Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Travel Guide
Manuel Antonio Summary
- Stunning Manuel Antonio National Park
- Breathtaking views of the ocean and the forests
- Beautiful white-sand beaches
- Lots of wildlife: Monkeys, iguanas, parrots, and more
- Sunny, warm weather year-round
- Easily accessible by car
- One of the country's most expensive regions
- Many hotels have steep properties
- Few hotels have on-site beach access
- Local culture has faded because of tourism
What It's Like
Manuel Antonio is home to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica and one of the most popular with tourists. Its lush forests are full of howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, sloths, tucans, parrots, and more, and line gorgeous stretches of perfect white sand. (Namely: Playa Espadilla Sur, an uncrowded beach that occasionally has rough surf; Playa Manuel Antonio, the park's most popular beach, with tidal pools and good snorkeling; and Playa Puerto Escondido, which has a blowhole in the rocks that shoots up water at high tide.) Just about every sort of outdoor activity is available in or near Manuel Antonio: hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, water sports, boating, horseback riding, waterfall rappelling, canopy safaris...the list goes on.
Some worry that hotel development in Manuel Antonio will ruin what made the area special in the first place, but it's still far less built up than popular beach destinations in Mexico or the Caribbean. Wildlife and beautiful tropical foliage can still be spotted on the beaches, roads, and even the hotel grounds. Hotels are small -- many are 50 rooms or less -- and a number of them were constructed in harmony with nature. The hotels here are known for their sweeping views, and often, steep properties: It's common in Manuel Antonio to need a hotel golf cart or van to take you from one part of the property to another. And because the best beaches are located inside the National Park, you'll usually have to drive, or take a hotel shuttle, to get to the sand.
Where to Stay
The hotels in Manuel Antonio are clustered around two roads: The main road from Quepos to the National Park, and a smaller road that branches off to a small peninsula, Punta Quepos. The farther north on the main road you stay, the farther you are from the excellent beaches inside the park. But since Manuel Antonio is so small, it only adds a couple minutes to your drive.
Travelers who want to a hotel with on-site beach access -- somewhat rare in Manuel Antonio -- do have several options. They can stay at properties along the coast north of Punta Quepos (such as Buena Vista Luxury Villas and Los Altos Beach Resort), where the beaches tend to be a little rocky. Or they can stay at Arenas del Mar on the south coast just east of Punta Quepos, near the beautiful Playa Playitas and Playa Espadilla. But remember that the properties are steep, so even getting to an on-site beach will be a bit of a trek.