For languid hikes to secret white-sand beaches, howler monkeys, and sloths, head to Manuel Antonio.
Manuel Antonio may lack the glitz and glamour of more well-developed beach resorts in Costa Rica, but it holds a special magic that’s really emblematic of Costa Rica’s glory. If you’re seeking languid hikes to secret white-sand beaches, howler monkeys, and sloths, head to Manuel Antonio.
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The area including and surrounding seven-square-mile Manuel Antonio National Park combines the allure of rainforests, beaches, coral reefs, hiking, and astonishing wildlife sightings. “Manuel Antonio is very special as it combines beautiful beaches, rainforests, and wildlife as well as spectacular views,” says Hans Pfister, president of Costa Rica's Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality and resident since 1995. Manuel Antonio has a unique vibe, as it’s both a fun-loving resort town and the access point for what many believe is the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s majestic parks. In Manuel Antonio you feel like you couldn’t be anywhere else on Earth — and you wouldn’t want to be.
Best Hotels and Resorts
El Parador sits on a 12-acre property with stunning views. Families will love the on-property mini-golf course and monkey trail. Be sure to ask for directions to the secret Biesanz Beach, a short walk from El Parador (adjacent to the property) where you can join the locals to rent a paddleboard, have a massage, or sip fresh juice from a coconut on the beach. Say hello to Flash, the sloth who likes to hang out at the pool. A local tour guide, Andre Robles, adds, “It's a serene, small cove with calm waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. To get there, follow the trail through the jungle – it's a little secret many tourists miss.”
Founded by eco-tourism advocate Jim Damalas, SicomoNo offers a wildlife refuge and butterfly atrium adjacent to the property. This hotel is family friendly, with a private cinema on site, but there are areas reserved just for adults, too. Guests can enjoy both rain forest and ocean views.
Costa Verde is walkable to Manuel Antonio Park. Guests can choose from a variety of rooms, bungalows, and private casitas, or opt for a unique suite inside a refurbished vintage aircraft. The newest addition, the SkyLoft, has an ocean-view terrace with a soaking tub and rooms inside a 1982 McDonald Douglas MD-82.
Located next to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park, the 67-room San Bada boasts the biggest pool in the area with artificial waterfalls and a pool bar. There's also a private farm, jungle-view spa, and sushi bar on site.
Arenas del Mar
Arenas del Mar is a beachfront gem where guests have reported seeing sloths, tree frogs, capuchin monkeys, and hummingbirds from their rooms. It offers direct beach access, two pools, and surf lessons. The Dock to Dish program gives guests access to the freshest seafood caught by local fishermen.
Igloo Beach Lodge
Manuel Antonio is also the place where you can stay in an igloo on the beach at Igloo Beach Lodge. They're air conditioned, come with garden views and pool access, and are just a walk away from Espadilla Beach.
Best Things to Do
Manuel Antonio National Park
Listed among Travel + Leisure’s 20 Best Things to do in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is a wonderland of rainforest, wildlife, and pristine beaches. Robles says, “The biodiversity here is incredible, and having an expert guide enhances your experience." In the park’s seven square miles, you can see animals as diverse as capuchin monkeys, iguanas, crabs, sloths, pelicans, frogs, butterflies, a variety of birds, and two and three-toed sloths. “Manuel Antonio is the nature tours and activities capital of Costa Rica,” says Pfister. “You can have adventures in the ocean, rainforest, rivers, waterfalls, rainforests and more. I would say you could easily do one different activity per day for a whole month.”
Playa Manuel Antonio
Be sure to pack binoculars, a snorkel, and hammock to allow yourself to find your own paradise and stay a while: within Manuel Antonio National Park is Playa Manuel Antonio, a glorious stretch of beach with white sand and underwater coral reefs.
Marino Ballena National Park
Marino Ballena National Park is one of the country’s newest national parks, and is committed to the conservation of the rich marine ecosystems found within its boundaries. This park contains some of the largest coral formations on the Pacific side of Central America. One of the park’s biggest attractions is El Paso de Moises, a phenomenon that happens at low tide, when the water gets so low it creates a passageway like the one from the Biblical story.
Get Out on the Water
Cruise in a catamaran along the coast searching for whales and dolphins. This activity is available all year round. Active types can also go kayaking in the sea, rivers, and mangroves, or tubing in the Savegre and Naranjo rivers.
The Damas Island mangrove is a pristine natural sanctuary characterized by lush mangrove forests, winding waterways, and abundant wildlife. It offers unique opportunities for eco-adventure, with boat tours, wildlife spotting, and immersion in a thriving coastal ecosystem. Visitors can explore the intricate network of mangrove canals and witness diverse flora and fauna in their natural habitat.
Looking for sky-high adventure? Canopy tours include options for zip lining and abseiling down waterfalls.
Enjoy world-class fishing experiences in pristine waters teeming with marlin, sailfish, mahi-mahi, and an array of other exciting game fish.
Save the Animals
Don’t miss a tour of Kids Saving the Rainforest, which rescues and rehabilitates orphaned and injured rainforest animals. During a tour of the Kids Saving the Rainforest wildlife sanctuary, you might see tamarins, kinkajous, many species of monkeys, and parrots.
Dessert lovers shouldn’t miss the La Iguana Chocolate tour, which offers an intimate bean-to-bar experience led by the Salazar Garcia family, who has been farming a 10-acre plot in the mountains of Mastatal for decades.
El Lagarto Steak House
El Lagarto Steak House serves up grass-fed beef from nearby La Fortuna, margaritas, and daquiris.
Ronny’s Place has famous sangria, beautiful sunset views, and fresh seafood.
Emilio’s Cafe serves fresh coffee and scrumptious breakfasts, as well as live music in the evenings.
Buena Vista Beach Club
Buena Vista Beach Club offers Latin and Spanish fusion dishes with a beachside view.
Vegan Varuna is the spot for fresh juice, healthy bowls (and zoodles!) and vegan desserts.
Best Times to Visit
Dry Season (December to April): The weather is sunny and dry during this period, making it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, beach days, and wildlife viewing. However, this is the high tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
Green Season (May to November): This season boasts lush green landscapes, vibrant rainforests, and lower prices, but also higher rainfall. The higher water levels in the rivers make this season the perfect time for whitewater rafting.
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