Beautiful white-sand beaches, loads of wildlife (monkeys, iguanas, parrots), and year-round warmth make Manuel Antonio one of our favorite spots in Central America. Lodging in the Costa Rican beach village ranges from over-the-top condo properties to tucked-into-nature boutique resorts. Here are the area’s most sumptuous hotels.
Those looking for a luxury bungalows and villas with lush rain forest surrounds can't do better than Tulemar. The majority of the units here are individually owned and rented out, but a strict homeowner's association and small army of full-time staff ensure that every nook and cranny is maintained and up-to-snuff. The resort is spread out on 33 hilly acres and offers everything from two hiking trails to four swimming pools and a beach with a restaurant and bar. Even at full capacity, there's still an air of seclusion and crowds are rarely a problem. For those who don't want to attempt the hills, there's an on-call van service, but nature-lovers will like meandering the roads and searching for monkeys, sloths, butterflies, and birds in the trees. Tulemar's 34 individual residences range from three-pearl Bungalows to five-pearl Villas. The various room options can sleep from two to 14 guests. All rooms come with a personal concierge who can arrange everything from restaurant reservations to yoga classes to a private chef. Daily housekeeping is included, and room service is available.
Located a 10-minute drive from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, Gaia Hotel and Reserve is a tranquil, boutique retreat blending contemporary design with a picturesque natural landscape. Jungle and ocean views claim the spotlight from almost every corner -- highlighted by the open-air restaurant and dazzling multi-tiered infinity pool with swim-up bar and whirlpool. (Each level of the pool is a bit on the small side, in contrast to Tulemar's four fully separate pools.) The 22 rooms at Gaia Hotel and Reserve, with stone and polished hardwood floors, exude eco-chic elegance. All include plush beds with 500-thread-count linens, and separate living areas with wood and wicker furniture. Tea-and-coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi, and LED smart TVs with Netflix are also standard. Certain spa treatments, breakfast, and tours of the hotel's reserve are included in the room rate. Note that only certain room types allow children under 13.
Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort is high-end resort with progressive environmental practices, located on the outskirts of Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s almost impossible not to spot exotic wildlife while dining at one of the resort’s restaurants or lounging by the pools. Not only is it one of the few hotels in the area located on the beach, it has access to two different beaches. The 38 rooms are chic and minimalist, with muted color palettes and attractive wooden furniture. All units include organic linens, free Wi-Fi, and flat-screen TVs (don't expect Netflix, though, like at Gaia). Coffeemakers are stocked with organic coffee and minibars overflow with free snacks.
It's hard to believe that four-pearl Shana by the Beach is located in Costa Rica and not in the Aegean Sea. With terra cotta roofs, a blue and white color scheme, and beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the hotel looks straight out of Santorini. The location is excellent for access to Biesanz Beach, but the hilly property is difficult for some guests to navigate without a golf cart and guests will need to take a car or taxi to Manuel Antonio National Park, which is about two miles away (compare this to Arenas del Mar's mile-long beach that stretches right stretches into the park). Mostly white rooms look romantic, especially those with ocean views from private balconies. Breakfast buffet at Bien Gusto Restaurant is included in the room rate.
Makanda by the Sea is an upscale and romantic boutique hotel nestled into the hills of Manuel Antonio. The most luxurious of Makanda's 27 villas, suites, and studios feature private infinity-edge pools and modern kitchens. All of the rooms have coffeemakers, free Wi-Fi, and ocean views, and come with a free daily delivered breakfast. The communal pool and adjacent Sunspot restaurant get high marks from past guests -- but there are complaints about the uncomfortable hike to a small beach. Kids under the age of 16 aren't allowed, so families should check out nearby Shana by the Beach.
Every single unit at The Preserve at Los Altos (Penthouse Suite excepted) is a 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom condo with all the trimmings: fully-equipped kitchen with stainless steel appliances, enormous living room with a big flat-screen TV, three terraces, and direct elevator access. (That's right -- the elevator opens right into your room. But don't worry, it's perfectly secure, so you won't get any surprise visitors.) The major downfall here is that the grounds are far less impressive and lush than at competing hotels. Travelers that want to feel integrated into the rain forest surroundings would do better at the intimate and secluded Makanda.
Issimo Suites Boutique Hotel and Spa is a small, upscale property that's a strong contender for most romantic in Manuel Antonio. Each of its 13 suites is a little bit different in terms of decor and layout, but all come standard with a king bed, jetted tub surrounded by natural stone, minibar, and flat-screen TV. The Royal Suite is the nicest (and most expensive option), complete with a full European kitchen and private terrace with a small pool and hot tub. Most have private or shared balconies, but some don't. However, views of the Pacific Ocean and prevalent through large windows. Wi-Fi ranges from spotty to non-existent. Issimo Restaurant serves a free, luxe breakfast buffet and Italian favorites for lunch and dinner, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The pool is on the small side, but it's open 24 hours and there's an adjacent bar for sunset cocktails. Kids under the age of 16 aren't allowed. Families should check out Los Altos for a larger pool, multi-room suites, and kid-friendly atmosphere.