I’m going to start this “things to do in Manuel Antonio” travel guide with a very dumb but very true backstory. Costa Rica was my husband’s and my first trip abroad together. To build his comfort with a big trip so far from home, I asked him what he wanted to see on this trip. He responded with his favorite animal, the sloth. You may be asking yourself, “Is Amanda married to Kristen Bell?” and while that would be EXEMPLARY, I am unfortunately not. (Don’t get this reference? Watch this legendary interview clip.) However, what that means is that our destination was decided. We were headed to Costa Rica; THE Central American sloth stronghold if you will.
Now after just a smidge of research, Manuel Antonio became stop one of our trip. Why, you ask? Because there are SO MANY things to do in Manuel Antonio. There is a national park AND beaches, which was what I was wanting out of this trip. And our sloth sighting chances were at basically at a 99/100 if we stayed here so… done deal really. If you’re like me and want a great combination of nature, adventure, relaxation, cute animals, and good food/drink, you’re going to want to keep reading this Manuel Antonio travel guide. I’ll break this Manuel Antonio travel guide into multiple categories as well as my top tips for the area in general. There really is something for everyone on this list.
Here’s the breakdown of what you’re about to read:
- How to Get There
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- Favorite beaches
- Top tips for the area
How to Get There
We flew into Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José. From there, we had hired a driver to take us down to Quepos, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. You can absolutely get a rental car too, which I would do now vs. hiring a driver. There is likely public transit but I can’t speak from personal experience about it so I’m not going to comment on it.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio
I have to start a Manuel Antonio travel guide with this epic hotel we stayed at. Issimo Suites is an adorable boutique hotel for adults that had seclusion and offered incredible views while not being too far from town. Everyone who worked there were so incredibly nice, the food and drinks were great, and the views from the room couldn’t be beat. Also we had patio monkey friends, which was a delight.
Where to Eat in Manuel Antonio
While I mentioned the hotel having great food, there are definitely a plethora of good restaurants to choose from. No good Manuel Antonio travel guide would be complete without the eats, so here are my favorites and what to expect from each:
This is maybe the most unique restaurant I’ve ever been to! It’s literally built around an old airplane – hence the name. The bar itself is in the plane, offering a super unique vibe with good cocktails. The restaurant has some insanely beautiful sunset views that are absolutely to die for, so definitely try to reserve an outdoor table around then. Food was great, everyone was lovely, and it was such a cool experience.
This is a super cute restaurant with a very impressive view. Very good food that was also pretty inexpensive. This was recommended to us as a cute spot for lunch, and that recommendation absolutely stands.
We asked the staff at the hotel where we should go for a romantic date night and everyone recommended here. It’s located at the marina so, again, you’re going to have some pretty impressive water views. Can you see a theme with me? Ha. Anyway! Everyone recommended we go here and they were not wrong. They also gave us lots of freebies because they thought we were on our honeymoon, which was an added perk. But it was a perfect date night and we were treated like royalty.
There is so much to do in the area, particularly if you’re into gorgeous nature and unique wildlife. Like I mentioned waaaaay back at the beginning of this post, we came to Manuel Antonio to see some sloths and damnit this Manuel Antonio travel guide is going to show you how to see some sloths.
Manuel Antonio National Park
This probably feels like an obvious answer, but you definitely have to go spend a day in the park. Outside of right outside our hotel, this is where we got to see the most animals for sure. We spent a whole day here wandering through the park listening to a guide identify all of the unique flora and fauna. After wandering through all of the various hiking trails, we landed on the beach and relaxed. It was gorgeous. I also captured the funniest picture of the most angry baby monkey, so please enjoy that.
Dolphin Catamaran Snorkel Tour
If I’m by an ocean, there’s a 95% chance you’re going to find me snorkeling at some point. So once again, no Manuel Antonio travel guide written by me is complete without this activity. We were absolutely thrilled with this because we got to see so many dolphins, who just wanted to play and swim by us. It was amazing and I highly recommend going with Planet Dolphin and doing their Shared Eco Tour.
And last on the must do activities list for this Manuel Antonio travel guide is ziplining through the rainforest. We went through Canopy Safari, who were incredible at every turn. They picked us up and drove us into the mountains. Along the way we stopped at palm tree orchards and to see the famous rainbow eucalyptus trees. These stops let us stretch our legs a little, which was great. Once we got to the rainforest canopy zipline time, it was smooth sailing from there. Quite literally, because you’re just sailing through the jungle, ha. Once you got all the way back down, food was provided and you could wander through a butterfly garden.
Other Tours & Excursions to Consider for Your Manuel Antonio Travel Guide
While Manuel Antonio has a number of beautiful beaches, the below were my two favorites and that’s why they made it into my Manuel Antonio travel guide.
This has to be my favorite. It was a hike down from our hotel and felt almost entirely secluded from the rest of the world. It truly was not a popular beach and you could tell only a handful of local hotel guests braved the hike to get here. However, there was huge reward for making the trek. There weren’t that many people but they had a food and drink shack so you could grab a lounge chair and be served drinks and snacks. Also, and maybe my favorite part, there were howler monkeys everywhere. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a howler monkey but they sound like absolute monsters. It’s like they ate dinosaurs and that is their howl. But they were just going to town, howling away up in the tree line while you’re sunbathing. It was was truly wild to see this peaceful, serene setting and hear Jurassic Park. But I absolutely loved it, and that’s the main reason it was my favorite beach.
Manuel Antonio National Park
I mentioned this above so won’t go into too much detail, but we loved the beach at the national park. We were able to grab a spot and relax after hiking for hours, and it was just dreamy.
Top Tips for This Manuel Antonio Travel Guide
Pheeeew if you made it all the way here you, my friend, are an angel and we should travel together. But in all seriousness, I have some tips I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting the Manuel Antonio area. And that’s what I’m going to end my Manuel Antonio travel guide with.
Bring Something to Secure Your Belongings at the Beach
If you’re new to braving wildlife at the beach, this might shock you. If you’re used to it, this is a no-brainer. But the monkeys, raccoons, coatis, and other local animals have figured out that beachgoers often have snacks. And they want those snacks. And they’re smart animals so they’ve learned how to get those snacks out of your bags. Zippers? They’ve figured them out. Buckles? No chance you’re keeping that sandwich.
Pack either some twine, a padlock, or both so you can truly close your bags and tie them to a tree/something immobile. Your stuff will be nearly impossible to steal and they’ll move onto the next bag o’ snacks.
Guides Know How to Spot Animals
I mentioned this above but I double mean it. Your tourist eye will never be able to spot as many animals as a trained guide. If animal sightings are a big part of your Manuel Antonio trip, definitely go on a tour – be it at the national park or a hiking tour somewhere – to get some local expertise.
Be Nice to Your Guides / Hotel Staff
While this is an obvious duh, Costa Rica tops the list for having the nicest, most helpful, happiest hospitality workers. Truly it stands out. And if you’re just a polite person who has genuine conversations, you’ll stand out in their minds and they’ll treat you even more lovely. Which is insane because it’s already amazing, but true. While a reward should never be the cause for politeness, we found that we were often rewarded for basic human decency in Costa Rica. So, be nice, because it goes a long way.
And there you’ve got it, the Manuel Antonio travel guide is done. Everyone, take a deep breath, grab a glass of wine, and relax, because this was a long one. I appreciate you tremendously and if you have any questions, you know you can shoot me a note on the site. Or take a look at my story highlights on Instagram for some additional footage of my trip.