Manuel Antonio National Park: Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica’s Biodiversity Gem

6 Dec 2013 11 min read No comments Costa Rica Travel Guide

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Dive into our comprehensive guide on Manuel Antonio National Park! Discover its unmatched biodiversity, top activities, and insider tips for an unforgettable Costa Rican adventure.

Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica, known in Spanish as Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, is a captivating natural oasis in the Central Pacific Conservation Area.

Nestled along the resplendent Pacific coast of Costa Rica, it lies just south of Quepos city in Puntarenas. It is a manageable 132 km (82 mi) drive from the nation’s capital, San José.

Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica History

The park was officially established in 1972, but its roots trace back to a strong local community initiative.

The community members were driven to conserve the area’s pristine natural beauty and prevent extensive tourist development.

Their efforts weren’t only confined to conservation; they also took a stand against restrictions imposed on local beach access by foreign property owners.

Size and Significance of Manuel Antonio National Park

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Despite encompassing a mere 1,983 hectares, Manuel Antonio is a powerhouse of biodiversity, making it a significant representative of Costa Rica’s national park system, even if it’s the smallest in terms of land area.

But its size doesn’t deter visitors – each year, the park welcomes up to 150,000 nature enthusiasts, beachgoers, and adventure seekers.

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What Makes it Special?

Manuel Antonio National Park is famed for its picture-perfect beaches framed by verdant tropical forests.

The park’s trail system allows visitors to explore its varied ecosystems, making it a haven for hikers.

Its rich biodiversity includes a myriad of flora and fauna, ensuring that wildlife enthusiasts have ample opportunity for sightings.

In a nod to its global significance, Forbes recognized Manuel Antonio in 2011, placing it among the world’s “12 most beautiful national parks.”

This honor underscores the park’s unique combination of scenic beauty, rich biodiversity, and cultural significance.

Manuel Antonio National Park Biodiversity


Manuel Antonio National Park may be Costa Rica’s tiniest national park, spanning just 6.83 km^2 (or about three sq mi), but its biodiversity is staggering.

The park is a haven for 109 mammal species and 184 bird species. Iconic park residents include the brown-throated three-toed sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth.

In addition, the park houses three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species: the mantled howler monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, and Panamanian white-faced capuchin monkey.

The list of wildlife doesn’t end there. Visitors might spot the black spiny-tailed iguana, green iguana, common basilisk, white-nosed coati, and various snake and bat species.

Among the park’s 184 bird species are toucans, woodpeckers, potoos, motmots, tanagers, turkey vultures, parakeets, and hawks.

The park’s coastal waters offer marine enthusiasts a chance to see dolphins and occasionally migrating whales.

Activities like scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking allow visitors to immerse themselves in the rich tropical wildlife of Manuel Antonio.

Historically, Manuel Antonio was second only to Poás Volcano National Park regarding visitor numbers, owing to Poás Volcano’s proximity to San José, Costa Rica’s largest urban area.

However, with the indefinite closure of Poás Volcano due to recent volcanic activity, Manuel Antonio has taken the lead, becoming the most visited national park in Costa Rica.

Exploring the Trails of Manuel Antonio National Park

manuel antonio national park tour

Manuel Antonio National Park, with its lush greenery, stunning beaches, and rich wildlife, offers visitors a range of hiking trails.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just looking for a stroll, this guide will walk you through the various paths you can explore in this beautiful park.

1. Sendero La Catarata (Waterfall Trail)

  • Distance: Short, a few hundred meters from the entrance.
  • Highlights: Leads to a small waterfall. You might spot poison dart frogs.
  • Tip: If you’re pressed for time, skip this trail. The waterfall isn’t as grand as some others in Costa Rica.

2. Sendero el Perezoso (Sloth Trail)

  • Distance: Short
  • Highlights: Runs parallel to the main trail. You can spot sloths, deer, and snakes.
  • Tip: The trail is denser, so always look up and down for wildlife.

3. Universal Trail

  • Distance: Not specified, but connects to the sloth trail.
  • Highlights: Handicap friendly with Braille signs every 50 meters. Takes you through mangroves to Playa Espadilla Sur.

4. Punta Catedral (1.4 km)

  • Highlights: Offers panoramic views of the park and islands. Once an island, it connected with the mainland over time.
  • Tip: A must-hike for the best views of the park.

5. Sendero Playa Gemelas

  • Distance: Fairly short
  • Highlights: Leads to the cozy Playa Gemelas beach. It’s a great spot if Playa Manuel Antonio is crowded.
  • Tip: Hike further for a mirador view of Playa Puerto Escondido.

6. Sendero Congo

  • Distance: Short, connects Sendero Playa Gemelas to Sendero Mirador.
  • Highlights: Named after the howler monkey. Spot howlers and white-faced monkeys.
  • Tip: A great detour to combine with Sendero Mirador.

7. Sendero Mirador (1.3 km)

  • Highlights: Leads to Punta Serrucho’s view, on a tectonic fault. Several viewpoints with information boards along the way.
  • Tip: It has many steps, so pace yourself. Benches are available for breaks.

How to get to Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park is situated in the Central Pacific region, specifically in the Puntarenas province, 170 kilometers (about 105 miles) from San José, the capital city of Costa Rica.

The entrance gate of the national park.

1. By Bus from Quepos Bus Station

Buses are your best bet for a budget-friendly way to reach the park.

Buses to Manuel Antonio National Park depart from Quepos bus station, providing regular service throughout the day. The fare per person is 410 Costa Rican colones (CRC) for a one-way ticket.

  • Frequency: Buses leave every 30 minutes approximately.
  • Operational Hours: The first bus departs at 5:30 AM, and the last one at 9:30 PM.

The bus route has several stops, primarily on the hill leading to the park.

If you’re lodging at a hillside hotel, there are numerous bus stops where you can board.

From the Roundabout to the Park Entrance: The Beach Trail

It’s essential to know that buses don’t take you directly to the park’s entrance.

Instead, they drop passengers off at a roundabout near the beach.

Once you’re at the roundabout, your journey continues on foot. Follow the “Beach Trail,” a clearly marked pathway, to reach the park’s entrance.

  1. Bridge Crossing: You’ll cross a bridge over a small river.
  2. Signage: After the bridge, a large sign indicates the direction to the park.
  3. Walking Time: It takes about 5 minutes to walk from the roundabout to the entrance.

Additional Note: Traveling from Jacó

If you’re coming from Jacó, you can take a bus to Quepos first. Once you reach Quepos, follow the aforementioned bus instructions to get to Manuel Antonio National Park.

For more details on this route, consult our guide on taking the bus from Jacó to Manuel Antonio.
Essential Guide for Driving to Manuel Antonio National Park

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2. By Car

While driving towards Manuel Antonio National Park, upon reaching the bottom of the last hill, you might come across individuals signaling you towards a parking area on your right, with a visible beach in the background.

Caution: This is not the entrance to the national park. You’re still approximately 1 mile from the actual entrance. These individuals might try to:

  • Offer you a spot in their “national park” parking area.
  • Suggest guiding services.
  • Misinform you, claiming that parking at their location is a prerequisite for entering the park or implying that you need their guiding services to access the park.

Our Advice: Continue driving and do not park there. Their intentions might not be genuine, and they could be trying to mislead tourists.

To find the actual entrance, drive on until you see restaurants and stores on your left. After the Super Joseth convenience store, there’s a left turn.

Follow this route past the Hotel Vela Bar to arrive at the national park entrance. The road is narrow, so exercise caution.

For precise directions, use Google Maps and set your destination as “Welcome Center Manuel Antonio” or “Hotel San Bada.”

Road Conditions: Do You Need a 4×4?

The entire road leading to Manuel Antonio National Park is paved.

You don’t require a 4×4 or a high-clearance vehicle; a standard sedan will suffice.

However, after Quepos, the road becomes notably narrow and winding. It’s crucial to drive slowly and stay alert.

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Parking at Manuel Antonio National Park

Preferred Parking Spots

Upon descending to the beach from the hill, you’ll see a left turn between Bar Las Gemelas and Marlins. Follow this narrow road until you’re near the park’s entrance.

You’ll notice two parking lots – one on the right and another on the left. Parking attendants might guide you to a spot.

Both parking areas are acceptable, but we suggest choosing the one on the right for convenience.

It’s essential to:

  • Do not leave valuables in plain sight.
  • Always lock your doors.
  • Ensure all windows are rolled up.

For easier location, one of these parking lots can be found on Google Maps under the name “Parking Manuel Antonio (Prive).”

Parking Fees

Parking costs may vary depending on the time of year:

  • Low Season (e.g., September): Approximately 3,000 Costa Rican colones.
  • High Season (December – April): The fee can range from 5,000 to 6,000 CRC.

We recommend making payments in Costa Rican colones rather than USD for accuracy.

Alternative Parking

Another parking option is slightly further away but still conveniently located.

On Google Maps, it is labeled as “Parqueo para el parque” or “Parqueo Privado Manuel Antonio.”

Manuel Antonio National Park: Hours, Entrance Fees, and Regulations You Need to Know


Manuel Antonio National Park Opening Times

Manuel Antonio National Park is open from 7 AM to 4 PM from Wednesday to Monday.

The park remains closed on Tuesdays, making it essential to plan your visit accordingly. A few critical times to keep in mind are:

  • Beach Closure: The beaches within the park are off-limits after 3 PM.
  • Last Call: Around 3 PM, park rangers initiate the closing procedures, advising visitors that they have one hour left to enjoy the park.
  • Final Exit: By 3:30 PM, all visitors must begin exiting the park premises, as the gates close promptly at 4 PM.

Holiday Exceptions

The park remains open during major holidays, such as Christmas and New Year’s Day, unless these holidays fall on a Tuesday.

Manuel Antonio National Park Tickets: What You’ll Need to Pay

Manuel Antonio National Park has different entrance fees for various visitor categories:

  • Adult Foreigners: USD 16 plus tax
  • Children (2-12 years old): USD 5 plus tax
  • Infants (Under two years): Free

You can pay for your Manuel Antonio National Park tickets with cash and credit cards, offering convenience for all visitors.

parque nacional manuel antonio costa rica

Prohibited Items: What Not to Bring

To maintain the park’s natural serenity and ensure visitor safety, the following items are strictly prohibited:

  • Alcohol
  • Firearms
  • Cigarettes
  • Illicit substances
  • Loudspeakers

4 Best Manuel Antonio National Park Tours for the Ultimate Adventure

If you’re planning a trip and looking for the best tours to experience the magic of Manuel Antonio, you’re in the right place.

Here are the top 4 tours that promise an unforgettable adventure:


1. Manuel Antonio or Quepos: Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Dive deep into the heart of Manuel Antonio National Park and discover its wonders. This tour offers a unique opportunity to spot monkeys, sloths, and vibrant toucans in their natural habitat.

With a knowledgeable guide, you’ll learn fascinating facts about the park’s diverse ecosystem. The lush greenery and serene ambiance make it a haven for nature lovers.

Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time traveler, this tour promises a memorable experience.

And the best part?

You’ll witness the beauty of Costa Rica’s most famous national park up close.

So, why wait? Book your adventure now!

2. From San José: Manuel Antonio Day Trip

Imagine escaping the hustle and bustle of San José and venturing into the serene landscapes of Manuel Antonio National Park.

This day trip offers just that! Embark on a nature trail that leads to a paradisiacal beach where you can swim and hike to your heart’s content.

The journey is a treat, with scenic views that will leave you in awe. The diverse flora and fauna of the park are sure to captivate your senses.

And with a comfortable air-conditioned bus to take you there, all you need to do is sit back, relax, and soak in the beauty around you.

Ready for the trip of a lifetime? Book now!

manuel antonio national park map

3. Manuel Antonio National Park Tour

Forbes wasn’t kidding when they ranked Manuel Antonio National Park as one of the world’s top 10 most beautiful parks.

This tour takes you on an exploration of the park’s vast biodiversity. Marvel at the variety of flora and fauna specimens that call this place home.

The park’s pristine beaches, verdant rainforests, and mesmerizing views make it a must-visit destination. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for a peaceful retreat, this tour has something for everyone.

Experience the magic of Manuel Antonio and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Don’t miss out, book today!

4. Manuel Antonio National Park Combo Tour from San Jose

Last but not least, this combo tour offers the best of both worlds. Explore the wonders of Manuel Antonio National Park and indulge in its white-sand beaches.

This day trip from San Jose includes a delightful breakfast and lunch, ensuring you’re energized for your adventure.

Along the way, keep an eye out for crocodiles and scarlet macaws, adding to the excitement of the journey.

With so much to see and do, this combo tour promises an experience like no other.

Don’t miss out on this combo adventure. Book your tour today!

We help you plan and book your Costa Rica Vacation

image 14

With our local tourism agency partner onboard, organizing a customized Costa Rica vacation has never been this hassle-free!

Share your travel dates, places of interest, and other details that would make your travel to Costa Rica memorable.

After completing this form, one of our Costa Rica experts will contact you. Tours, transport, other travel services – you name it, we’ll arrange it!

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