National Park considered to be the best national park in Costa Rica, definitely,
it is one of the most visited one.
The park area located
on ocean front and is a mixture of rainforests, mangroves, and white sandy beaches.
The park is famous
for its biodiversity and a wide variety of animals, birds, lizards’ insects and
have the chance to see in nature monkeys, sloths, macaws, snakes, frogs, and many
Plan for at
least 3-4 hours (half day) to explore the park and walk along some of the
trails. I do recommend investing a full day at the park.
This is not
about walking milage or distance but more about discovering and viewing animals
along the hike.
You can easily spend
few hours at the park amazing sandy beaches.
Plan your day accordingly.
Other Costa Rica Blogs I wrote:
The park is located
at the end of the road passing through the small town of Manuel Antonio, not so
far from main city of Quepos.
It located 165
km south of San Jose, at least 3.5 hours’ drive, when there are no traffic
issues (always expect traffic delays) or 65 km south of Jaco on the Atlantic
Ocean Road 34.
Where to stay:
covering hotels or restaurants recommendation in my blogs.
town is just near the national park and is a great place to stay at. The town
is built on a hillside, and it has some nice beaches, the largest one is just
before the park and there are few smaller one (check with locals).
The town is the
perfect place for tourists with large variety of restaurants, bars and places to
hang during the night, all are located along the main road crossing the town.
April is the dry season at Costa Rica and I recommend visiting the state when
there is less chance for rain.
It’s also the
most popular time to visit, so expect more tourists and crowds.
Book things you
know like hotel, park entries, rental car as far ahead as you can.
to Costa Rica you should always be prepared for some showers no matter what
time of year you are visiting.
The park is open daily from 7 am
to 4 pm include national holidays (like It’s also open on holidays like
Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter).
The park is always closed on
Due note 1: This is not a zoo;
animals move around and your trip experience depending on what you can spot. You
can encounter many animals, and this can be the pinnacle of your Costa Rica trip,
but I also saw on-line that people did not saw “interesting” stuff. For us, we
saw many animals….
Due note 2: The number of park
visitors are limited daily but still you may feel like in a zoo, where hundreds
of people are walking on the main park trails. This was our experience, coming
here on the busiest week of the year (between Christmas to new year).
Due note 3: You can’t take
any food or snacks into the park (you can bring water with you).
The “cafe” inside
the park sells food like, pizza, sandwiches, cakes, fruit, chips, and drinks.
Due note 4: I saw
somewhere that plastic bottles are banned in this park, but we had large water bottle
with us, and we pass the inspection without any issue.
Due note 5: When hiking in
parks carry your own water with you, you can buy food and drinks inside the
Due note 6: the walking
trails in the park are in good conditions but it is always better to wear comfortable
shoes to protect yourself from the rain.
Flip flop are great
for the beaches but are not recommended for hiking when it is wet.
Due note 7: Bring with you:
swimsuit, a sunscreen, bug spray, and beach towels.
Due note 8: As in any
other place in Costa Rica it can rain here also in the dry season, so also pack
a light rain jacket.
Due note 9: There are
restrooms and beach showers inside the park.
Due note 10: This is all-family
park; the trails are relatively flat and not too difficult, kids can easily do
the main loop trail.
Due note 11: When you enter
the park take a picture of the park map, this will help you to know where you
are and what are the hiking options.
Due note 12: Beaches close
around 3 pm and everyone must leave the park by 4 pm
Due note 13: Most of the hotels
are situated between Quepos through the town of Manuel Antonio all the way to the
Due note 14: There are also
night tours in the jungle, but we did not have one so I can’t recommend them.
I have mixed
feeling about this park.
No doute that
this park is one of the most spectacular national parks in Costa Rica,
especially for the number of animals and beaches, but it is overcrowded, thing
that reduce the “nature” experience.
Yes, I know
that we came to visit this park at the most touristic season (between Christmas
to new year day) and in mid-day where the park was already full … your experience
may be different.
the park, we already stayed in Manuel Antonio for 3 days, in nearby high-class
hotel that has a huge jungle as part of the hotel property.
At the hotel
jungle and in secluded beach known to locals we already saw many animals
including many Sloths with babies, Monkeys, Iguanas and birds.
We stayed in
Manuel Antonio for additional day just to visit this park.
We enter the
park around 11am and had to leave the park around 2pm. After our park visit, we
want to drive a long 5 hours’ drive to our next destination (that drive became at
the end 7.5 hr).
We did not have
the time to really explore all trails and what the park has to offer or to enjoy
But even after
saying the above we enjoy the visit here and saw many active sloths and other animals.
Bottom line: I highly recommend
visiting this park and if I have the chance I will visit here again.
Getting Park Ticket:
Make sure you purchase
park tickets in advance in the park website*, you will not be able to buy
ticket at the park gate.
Park Admission is
$18.08 USD per adult and $5.65 USD for kids (aged 2 to 11).
You can also book
guided tours at the official park website (additional fees, ~50 USD per group member
if I remember correctly) or you can get a guide just before the park gate.
The park sells
limited number of tickets per day, and you can choose 4 different timeslots starting
at 7am (300 people per time slot).
No matter which
timeslot you got the ticket for it is good for the whole day.
Once you are in
the park, you can’t come and go and use the same ticket.
ticket for early in the morning when the animals are more active, and it not as
hot as mid-day and spend the day here.
When we visit
here (between Christmas and new year) we couldn’t find any available booking for
park entrance at the days we stayed in Manuel Antonio, we did manage to find
last booking options for entry when we booked it as combination with a tour
*How to buy tickets to a National
Go online to
the SINAC government website.
Go to Buy on
the left, then select Online Reservation.
dropdowns to select the Park you are looking for.
date and time of visit. You’ll see that there are different available timeslots.
number of people, adults and children.
On the last
page, you will need to fill in everyone’s full names and passport numbers, enter
your credit card information to pay.
You’ll then get
a confirmation mailed to you.
To take a guide or not to take,
this is the question ?
And the answer to
that is that it depends…..
This park is
reach in animals and I was amaze that you can see interesting animals almost everywhere.
No matter if
you are taking a guided tour or not, I recommend bringing binoculars for closer-look
or a good zoom lens if you are using DSLR camera.
A local guide
know exactly what to look for and where exactly to find the animals + you will
get a lot of explanations about the environments and the animals.
We saw that for
most cases group are relatively small, you can talk with the guide and get a
lot more information.
If you take a guide,
he will bring with him a good telescope on a tripod so you can all enjoy the
view of the animals closeup, you can also try to take picture with your phone
through the telescope lens.
If you decide
to take a tour it is more recommended to book a small group guided tour with a
maximum number of eight people, more flexible and time to see the animals
through the telescope.
On the other hand,
guided tour is a lot more expensive, my take is to invest a guided tour in this
If you decided
not to take a guide you can walk not so far from a group and listen to what the
guide is telling them and look for the animal he spotted, you will not have the
telescope so you can’t see the animals up close...
that this is a jungle and not a zoo, even when taking a guide animals can be
far up in the trees, moving fast or even not seen at all.
Getting to the park:
The park is
located at the end of the road of Manuel Antonio. You will drive down to the
town long beach and at the beach you will see turn right into a side road.
Get into that
road and drive up to a point where you can see on your right side a large open parking
lot field, this is the “official” park parking lot.
As you approach
the beach you will start seeing many people, some are dressed as “park rangers”
pointing you to parking lots, do not park there.
Drive to the
park official parking and only if its full backup and see the first place to
No matter where
you park you will need to pay & tip the local parking helper.
The park warns
about people along the road leading here that will try to sell you entrance
tickets, you can buy park tickets only online, don’t buy anything from them!
If you are staying
in Manuel Antonio, even 1-2 miles from the park it is around 15 minutes’ drive
(traffic is always slow and you need to find parking spot) and from Quepos, the
drive is around 30 minutes.
Taxis are also
an option from both Manuel Antonio and Quepos and should cost between $10-15
USD each way, the local bus is a much chipper option.
National Park was established in 1972 to protect this area of rainforest and
all the animals inside and although it is the smallest national park in in
Costa Rica it is one of the more popular, the park gets around 150,000 visitors
We had to order
package of park entry + guide for 7 people (did not find regular park entry for
I must admit I
was surprised from the level of the service we got from the guide.
the purchase of the tour we receive WhatsApp from the guide introduction
himself as our guide.
Day before our
visit he reminded us about the tour.
We booked the
12pm time and we asked the day before if we can start our group tour at 11am, later
that evening he said that he can do this.
At the morning
of the tour, he send us his picture, told us not to park anywhere and that he
will point us to the park parking lot.
He waited for
us on the main road and point us to the parking.
During the tour
he was knowledgeable and did his best to find interesting animals and give
Day after the
tour he send us several pictures he took during the visit.
Getting into the park:
You can’t take
any food or snacks into the park (you can bring water with you), there is a bag
inspection at the park entry.
This is not so
much to protect the animals from human food but probably to enable additional revenue
from the park market and food store. The store is located at the end of the
main trail not so far from the south beach.
Be aware that
when you are on the beaches animals like monkeys and raccoons will look into
people’s bags and steal food, if you have food in your bag, they will smell it….
bag inspection you will go through ticket checks, here you need to show your park
tickets (have picture of the order download to your phone in advance) and you
may need to show your passports.
Only after ticket
inspection you will get into the park.
restrooms right before the park gate so use them.
The park visit
starts at the main dirt-road / trail.
Here you will
walk in a rain forest where your guide will look for different animals, small
This can be
interesting small spider, lizard, crab, bird or larger animals like monkeys and
As the guide
see something he will try to set the telescope and show it to the group.
When we walk there
with our guide, we saw something like 5 sloths, few were moving on the treetops,
white-faced monkeys, lizards, insects, crabs and even small alligators in the mangrove
section of the park.
I must say that
the overall experience of the walk here is dramatically reduced by the crowd.
So many people
are walking on the main trails, group after group with their guide.
You will not
have the “alone in the jungle” solitude experience here !
There are many
people at the trail and the same in the park shop, overcrowded.
positive side from having so many groups is that when animal is spotted you
will know about it…
for 1.5 hours with our guide we separate at the park café/store.
We were on a
tight schedule, and we went down to see the beaches.
time at the beaches, we start progressing north, passing the viewing tower on the
trail parallel to Playa Espadilla beach.
At some point
you will see the signs pointing right to the exit.
Here the trail changing
into elevated boardwalk over the mangrove marshes. Although it looks like that
nothing is there, we saw a small alligator resting in the shallow water just
The trail reach
T junction, and you will turn left to the direction of the park entrance/exit,
turning right will take you back to the café.
Overall, we stay
in the park for 2.5 hours, mainly because we want to start our drive north, we
can easily stay here much longer.
The beaches in
the park are amazing, large wide white sandy beaches with warm blue calm water.
having a guided tour in the morning and then enjoy the beaches for the rest of
the day on your own.
There is plenty
of shade in the trees at the edge of the sand and the 2 beaches are long and
wide so you will not feel the crowd so much.
There are 2
long beaches’ not far from each other, the most popular beach is Playa Manuel
Antonio, this is the first one on your left coming down from the park store.
You can also
walk over to Playa Espadilla that is less busy and still a great beach.
several side trails covering most of the park area.
All trails are
well marked and there are signs and maps, so you won’t get lost.
We had the time
to only do the main loop trail so I can’t give a lot of information on other
When you enter
the park take a picture of the park map, this will help you to know where you
are and what are the hiking options.
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