Manuel Antonio National Park is a 682-hectare piece of a luscious, jungle paradise, packed with one of the most bio-diverse natural habitats in the world; rainforest, a huge diversity of wildlife, and spectacular coral reefs. Ready to know the Best in Manuel Antonio?
The whole of the coastline, including the beaches and a large area of the ocean itself, has been protected since 1972, so every building and hotel has to be a fixed distance from the beachfront, resulting in miles of unspoiled coastline, free from unpleasant hotels and tacky beachside souvenir shops.
Best in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
One of the main draws of Manuel Antonio and of Costa Rica, in general, is the wide variety of activities, landscapes, climates, and wildlife on offer. There are high-altitude mountains draped in clouds, active volcanoes and hot springs, arid deserts, and intense rain forests and jungles. You can hike up to a waterfall today, go sport fishing tomorrow, and SCUBA dive the day after that! The number of adventure activities here will blow your mind and you can easily fill every day with something that scares thrills, and amazes you with life-lasting memories. Many visitors only spend a day or two here, but they really are missing out – Five days is a perfect time to get the best out of this inspiring location.
Here’s how to spend 5 awesome days in Manuel Antonio!
Day 1 – Arrive at your hotel
There are so many hotel and hostel choices in Manuel Antonio now, that it can be hard to pick one, so no matter what your style and budget, I’m going to do that for you!
Luxury – Parador Resort and Spa is the top hotel in the area and is unparalleled in quality, experience, and customer service. With three pools, private nature walks and commanding sea views, it really does stand alone.
Affordable Quality – La Colina is a beautifully restored, family-owned, hillside hotel with a two-tiered swimming pool, outdoor steakhouse restaurant/bar, and legendary local live music nights every week.
Backpackers – Vista Serena boasts the best sunset views of any hostel, which you can enjoy from a hammock on the open terrace. The chilled-rustic style and laid-back atmosphere are perfect for sitting back with a beer and swapping stories, with a giant kitchen which is a real evening focal point for cooking dinner together.
Hostel Plinio is a 30-year-old timber nature lodge, built long before the roads, then sadly neglected and abandoned for many years, before being taken on and renovated into one of Manuel Antonio’s coolest hostels. With a big swimming pool and a combination of dorm rooms and private accommodation with private penthouse balconies, they have something for everyone!
After a long drive, flight, bus, or all of the above, you need nothing more than a quiet, secluded beach with calm, warm water and excellent snorkeling. Playa Biesanz has all of this by the spade full. Just a 20-minute walk down a quiet street and through a forest path takes you to this serene piece of paradise. If you’re a strong and confident swimmer, then it’s worth the extra effort to swim out of the cove and watch the sunset while floating in the Pacific waters. Just make sure you leave enough energy and daylight to swim back though!
You’ve had a long day, so go back and relax on your hotel balcony, chill out in one of Vista Serena’s hammocks, or hang out by Hostel Plinio’s pool and watch the stars overhead.
Day 2 – Parque National de Manuel Antonio and Sunset Beers
Get up early and enjoy a good solid breakfast and sample some of Costa Rica’s world-famous coffee, because today is the day that you’re going to visit what attracted you to Manuel Antonio in the first place, the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Parque National Manuel Antonio is a 682-hectare piece of a luscious, jungle paradise, packed with one of the most bio-diverse natural habitats in the world; rain forest, a huge diversity of wildlife, and spectacular coral reefs. Although the smallest National Park in the country, it’s also one of the most famous with a very high density and variety of wildlife; two and three-toed sloths, Howler monkeys, Titi monkeys, Capucci monkeys raccoons, bats, birds lizards, and my favorite – millions of the small but mighty leaf-cutter ants!
As well as Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla, make sure you check out the viewpoints on Punta Catedral and two more secluded beaches, Playa Gemelas and Playa Puerto Escondido, which are often completely deserted. You can stay in the park all day, from 7 am until 4 pm. It’s very advisable to get into the park early, as the cooler morning air and fewer humans make for a lot more animals to see.
By the time you’ve finished a few hours of walking, swimming, sloth spotting, and sunbathing, there’s only one thing you’ll need – A cold beer and one of the most famous sunsets in the world! Ronny’s Place, a quality restaurant bar with a rustic feel, perched on the cliff side, has the best sunset view over the ocean that you’ll find anywhere in the area. When you’re done watching the glowing orange ball of day melt into the ocean, enjoy a host of fresh seafood and other great meals as you watch a thousand reds, oranges and purples fade in and out across the evening sky.
Day 3 – Surf, Turf, and Sunset Cocktails!
We’ve all sat on the beach, watching another human spring to their feet on a board and glide seamlessly down the face of a wave as it rises magnificently out of the ocean like a waking giant, before chasing the surfer one way or the other as he dodges, swerves and leaps through the air in a bid to stay just a split second ahead of obliteration and no more. We’ve all sat there thinking, ‘I wish I could do that!’ Well, maybe you can, but you need to have some lessons first! Costa Rica is one of the surf capitals of the world with literally hundreds of beaches and surfable waves for every level from beginner to advanced. Manuel Antonio and neighboring Quepos are home to at least four of them, with several local surf schools who promise to get you up and on your feet on the first day!
After a morning of exercise, you need nothing more than a relaxing afternoon, with everything you need provided for you, some light exercise (if you feel like it), amazing wildlife, great food, and most importantly of all, an open bar! Now, take all of that awesomeness, put it on a boat, with water slides, two Jacuzzi, and dolphins playing around the bows, and try not to have fun! There are a handful of small companies offering catamaran sunset cruises, which take you just offshore of the national park for amazing snorkelling, go dolphin spotting and finally stop to watch the sunset, with a delicious cooked meal and rum cocktail from the bar.
Day 4 – Fly sky high and dive down low…
If you haven’t slept off all the rum you drank at the end of day three, then a Costa Rican coffee and a high-speed flight through the jungle canopy will definitely clear it all out!
El Sanctuario Canopy Adventure Tour is set in 500 acres of private rainforest which promotes the preservation and growth of the forest as well as preventing the destruction of wildlife habitats and poaching of rare and endangered species in the area. One way they raise awareness is to show people the rainforest from a brand new perspective, flying through the canopy on some of the most exciting zip lines ever created. Soaring through the trees at a high level, you can see monkeys, lizards, sloths, and even giant toucans high in the trees. There are ten lines in total, including the longest zip line in Central America, at 1300 meters!
Excitement, adrenaline, and your contribution to the preservation of the rainforest and countless species of birds and animals = The best morning ever! Oh yeah, they’ll even give you lunch at the end!
Related Article: Looking for affordable accommodation? Check out our Ultimate List of Best Hostels around Costa Rica.
You’ll be back from zip-lining just in time to get changed into your swimming gear and get over to Oceans Unlimited, next door to Hostel Plinio, for the beginning of the final adventure of your holiday, which will also be the start of a life-long fascination with an alien world, teaming with weird creatures and magical, multi-colored landscapes. The Discover SCUBA Diving 2-day experience is aimed at giving beginner and first-time divers the chance to learn the basic skills and safety measures in the safety of a swimming pool, before heading out into the ocean to put those skills to the test for the first time. During the afternoon pool session, you’ll learn all about your equipment, how to move around under the water, how to breathe and manage your air, plus, the most important aspects of diving – Underwater safety and signaling. A pool session can last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.
Day 5 – Explore deep into a whole new world
Today is the last day of your trip before you hit the road to your next destination or perhaps even fly home, so get up and get back to Oceans Unlimited for the second half of your Discover SCUBA Diving experience – Two dives in the open ocean! You’ll be driven down to the Marina Pez Vela, packed with sport fishing boats and multi-million dollar yachts, from where it’s only a short ride to a nearby dive site which is actually within the boundaries of the Manuel Antonio National Park itself. One of the most unique features of Manuel Antonio is the ability to see one of the most densely packed wildlife habitats in Central America, both above and below the water, on the same day! Above ground, the park is home to several species of monkey, two and three-toed sloth, vultures, raccoons, massive iguanas, and countless others, all during a 30-minute walk.
Off the shoreline and below the surface, the nutrient-rich waters and complex ocean currents combine to create a diving experience unlike any other in the world, which is what attracts some of the best professional SCUBA instructors in the world and those wanting to learn from them. Once in the water, your instructor will personally take you down below the surface where you will practice all of the techniques you learned in the pool the day before, followed by a second dive where you’ll have more time to practice swimming around and looking at all the amazing sea life. When you rise back up and break the surface, climbing back onto the boat after your very first dive, you’ll be forever addicted to the fascinating world below the waves!
Return to your hotel or hostel to pack your things and get ready for your departure. It’s been a busy five days in Manuel Antonio, but luckily Costa Rica is full of amazing landscapes and environments of every kind, so you’ll never be disappointed by what this incredible country has to offer.
Where to go next?
Head south to the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park. Here you can ‘glam’ it up in Corcovado Adventures Tent Camp Lodge and stroll from one perfect, deserted beach to the next, with sunsets to beat even Manuel Antonio. If you’re ready to take on your next diving adventure, arrange a dive at Caño Island, where you’ll try and fail to count the sharks, sea turtles, and exotic fish!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Corcovado.
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