Costa Rica - Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio National Park


What? :

Manuel Antonio 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 even crocodiles.

Here you’ll have the chance to see in nature monkeys, sloths, macaws, snakes, frogs, and many more.


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.



Where? :

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.

Google Map Link



Where to stay:

I’m not covering hotels or restaurants recommendation in my blogs.

Manuel Antonio 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.



When? :

Year round.

December to 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. 

When traveling 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 Tuesdays.  


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 park.


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 park entrance.


Due note 14: There are also night tours in the jungle, but we did not have one so I can’t recommend them.



My thoughts:

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.

Before visiting 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 the beaches.

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.


Try buying 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 guide.



*How to buy tickets to a National Park:

Go online to the SINAC government website.


Create an account.

Go to Buy on the left, then select Online Reservation.

Use the dropdowns to select the Park you are looking for.

Choose your date and time of visit. You’ll see that there are different available timeslots.

Select the 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 park.


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...


Do understand 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 park.

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. 



The visit:


Manuel Antonio 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 every year!


Tour guide:

We had to order package of park entry + guide for 7 people (did not find regular park entry for our days).

I must admit I was surprised from the level of the service we got from the guide.

Immediately after 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 explanations.

Day after the tour he send us several pictures he took during the visit.

Overall excellent service.


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….


After passing 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.


There are restrooms right before the park gate so use them.


Park Walk:

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 or big.

This can be interesting small spider, lizard, crab, bird or larger animals like monkeys and sloths.

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.


The only positive side from having so many groups is that when animal is spotted you will know about it…


After walking 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.


After short 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 below us.


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.

I recommend 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. 




There are 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 trails.


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.



Additional Pictures: