Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park? 9 Useful Tips!

Manuel Antonio is an incredibly beautiful national park on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. As you wander through the park, you’re very likely to encounter wildlife. It’s even one of the best places in Costa Rica to spot sloths! We’ve visited Manuel Antonio National Park twice and both times have seen numerous raccoons, monkeys, and sloths. Besides the abundant wildlife, the park boasts white sandy beaches with clear blue water lined with palm trees. Taking a refreshing swim here after your hike is delightful. If you’re planning to visit Manuel Antonio National Park, be sure to check out these 9 tips in advance to make the most of your visit.

Note: Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica and also the most visited, so be prepared for it to often be crowded. If you find this bothersome, consider visiting one of the less frequented parks such as Tortuguero National Park or Corcovado National Park.

#1 Reserve Manuel Antonio Tickets Online

To limit and spread the crowds, you can no longer simply purchase tickets at the entrance since 2022. You need to reserve tickets for Manuel Antonio National Park online. It’s wise to do this in advance because you must choose a date and time slot. This ensures that your preferred day and time are still available. You can reserve tickets here and payment is required with a credit card. Please note that this website doesn’t always function perfectly. If something goes wrong after entering your credit card details, double-check whether the payment hasn’t been deducted before making another attempt. Trying a different browser might help. Tickets might end up in your spam folder, so don’t forget to check there.

#2 Visit Manuel Antonio as Early as Possible and Avoid Tuesdays

Manuel Antonio is open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM and is closed every Tuesday. It’s best to go early as this is when you have the highest chance of spotting animals. Animals are most active in the morning. The entrance fee for Manuel Antonio is $18 per person and free for children under 2 years old.

#3 Rules Regarding Food, Drinks, & Smoking

Since 2022, you’re not allowed to bring food into Manuel Antonio as they aim to minimize the environmental impact. Human waste often ends up in nature, and visitors inadvertently feed the wild animals, which is not the intention. The only items permitted to bring are water and soda. Your bag will be checked at the park entrance, and anything prohibited will be discarded. Smoking is also prohibited in Manuel Antonio, and cigarettes will be disposed of. If you have any trash, always take it back with you or dispose of it in the bins and never feed the wild animals.

Tip: Tap water is not drinkable in Costa Rica. Therefore, bring a reusable bottle with you on your trip as you can refill it at many places, reducing the need for plastic bottles.

#4 Getting to Manuel Antonio

The village of Quepos is close to Manuel Antonio, and you’ll often be dropped off there by the bus. It’s also possible that the bus goes directly to the park entrance. If you’re traveling by minivan, they’ll usually drop you off at your hostel or hotel. Most people travel from Uvita, Drake Bay, or San José to Manuel Antonio. Below, you’ll find how to get there from these destinations.

From Uvita to Quepos, Manuel Antonio

Using the local bus: There’s a direct bus from Uvita to Quepos. The travel time is about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Using a rental car: This is about an hour’s drive.

From Drake Bay to Quepos, Manuel Antonio

By bus + boat: Board the boat from Drake Bay to Sierpe and then take a taxi or bus to Palmar Norte. From there, a bus will take you to Quepos in just over 2 hours.

Using a rental car: It depends on how you reached Drake Bay, as there are two options for this route when traveling by rental car. If you drove all the way to Drake Bay, expect about a 4-hour drive to Manuel Antonio. If you parked your car in Sierpe, take the boat from Drake Bay to Sierpe, and it’s a 2-hour drive from Sierpe to Manuel Antonio.

From San José to Quepos, Manuel Antonio

By local bus: The cheapest way to travel from San José to Manuel Antonio is by the local bus. Direct buses to Quepos and Manuel Antonio depart from this bus station. The local bus takes about 5 hours, and you can buy bus tickets at the station. Check here for the current departure times of this bus.

By minivan: A comfortable, faster but slightly more expensive option is to travel by minivan. You’ll be picked up from your hotel in San José and dropped off at your hotel in Manuel Antonio or Quepos. The minivan takes about 4 hours.

Using a rental car: This is a journey of about 3 hours.

#5 The Hiking Trails in Manuel Antonio

The hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park are well-marked, and getting lost is unlikely. The paths are well-maintained, and you’ll come across wooden boardwalks here and there. The majority of the park consists of the main trail, Sendero Principal. This is a mostly flat path, making it easy to walk. It’s highly recommended to also explore the trail on the Punta Catedral peninsula. This hiking path has more elevation changes and takes you to various viewpoints. This part of the park is less crowded and equally stunning.

#6 Park Only at the Entrance of Manuel Antonio

If you’re traveling with a rental car to Manuel Antonio, you’ll need to park it somewhere near the park entrance. About two kilometers (1.2 mile) before the entrance of Manuel Antonio, you’ll encounter people waving and calling out for you to park with them. If you do this, you’ll still have quite a walk to the entrance, and there are usually plenty of parking spots much closer. Therefore, check your navigation carefully when you’re nearly there and park as close to the entrance as possible. You can always turn around at the roundabout at the end if needed due to the last parking lot being full. The usual price to park your rental car is 3000-5000 CRC.

#7 Keep an Eye on Your Belongings at the Beach

Due to some people feeding animals, certain monkeys and raccoons have become quite bold. They are not afraid to take a peek into your bag in hopes of finding some food. So always make sure to close your bag securely and be cautious when you go for a swim. The advantage is that sometimes the raccoons and monkeys come very close.

#8 Take a Trip to Nauyaca Waterfalls

About 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Manuel Antonio, you’ll find the coastal town of Dominical. From here, it’s a short drive to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. These waterfalls consist of two falls where the water plunges over 200 meters (656 feet). From the entrance, it’s a sturdy 4 km hike to the waterfalls, so wear good shoes and bring enough water. Along the way, you might encounter monkeys, toucans, and other exotic animals, so keep your ears and eyes open. If you’re not in the mood for hiking, there are pickups that go from the entrance to the Nauyaca Waterfalls and back. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the waterfalls and can take a refreshing dip in the water. For the truly adventurous, you can even jump from the waterfall.

Tip: If you’re continuing to Uvita after visiting Manuel Antonio, you’ll pass by the Nauyaca Waterfalls. If you’re traveling by rental car, you can stop here and visit the waterfalls. If you’re taking the bus, it’s more convenient to visit the waterfall as a side trip from Uvita, as it’s closer to the falls than Manuel Antonio.

#9 A Guide is Not a Necessity but Still Interesting

Animals like monkeys and raccoons are not very shy and are easily spotted. However, there are still many other animals in Manuel Antonio that are often difficult to see. That’s why it can be very enjoyable to go out with a guide. In addition to effortlessly spotting the most elusive animals, the guide will teach you about the biodiversity of Manuel Antonio National Park. You’ll also spot small creatures like poison frogs, birds, and insects. The guide will have a professional pair of binoculars, so you can admire the animals up close.

Best Restaurants near Manuel Antonio

De Falafel Bar – Here, you can enjoy the most delicious falafel, kebab, or shawarma sandwiches. You can fill your sandwich at the salad bar and definitely order a fresh smoothie as well. You’ll find De Falafel Bar 3 km from the entrance of Manuel Antonio.
El Wagon – This restaurant has a fantastic atmosphere, and you can enjoy delicious pizzas baked in a stone oven.
Soda Angel – Delicious local food at very friendly prices.

Our Favorite Places to Stay near Manuel Antonio

Quepos is a village near Manuel Antonio where you can find many restaurants and shops. Most hostels and hotels are located between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Looking for a cozy hostel where you can easily meet other travelers? Then Plinio is the place for you. This hostel is surrounded by jungle, with hammocks and comfortable seating areas everywhere. Also, Téva Eco Retreat is a great spot about a 10-minute drive from the entrance. You can choose from various room options for different budgets, and there’s a spacious garden with a lovely swimming pool. If you have a slightly larger budget, we recommend Tico Tico Villa’s. Here, you’ll stay in a spacious apartment with all the amenities. There’s a beautiful garden, a large swimming pool, and the owner Vernita is incredibly friendly.