The Ultimate Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Take a trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. It is Central America’s paradise. Sharing coasts with both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans, Costa Rica offers rainforests, volcanos, beaches, and some of the best wildlife you will ever see. Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is a one stop shop. It offers both the rainforest and the most divine beaches. Literally, the rainforest stops where the white sand beach begins.
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Manuel Antonio Park
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is home to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. The park encompasses rainforest, hiking trails, and an exquisite beach. This small, but robust park, is world renowned for its wildlife. We used Iguana Tours. Our guide was a low talker which made it difficult to catch everything he was saying. We learned a lot about squirrel monkeys, whiteface capuchins, howlers, two and three toed sloths, birds, lizards, and ants! The park was filled with many tour groups like ours, so that definitely impacted the experience. You have to have a guide because you cannot find or see the animals without the help of their magnifying scopes. I recommend you pay extra for a private guide so you don’t have to wait to look through the microscope! Following the tour, after a refreshing ice tea and fruit snack, opt to stay in the park and not get on the bus. You can enjoy the rest of the day hiking on a great trail with magnificent vistas along the way. We saw a mother and her baby sloth in a coastal, coconut tree and had a rare sighting of an Agouti. The most exciting moment was a major capuchin experience! They look adorable, but are actually pretty intense and aggressive. We also swam at the beach for a while before walking back to the park entrance to find a taxi home.
Know before you go
Best Time To Go
The weather is best between mid December through April. Rainy season begins in May and continues through November. I was there in February and found it very affordable and not terribly crowded. It was beautifully hot with no rain, and no mosquitos! Temperatures ranged from the high 80’s to low 90’s. There is virtually no night sky pollution in Manuel Antonio, so every night, you can see stars, stars, and more stars!
The currency in Costa Rica is the Colón. One US dollar equals approximately 615 Colón. Most places, including tours, will accept US dollars and credit cards. Tipping your drivers, servers, cleaning people, tour guides, and property manager is an expected part of payment. The percentage is up to you, but it would definitely be rude if you did not tip. Costa Rica uses 110 volts, 60 cycle, the same electricity as in the US.
Fly into the San Jose airport , which is less than 100 miles from Manuel Antonio, about a three hour drive. I recommend hiring Oscar’s car service (email me for his phone number!) or asking your lodging to arrange airport pick up. Oscar stopped along the way to show us crocodiles, have lunch, and to buy coconut from his father’s roadside stand. On the return, he took us for a wonderful breakfast! The transport price was $190 for five people. This is both the safer and more convenient option over renting a car. All excursion tours will also pick you up where you are staying. Taxis, ubers, and buses are also conveniently accessed in Manuel Antonio. No need for a car during the entire stay!
Where To Stay
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is a hotbed of lodging choices from hotels to rentals. Click here for some Expedia choices. I Highly recommend the magnificent place that my girlfriends and I rented for a week, Villa Ceiba. A luxury vacation home, it is not only “as advertised” but “better than advertised!” Six bedrooms, tucked into the rainforest, overlooking the beach. Each bedroom has an en suite bathroom and balcony. The infinity pool wraps around the house and is kept at the perfect temperature. The property manager arranged airport pick up and drop off, all of our excursion tours, food shopping, and chef-made meals in advance. We walked from the house to restaurants and a near-by grocery store. The squirrel monkeys came leaping through the trees and drank water from the pool while we were swimming! We saw a toucan in a tree on the property and had Walter the blue iguana living in the yard while the howler monkeys entertained us at night!
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is also known for its pristine beaches. You can access the public beaches from the National Park, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. The more private beaches such as Playa Gemelas, Playa Puerto Escondido, Playa Biesanz and Playa La Macha may require a taxi ride or a hike through the rainforest, but are well worth it. The water is like soft velvet of a perfect temperature! Vendors will rent you chairs and sell you ceviche and cocktails on the beach! We felt very safe, however, do not leave your things unattended. Always be tourist savvy! Monkeys and people may steal your stuff!
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is all about the outdoors, the environment, and the adventure. You can book excursions in advance, or on the spot. We made our choices ahead of time and were able to pay for some of it in advance. The tour companies will pick you up and take you home. The tours are well organized, safe and, not that expensive, considering what you see. And they all provide lunch or snacks!
My favorite was the Nauyaca Waterfall hike with Paddle 9. Our tour guide, Claus, was phenomenal. The hike felt like actual exercise with the glorious waterfall to jump into as a reward at the end. Yes, the falls were a bit crowded, but it didn’t interfere with the fun. Plus, our guide served us fresh pineapple and watermelon and then gave us each a mud face mask after our swim. Lunch was at a lovely open-air restaurant on the drive home. This is a must do in my book!
The boat ride with Planet Dolphin was billed as a catamaran dolphin boat trip. We were picked up at the house in one van, then transferred to a bus, then taken to the boat dock. I recommend you use the restroom there. It was a gorgeous day for a ride on the sea, but not one dolphin in sight. You will be given a very brief tutorial on how to use a snorkel mask and allowed to jump in the water with three other boat loads of snorkelers. You may be able to see some really special blue and yellow fish, but the water will be cloudy from all the human traffic. There was a mediocre buffet lunch and plenty of booze if you are into that sort of thing. The bathroom doors didn’t close, and the guides didn’t offer any information. I recommend you choose a less booze cruise and more sailing cruise vibe.
I don’t think I realized how great the food would be. The local cuisine is very fish centered. Ceviche everywhere you go, and options such as mahi mahi and shrimp. OMG, the fruit!!! The most juicy pineapples, watermelons, and mangos I have ever eaten! The intense amount of rain makes for very delicious summer harvests. We hired chefs Javier and Kathleen who came to the house twice to cook us the most exquisite three course meals for about $30 per person. All gluten free (per our request), hors d’oeuvres, fish, vegetables, and deserts. Our house was well stocked with breakfast items requested prior to the trip, and lunch was typically taken care of while on our adventure outings. The food experience was delicious!
Pura Vida means, pure life, or, more accurately, their way of life. Costa Rican’s use this phrase for everything. Greeting, commenting, and praising. They are a warm and beautiful people, who, in my brief encounter, are very proud of their country, their land, and their culture. While we encountered many interesting ex-pats, we also had great experiences with “Ticas,” native Costa Ricans. I can see why so many people relocate to CR. It is gorgeous, inexpensive, and relaxed. Obviously, we were in a high tourist area, before the pandemic, where the economy is stable, so my limited view is skewed. That being said, much of the country thrives on tourism, and while there is a significant poverty rate, the cost of living is very low. There is universal health care and, although the public school system doesn’t seem great, there is overall, a very high literacy rate. Check it out! If you haven’t previously considered CR as a vacation destination, you should!