Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beach towns. This is the place where everyone takes vacations and in the main town, you’ll find very few cheap options. The pristine beaches, soaring temperatures and the famous national park all draw in hundreds of thousands of tourists per year, but add to that the fabulous diving, nightlife and sports fishing, and it’s clear to see why tourists flock to the area. Accommodation and activities are quite expensive in the area but there are a couple of hostels offering reasonably-priced dorm rooms.
Hostel prices – Accommodations are expensive here, but hostels are competitive at around 7,000 CRC per night in a dorm and 25,000 CRC for private room.
Budget hotel prices – Expect to pay around 35,000 CRC per night for a budget hotel, with fairly good service.
Average cost of food – There are plenty of good restaurants in the area, but to stay within a budget, you can find meals for about 4,275 CRC on average.
Transportation costs – Taxis to Quepos will cost around 3,205 CRC, with the bus coming in at 265 CRC. On your return to Quepos, hop in a taxi with other people, and you’ll only be charged 530 CRC per person. The bus from San José takes 3.5 hours and also costs 2,665 CRC. Flights from San Jose (one-way) to Quepos cost around 42,660 CRC.
Money Saving Tips
Eat off the beach – The food in this town is ridiculously overpriced. Don’t go near any place close to the beach if you hope to save money. Instead, head up the main back street and eat there, or take the short bus ride into Quepos where you will find quite a bit of inexpensive, local food.
Eat at Musmanni – If you do eat in Manuel Antonio itself, eat here. Musmanni is a bakery found all over the country. The offer a great lunch special – for 1,065 CRC, you can get a sandwich and a soda.
Top Things to See and Do in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio National Park – Manuel Antonio contains a charming combination of rain forest, beaches, and coral reefs as the second smallest nature reserve in Costa Rica. Increased tourist traffic has driven some wildlife away from the area, but you can still get up close to capuchins, basilisks, iguanas, and if you’re lucky, the Central American Squirrel Monkey. You can sunbathe and snorkel at the park’s many beaches.
Go fishing – A sport fishing trip is one of the highlights for many people’s Costa Rica vacation and given the astounding wealth of the country’s marine life, it’s not hard to see why. These trips are expensive, costing around 266,600 CRC for an inshore day trip, 319,915 CRC for an offshore package. That being said, you’ll have the chance to fish for barracuda, marlin, tuna, snapper, and many species.
Surfing – Manuel Antonio isn’t as well known for its surfing in comparison to Jaco Beach or Hermosa, but the breaks here are ideal for beginners and for moderate surfing. More experienced surfers can find better waves by travelling just a short distance outside of the city and Quepos.
Go diving – Local diving companies frequent over 20 dive sites around the coast. You’ll dive amongst volcanic formations, a beautiful reef and all kinds of tropical fish. Night dives are available and are a great way to see the Pacific come alive. Expect to pay around 79,980 CRC for 2 tanks. You will need to be certified, so take this into account.
Visit Damas Island – A 30-minute boat ride from Quepos will take you to the jungle island of Damas. The surf is great here, but the main attractions are the mangrove swamps which are home to crocodiles. You’ll have to be brave to kayak through the waterways, but there are plenty of boat tours available too. Other wildlife on the island includes boas, caymans, various species of birds, and on rare occasions, the silky anteater.
White water rafting – The class III and IV rapids of the Savegre River make for an adrenaline-packed day. You’ll pass through the jungle and see toucans, osprey, parrots, and kingfishers as you make your way down the river. Experienced rafters should go on the Naranjo River trip as the rapids are a lot faster, making this more challenging. You’ll pay 53,325 CRC for the Savegre and 42,660 CRC for the Naranjo.
Horseback riding – There are several horseback riding tours that take you across the beautiful landscapes of the area. You’ll have the chance to take in waterfalls, beaches, jungles, and hills on the trip. There are a few excursions throughout the day, but the evening trip is the best.
Watch whales and dolphins – This tour will bring you to some of the most beautiful spots along the Pacific Coast. If you come at the right time of year (November-March and July-September), you’ll have the chance to see Humpback and Pilot whales, one of the best experiences that nature has to offer. If conditions permit, you’ll also be able to stop for a swim in a spot near some dolphins.
Sunset sailing – One of the most popular excursions from the area is a sunset sailing trip. The sky is amazing and you might get to hear humpback whales and see dolphins along the side of the boat. Traveling on a catamaran is a great way to see the coast and get a different view of the National Park.
The gay scene – Manuel Antonio is a popular destination for gay travelers with its nude gay beach, liberal attitudes, and lively gay bars and restaurants. If this is your scene then head to Tutu’s Gay Bar and Gato Negro Restaurant. La Playita beach is the center of gay life in town during the day where nude sunbathing and swimming is the norm.
Sit on the beach – The number one thing to do here is to sit on the wide white sand beach and get a tan. Despite the vast increases in crowds over the last few years, the beach has remained clean and beautiful. In January, there are good waves for body surfing, and the beach’s westerly view means beautiful sunsets each night.
Zip across the canopy – There are no shortage of zip-lining opportunities in Costa Rica, and Manuel Antonio is another great spot to try it. La Selvita offers a series of 16 lines, the longest being almost half a mile in length.
Tour a vanilla spice farm – Pure and smooth, vanilla is one of the most popular exports from Central America. Here you can visit a local vanilla farm and learn about the production process. Don’t forget to buy a bottle!