hike from the park’s main entrance. While this beach is stunning it gets pretty crowded so after a stop there, head down to Playa Espadilla Sur for a less crowded experience.

The park has 4 main beaches but if these are crowded there are also plenty of beaches outside of the park that are still worth visiting. Many beaches offer opportunities for hiking, scuba diving, sun bathing, surfing, snorkeling, boating, fishing, and relaxing.

2. Hike Sendero Catarata (The Waterfall Trail)

If you want to see one of the waterfalls in the jungle of Manuel Antonio, check out the Sendero Catarata Trail. The trail is less than a kilometer and branches off the El Manglar trail which starts after the park entrance.

This waterfall is a fun spot to visit during the rainy season and there is interesting wildlife along the way including poison dart frogs.

Due to the lack of precipitation during the dry season it’s not recommended to visit the waterfall from January to April.

3. Go on a Monkey Tour

With such dense jungles the monkey tours in Manuel Antonio are a great way to see the wildlife the park has to offer. Some of the most popular moneys include the Capuchin, Squirrel, and Howler Monkeys but these tours aren’t limited to just that!

There’s also the chance to see iguanas, sloths, agoutis, and hundreds of bird species. Book a tour in advance to guarantee a spot with a naturalist guide to help locate and educate you without the crowds.

4. Go Surfing at Playa Espadilla

Whether you’re an experienced surfer or a beginner just looking to try out the sport, Playa Espadilla is the best beach in Manuel Antonio National Park for surfing.

You can arrange surf lessons and rent surf boards right on the south end of the beach. Beginner surfers enjoy the high tide at the southern end of Playa Espadilla and experienced surfers should check out the larger waves at the north end of the beach.

5. Hike the Sendero Perezoso Trail

Another great hike in Manuel Antonio National Park is the Sendero Perezoso Trail. It’s a 2-mile out and back paved trail suitable for both wheelchairs and families with strollers. The trail runs through the forest and out along the beach.

It starts near the park entrance and also offers the chance to see wildlife including birds, sloths, and monkeys! Book tickets online to avoid the crowded lines and to have a park naturalist educate you along the way.

6. Go on a Catamaran Cruise

If you’re looking to explore the coast by boat, a catamaran cruise is the best way to do it! These cruises have varying options. Some offer snorkeling and others are sunset cruises. A few companies run these tours to cater to different travelers.

From the catamaran, you’ll not only see great views of the white sand beaches surrounded by the lush jungle but you might also see some marine wildlife like dolphins and fish. During the peak of whale season from August to September, there’s even the chance to see humpback whales migrate through!

7. Zipline Through the Jungle

There are a few places that offer zip-lining tours through the jungles near Manuel Antonio. It’s the perfect family-friend vacation opportunity for those looking for an exhilarating adventure!

Many zip-line companies also offer ATV tours and rappelling tours to spice up your trip too!

8. Go Snorkeling at Caño Island

Caño Island is one of the best spots in the Manuel Antonio area to see the best marine life while snorkeling. It’s about a one-hour drive from the national park because snorkeling in the park isn’t the best.

Join a tour outfitter to have the smoothest experience when visiting Caño Island. They’ll take care of the transportation, and gear, and show you the clearest water in the area!

Manuel Antonio National Park and the surrounding area have some beautiful landscapes and plenty of adventurous activities for anyone seeking a Costa Rica vacation. With the easy and affordable access from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, it’s a must-visit destination for your next Costa Rica vacation! 

Jeremy Scott Foster
Jeremy Scott Foster
Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.

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