Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beach towns. Everyone who comes to Costa Rica visits Manuel Antonio! Located on the Pacific Coast, it’s a place where people come to vacation so you’ll find very few cheap options here. Nevertheless, it’s worth a visit!
I first came here in 2004. Since then, it’s grown like crazy. The pristine beaches, soaring temperatures, and famous national park draw in hundreds of thousands of tourists per year.
Even though it has more tourists than other towns and development has gotten a little out of control in the last few years, Manuel Antonio still has fabulous diving, a fun nightlife, a beautiful national park with plenty of wildlife, awesome beaches, and plenty of sport-fishing opportunities.
While it’s not as tranquil as it used to be, I wouldn’t skip visiting. There are still many hidden spots in the national park where you can escape the crowds.
This travel guide to Manuel Antonio will give you the low down on everything you need to know to plan your visit and save money!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Manuel Antonio
1. Visit Manuel Antonio National Park
2. Relax on the beach
3. Go fishing
4. Zip across the canopy
5. Go to Damas Island
Other Things to See and Do in Manuel Antonio
1. Go surfing
Manuel Antonio isn’t as known for its surfing in comparison to surf hotspots like Jaco Beach and Hermosa, but the breaks here are ideal for beginners. Manuel Antonio Surf School offers both beginner and intermediate lessons, usually lasting around three hours and costing 41,000 CRC. They also do stand-up paddling lessons too.
2. Go diving
Local diving companies frequent over 20 dive sites around Manuel Antonio. You can see underwater volcanic formations and reefs teeming with all kinds of tropical fish and sea life, including manta rays, dolphins, orcas, and whales. Dives start around 65,000 CRC for a two-tank dive. Oceans Unlimited and Rica Freedivers are two of the more popular companies.
3. Take a sunset sailing trip
This is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica to see the sunset. It’s absolutely stunning here, with vivid pinks and oranges filling the horizon. If you’re sailing, you might also get to see humpback whales or see dolphins frolicking alongside the boat at the same time. Basic sunset tours start at 12,500 CRC.
4. Go white water rafting
The Class III and IV rapids of the Savegre River make for an adrenaline-packed day. You’ll paddle through the jungle and see toucans, ospreys, parrots, and kingfishers as you make your way down the river. Experienced rafters can head to the Naranjo River as the rapids there are a lot faster. H20 Adventures has all sorts of rafting trips, starting from 76,500.
5. Go dolphin and whale watching
Whale watching and dolphin tours take you to some of the most scenic spots along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. If you come at the right time of year (November-March and July-September), you’ll have the chance to see tons of humpback and pilot whales. If the weather works in your favor, you’ll also be able to stop for a swim. Tours generally last around 4 hours and cost at least 52,500 CRC.
6. Take a chocolate tour
La Iguana Chocolate offers tours where you can learn about how the country’s most delicious chocolate is produced. You’ll get to see the entire process, sample the goods, and try your hand at grinding the raw cacao. The chocolate is fully organic and is blended with fruits and spices that also come from the farm. Tours last 2.5 hours and cost 12,500 CRC.
7. Go hiking
There are plenty of hiking trails in Manuel Antonio that offer the chance to get close to some of the area’s wildlife. The main trail in Manuel Antonio National Park is an easy one, measuring just 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) and connecting several beaches. The Punta Cathedral loop offers a more challenging trek with steep inclines leading to rainforest vantage points (it’s still just one mile though). The Puerto Escondido trail is one of the longer ones at four miles (6.4 kilometers), and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter capuchin monkeys along the way.
For more information on other destinations in the country, check out these guides:
Manuel Antonio Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During the off-season (April-November), a bed in a four-six bed room costs between 7,000-9,000 CRC. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay 5,500-8,000 CRC. Prices are 2,000 CRC more per night during peak season (December to April).
Private rooms with an ensuite bathroom cost 17,000 CRC, though expect to pay between 20,000-35,000 during peak season.
Camping is illegal in the national park but you can camp out on Iguanita Beach at Papagayo for free (it’s public land), though there are no facilities.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 37,000 CRC during peak season. In the off-season, rooms aren’t much cheaper but there are better deals to be found in some of the nicer hotels.
Airbnb is also available in the area, with private rooms starting at 25,000 CRC per night (though they average closer to 70,000 CRC). For entire homes/apartments, expect to pay at least 31,000 (again, the average is closer to double that so be sure to book early).
Average cost of food – Costa Rican cuisine is centered around rice and beans, which are usually eaten for every meal. Potatoes, plantain, pork, and beef are also popular. Gallo pinto (rice and bean stir-fry) is the national dish. You’ll find it mixed with eggs for breakfast. Other popular meals include fried plantain and chicken and rice. Generally, the food here is quite mild.
If you stick to street food and take-out, a meal costs roughly 2,500 CRC. A traditional casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) from the sodas (see below) is usually about 3,000 CRC.
You can get a burger for less than 5,000 CRC. If you’re in Quepos on the weekend, hit up the Farmers Market for exotic fruits, homemade pies, and other snacks for less than 3,500 CRC.
A large plate of chicken curry or a fish filet costs 8,800 CRC while pizza is about 7,500 CRC. Beers cost 2,000 CRC while a cappuccino/latte costs around 1,500 CRC. Bottled water is 850 CRC.
Higher-end restaurants have entrees like mahi-mahi starting from 11,000 CRC, while a beef tenderloin is 13,500 CRC.
If you cook for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries costs 20,000-25,000 CRC. This gets you basic staples like rice, beans, veggies, and some meat.
Backpacking Manuel Antonio Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Manuel Antonio, expect to spend about 33,000 CRC per day. This budget covers a hostel dorm, public buses, street food and cheap eats from cantinas and sodas, a visit to the national park, and free activities like relaxing on the beach. You’ll need to limit your drinking on this budget, otherwise add 2,000-6,000 CRC more per day.
A mid-range budget of about 80,000 CRC per day covers staying in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eating at sodas and sometimes having meals at restaurants on the beach, drinking a few beers, renting a bicycle, taking the occasional taxi, and doing some paid activities like a sunset tour or whale watching. You won’t be living large on this budget but you won’t really want for anything.
On a “luxury” budget of 165,000 CRC or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you’d like, go diving or snorkeling, and rent a scooter or take taxis to get around. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
If you visit outside of the busier dry months, you’ll pay about 20% less for accommodation.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in CRC.
Manuel Antonio Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Like the rest of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is pretty affordable. Of course, it’s easy to overspend if you’re doing a lot of tours and excursions and eating fancy meals. Here are some suggested ways to save money while you’re here:
- Travel during the off-season – April-November is considered the rainy season and prices tend to be less expensive during this time. It’s also less busy too.
- Take advantage of happy hour – The bars along the main public beach in Manuel Antonio often have 2-for-1 deals. Ask you hostel/hotel staff for specifics.
- Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great (but expensive) group activities and tours in the area. Skip them and do cheap activities like hiking the park instead. You’ll save a fortune and still have fun.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 3,000 CRC including a drink. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Pack a water bottle – A reusable water bottle with a purifier will help you save money (and thousands of plastic bottles) by purifying the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio has lots of great hostel options, making it easy to find budget accommodations here. Here are some of my suggested places to stay in the Manuel Antonio area:
How to Get Around Manuel Antonio
Bus – There is a bus that travels every half hour between Quepos (the gateway town to the national park) and Manuel Antonio from 5:45am until 7pm and then every hour until 9 pm. Tickets cost around 335 CRC each way.
Scooter rental – A scooter is a good way to get around if you want convenience. Rentals start from 24,000 CRC per day.
Bicycle rental – You’ll find bicycle rentals at many hotels and roadside vendors, but take note that the road between Quepos and Manuel Antonio is very steep and challenging. Bicycle rentals start at 12,500 CRC per day.
Taxi – A taxi from Quepos to Manuel Antonio costs about 5,000 CRC. It’s the same price to the airport. All the official taxis with meters are red with a big yellow sign — but that doesn’t mean the drivers will always use the meter. Negotiate your fare before you start driving.
Car rental – Car rentals cost around 14,000 CRC per day. You really don’t need one here though since it’s easy to get around by bike, on foot, and by taxi.
When to Go to Manuel Antonio
The dry season in Manuel Antonio takes place from mid-December to April. This is peak season, and tourism is at its highest — especially during holiday weeks like Christmas and New Year’s. It has become a lot more crowded and developed over the years. It’s definitely not the place I first visited in 2006.
However, it’s consistently sunny and hot during this time, with average highs of 81°F (27°C). If you want real hot weather, come between the end of February and May. In early May, the average highs are around 84°F (29°C).
May to the end of July is the shoulder season. It’s rainier during this time, but the downpour doesn’t last long, and hotel rates are lower. The rainforest is also full of life during this time.
The peak rainy season is from August to November, and although it doesn’t rain every day, you might not be able to enjoy all the outdoor activities you want to experience.
How to Stay Safe in Manuel Antonio
While Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for traveling and backpacking in Central America, you’ll still need to exercise caution. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here, so keep your valuables locked up and out of sight. This is especially true while you’re hanging out at the beach.
If you’re renting a scooter or a bicycle, be cautious on the roads. They can be steep, winding, and unpredictable.
Avoid doing drugs or taking part in sex tourism.
Stay away from that stuff, and you’ll be fine. People are friendly and helpful, and you’re unlikely to get into trouble.
If you need emergency services, dial 911.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Remember: always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in Costa Rica, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
And be sure to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Manuel Antonio Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Costa Rica. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, a great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Costa Rica, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Manuel Antonio Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Manuel Antonio Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate: Exotic and Unseen Costa Rica, by Jack Ewing
This book gives a fascinating overview of how animals, plants, and people interact with one another in Costa Rica’s rainforests. It’s written by Jack Ewing, a naturalist, and born storyteller. Here, he shares a treasure trove of observations and stories gathered for more than 30 years of living in the country. Chances are, you’re coming to Costa Rica to discover some of the country’s amazing ecosystems. This book will get you excited about it.
In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer’s Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road, by Allan Weisbecker
In 1996, Allan Weisbecker sold all his worldly possessions and set out in search of his long-time surfing friend, Patrick, who went missing somewhere in Central America. Traveling with only his dog, his surfboards, and his truck, Allan’s journey from Mexico to Costa Rica is a memorable one, filled with scarier moments (like evading bandits) and warmer ones (like befriending the locals). It’s really the tale of ultimate friendship.
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week, by Nadine Hays Pisani
It’s the classic travel tale — overworked professional realizes that the 9-5 to grind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sets out to seek greener pastures. This is a nice, light read for when you’re just flaking out on the beach or by the pool. But, along the way, you’ll learn why Costa Rica is one of the happiest places on earth.
Manuel Antonio Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Costa Rica travel and continue planning your trip: