Written by: Carrie Green-Zinn
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations for tourists, around three hours from the capital, San Jose. Here are some of the top-rated tours and best things to do in Manuel Antonio!
The small town of Manuel Antonio and its neighbor, the fishing village of Quepos, is nestled into the pristine central Pacific coast of Costa Rica close to the Caribbean Sea; it’s lush with rainforests, amazing wildlife, and stunning beaches.
With some of the best beaches on the island, amazing wildlife, and tropical rainforests, there are a plethora of tours, excursions, and activities to fill your days with fun in Manuel Antonio. I loved visiting here!
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share with you the adventures of Manuel Antonio National Park as well as the 23 best things to do in Manuel Antonio and around!
Welcome To Costa Rica: One of the Happiest Places on Earth!
Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as “the cradle of happiness” because after surviving Spanish colonization and years of destruction of many of its indigenous peoples, it somehow has avoided much of the violence plaguing Central America.
Following a 44-day civil war and uprising in 1948, Costa Rica has since guaranteed free elections and the abolishment of the national military.
With a new constitution since 1958, Costa Rica is one of the few democracies in the world without an army!
Costa Rica has since created a culture of democracy, tolerance, and stability. The country has become known as a progressive nation with a commitment to education and peace.
The Costa Ricans use the phrase Pura Vida to express their lovely way of life. Use this saying to say hello and to praise anyone. It’s a great way to get into the flow of the Costa Rican vibe!
23 Fun Things To Do In Manuel Antonio National Park
Start your visit to Manuel Antonio by visiting the national park itself!
The park is the primary tourist destination for anyone visiting this region of Costa Rica. It’s kind of a one-stop shop!
You get all your curiosities met by seeing so many creatures natural to this habitat, wandering through the rainforest, and having access to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica.
This town is very tourist-friendly, so when you book a tour, the tour companies will pick you up and bring you back to your lodging; they will feed you lunch and provide you with all the amenities you need for successful adventures!
Here are your 23 things to do in Manuel Antonio!
The guided tours in Manuel Antonio National Park are a must. If you try to explore the park on your own without a guide, you may miss a lot of what is so special about the park.
The tour guides have so much information and experience, but most importantly, they have remarkable telescopes that they set up on tripods so you can see the animals up in the trees.
The guides communicate with each other and are able to take you to a spot when there is a sighting of a sloth, howler monkeys, or a toucan.
Without their support, you would be left to your own wandering and just hoping for a glimpse.
There are larger group tours and small private ones. They include a stop-off for a glass of lemonade and some delicious watermelon to cool off.
The price of your tour will include the entrance ticket into the park, which also gives you access to the beach after your tour! So, bring your bathing suit!
The water and beaches of the Manuel Antonio area are known for being some of the best places to learn to surf.
As surfing is a very popular sport in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio has a plethora of top-rated surf lessons and schools to choose from!
You just cannot leave Manuel Antonio without testing your board skills; this is almost obligatory (and really fun!)
The Manuel Antonio region is literally ideal for a family-friendly snorkeling excursion.
Crystal clear water and gentle waves make it easy and safe, a great place to see the undersea world of marine life.
The boat tours will take you out to one of the many sites just off the coast for you to dive in and see the colorful fish that thrive in the area.
The tours will provide you with the equipment and usually also offer lunch. Be careful not to be on a big tour because so many of you are jumping into the water simultaneously, which tends to scare the fish away just as you are trying to view them!
Manuel Antonio offers crystal-clear waters that are perfect for a leisurely kayak trip.
One of the most popular activities in Manuel Antonio is to take an ocean kayak journey along the coastline.
This offers you the opportunity to see the islands and inlets where marine birds mate and to see the life below the ocean’s surface filled with fish and sea turtles.
Pelicans pass by, and flying fish jump out at you as you paddle by. These can be challenging kayak tours with outstanding rewards!
Whitewater Rafting is a really popular sport in Costa Rica, and Manuel Antonio has no shortage of tours to take you down the river!
The main rivers in Manuel Antonio are the Savegre and Naranjo Rivers. They each have different levels of rafting depending on your skills and what kind of adventure you are looking for.
This scenery includes the beautiful Costa Rican Mountains. Enjoy full or half-day adventures that include lunch and as much excitement as you can stand!
This nocturnal tour is likely to be your favorite adventure of your trip to Manuel Antonio! You’ll be picked up and taken to the jungle, where you’ll hear the sounds of the nighttime orchestra of creatures.
Everything from toads and insects to kinkajou. Lots of the exotic animals in the jungle wait until the dark to have fun.
Learn all about the nighttime secrets of the jungle! This is a whole different experience than nighttime in the concrete jungle!
Taking a hike to the Nauyaca Waterfalls is one of the best ways to spend a day in Manuel Antonio. This incredible destination is just about one hour from Manuel Antonio.
A hiking trail leading to the falls is filled with magnificent flora and fauna, with a good chance of spotting abundant wildlife walking to the waterfall.
When you arrive, the reward at this majestic waterfall is one of the most memorable moments you will experience on your trip!
The falls are picture-perfect and are a great spot for swimming, climbing the rocks, and jumping in. The best part is, can you imagine swimming amidst these multi-tiered waterfalls in the middle of the rainforest? It’s magical.
Some tours will take you on horseback; others hike into the falls.
The Damas Island Estuary is a special Reserve about 8 miles or 13 km from Manuel Antonio, perfect for kayaking in the mangrove.
This region is unique because of its mangrove trees that grow along the canal. Mangroves are native to this tropical area because they can survive in salt water, whereas other types of plants can not.
Take an excursion through the mangroves on a boat tour to see a wide variety of birds, squirrel monkeys, reptiles, and plenty of crustaceans.
You can kayak or float down the water and enjoy the wild kingdom of this very unusual ecosystem.
Costa Rica is known for its excellent cuisine. Be sure to sample traditional Costa Rican dishes like Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), Casado (a traditional meal), and fresh seafood.
There are also spice farms showing you the cultivation of cinnamon and vanilla. And, of course, there’s chocolate and coffee!
Coffee and Cacao are hugely significant for the Costa Rican culture and economy. Learn about the history of chocolate and how it is made by collecting, fermenting, and grinding the beans.
Watch and enjoy as you taste real Costa Rican Cafe-Chorreado.
There are a bunch of chocolate and coffee tours in Manuel Antonio, so pick one that gives you a true understanding of how these beans are grown and why the finished products taste so good!
10. Hike Into The Rainforest
Trek through the lush tropical rainforest while you explore hidden waterfalls and rivers along the way!
Start with the ten hiking trails that are right in the Manuel Antonio National Park. The trails are mostly easy and some of moderate difficulty, with staircases up to higher points.
There are so many great hikes in and around Manuel Antonio. You will want to pick one that offers you sightings of the exotic wildlife that you came to see. Keep an eye out for exotic birds and rare butterflies!
They are not strenuous and are more like walks in the forest than difficult hikes. Your entrance fee to the park allows you to hike on these trails.
Fishing is a huge sport in Manuel Antonio. There are so many different species of fish to catch that fishing tours offer charter boats for all different skill sets and fishing interests.
Perhaps you want epic deep-sea fishing offshore to catch Marlin or Tuna, or Inshore Fishing to catch Mackerel or Snapper!
And there are the famous Mangrove Fishing trips for Grouper and Snook. Be sure to check on which type of trip you should take depending on the time of year that you go.
Not all fish are swimming here year-round, so do your research. But generally, people who love fishing really rave about fishing in Manuel Antonio.
12. Visit 4 Spectacular Beaches
There is no shortage of gorgeous beaches on the Manuel Antonio coastline. Here are four must-visit beaches while exploring this area.
La Playita Beach
La Playita Beach is the northwest end of the longer Playa Espadilla Norte main beach.
To access this private cove of a beach, you need sandals for walking over the rocks and can’t access it for the two hours before and after high tide because the entrance is blocked by waves.
Once there, you’ll find yourself at the most famous gay and lesbian nude beach in Costa Rica. Although nudity is not permitted in Costa Rica, this beach has a reputation for nudists to gather.
It’s a small and pristine beach with the perfect views that Manuela Antonio has to offer.
Manuel Antonio Beach (Playa Manuel Antonio)
The Playa Manuel Antonio is probably the most popular beach in Manuel Antonio because it is part of the national park area.
It has the soft white sand that Costa Rica is famous for and has gentle waves and a water temperature that makes it easy to soak in for as long as you like!
This is a perfect beach for swimming, snorkeling, and lying in the sand. Enjoy the beautiful palm trees that line the beach and be entertained by the capuchin monkeys that play in them.
But BE CAREFUL!
These monkeys will steal your stuff! For real, they will become aggressive and take your food, your camera, your sunglasses, and anything else they can get their little hands on!
Espadilla South Beach (Playa Espadilla Sur)
Another gorgeous spot along the coast is the Playa Espadilla Sur on the northern shore of the rocky peninsula called Punta Cathedral.
This beach also has perfect white sand against the backdrop of the rainforest and its lush green hues.
The water is turquoise, and the waves are welcoming. This beach may be a little less busy than the public or Manuel Antonio beaches. Relax and sit in the surf while you soak up the sun.
This beach is popular because not only does it offer snorkeling and kayak rentals and has bathroom facilities, but there’s also the cool Howler Bar, in case you want to have a beverage and some ceviche on the beach!
There are “security” guards who you can pay to watch your car if you drive there. Then, walk down the rocky path to the beach, but keep your sandals on because the beach is also lined with some rocks.
People say that the sand is gray and coarse, unlike the white soft sand of some of the other beaches in the region. It’s a hidden gem and more a local spot than touristy, so it might be less crowded and more intimate than other beaches.
This is a must-do in Manuel Antonio! If you want the true jungle canopy experience of a lifetime, then zipline above the rainforest canopy!
This is one of the most popular things to do when visiting Manuel Antonio.
You see mountain views and might even catch some wildlife while you are flying through the forest. Check out the many tours that offer tours for first-time zipliners or those with more experience.
The Manuel Antonio Park beaches are known as the pioneers of parasailing in the region.
You’ll get a bird’s eye view of the stunning coastline 600 feet above the water! Don’t be afraid! This sport is designed for everyone to be able to experience the feeling of flying above the water.
If you are looking for a luxury, unique sailing experience, then take a cruise on the gorgeous wooden sailboat Brisa Elegante.
Sailing aboard the Brisa Elegante wooden ship in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is quite a one-of-a-kind experience that transports you centuries back to a world of timeless navy!
The Brisa Elegante takes you along the picturesque coastline of Manuel Antonio National Park. Choose between cruises for 4 to 8 hours in a calm and relaxing environment out of Marina Pez Vela in Quepos/Manuel Antonio.
The cruise booking includes transportation, cocktails, lunch, or dinner prepared by the ship’s own chef.
You will also be free to use the ship’s kayaks, stand-up paddles, and snorkeling gear for exploring, all included!
The Catamaran Eco Adventure from Quepos, Costa Rica, is a thrilling luxury voyage through the pristine waters off the coast of Quepos.
As you sail, you’ll have the opportunity to spot an array of marine life, including dolphins, sea turtles, and tropical fish.
The real highlight, however, is reaching the enchanting Biesanz Bay, where you can snorkel amidst vibrant coral reefs or simply relax on the catamaran’s deck, surrounded by lush rainforest-covered cliffs.
Enjoy a buffet lunch and beverages. Snorkeling gear and transportation are included in the 3-hour adventure.
Are you a snake and reptile enthusiast? Snake and reptile tours in Manuel Antonio are a great way to dive into the world of these creatures.
These so-called herping tours take you deep into the lush rainforest and natural habitats, where you can encounter an incredible variety of snakes, iguanas, lizards, and other reptiles.
Find species of reptiles and amphibians, including viper snakes, colorful tree frogs, and lots more. Rubber boots, snake hooks, and flashlights are provided along with transportation.
If you are any kind of naturalist, you will love this private bird-watching tour. An experienced bird guide takes you on an exploration through the lush rainforest, which is home to over 300 bird species.
The tours go out at sunrise or before the sun sets when the birds are most active. You don’t even need to bring your own binoculars! The tour takes care of everything.
Enjoying the trails in Manuel Antonio on horseback is a truly unique experience that you and your whole family will enjoy.
You’ll ride through the mountain trails, interact with nature, and swim by the waterfall. Look for iguanas, birds, butterflies, and other wildlife as you ride the well-trained horse through the lush forest.
Take a full-day tour that provides training and a gorgeous trail ride.
Take a daytime or nighttime stand-up paddle tour. You’ll enjoy the magic of the water by gliding along and seeing what lies below the crystal clear ocean of the Manuel Antonio beaches.
A nighttime tour comes with illuminated boards to light up the water for an experience you will not forget!
Don’t worry if you’ve never been on an SUP before; it’s an easy sport for beginners!
What could be a better way to end the day than out on the water watching the miracle that is the Costa Rican sunset? Enjoy the evening cruise on a boat, a Catamaran, or a Trimaran.
You’ll learn about the marine life around you and have the opportunity to see whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other tropical fish. Enjoy a delicious meal as you watch the sun setting.
A sunset cruise on the Pacific, against the backdrop of the jungle, is a different kind of magic than a city sunset urban cruise.
22. Visit Dominical Village From Manuel Antonio.
Dominical is a very popular beach town known for its surfing and great waves. It’s about 50 minutes from Manuel Antonio, so it is a short drive if you want to change the scenery a bit!
It’s a laid-back town with a unique kinda hippy vibe and great restaurants and shops. Take a day trip to this off-the-beaten-path’ish, old, sleepy fish village.
23. Have Wood-Fired Pizza With A View
You can go to Manuel Antonio just to have a famous wood-fired pizza at the one-of-a-kind El Wagon! Read more details about this gem in the restaurant section a bit further down the article..!
First, here are three top-rated places to stay in Manuel Antonio that also all have some unique cool quirks to them!
Three top-rated places to stay in Manuel Antonio
📍Parador Resort and Spa is recognized as one of the most prestigious resorts in Costa Rica. It’s a luxury accommodation tucked into the scenic Punta Quepos overlooking the ocean. Picture 12 acres of wildlife and rainforest surrounding the hotel. Dining, pools, and a world-class spa are available to the guests.
📍Igloo Beach Lodge is a unique luxury hotel with igloo-shaped cabins in a tropical jungle surrounded by all the experiences Manuel Antonio has to offer. The cabins are designed to be sustainable and “harmonize” with the nature surrounding them.
📍Jungle Beach Hotel is a budget-friendly hotel very close to the park and town. Enjoy the pool and the beautiful surrounding grounds. At Jungle Beach, you have free breakfast, an outdoor restaurant, and great happy hour specials.
Three Top-Rated Places To Eat By Manuel Antonio
El Avion is a super famous restaurant in Manuel Antonio that was built from a plane used in the controversial Iran Contra scandal in the 1980s!
Now, this is the most popular restaurant with the best views in Manuel Antonio. The C-123 Fairchild cargo plane was converted into a pub and a two-level bar and restaurant.
All reviews say the food and atmosphere are excellent, and you will dine leisurely while watching the spectacular sunsets of Manuel Antonio up here.
El Wagon is most famous for its wood-fired pizza. You’ll find a lot of rice and beans and fish in Manuel Antonio, but you won’t find better pizza than this!
Rafael’s Terrazas is the local upscale spot, also with amazing views, where they serve traditional Costa Rican food with an added refined flare.
What Is Special About Manuel Antonio National Park?
Manuel Antonio National Park is the most popular of all the Costa Rican parks. While it’s the smallest national park in the country, it is renowned for its remarkable beauty and combination of rainforest and beach.
The park is right on the Pacific Ocean coast and is over 4,000 acres of the most diverse range of wildlife and vegetation you have ever seen.
People flock to Manuel Antonio National Park for the sightings of many species of monkeys, sloths, agoutis, iguanas, and birds in amongst the rainforest and then swim at the exquisite tropical beaches that live beyond the park entrance.
There are a variety of hiking trails to help you explore the land and the views! It’s really quite an astonishing place.
Wrap-Up Things To Do In Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is a fabulous destination that offers something for everyone.
Whether you’re an adventure enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a tranquil getaway, Manuel Antonio will offer you an unforgettable experience.
Explore the lush rainforest, relax on the picturesque beaches, have adventures like ziplining or sailing, and eat some of the best fruit and fish you will ever taste!
Manuel Antonio truly is a tropical paradise where the rainforest and all its magic meet the pristine Pacific Ocean.
So pack your bags and embark on a journey to this enchanting corner of Costa Rica!
Related blog posts: