Manual Antonio is one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica. It is located on the Pacific coast, about 2.5h drive from San José (depending on the traffic). The national park is basically a couple of beautiful beaches and the forest behind them, where you can find plenty of tropical animals, mostly monkeys and sloths.
I went to Manuel Antonio for 3 nights, after spending the whole week in San Jose for work. On Thursday afternoon I rented a car and fortunately I didn’t hit much traffic. I returned back to San Jose airport on Sunday afternoon. One could stay in the area for much longer, but I think the timing was perfect.
The main town in the area is called Quepos. There is nothing to see in Quepos, and I would not recommend staying there (although the hotels may be much cheaper in Quepos). However, there are more bars and restaurants in Quepos, so you might end up going there in an enevenign.
Most of the hotels are on the hills along the road between Quepos and the national park. They usually refer to this area as Manuel Antonio, however, strictly speaking that is the name of the national park. I would highly recommend to get a hotel in this area. There are some stunning views of the bay and plenty of nice restaurants.
Manuel Antonio national park
Manuel Antonio is a relatively small national park. It covers a small coastal area with the beaches and the forest. As at all Costa Rican national parks, the entrance fee is quite steep – $16 for foreigners. You should go early (between 8 and 9am) before a queue forms as they control the number of people per day. At the entrance there are plenty of guides that can take you to see the animals (for $20 pp), but I honestly don’t think it’s necessary.
As you enter, you first walk through the forest where you can observe the animals. There are plenty of other tour groups, so basically when you see them observing something you know there’s something to see. We saw many monkeys of the 4 local kinds and some sloths, which are quite high in the trees and hard to see with bare eyes.
After that we went to the beautiful beaches and stayed there for the rest of the day. There are two main beaches on two sides of a small peninsula, we tried both. While on the beach be careful of the monkeys that can steal your stuff.
Rafting on the nearby Naranjo river is very popular. Depending on the time of the year, different parts of the river are good for rafting. When we were there the upper part – Charro – was navigable that also provides the best rafting experience.
We booked with H2O. They picked us us at 7.45 from the hotel and first they gathered all the participants at their office in Quepos. After about 45 min drive on a dirt road we descended to the river and got onto the rafts that were for 2-3 people max. At the end of the ride they gave us fruit and water. The experience was very good and definitely worth doing.
Well there is not much more to do in the region apart from relaxing at the beach or the pool of your hotel. The public beach just before getting into the national park is (almost) as good as the beach in the park, it’s just more crowded.
On the way to Manuel Antonio, about half way, there is a bridge over the river Tarcoles. You should stop there and have a look at the cocks down below in the river. They are huge!
There is a large selection of restaurants in the Manuel Antonio area. Most of them are OK, but none of them is really good or anything special. So I won’t spend describing them, but just list them.
Good for lunch: Balu (on the public beach), Falafel Bar.
Good for dinner: Cafe Milagro (maybe one of the best choices), El Wagon (wood-fire pizza), Express Burrito (almost the only thing that’s open till late).