Costa Rica

5 Best things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Enjoy Playitas Beach in Quepos Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

If you love beautiful beaches, wildlife, and nature, you can not miss Manuel Antonio when traveling in Costa Rica. It is located in the center of the pacific coast and famous for its incredible diversity of plants and animals. 

In this blog post, we share the best things to do around Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, from wildlife spotting to waterfall chasing and the best places to stay in the area.

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Best things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Visit Manuel Antonio Nationalpark 

The main reason for most people to visit Manuel Antonio is the Nationalpark. It’s one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica and has a huge diversity for its size. The Nationalpark opens at 7 am, and we recommend you to go in the morning because it can get quite busy in the afternoon. 

The entrance fee is 16 USD per person. The Nationalpark offers super easy walking trails. You can hire a guide at the entrance, which definitely helps to spot more wildlife. We went by ourselves and found it easy to spot the animals here. But especially if your main goal is to see sloths, we would definitely hire a guide because they are hard to spot yourself.

You can see many species here, like white face monkeys, sloths, or parrots. There are two beautiful beaches in the Nationalpark where you can swim so don’t forget to bring your bathing suit. The park closes before sunset at 3 pm, so if you like to watch the sunset at the beach, head to Playa Espadilla after leaving the Nationalpark.

Sloth hanging in Tree at Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Sloth sitting on tree at Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Enjoy the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio offers amazing beaches outside of the Nationalpark as well. We loved Playa Espadilla, which is a long, white-sanded beach right next to the Nationalpark. Make sure not to go to the first part right next to the park but drive or walk further down the beach. We found this area almost empty and loved the vibe there.

If you drive in your car, enter Playa Playitas to your navigation. You can park your car by the beach here, and this area of the beach is not busy at all.

Two parrots flying next to each other

Explore Nauyaca Waterfall 

Hands down, our favorite waterfall we have ever been to. Nauyaca Waterfall is about one hour drive from Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, right outside of Dominical. It opens at 7 am, and the entrance fee is 10 USD per person.

There is a ticket office right at the road and parking a bit further down. From the parking, it’s a 4 km hike to the waterfall. The trail is gorgeous, but the way to the waterfall is quite steep in some parts. We recommend going in the morning when it’s not too hot.

Nauyaca waterfall has two levels, and it’s absolutely stunning. The lower level is perfect for swimming in. We arrived there around 8 am and enjoyed the waterfall just for ourselves for almost 2 hours. It was incredible. 

Whale Watching tour from Marino Ballena Nationalpark, Uvita

One of the most unforgettable moments of our lives was to watch the humpback whales at Marino Ballena Nationalpark. It’s the protected area where humpback whales migrate to give birth to their babies.

We booked our private tour with Explore Uvita, who then organized everything with Bahia Aventuras. We can highly recommend both companies as they did a fantastic job. They made our day perfect and are very conscious and passionate about the whales. Besides, our guide had a huge knowledge about the whales and could give us so much information about them.

Whale watching tours at Marino Ballena Nationalpark start from Uvita and usually take a half-day. However, after the tour, we got the chance to stay in the Nationalpark and explore more on land by ourselves.

Humpback whales coming to surface to breath Marino Ballena National Park Costa Rica
Humpback whale on surface Marino Ballena National Park Costa Rica

Stay in the Jungle

Our tip: If you travel to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica because you love nature and want to see wildlife, we recommend booking a place surrounded by the jungle. In our jungle casita, which we found on Airbnb, we saw more wildlife than in our day we spent in the Nationalpark. The highlight was a beautiful sloth Mama visiting us with her baby. We could watch her for two days right in front of our terrace.

Other nice places to stay are Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio by the beach, or Kura Costa Rica in Uvita with incredible views. Both hotels have eco-friendly practices.

For a lower budget option, we recommend Selina Manuel Antonio. Perfect for young people, solo travelers, surfers.

How to get around in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

To get around in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, we recommend renting a car. It’s the most convenient and allows you to get to the places you want to visit before most people. The streets in this area are usually paved, and it’s easy to drive around here.

Travel tips

Grocery Shopping and Food

On Friday nights from 5 pm and Saturday mornings from 7 am, there is a local farmers market in Quepos town for grocery shopping. 

Our favorite shop to buy Groceries is Mama Toucan in Dominical, which is about 45 min from Manuel Antonio. We highly recommend stopping by this amazing shop. They offer very fresh organic veggies and fruits, homemade vegan baked treats, and homemade Tempeh.

Besides, there is an amazing zero-waste shop in Uvita called EMANA. This place is amazing to stock up rice, beans, and nuts plastic-free.

We mostly cooked our meals in our jungle casita, so we did not eat out a lot during our time here. We did not really find a vegan place in Manuel Antonio we could recommend. But in Dominical, there are delicious vegan-friendly places like Cafe Mono Congo with delicious wraps and bowls and seating by the river or Phat Noodle for delicious Thai Food.

Environment

A severe problem in this area is that people feed wild animals. This has a big impact on their natural behavior. Of course, it’s tempting to be so close to these beautiful animals but please always remember the impact of what we are doing by intervening in nature.

Squirrel Monkey sitting in Treetop Quepos Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Conclusion

We loved the time we spent around Manuel Antonio, and we had so many magical experiences and encounters with beautiful animals that we enjoyed a lot. Overall, through Manuel Antonio’s popularity and the many visitors in this area, the experience of visiting the Nationalpark felt not very natural compared to Corcovado Nationalpark in the Osa Peninsula, where visiting is very regulated by numbers of people and only professionally guided visits and no animal feeding.
 
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is very easy to reach from San Jose and offers a bit of everything from wildlife to beautiful beaches and waterfall hikes.
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