MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK COSTA RICA – The Complete Guide
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica to observe wildlife and to experience the lush tropical rainforest and unspoiled beaches. Located along the Central Pacific coast just south of the city of Quepos in Puntarenas, Manuel Antonio National Park has the purpose to protect the rainforest, beaches, mangrove habitats and animals.
The well maintained hiking trails in the park lead you through the rainforest and along some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Fun fact is that Manuel Antonio National Park is even internationally recognised as one of the most biodiverse parks on the planet! So what are you waiting for, book your tickets online and head off to explore this wonderful nature park.
In this complete guide you’ll find all the information you need before visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. Such as where to buy entrance tickets to Manuel Antonio (hint, only online!), do you need a guide to visit Manuel Antonio park, what is the best time to visit and much more!
About Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park consists of a surface from 1983 hectares and was established in 1972. The goal is to preserve the rainforest, beaches, mangrove habitats and animals. The park is home to many endangered species that can be spotted along the trails. More than 350 species of birds and 109 species of mammals live in Manuel Antonio National Park. This makes the chance of spotting different kinds of wildlife pretty high!
A visit to Manuel Antonio National Park is a great day trip with the while family. You can alternate hiking in the rainforest and spotting wildlife with relaxing along the four beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio park. The 10 different hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park range from 287 meter to 9 km in length and are easy to slightly moderate in difficulty. The elevation of the park is only 160 meters, so there’s not much incline. However, get your hiking shoes or comfortable sneakers or sandals ready, because you will walk a lot when exploring Manuel Antonio National Park!
How to get to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park is located along the Central Pacific coast just south of the city of Quepos in Puntarenas. It is about170 km away from the capital, San Jose. There are several options to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose. You can either reach Manuel Antonio by public bus, with your own rental car or by plane. Be aware that if you drive with your rental car there are tolls on Route 27, so have some cash ready!
The buses leave San Jose every 2 hours and go straight to Manuel Antonio that takes about 4 hours. They will drop you off at any of the hotels in the Manuel Antonio tourist district. This is the cheapest and most sustainable way to get to Manuel Antonio.
Opening times and entrance fee Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National is open from Wednesday until Monday (closed on Tuesdays) from 8 AM to 4 PM. The entrance fee to Manuel Antonio park is $16 per person for foreigners and tickets must be purchased online in advance! See below for the instructions.
How to buy Manuel Antonio National Park tickets
Before you depart to visit Manuel Antonio National Park it is important to know that you have to purchase your tickets in advance online. You can’t purchase tickets at the entrance anymore! You have to book and pay your Manuel Antonio Park entrance ticket online in advance at the official website of Sinac. You can only pay the entrance fee to Manuel Antonio National Park of $16 with credit card.
Instructions on how to book your Manuel Antonio tickets
To book your tickets at the SINAC government website, you must first create an account on the website. When you are logged in, click ‘buy’ and select ‘online reservation’. Then you can select the National Park in Costa Rica you want to visit. In this case select ‘Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio’. Then you can choose the date and time you want to visit Manuel Antonio NP. Select the amount of adults / children and then click continue. You will then be taken to the payment page where you can enter your credit card details. Make sure to have your credit card ready because you have 10 minutes to complete the transaction. If you take longer to do the payment, you will have to do the whole booking again. Once you’ve completed the payment, a bookings confirmation will be emailed to you. Make sure to bring this to show the park ranger at the entrance. They will check the verification number from the reservation to check your booking in the system.
Best month to visit Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is a great destination to visit year round, however the dry season is from December to March. You can expect tourism to be at its peak in these months, so arrive as early as possible. The rainy season, or so called green season in Manuel Antonio goes from April to November. However, due to the tropical climate is can also rain in Manuel Antonio during the dry season.
The worst month to go to Manuel Antonio National Park is around September as this is the month with usually the most rain. With rain the animals look for shelter, so it will be quite difficult to spot them. Also the experience of the tropical beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park will be much different.
Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid the Costa Rican holidays and if possible, the weekends. It tends to be busier during the weekends with locals, and of course public holidays.
Best time of the day to visit Manuel Antonio National Park
In terms of the best time of the day to visit Manuel Antonio National Park our advice is to start as early as possible. This has a few reasons. The most important is because the animals will be more active during the early morning so your chances of spotting wildlife are higher. Another reason is because of the humidity. The later in the day the warmer it gets. So be prepared for this, start as early as possible and wear comfortable, light clothes. More about what to prepare for a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park later in this blog post.
Do you need a guide to visit Manuel Antonio National Park?
This is totally up to you. You are free to choose if you want a guide or not to explore Manuel Antonio National Park. We didn’t get a guide when visiting Manuel Antonio Park, but there are a few reasons why we would recommend to choose for a guide.
One of the reasons is when you are seriously interested in learning more about the wildlife in the park. Another great reason is because the naturalist guide will be able to find animals that are hiding or camouflaged. They usually know where to look for the animals and additionally have telescopes. This gives you the chance to see the animals from up close and get photos through the telescope. However, if you have tele lenses yourself (like us) or a binocular yourself, and you have experience spotting wildlife, then it’s not necessary to hire a guide.
The usual rate for a guide that will show you around for about 2 to 3 hours is about $25 per person. Groups can often negotiate lower rates. But before hiring a guide, make sure they can show an official ICT card.
Personally we always want to go our own way, we do our own research and we’re in the park to take wildlife photos. But this is everyones personal choice and a guide can absolutely give more in depth information about the park and animals. We heard positive experiences from visitors who choose to get a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park.
Wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is internationally recognised as one of the most biodiverse parks on the planet. So you can expect to see some varied wildlife in this area where Costa Rica is known for.
With over 350 species of birds and more than 100 mammal species, a walk in this park won’t disappoint you. The different types of animals you can see here are howler, squirrel, spider and white faced monkeys (also known as capuchin monkeys. Two-toed and three-toed sloths, but also raccoons, coatis, pacas, anteaters, and occasionally ocelots.
What to expect at Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica
Once you made your way to the entrance, you can access the 10 different trailsto explore the park. The main trails are marked as main route and the sloth – mangrove route. These trails go through the entire park towards the Manuel Antonio beach. The trails are well signed and you can’t get lost in the park when you stay on the designated trails. See below the map of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Besides following the main routes, it is also highly recommended to explore at least 2 to 3 other side trailswithin the park. These smaller trails are much quieter and lead to a waterfall, Gemelas beach and Puerto Escondido. Because these trails aren’t as busy as the main trails you’ll have a higher chance of spotting animals.
Hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park
The main trail of Manuel Antonio park is called Sendero Principal and is the most popular trail of 2.2 kilometres. It goes from the entrance of the park all the way to the beautiful Playa Manuel Antonio. This small beach that is located in a bay can only be entered through the park.
Along the beaches in Manuel Antonio park you’ll discover small tide pools in the rocks with several kinds of crustaceans. But also sponges, corals, crabs and different types of fish. If you want to go snorkeling it is possible. But you should bring your own snorkel set and be aware that after recent rainfall the visibility will be reduced. The best time for snorkeling is from December to April.
On the opposite of Manuel Antonio beach is Playa Espadilla Sur located. This long stretch of beach is the biggest beach in Manuel Antonio, but only in the park you can enter the south part of this beach.
An aerial perspective shows the interesting shape of Manuel Antonio park. The two beaches Espadilla and Manuel Antonio beach are the narrowest part of the park and form a tree trunk while the Cathedral point is the tree top. It’s amazing what natures creates isn’t it?!
Sendero Punta Catedral (Punta Catedral Trail)
This 1.4 kilometre loop trail connects a few viewpoints at Punta Cathedral with the turtle trap. This pre-Columbian Quepoas turtle traps are visible with low tide in the rocks at the western end of Playa Manuel Antonio.
Sendero Mirador (also known as the Lookout trail)
This 1.3 kilometre one way trail goes to the tucked away Escondido Beach. This trail is an extension of Sendero Playa las Gemelas which is another beautiful small beach. You can easily combine this path with the Gemelas beach trail which is 1.6 kilometre long and connects to the main trail. This trail leads to the Escondido beach viewpoint and lesser known Gemelas beach. On these smaller beaches that are tucked away in little coves, it is very likely to spot big lizards and other animals. Worth it to have a break for a while to look around what you can spot.
Sendero La Catarata (Waterfall Trail)
This trail leads you to a small waterfall and is only a few hundred meters away from the main entrance. It only goes to the waterfall and after that you’ll have to walk the same path back to the main trail. If you’re lucky you can see some poison dart frogs along the way, but besides the waterfall there’s not much more to see.
Sendero Perezoso (Sloth Trail) 1.2 km
The so called sloth trail is the perfect way to spot sloths. This path goes parallel to the official road and is a wooden boardwalk. Here you have a high chance of spotting two or three-toed sloths and of course other animals.
What to prepare and bring for a day in Manuel Antonio National Park
Prepare yourself in the best way possible for a day of exploring in this beautiful nature park. Here a few things we recommend to bring.
Enough water. It is super humid and you will sweat a lot, so stay hydrated!
Your camera, and if you have a zoom lens of at least 200 mm
Wear good shoes or sandals for all the walking
Bring your swimsuit if you want to have a swim in the beautiful turquoise water
A towel if you want to relax at the beaches. Or to wipe your sweat off haha
Eventually some small snacks to keep going. But don’t feed the wild animals! It’s absolutely forbidden and can be dangerous
There are picnic tables and benches at the beach to take a break.
More Costa Rica travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about Manuel Antonio National Park.
For more travel inspiration about Costa Rica, have a look at our other Costa Rica travel guides.