Manuel Antonio will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the second place I visited on my first ever solo backpacking trip 7 years ago. It was also the first place that I actually liked. Well, “liked” probably doesn’t do justice how much I enjoyed it. I fell in love with Manuel Antonio. I stayed at a great hostel, met amazing people, and couldn’t have had a better time. I’ve been back four times now.
A lot has changed since my first visit. The original slogan in town was “more monkeys than people”, however there are certainly more people than monkeys now. In fact, it’s swarmed with people, and has become the number one tourism destination in all of Costa Rica. A newly paved road between Jaco and Quepos has made it very accessible. Prices have also gone up in town, although perhaps not near as badly as you might have expected them to.
Regardless of the changes, there still is a lot to love about Manuel Antonio and you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that hates it. Beautiful beaches that are backed by protected rain forests, what else do you need?
Time Needed: 3-4 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: $40-50USD
Getting Around and Lay of the Land
Manuel Antonio isn’t exactly a town, but more a strip of hotels and shops along the beach at the entry to the National Park. The town is on the other side of the hill and is called Quepos. This is also where the main bus terminal. There are plenty of hostels, shops, and restaurants in Quepos, but most tourists stay closer to Manuel Antonio. There is only one road to Manuel Antonio from Quepos and buses run the route constantly for a very small fee (the equivalent to about 0.25USD).
Things to in Manuel Antonio
- Manuel Antonio National Park: This is the main attraction in the area. The park starts at the end of the Manuel Antonio road and opens at 7am. My recommendation is to get there right when it opens. If you get there any later you’ll be with the crowds. Also, most of the wildlife is out early in the morning. I recommend getting a guide as you’re going to see much more with one. However, if you’re just looking for a stroll on your own you’ll also see quite a bit. There are a series of trails throughout the park each offering view points and wildlife watching opportunities. Pack a lunch and have a picnic on the beach, but beware that monkeys are famous in the park for attacking people for their lunches.
- Beaches: The most popular beach is the one just outside the national park near Manuel Antonio village. The waters are calm enough to relax in but at times rough enough to play in as well. There are lots of places to set up for free, but certain places have umbrellas and lawn chairs that you’ll need to pay to use.
- Surfing: The local breaks in Manuel Antonio aren’t that great, but they are sometimes at a level that makes it a good place to learn. If you’re looking for bigger beach breaks there are a couple around, ask the local surf guys as to what places are good.
Where to Eat in Manuel Antonio
Eating in Manuel Antonio has become expensive. As such, most people head in the direction of Quepos to get good value to their dollar on food.
- Angel….: Oh I can’t believe I can’t remember the whole name to this restaurant, but it is something Angel and is up by the soccer field between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. It’s your typical Costa Rican cuisine, and the staff will do just about anything for you. You can get a good meal for about $5USD.
- Cafe Milagro: This is a serious gringo hangout, but they are famous for having the best coffee in the area. They also have great sandwiches if you’re looking for something light.
- Monchados: If you’re dying for some Mexican food this is the place to go. Found in Quepos, it’s not really that cheap but you do get really good value for what you pay. Expect to pay about $10-15 for a meal and a drink.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio
For me, there is really only one option: Hostel Vista Serena. This is my favourite hostel in all of Central America, the staff is awesome, the rooms are great, the facilities are good, and the view, as the name implies, is incredible! There is no better place to watch the sunset in Costa Rica than in Hostel Vista Serena with a beer in your hand.
There are both private and shared rooms, a nice kitchen and free wifi. Vista Serena is exactly half way between Quepos and Manuel Antonio, and the bus driver will know where to stop if you ask him. I know there are plenty of other options in town, but believe me that this is the place to stay.
Getting Out of Town
You need to head to the bus station in Quepos if you’re travelling by bus. If you’re doing a long trip I recommend buying a ticket early. Also, try to book the direct route to San Jose if you’re heading there. It’s much faster and way more comfortable. From Manuel Antonio you can also catch a bus to Jaco and nearby beaches. If you’re heading elsewhere it’s likely easiest to connect in San Jose.
Back to the Costa Rica travel guides