Manuel Antonio is the most famous national park in Costa Rica. It is located on the west coast, which means it offers stunning beaches and rainforest. Raccoons, monkeys, sloths, and deer are just a few of the inhabitants of this protected natural area. We’re here to provide you with handy tips for an optimal visit to Manuel Antonio National Park.
1. Manage your expectations
Our expectations were high. After all, Manuel Antonio is considered the most famous park in Costa Rica. Perhaps that’s why our visit was slightly underwhelming.
Manuel Antonio was the last park we visited during our trip, so we had quite a lot to compare it to. Other parks had left a stronger impression on us.
This is likely due to the popularity of Manuel Antonio. The park has a commercial setup, which makes it feel more like a zoo. Moreover, the large groups of tourists can sometimes be quite loud, which doesn’t help with spotting animals.
2. Visit Manuel Antonio early in the morning
The park is open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM, except on Mondays when Manuel Antonio is closed. We recommend entering as early as possible. It’s still quiet, and the animals are most active in the morning.
3. Don’t fall for a fake parking attendant
Kilometers before the park entrance, you’ll find parking lots. Sometimes they’re labeled as official parking or self-proclaimed parking attendants eagerly point to their spots. Don’t be impressed by them, as you’ll end up paying too much and have to walk a long distance.
Continue driving calmly until you’re close to the park entrance. There are plenty of places where you can park your car for a maximum of 6 dollars. There are no official parking lots, so it might be worth negotiating. Alternatively, have a taxi drop you off at the entrance.
4. Purchase park tickets across from the entrance
It’s not very clear, but the official ticket booth is located before the actual entrance of Manuel Antonio. So, don’t join the long queue before you’ve bought the tickets at the covered booth.
At the time of writing, tickets cost 16 dollars, but double-check the price on the park’s website to be sure. Children under twelve enter for free. Don’t let anyone sell you tickets on the street, as you’ll likely overpay.
5. These items are not allowed in Manuel Antonio
Since there are no restaurants inside the park, it’s wise to bring your own food and drinks. Only processed or cut fruits, sandwiches, or cookies packed in paper or reusable containers are allowed. Plastic bottles of water or soda are also welcome, and you can refill them with drinking water in the park.
At the park entrance, there will be a thorough bag check. The following food items are prohibited and will be confiscated:
- Canned sodas
- Plastic or aluminum packaging
- Food wrapped in plastic wrap
- Nuts and seeds
- Cigarettes (smoking is not allowed anywhere)
Although it’s not mentioned on the website, drones and professional camera equipment are not allowed. If you happen to bring something valuable that is not allowed, you can rent a locker in a shop across from the entrance.
6. Keep an eye on your belongings
This applies to all nature parks in Costa Rica. Especially monkeys and raccoons know very well that there’s probably a lot of tasty stuff in your bag. If you’re not paying attention, they might snatch your belongings. This is particularly true on the beach, where many tourists leave their belongings unattended.
7. Consider hiring a guide
During our trip through Costa Rica, we hired guides in several parks. It costs a bit more, but you’ll definitely see more animals and learn more about the natural area.
Since Manuel Antonio was the last national park we visited, we explored it without a guide. It’s perfectly fine to do so because there is a lot of information about nature and wildlife along the way through informative signs.
If this is the only nature park you’re planning to visit, we highly recommend hiring a guide. An official guided tour needs to be booked in advance online. There are also guides available near the park entrance for last-minute bookings, but they are not affiliated with the park, and their quality may vary. If you choose such a guide, make sure they speak English and have a good pair of binoculars (on a tripod).
8. Bring your swimwear
In Manuel Antonio National Park, you’ll find a beautiful beach. It may not be large, but we were pleasantly surprised by how peaceful it was. After a vigorous hike through the rainforest, it’s a delightful place to relax and unwind.
There are restroom facilities in the park where you can change clothes or shower after swimming. As we mentioned before, don’t leave any valuable belongings unattended on the beach. There’s a chance that a cheeky monkey or raccoon might take off with your bag.
9. Beware of misleading excursions
You can book all sorts of fun excursions in and around Manuel Antonio National Park. From ziplining to snorkeling, the options are endless. However, not all of these excursions actually take place inside the nature park itself. Manuel Antonio is also the name of the area surrounding the park.
So, pay attention to whether the excursion is in Parque Nacional or solely in Manuel Antonio. An activity outside the park can still be incredibly enjoyable, but keep in mind that you might want to visit the park at a later time.
10. Book a hotel near the park
There are plenty of hotels around the nature park. It can be smart to book a hotel that is close to the entrance of Manuel Antonio. This way, you can afford to sleep in a bit if you plan on visiting the park early. In the morning, you’ll see the most animals and it’s still relatively quiet.
We stayed at Buena Vista Beach Villas, a beautiful small hotel right on the beach. You can walk to the park entrance in about fifteen minutes via that beach. This saves you the hassle of parking. The hotel also prepared an elaborate lunch for us that easily passed through the park’s security. And at the end of the day, you can order a cocktail at the hotel bar and enjoy a stunning sunset.
Our favorite national parks
Although Manuel Antonio is the most popular park in Costa Rica, it left the least impression on us. Curious about where we think you should really go? Check out this overview of our favorite national parks in Costa Rica.