We spent a month driving round Costa Rica and of all the places we visited, Manuel Antonio was my absolute Favourite. This little town, which lies around 100 km south of San Jose is reached by exiting the highway (Costanera Sud) near Quepos, then taking Route 618, which runs all the way to Manuel Antonio National Park.
Route 618 is lined with numerous hotels, bars and restaurant. At the end of the road, is the national park and the glorious 2 km jungle lined golden sand which is Espadilla beach. Go to Manuel Antonio for the national park, but make sure to stay for sunset and cocktails overlooking Playa Espadilla.
Manuel Antonio National Park
f If you’re planning to visit, buying tickets in advance online is highly recommended. We purchased entry tickets and explored the park on our own. If you prefer a guided tour, this can be booked online – alternatively, there are plenty of guides touting for business near the entrance.
|Place||Manuel Antonio National Park|
|Opening Times||7-4 (closed Tuesdays)|
An online ticket reservation gives you an entry time slot (ours was 9-9.40 am). No food is allowed in the park, although there is a small café where you can purchase drinks and snacks. No single use plastic is allowed inside the park, but if you bring your own water bottle, they will refill it at the kiosk with very welcome ice cold water for 500 colones. There are plenty of cafes and shops lining the road leading to the entrance. We had breakfast at one of the street side cafes on our way to the park.
Upon arrival, there is some admin to deal with (you need to bring your passport), bag checks to search for food contraband, temperature checks, compulsory hand washing. It took us a while to get through the formalities.
There are several trails and three beaches in the park. We opted to start with Sendero Perezoso (sloth trail) which takes you, either along a trail or a boardwalk, through the rainforest to a clearing which contains the cafe, toilets and access to some of the other trails.
We didn’t see any sloths on the ‘Sloth Trail’ but we did, however, spot monkeys. At first we were excited, peering up into the trees for a closer look. But as we approached the park kiosk, we realised there were hundreds of them, absolutely everywhere. The closer you get to the kiosk, the higher the concentration of monkeys!
Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio
From the kiosk, take the Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio, which leads you, not surprisingly, to Manuel Antonio Beach. There are lovely beaches both inside and outside the park, so you are spoilt for choice. As we were staying close by, we opted to spend the morning walking the trails in the National Park, then collect our swimming gear and go to public beach in the afternoon, so we had less to carry. At the end of the trail, you can climb an Observation Tower which is more like a monkey living room! And they certainly were not shy of humans, coming over to check us out.
Playa Manuel Antonio
Walking the trails of Manuel Antonio is a hot, sweaty business. Take some time at the beach to cool down before tackling your next trail.
Sendero Punta Catedral
Once you’re suitable refreshed, continue on the steep, circular trail (approximately 1.4 km) round a rocky peninsula called Punta Catedral. It has a lot of steps and a lot of gaps where steps used to be. Climbing it was quite a mission in the heat and humidity.
We arrived at the top to find the viewpoint cordoned off (it had been destroyed by monkeys) and continued along the steps/ex steps back towards the beach.
Finally, as you continue the circular trail onwards and upwards, you are rewarded with a view over the bay, before descending back towards the beach.
Playa Espadilla Sur
Once back at the beach, I went for a paddle to cool down but the water wasn’t like the bracing sea water of Bournemouth, it was more like stepping into a warm bath.
Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur
From here, you can either retrace your steps (if you want to visit the cafe) or take the Sendero Espadilla Sur which takes you towards the exit alongside the beach.
As you near the exit, take the boardwalk through the mangroves to Bahia beach.
At this beautiful beach, you can watch pelicans diving into the rock pools for their lunch.
There are other trails, in the park, but our route covered over 5 miles, which in 32 degree heat and 80% humidity, I found was sufficient and decided it was time to retire to the beach!
Where to Stay?
We stayed at the Hotel Manuela Antonio. This motel style hotel has large, clean rooms with balconies overlooking beautifully landscaped gardens. It’s literally at the end of the road. Route 618, which brings you to Manuel Antonio, concludes in a turning circle near the park entrance. The hotel is on this circle and literally backs onto the National Park. (When we arrived, there were deer peering over the fence between the National Park and hotel car park). As it’s adjacent to the park and opposite the beach it’s really conveniently placed. In addition, it has ample, free guest parking.
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