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 famous national park all draw in hundreds of thousands of tourists per year. Even though it may have more tourists than other places and development has gotten a little out of control in the last few years, Manuel Antonio still has fabulous diving, nightlife, a beautiful national park with plenty of wildlife, awesome beaches, and sport-fishing, it’s clear why this area remains so popular.
Hostel prices – Accommodations are expensive here, but hostels are competitive at around 7,000 CRC per night for a dorm. and 25,000 CRC for a private room. Free WiFi is standard in all the hostels, and the majority also include free breakfast. Most also offer self-catering facilities for those looking to cook their own meals. While it is illegal to camp in the national park itself you can find places to pitch a tent nearby, as well as cabins for rent. Expect to pay 11,000 CRC per night for a cabin and around 5,500 CRC to pitch a tent.
Budget hotel prices – You can expect to pay around 39,000 CRC per night for a budget hotel. A few budget hotels also have pools so be sure to check around! Airbnb is available in the area, though there are not many options for shared accommodation. For a private room, expect to pay around 21,000 CRC per night and 33,000 CRC per night for an entire apartmenet.
Average cost of food – There are plenty of good restaurants in the area, but to stay within a budget you’ll want to avoid the nicer places. You can find budget meals for about 4,275 CRC on average, though you may want to cook for yourself to keep costs down. Since most hotels and hostels offer self-catering facilities, buying your own groceries is a good option to stay on budget. Expect to pay around 15,000-20,000 CRC per week for groceries.
Transportation costs – Taxis to nearby Quepos will cost around 3,300 CRC, while the bus costs 265 CRC. On your return to Quepos, hop in a taxi with other people and you’ll only be charged around 530 CRC per person. The bus from San José takes 3.5 hours and costs around 26,000 CRC each way. Round-trip flights from San Jose to Quepos start around 45,000 CRC per person. Bike rentals are available in the area for around 8,000 CRC per day.
Suggested daily budget – 22,150-24,900 CRC / 40-45 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
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.
- Bargain with your tour guide – Outside of the park, you’ll find lots of knowledgeable guides (pretty much any Costa Rican person can guide you on an incredible nature walk). Be sure to bargain with your tour guide to a price that you find fair. The more people, the less you’ll pay per person, so try to go with a group.
- Avoid the high season – Prices will be much higher during the summer months (and also during holidays) so travel during the off-season to avoid the highest prices.
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 also sunbathe and snorkel at the park’s many beaches. Admission is 6,600 CRC for adults, while tours are available for 21,000 CRC.
- Go fishing – A sport-fishing trip is one of the highlights of 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, 319,900 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. More experienced surfers can find better waves by traveling just a short distance outside of the city and Quepos. Beginner and intermediate lessons usually last around 3 hours and cost around 36,000 CRC.
- Go diving – Local diving companies frequent over 20 dive sites around the coast. You’ll dive amongst volcanic formations, a beautiful reef, and see all kinds of tropical fish. Dives start around 80,000 CRC for a two tank dive. Getting certified in the area will cost around 77,000 CRC.
- 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. 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, caimans, various species of birds, and on rare occasions, the silky anteater. Tours begin around 30,000 CRC per person.
- 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. Expect to pay around 55,000 for the day per person.
- 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. Expect to pay around 48,000 CRC per person.
- Sunset sailing – One of the most popular excursions from the area is a sunset sailing trip. The sky usually turns an amazing pink and orange at night and you might get to hear humpback whales and see dolphins along the side of the boat. I highly recommend taking one of these boat cruises, especially if you are with a group.
- 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 this 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’s 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. Expect to pay around 41,000 CRC.