Manuel Antonio National Park: Tips for first time visitors

Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park is highly touted in guidebooks and travel forums. If the chance to sight a wide variety of animals and enjoy stunning beaches all in one spot is on your list, then Manuel Antonio is the place for you. But before you go, check out these tips for a safe and fun visit.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Arrive early. Only a set number of people are allowed in the park at one time, so once that number has been met all others must wait at the gates until some of the park visitors leave. Waiting in line at Manuel Antonio is much like waiting in line at a slightly more realistic Disney World. Besides the inevitable boredom, the sun can be brutal as can the stench from sweaty tourists squashed together. An early arrival should assure you quick access to the park and cooler temps while you wait.

Know your travel style. You can explore the park on your own and you should glimpse some pretty amazing creatures along the way. You’ll be able to tour the park at your leisure and backtrack if you like.

Or you can go with a guide who will be more adept at finding those tricky critters with camouflage or who hide high in the jungle canopy. A guide will also bring interesting factoids and a spotting scope for better viewing of animals at a distance.

The downside to a guided tour is that you must travel at the pace of the group. You also have a good chance of being stuck with obnoxious tourists who in addition to wearing god-awful clothing will open their mouths where the most idiotic things can fall out. Here are some actual snippets from some of our fellow tour group participants.

“No Marge, that’s not a three-toed sloth. It’s actually the rare and elusive two-and-a-half-toed sloth which was brought to Central America’s Pacific Coast by early Antarcticans during their quest to find the holy city of Zumba.” Okay, this is not verbatim, but it’s unbelievably pretty damned close.

Better yet was when our guide pointed out a Three-wattled Bellbird. A bird that he said is only seen in the park every 15 or 20 years. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but as we all looked on in silent awe a straggler from our group walked up and bellowed “HEY, WHAT’S EVERYONE LOOKING AT?” Awesome.

So, if you prefer to travel on your own unbothered by people you’ve never before met or if you’d like to take your chances in exchange for a better chance at spotting animals, know before you go. You’ll enjoy your visit much more if you’ve made an informed decision in advance.

Come prepared. Bring plenty of water, snacks, insect repellant and sunscreen. Make sure to have a swimsuit and towel even if you don’t plan to swim. Once you see the beaches there’s a good chance you will change your mind. Also, bring extra cash as food and drinks tend to be pricey near the park.

Bird-eating spider
White-faced capuchin

Respect the wildlife. The animals may look cute and cuddly, but they are still wild and not much interested in photo ops. They may, however, be interested in your food. We watched a young family on the beach take pictures of a raccoon while oohing and aahing about how cute he was. Until of course the clever little guy grabbed their lunch sack and made for the trees. The cutesy noises ceased and were replaced with angry shouts and a barefooted chase through the woods. We didn’t stay to see the ending, but I’m guessing it was not a happy one.

One other thing. Stay on the trails. There are a few dangerous critters that like to hide in tall grass or weeds and I’m sure that you will want to avoid them just as much as they want to avoid you.

Just Say No. The town of Quepos is situated just outside of Manuel Antonio and is loaded with tourists any given day of the week. There are several gorgeous beaches just outside of the park and all along the coastline and streets are vendors selling just about everything you can imagine. Jewelry, surf lessons, snacks, drinks, sarongs, you name it – they’ve got it. But they can be pushy. If you’re the soft-hearted type practice saying “no” an awful lot before you go. Then stick to it. Unless you really want that henna tattoo or inflatable beach ball, just say no.

Manuel Antonio National Park fast facts:

Admission: $10/adult and free for children under 12.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Monday.

A variety of tours are available including horseback riding and kayaking. Prices vary.

For more information visit


8 thoughts on “Manuel Antonio National Park: Tips for first time visitors”

  1. Hi Wendy, thanks for stopping by my post, and love your post on Manuel Antonio! We went there after La Fortuna – and we did a guided tour one day. Got stuck with I think the same tourists you did! They scared off the monkeys when they yelled, “Hey everyone look there’s a monkey” at the top of their voice, then ran towards the monkey! So needless to say, the rest of us only saw the backside of a fleeing monkey. We wished we’d forgone the tour group!

    1. Yes, I wish we would have just gone through ourselves as well. But, we were on a tight schedule and I’m certain we saw more animals than we would have on our own, so I guess that’s the upside. I definitely learned that tour groups are not up my alley though!

  2. Manual Antonio is one of my fave places in the world. I’m looking forward to going back very soon. Thanks for the great post about it! Kate

  3. Great post! We had a couple months in Central America as I was doing research in the rainforest in Belize, but possibly our favorite place was Manuel Antonio. Fortunately, we hit it during the brief “green season” between Christmas and summer and had most pf the park to ourselves. We managed to find a local guide on tripadvisor and he took us and another couple people out for a few hours. It was such an amazing place to be. Wonderful wildlife and beautiful beaches! Glad to have found your blog!

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