Everywhere we went in Costa Rica, I was on the lookout for sloths. But it wasn’t until we visited Manuel Antonio National Park that we actually saw them. Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but one of the most biodiverse parks in the country.
Along with both two and three-toed sloths, there are three different types of monkeys, iguanas, and coatis. There are over 100 mammal species and 184 different species of birds. Birds are always tricky to spot, but if you’re lucky you might see the fiery-billed aracari toucan or the magnificent frigatebird.
Manuel Antonio National Park also has beautiful beaches, so a trip to the park easily deserves a full day. For everything you need to know before you go, check out these tips for visiting Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica!
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1 The best time to visit isn’t necessarily dry season
Precipitation averages drop to almost zero and prices soar during Costa Rica’s dry season, which typically runs from December through April. While it’s great to be able to count on sunny days, it’s also busier, more expensive, and can be really hot during the dry season.
We’re big fans of traveling during shoulder season and found early May to be a great time to visit the park. Manuel Antonio National Park has highs in the 80s year-round, but the average temperature starts to drop a few degrees in May, and it feels a bit cooler with the rain. While the forecast kept threatening rain during our day at Manuel Antonio National Park, which enjoyed a perfectly warm and sunny beach day. That said, the next day it did start pouring rain at about 3 pm in the afternoon. We just made sure to get up early and fit in everything we could before the rain hit!
2 Stay near the Park at Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge
We stayed just a few minutes from the park at the Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge. It was not only incredibly convenient, but the spacious rooms had the best views of the ocean. Si Como No Resort is perfectly nestled into the hillside overlooking Espadilla beach and surrounded by lush vegetation. No matter where we were at the resort – on our balcony, at breakfast, or just hanging out on the deck by the pool, the views were incredible!
The property is located down the street from the entrance at Manual Antonio National Park and they offer free shuttles both to the park and Espadilla beach. Using the shuttles means you don’t have to worry about parking and it’s easy to get to the park early.
We played in the family pool that has a fun slide, but they have an adults only pool as well.
The hotel also includes a wildlife refuge where you can book both night and day tours. We were hoping to do the night tour since so many animals are nocturnal, but unfortunately, the pouring rain on our last night put an end to those plans. You can book a tour here, and check booking.com for prices and availability for Si Como No Resort.
3 Get to Manuel Antonio National Park early
When we were reading up on Manuel Antonio National Park, we saw that the park limits the number of daily visitors, so entry is not guaranteed. Entrance is limited to 600 people on weekdays and 800 on the weekends. This can be an issue during the busier dry season, with people lining up at 6:00 am to secure a spot when the park opens at 7:00 am. We arrived around 8:30 am in early May and had no problem getting into the park. However, it is still a good idea to get there early to walk the trails before it gets too hot out. Plus, a lot of animals are more active in the mornings.
Opening hours are from 7 am to 4 pm every day of the year except for Mondays, including all holidays. The weeks surrounding Christmas, New Years and Easter are typically some of the busiest times for the park, so make sure to get there extra early in order to get in.
4 Bring cash to purchase your tickets
Entrance is $16 per person and they accept cash only. Children under 12 are free of admission. Buy the tickets at the Coopealizana booth, which is one block north of the park entrance. I was surprised at how many places in Costa Rica defaulted to using USD. We noticed that it’s a pretty favorably exchange rate, sometimes even better than paying in the local currency of colones.
5 There are two lines, so split up and have someone hop into both
There is a line to purchase your tickets and a line to enter Manuel Antonio National Park. If you do get there during a busier time and are traveling with one or more people, have one person in your group get in line to buy the tickets, and then another to save your spot in the entrance line. That way you won’t be at the very end of the entrance line after you’ve waited to buy the tickets.
6 Book a guide if you want help finding harder to spot animals in the park
Many of the animals and birds in Manuel Antonio are adept at keeping themselves camouflaged, so hiring a guide will help you see what’s hiding in all of the trees. Monkeys are easy to spot on your own (they can get pretty rowdy), but a guide will help you find birds, snakes, and insects. Your guide will not only point out the animals and tell you about them, but most carry high tech telescopes, so you can get a closer look at those sloths that like to hang out in the highest branches of the trees!
Most guided tours are about 3 hours, which includes time at the beach. If you didn’t book a guided tour ahead of time, then there are a lot of guides offering their services at the park entrance. Guides typically charge $25 per person, but you can negotiate a lower rate, especially if you have a bigger group. Just make sure the guide is affiliated with the ICT (Costa Rica Tourism Board). If they are, they should be able to show you their official ICT card.
7 Bring a refillable water bottle
It’s important to stay hydrated while in the park, so bring a refillable water bottle. We really like RTIC and Hydro Flask water bottles. The small cafes within Manuel Antonio will refill your water bottle for a fee. Since the tap water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, you can also use the water spigots near the bathroom or down by the sand at Manuel Antonio Beach for free.
8 Wear moisture-wicking clothing and comfortable walking sandals
Getting sweaty is almost unavoidable, so wear light, breathable, and moisture wicking clothing. Most of the paths around the park are paved and fairly flat, but you will be putting in at least a few miles, so opt for comfortable hiking sandals. I love these Chacos and bring them on any trip that involves warm-weather hiking and water; Aaron is a pretty big fan of his Tevas. The highs will most likely be in the 80s no matter what time of year you go, and things really heat up when it’s sunny.
9 Bring your beach gear
We originally planned on going to Manuel Antonio for the wildlife, but the beaches within the park are beautiful too! Plus, it’s the best of both worlds because a lot of the animals (especially the monkeys) make their way down to the beach.
Make sure to bring your swimsuit and beach towels. We use these microfiber beach towels when we travel since they’re so compact. There are bathrooms near Manuel Antonio beach where you can change into your swimsuit and showers to rinse off afterward.
Make sure to keep all your bags and backpacks zippered shut once you’re at the beach! While we were hanging out at Manuel Antonio Beach, a capuchin monkey pulled a plastic rain pancho from someone’s backpack and run with it through the trees. We also saw a raccoon dig around in a beach bag until it pulled out a banana.
Not all of the animals were trying to steal food. There were lots of huge iguanas, and it seems like a few sloths call the trees around this beach home. I saw a few people mention they saw sloths near Manuel Antonio Beach, and sure enough, we spotted two on the walk down the hill towards the sand. Some sloths stay in the same exact tree for years, so there is actually a pretty high chance they’ll still be there when you go.
Once you’re at Manuel Antonio Beach, you can keep following the park trail to the other side of the little peninsula to get to Playa Espadilla Sur. If you go back the other direction and go further south in the park, you’ll reach a small beach called Playa Las Gemelas.
10 Keep your eye out for animals in the afternoon too
Many animals are active in the afternoon too. We walked the main park trail towards the exit when Manual Antonio was closing around 4 pm, and there were tons of squirrel monkeys playing in the trees.
11 Some of the best sunsets are right outside the park
Manuel Antonio National Park closes at 4 pm, but don’t let your beach day end there! We hopped on over to nearby Espadilla beach to spend the rest of the day just outside the park. Aaron rented a beat-up surfboard for $6 and we spent the last couple hours of daylight playing at the beach. When the sun started to set, the sky burst into the brightest shades of pink and orange before fading into a deep red. The colors were some of the most vivid I’ve ever seen!
Planning a trip to Manuel Antonio
Getting to Manuel Antonio – Manuel Antonio is located about 3 hours from San Jose, and 4.5 hours from Liberia. We opted to rent a car while we were in Costa Rica, but you can also take a bus or private shuttle from the airport. There is also a small airport in Quepos, so you can fly into the area from other parts of Costa Rica.
Car Rental – We had a great experience with local company Vamos Rent-A-Car. If you’re going to be driving a lot around Costa Rica, I highly recommend getting an SUV with four-wheel drive. You can read our tips for driving in Costa Rica and all about our experience with Vamos Rent-A-Car here.
Hotels and Airbnbs in Manuel Antonio – This is a popular tourist area, so there are a lot of hotels and Airbnbs to choose from. We loved our stay at Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge. The rooms were clean, comfortable and spacious, the grounds were beautiful, and the views over the beach can’t be beaten. Plus, you’re only a few minutes away from Manuel Antonio National Park. Check out Si Como No on booking.com here. For more options, check out Airbnb where you can get $40 off your first stay using our referral link here.
More things to do near Manuel Antonio – If you’re planning on spending some time in the area, there is so much to explore. Check out waterfalls like Nauyaca, Poza Azul, Cascada Verde or El Pavon. Besides Manuel Antonio, other beaches that are good for surfing are Playa Dominical, Quepos, and Isla Damas. Playa Biesanz is one of the best spots to snorkel near Manuel Antonio. If you’re planning on traveling to other areas in Costa Rica, check out the rest of our posts here.
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Thank you to the Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge for hosting us during our time in Manuel Antonio. Next time we’re in the area, we wouldn’t hesitate to book another stay with them!