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. Everyone who comes to Costa Rica, visits Manuel Antonio.
I first came here in 2004 and I’ve seen it grow like crazy since then. 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.
While it’s not as tranquil as it used to be, I wouldn’t skip it. There’s 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!
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 well known for its surfing in comparison to Jaco Beach or Hermosa, but the breaks here are ideal for beginners. Manuel Antonio Surf School and Camp offers both beginner and intermediate lessons, usually lasting around three hours and costing from 40,973 CRC ($70 USD). They also do stand-up paddling classes!
2. Go diving
Local diving companies frequent over 20 dive sites around the coast, where you’ll 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 80,000 CRC ($137 USD) for a two-tank dive for a company like Oceans Unlimited or Rica Freedivers.
3. Take a sunset sailing trip
This is one of my favorite places in Costa Rica to see the sunset for the amazing vivid pink and orange sky at night. If you’re sailing, you might get to hear humpback whales or see dolphins frolicking along the side of the boat at the same time. Tours start from 43,900 CRC ($75 USD).
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, 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. H20 Adventures has all sorts of rafting trips, starting from 43,900 CRC ($75 USD).
5. Watch whales and dolphins
A whale watching or dolphin tour will take you to some of the most scenic 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 tons of humpback and pilot whales. If the weather works in your favor, you’ll also be able to stop for a swim. Expect to pay around 48,000 CRC per person. Tours start from 43,900 CRC ($75 USD).
6. Take a chocolate tour
Who doesn’t love a good chocolate tour? While here, take the La Iguana Chocolate tour to learn about how the Salazar Garcia family produces some of the country’s most delicious chocolate on their 10-acre mountain plot. You’ll learn about the entire process, sample the goods, and try your hand at grinding the raw cacao. This stuff is great because it’s blended with fruits and spices that also come from the farm. It’s fully organic. It’s 11,706 CRC ($20 USD) per person for a 2-3 hour tour.
7. Take a hike
There are many hiking trails in Manuel Antonio that offer even more opportunity 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/1.6 kilometers 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.
Manuel Antonio Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a bed in a four-six bed room will cost between 10,536-14,633 CRC ($18-25 USD) per night. For a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around 8,780 CRC ($15 USD). During the off-season, a bed will cost from 5,800 CRC ($10 USD) each night, no matter how big the room is.
A basic private room with an ensuite bathroom costs from 29,266 CRC ($50 USD) per night during peak season. Prices are also about the same in the off-season, but you can sometimes find rooms as cheap as 20,486 CRC ($35 USD) per night.
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 – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room start at about 46,826 CRC ($80 USD) in peak season. In the off-season, budget rooms start from 32,193 CRC ($55 USD).
Manuel Antonio has lots of Airbnb options. A shared room (like a bed in a dorm) averages about 11,706 CRC ($20 USD) per night, while a private room is about 42,729 CRC ($73 USD) per night. A full apartment averages about 119,993 CRC ($205 USD) per night, but you can find plenty of apartments under 67,313 CRC ($115 USD) per night.
Average cost of food – You can find affordable food in Manuel Antonio if you stick to street food or take-out joints, where meals costs roughly 1,755 CRC ($3 USD). A sandwich is about 3,600 CRC ($6 USD) and traditional Casado (rice, beans, veggies, and meat) from the sodas is usually about 2,500 CRC ($4.30 USD).
You can get a burger for less than 4,095 CRC ($7 USD). If you’re in Quepos on the weekend, hit up the Farmers Market for exotic fruits, homemade pies, and other snacks for less than 2,925 CRC ($5 USD).
At mid-range restaurants, you can get a large plate of chicken curry or a fish filet for 8,800 CRC ($15 USD). A Margherita pizza goes for about 6,995 CRC ($12 USD). Beers are about 1,745 CRC ($3 USD).
Higher-end restaurants will have entrees like mahi-mahi starting from 11,705 CRC ($20 USD), while a beef tenderloin is from 14,635 CRC ($25 USD). A glass of wine is from 4,097 CRC ($7 USD).
If you cook for yourself, you’ll spend between 15,000-20,000 CRC ($25-35 USD) on groceries per week, which wil get you basics like meat, bread, eggs, cheese, some veggies, and fruit.
Backpacking Manuel Antonio Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Costa Rica, expect to spend about 34,928 CRC ($60 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm, lots of bus rides, street food and cheap local eats, entry to the national park, and free activities (like the beaches). If you’re traveling during the shoulder season, you can reduce this budget by a few dollars each day for accommodations.
A mid-range budget of about 93,142 CRC ($160 USD) will cover staying in a private hostel room, eating out for all of your meals, a daily tour, a bicycle rental, and some drinks. If you want to spread out your budget, you can take a tour every other day and reduce your daily spend by about 17,464 CRC ($30 USD).
On a luxury budget of about 193,270 CRC ($332 USD) or more per day, you can get an excellent four-star hotel with a pool, any meal you want, drinks, tours, and lots of taxi rides (or a scooter rental). The sky is the limit!
If you come in the low season, you’ll pay about 50% less for accommodations.
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 USD.
Manuel Antonio Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Manuel Antonio is pretty affordable, but it’s easy to overspend if you’re doing a lot of tours and excursions. Here are some suggested ways to save money in Manuel Antonio:
- Travel off-season – Late April-November is considered the rainy season, and as a result, prices tend to be less expensive and the region less crowded.
- Take advantage of happy hour – The bars along the main public beach in Manuel Antonio have 2-for-1 deals on their cocktails and highballs between 4 pm and 6 pm.
- Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great but expensive group activities and tours in the area. Skip them, and do the free activities such as hiking the park (although you’ll have to pay the park entry fee) and hitting up the beach.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 2,926 CRC ($5 USD) 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 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 ($49.99).
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 daily between Quepos and Manuel Antonio starting at 5:45 am and then every hour after 7 pm, with stops in between. Tickets cost about 335 CRC ($0.65 USD) each way.
Scooter Rental – A scooter rental is a good way to get around if you want convenience. Tico Loco Adventures rents them from about 20,485 CRC ($35 USD) per day. Selina Hostel rents them for 29,265 CRC ($50 USD).
Bicycle – 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 8,780 CRC ($15 USD) per day.
Taxi – A taxi from Quepos to Manuel Antonio will cost about 4,682 CRC ($8 USD), and 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!
When to Go to Manuel Antonio
They 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 park I first visited in 2006. However, it’s consistently sunny and hot during this time, with the average high being 81.3°F (27.4°C).
If you want real hot weather, come between the end of February and May. In early May, the average highs are around 84.2°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 some level of caution. Petty theft (including bag snatching) is one of the most common types of crime here, so keep your valuables locked up at home. 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’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.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- 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, 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!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or 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
- 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 natural 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 had 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 witty tale comes from Nadine Pisani, who shares her story of quitting her job to forge a new life in sunny Costa Rica. 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: