If you’re traveling to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica and looking for ideas to help you plan, you’re in the right place. This blog post is my complete Manuel Antonio Costa Rica travel guide. We stayed for 5 days and while I wish we had more time, you can still do a lot in under a week!
I used to think Costa Rica was an expensive place to visit but that’s really not the case. My boyfriend and I each paid $750 for our roundtrip flight and hotel for the week. Our meals were cheap and the excursions were average priced. I recommend this trip for anyone looking to stay in the $1,000 and under per person price range.
MANUEL ANTONIO TRAVEL GUIDE
We flew from Chicago to San Jose on a Sunday and returned on a Friday. There were no direct flights for us so we did have a quick layover in Ft. Lauderdale. San Jose airport is a 3-hour drive from Playa Manuel Antonio so you will lose a portion of your day on both ends.
There are several options for transit from San Jose to Playa Manuel Antonio:
- Rent a car – Super convenient to pick up and go upon landing but you won’t necessarily need a car to get around Manuel Antonio. There’s a local bus and taxis available once you’re in town. Plus parking at hotels can be limited.
- Take the bus – Most affordable option but adds an extra 1.5 hours to the drive each direction with all the stops.
- Take a cab – This is what we did. Definitely not budget friendly ($160/direction after tip) but made the most sense for us. Quicker than the bus and hassle free once we got to town!
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is a small area of the larger city of Quepos. All of the bars & restaurants, the beach and the national park itself are walking distance from each other. If walking isn’t your thing you can take a bus up and down the main street for less than a dollar a ride.
We stayed at a hostel in Manuel Antonio, which was actually a first for both my boyfriend and I. I’ve always this perception that hostels were dangerous but this was absolutely not the case at Selina Hotel.
Salina Hotel offered private rooms with private bathrooms (which is what we stayed in); private rooms with shared bathrooms; or a completely shared living room and bathroom space.
What I loved most about staying here was being able to interact with other travelers. There were full-time travelers, part-time travelers, digital nomads, backpackers, you name it! The hotel even had a quiet workroom where people could camp out and work during the day.
The hotel property was absolutely beautiful. A cozy but sprawling space nestled directly between the ocean and the jungle. It had 3 outdoor pools, a yoga den, several lounge areas and a breakfast bar. This place had almost everything you could need for the week without having to leave.
ACTIVITIES & EXCURSIONS
The concierge at our hostel helped us plan activities for most of the week. Our to-do list included: a waterfall tour, zip-lining, surfing & visiting Manuel Antonio National Park.
We also wanted to visit a volcano but unfortunately didn’t have enough time. This will be on my list next time I’m in Costa Rica!
We booked our waterfall tour through Tico Loco Adventures. I highly recommend booking through them if you want to see some awesome waterfalls.
The excursion cost $70/person and was a 5-hour trip. Our tour guide picked us up from our hotel, took us to 3 waterfalls, 1 beach, out to dinner (cost of meal included in the $70) and then dropped us off.
TRAVEL TIP: We didn’t bring our own camera gear because we didn’t want to lose or damage it. Luckily our tour guide took hundreds of photos for us throughout the day and offered them to us for free in exchange for a Yelp review.
Costa Rica is famous for their amazing zip-lining courses. There were advertisements all over town for various companies who offered “the worlds best zip-lining” so there is no shortage of options to choose from!
We booked through our concierge with Santuario Tours and we were not disappointed. The cost was a bit more expensive at $150 each but this course had 10 different ziplines so they had us sold.
The day also included transportation to and from the course and a meal at the end of the activity but it did not include any professional photos. Plan to bring cash/card if you want to purchase them from the tour company.
I’ve always wanted to go surfing and what better place to learn than Costa Rica? We took lessons from a local instructor who we met earlier in the week at the beach. There are dozens of surf companies lined up and down the strip of Playa Manuel Antonio.
We paid $30/person for each of us to have a 30-minute private lesson. While each of us went out in the water, the other person stayed back to watch our belongings and take pictures. You can also pay for a full hour or longer if you’d like.
As mentioned earlier in this blog post, our hotel had a huge millennial presence. They do a great job at hosting activities to meet and socialize with other young travelers.
There were daily yoga sessions in the morning and evening activities like a wine & painting night. There was also a Latin dance performance where they turned the bar area into a club one night, complete with a DJ and all.
MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
The park was such a highlight of our trip. Although it’s not the largest park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is most famous for its wildlife. Inside you’ll spot sloths, monkeys, raccoons and a variety of birds and reptiles.
The park costs $16 to access and walk around yourself but if you’d rather have a professional tour guide you can find them right outside the gate for around $50 a person (don’t let them overcharge you, negotiate that price down if they are!)
The perks of having a tour guide is that you get to skip the line and they are pros at spotting those hiding animals. They also carry around a telescope to make it easy to see sloths that are perched up high at the tops of all the trees.
The park opens at 7am and you should plan to get there as soon as the gates open (if you don’t pay for the tour guide to skip the line.) They only let in 50-ish people every 30 minutes to help control the crowd inside.
We hit the snooze button too many times and didn’t get in line until shortly after 8am. Because we showed up an hour after it opened, we wound up standing in line for an hour and a half.
There are shops that line the street you’re waiting on so my boyfriend and I took turns holding down our spot while the other person did some shopping. The locals also sell fresh coconut juice on the street that helped us stay cool in the sun.
Seeing the wildlife inside is absolutely incredible. The animals are not afraid to get close to you but the biggest thing I can stress is DO NOT feed them or show them that you have food in your hand.
Aside from looking at the wildlife inside, there are two shores of beaches on opposite sides of the park. If you Google “Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica” you’ll see a ton of beautiful photos from a birds-eye view showing off these two shores. Perfect drone photo-op!
I love immersing myself in the local culture by way of the food. The famous dish of Costa Rica that we ate several times is a plate full of chicken or pork, rice, beans, tomatoes, peppers, onions and a fried plantain.
All our other meals were things you could find back in the states. A lot of fried fish and chicken, wood-fired pizza, burgers and of course nachos. We usually eat guilt-free on vacation but this was especially guilt free because of all of the calories we were burning on our excursions.
There were 10-15 restaurants in either direction from our hotel. Just about all of them were surrounded by lush, green jungle and some even had a front row view to the ocean which was great for catching sunset.
Our favorite restaurant was El Avion, directly across the street from our hostel. This spot has a famous airplane-turned-bar in the entrance of the restaurant that we read a lot about online during our planning. The seating area offers a wonderful view of the ocean where we caught sunset on night one.
HEALTH & SAFETY
We scoured the Internet for days leading up to our trip trying to learn as much as we could about the mosquitos and other bugs that could put your health at risk. Luckily we got a few bites around our ankles but the best advice I can give is to have protection ready and to avoid at-risk areas.
Always carry bug spray with extra strength deet, cover your legs late at night if you’re out to eat and avoid dark/damp areas on the beach during the day. We didn’t sleep with mosquito nets but our room did a good job keeping the bugs out.
The town of Manuel Antonio felt extremely safe. As mentioned before, most restaurants and convenience stores are just a quick walk down the main street. I traveled with my boyfriend at all times especially at night just to be safe but there are security guards outside almost every business so it made me feel extra secure.
Going into the trip we were also concerned about the tap water directly from the faucet. Luckily the water is safe to drink in Costa Rica and I drank tap water at every meal with no issues.
I look forward to the day that I can get back to Manuel Antonio! Next time I would love to squeeze in a volcano tour and spend a few more days just relaxing on the beach without an agenda.
Costa Rica definitely left its mark on me. It’s no wonder they use the phrase Pura Vida so often! Thank you for checking out my Manuel Antonio travel guide! If you loved this beachy itinerary, you’ll love my guide to Ixtapa & Zihuatanejo, Mexico which you can find HERE.
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