This post may contain affiliate links.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica, and there’s good reason why- it’s gorgeous and packed with unique activities! This post will guide you through the best of Manuel Antonio so you can maximize your time visiting the area.
About Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular places in Costa Rica, but it’s also one of the most unique given its geography. The nearest town is Quepos, which is a bustling area with supermarkets, clothing stores, and great restaurants.
Once you leave the town of Quepos, you enter the village of Manuel Antonio. It’s a hilly 6-kilometer stretch of restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets. The end of the road is the iconic Manuel Antonio National Park– the smallest and most visited national park in Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio has a very international feel- with everything from high-end lodging to Thai restaurants to “sodas” that sell traditional Costa Rican food. You can find one of about anything in Manuel Antonio.
RELATED POST: 16 BEST Places to Stay in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio Location
Manuel Antonio is located in the southernmost province in Costa Rica- Puntarenas. It is located between the larger towns of Jaco and Uvita.
It’s about 125 miles southeast of San José and takes about 3.5 hours to get there from the capital.
Getting To Manuel Antonio
If you are renting a car in Costa Rica (which I highly recommend, especially for families traveling with their children) then you will take the Costanera (Highway 34) south to the town of Quepos. You can just put Quepos in your Waze and you will get there easily. You’ll arrive from the capital in about 3 to 4 hours. I highly recommend stopping for a bite at any of my favorite Jaco restaurants.
You can also hire a private shuttle to Manuel Antonio, or even find a shared shuttle. Keep in mind that Manuel Antonio is not very walkable, so once you arrive you will be relying on taxis or the public bus if you don’t have your own vehicle.
You can also arrive to Manuel Antonio via a domestic flight from San Jose to Quepos.
Finally, you can take a public bus from San Jose to Quepos. You’ll go via TRACOPA- you can find the bus schedule here.
Packing for Manuel Antonio
Apart from using our Costa Rica Packing List (For Families), specifically for Manuel Antonio, you may want to have some nice dresses for dress shorts to go out to restaurants at night.
Where To Stay In Manuel Antonio
Some of my favorite hotels are int he area, and if you want a full description of each it is best to check out my post on 16 BEST Places to Stay in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica. There are special considerations for families with kids- all of these are my top picks if you are traveling with kids.
My favorite hotels, on a list, are as follows:
- Karahe Beach Hotel
- Hotel Manuel Antonio
- Espadilla Ocean Club
- Hotel San Bada
- Hotel Villabosque
- Selina Manuel Antonio
Where To Eat In Manuel Antonio
There are so many incredible restaurants in Manuel Antonio, and I’ll list a few of my favorites here.
Marina Pez Vela
A sunset meal at the Marina is one experience you won’t want to miss. Serving an international menu that’s heavy on seafood, there’s something here everyone will love.
If you are looking for the best traditional food in the area, rock-bottom prices, and a location just outside the national park, look no further than Costa Linda Art Hostel and Hotel. It’s soo soo good!
It’s not a trip to Manuel Antonio without eating at El Avion. Enjoy a sunset cocktail or a dish from their international menu. Prices here are a little high, but there’s ample space for kids to run around, and free wifi for teens.
La Santa Plancha
Located in the heart of Quepos, this fast-food restaurant offers cheap and delicious hamburgers. Every patty is handmade, and the French Fries are to die for.
Canto del Mar
This little hidden gem located at the Karahe Beach Resort is a beachfront restaurant with incredible cocktails, epic sunset views, and a varied menu. There’s even pizza and sliders for the kids. I highly recommend it for the view and the prices.
Things To Do In Manuel Antonio
The Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica area is packed with activities. While the star of the show is the national park, you can find everything from zip lines to hanging bridges to hot springs in the area, making it one of the most popular places in the country- if not the world.
Here are the top activities. to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
Visit Manuel Antonio National Park
By far, most visitors to the area want to visit Manuel Antonio National Park. Known for its gorgeous beaches, animal sightings, and gorgeous flora, the smallest national park in Costa Rica packs a big punch. To learn absolutely everything you need to know about visiting the park, check out our guide to Manuel Antonio National Park.
There are great hikes, including to Cathedral Point when it is open, but the main trail on Manuel Antonio will afford you lots of opportunities to see animals such as squirrel monkeys, sloths and other species of mammals.
Remember you can’t take food into the park with you, and you’ll need a reservation (you pay your entrance fee online), but nature lovers will bask in the magic that is the national park. Don’t miss Playa Manuel Antonio- it’s one of my favorite places!
Visit Playa Espadilla
Playa Espadilla is the perfect spot to soak up some sun, make a splash in the warm, dazzling waters of the Pacific Ocean, and hang out with some friendly wildlife. The two beaches found here – Playa Espadilla Norte and Playa Espadilla Sur – offer oodles of water activities that can be fun for the whole family including swimming, surfing, and banana boats.
Plus, the soft sands and calm, shallow waters ensure even small kids can play and swim safely. These are some of the best beaches in the whole country.
Norte is free to access, making it great for budget-conscious travelers. There are plenty of vendors, bars, and restaurants too, meaning it’s also more vibrant. Just be prepared to share the gorgeous sands with a host of other beachgoers.
If you want some peace and calm, go to Sur; it’s quieter and less crowded. However, you can only access the beach by paying to walk through Manuel Antonio National Park. You’ll need a reservation to enter the park too, so make sure to plan ahead. And yes, the hike is totally worth it; you get to spot monkeys, three-toed sloths, tons of species of birds, and other fascinating wildlife, especially if you choose a guided tour.
Sail in the splendid Pacific Ocean and feast your eyes on the awe-striking beauty of its coastline on a catamaran tour! If you’re looking to treat your family to a memorable experience, this is an adventure the whole gang will delight in and one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio.
Imagine cruising along the deep blue waters while taking in the panoramic views of the verdant greenery and spotting whales, dolphins, and sea turtles in their natural habitat. All the while, you’ll be sipping on delicious drinks, munching on delectable snacks, and relishing scrumptious meals served on board. And most tours will have several stops along the way so you can indulge in a swim or explore the water world below with snorkeling opportunities.
Ever wondered how your favorite chocolate goes from a raw cocoa bean to that mouthwatering treat you love so much? Take a chocolate tour and find out. It’s a fascinating and educational experience that will spark curiosity about food production among adults and young chocoholics alike.
And the best part? You may even have a chance to make your own chocolate from scratch with hand-picked flavors! A fun and interactive activity for the family, you’ll all love getting hands-on with chocolate-making workshops where you can satisfy your cravings and bond over your shared love of this heavenly delicacy.
Visit Quepos Marina
The Quepos Marina aka Marina Pez Vera offers a fantastic blend of adventure and watersports activities in a family-friendly environment. Whether you want to spend the day catching big game fish, visiting hidden beaches in a catamaran, or watching whales and dolphins, there’s something to keep visitors of all ages enthralled. And the many shops and stores available will ensure you have unique gifts and souvenirs to bring back home.
When it’s time to refuel, walk over to the numerous waterfront restaurants available and sample some incredible local and international cuisines. And with picturesque views of the sparkling sea and the surrounding mountains, you’ll have satisfied both your stomach and your eyes.
The lush mangrove forests, rugged coastlines, and tranquil estuaries and mangroves of Manuel Antonio house diverse wildlife and gorgeous scenery, and you can only access many of these areas by kayak. Good thing? There are many kayak tour operators in the area to help you discover the hidden gems.
And to make the activity even more exciting for both old and young, these days, many tours offer pedal drive yaks that you can safely ride with your feet rather than the traditional paddles. This leaves your hands free so you can use your binoculars, take pictures, or savor the beauty of the surroundings.
Pedaling with the feet is also an easier and more natural motion for many children, meaning they will enjoy the experience more than when paddling a traditional kayak.
Oh, horseback riding – saddle up and get ready for a relaxing adventure your family will never forget. Imagine galloping through lush greenery or along stunning beaches, with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair! It’s a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Manuel Antonio in an exciting way.
Keep an eye out for sleepy sloths, cheeky monkeys, playful lizards, and other wildlife along the way. And with knowledgeable guides offering insights about the area’s flora and fauna, this will be an incredible learning experience for all. Many tours also offer the added bonus of stopping for a refreshing swim in a nearby river, waterfall, or even the beach, adding to the overall fun.
Take A Night Tour
As the sun sets over the pristine beaches and lush rainforests, an entirely new world comes to life, ready to be explored by daring night owls and curious adventurers alike. Led by an experienced guide, you’ll hike through trails in Manuel Antonio and Quepos spotting bats, owls, spiders, red-eyed frogs, snakes, bioluminescent organisms, and other mesmerizing wildlife.
It’s an experience that will leave the little ones wide-eyed with wonder and parents’ jaws dropped with amazement; an opportunity to learn about the awesome night dwellers in their natural habitat. And as you look up at the sky covered by twinkling stars, you can’t help but feel appreciation for the phenomenal natural world around you.
Visit Playa Biesanz
Biesanz Beach is a beautiful hideout between Manuel Antonio Park and Quepos where you can unwind and enjoy serene, calm water away from the crowds. You’ll be surrounded by verdant rainforests and exotic wildlife, with sparkling blue waters as your backdrop.
Young kids will love digging in the soft white sand while the older ones will be happy swimming in and out of the beautiful coves. Snorkeling is a must-do, as there’s an abundance of marine life here. And of course, there is always an option of taking a lazy walk along the beach or simply lying back and soaking up the sights of sloths and monkeys and the mellow smells of this tropical paradise.
After a long day of swimming or animal spotting, relax those weary muscles in the mineral-rich waters of a hot spring. There’s nothing like splashing around warm, therapeutic waters surrounded by exotic wildlife and the calming sound of wind blowing through the lush green forest.
The main hot springs in Manuel Antonio are located in a private firm, adding to their charm and exclusivity. And they are not quite hot, really; they have varying warmish temperatures, which means children can soak and play here too. Don’t leave without lathering up in the local mud, swimming in the river, or sliding down the natural waterslide. It’s a great way to bond and make the experience even more exciting.
Want to try your hand at surfing or perfect your technique? Well, with Manuel Antonio’s warm waters, consistent waves, and oodles of surf schools and instructors providing lessons for all ages and skill levels, you’re certainly in for a treat.
Most schools offer both private and group training, teaching the basics of the sport from safety to standing up on the board and riding the waves. And the best part? You can take the lessons all together as a family, cheering each other on, sharing laughs and excitement, and making memories. Who knows? You may even discover some hidden talents!
Suit up, strap in, and get ready to soar above the green forests of Manuel Antonio, with the rush of wind and awe-striking views of the wonderous landscape below you. As you glide across the incredible flora, you’ll see all kinds of exotic fauna from playful monkeys swinging through the canopy to lazy sloths slowly munching on leaves and colorful toucans perched on branches.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Many tours also include rappelling and Tarzan swing and experiences, adding an extra thrill to the escapade. So, pack your sense of adventure and bring the kids. Nothing beats seeing the excitement on your child’s face as they zoom through the air and explore the natural world around them.
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, then the zip coaster at Manuel Antonio Adventure Park is worth checking out. It’s like a jungle roller coaster or zip-lining on steroids with fast drops, dips, and curves to get both kids and adults screaming with excitement.
It’s a fantastic way to experience an extra shot of adrenaline and take in the beauty of the natural jungle. Plus unlike the traditional zip line, you’ll be in control of your own speed; you can slow down or even stop to take pictures or speed up to get your heart racing. Keep your eyes peeled for sloths lounging in the trees. To my knowledge, Manuel Antonio has the only zip coaster in the country- if not the world! 😂
Deep Sea Fishing
After you have had enough of gliding through the canopy, it’s time to travel to the marine world and experience the thrill of deep-sea fishing. For those who enjoy reeling in big fish, you’ll be up against some fascinating species including groupers, snappers, jack crevalle, and more.
Whether you prefer the open ocean or tranquil serene waters in the mangroves, many fishing charters and tours exist in the Manuel Antonio area to make your excursions a success.
And with experienced guides leading the way, you and your loved ones will have plenty of opportunities to show those fish who’s the boss. But even if you don’t catch anything, the experience alone and the impressive memories you make will be all worth it.
Visit Nauyaca Waterfalls
One of the most popular of Costa Rica’s waterfalls, Nauyaca Waterfall is a dazzling two-story waterfall located just about 30 minutes south of Manuel Antonio. It’s the perfect place to eat a picnic lunch at the base of the falls, but you better plan how you will get there.
You can take a truck to the falls, you can take horseback riding tours up to the falls, or you can brave the 6 km (3.7 mile) each way- a 12 km loop. However you do it, these falls are a hidden gem super close to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!