Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica: 20 Must-See Highlights

Manuel Antonio National Park

Also known as the zoo of Costa Rica; where jungle meets golden beaches

Manuel Antonio is one of the gems of Costa Rica. You are guaranteed to encounter many wild animals, including slow moving sloths and various types of playful monkeys.

The famous Manuel Antonio National Park is on the coast along the Pacific Ocean. It is home to 352 species of birds, 109 species of mammals and 346 plants species. This park is known for squirrel monkeys and sloths, which hang from the trees along the beach. 

Toucans and green kingfishers are also often often spotted. The nature reserve is synonymous with golden beaches and a jungle full of wildlife. Discover the best things to see and do in Manuel Antonio National Park.

The wildlife of Manuel Antonio National Park

Most people visit Manuel Antonio to see wildlife. You can find three types of monkeys in the reserve: the howler monkey, which you can hear when you walk around. The capuchin monkey also shows itself often along the trails. This is the white-faced capuchin monkey, one of the species of capuchin monkeys that exist.

You can also easily spot the squirrel monkey; the most special monkey in the park as it only lives in Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Park. It is almost extinct in Costa Rica.

A three-toed sloth in Manuel Antonio National Park. ©Corno van den Berg

Also, visitors are hoping to encounter sloths; two-toed or three-toed. They tend to hang in the trees, usually high up so quite hard to spot.

Other animals that you can (and probably will) see are agouti, raccoon, black spiny-tailed iguana, green iguana, lots of crabs and countless birds. Including macaws.

Mangrove Boardwalk

After entering the park, you can walk along the Mangrove Boardwalk. As the name indicates you will walk between a mangrove forest. You can find brightly coloured crabs, as well as various iguanas along the boardwalk.

Beaches of Manuel Antonio

The beaches of Manuel Antonio are world-famous. When entering the park you can easily access them and go for a long stroll as they are lengthy. There are also smaller beaches that you can access from the various hiking trails throughout the rainforest. Amongst them is Cemelas Beach, which is a wonderful place for a stop to have a picnic for example.

Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio has many hiking trails to explore. A great way to see a lot of wildlife. And as most tourists head straight for the beach, also less crowded.

Waterfall Trail

The first hiking route you pass is the Sendero Catarata or the waterfall route. The trail runs straight through the rainforest to a waterfall, at least in the rainy season. Unfortunately, the waterfall is not visible in the dry season. It will more appear like a heavy rain shower. Nonetheless, the trail is worth exploring.

Playa Espadillo Sur Trail

The Playa Espadillo Sur hiking route runs along the famous lengthy beach of Manuel Antonio. It is one of the best places to look for sloths hanging in the trees. It is also an ideal place to lie on the beach and swim in the sea as the water has a pleasant temperature.

Punta Catedral Trail

The Punta Catedral trail brings you to the far end of the nature park. Along the trail, you will pass three viewpoints overlooking the cliffs and the sea. This trail is more remote so you will encounter fewer tourists here.

Playa Manuel Antonio Trail

The Playa Manuel Antonio Trail runs along the small Manuel Antonio beach. It is also a path that leads to the eastern part of the park. Here you can continue your hike on the Puerto Escondido Trail and the Miradores Trail.

Capuchin monkeys in Manuel Antonio. ©Corno van den Berg

Puerto Escondido Trail

The Puerto Escondido Trail is one of the least popular hiking routes. This is because it is at the end of the park. This route ends at a viewpoint. Along the trail, you can spot howler monkeys. They often sleep on the branches, or you will hear them howling.

Miradores Trail

The Miradores Trail is a remote route that is usually remarkably quiet. You will come across various viewpoints, which are perfect for photos. As it is more remote, you also have a greater chance to see wildlife.

How to avoid the tourist crowds?

Manuel Antonio is very popular amongst tourists. But also local people tend to spend time on the beaches during the weekend. To protect the fragile nature, the park only allows a maximum of 1,600 visitors per day and 600 at the same time. 

It can be rather busy at the entrance and along the beaches, as most people tend to go there. It is quieter along the trails, especially the once going deeper into the park. 

Mornings in Manuel Antonio

Early in the morning, the park is still quiet and the beaches are practically deserted. Apart from wildlife. Including the sloths, monkeys, and agoutis.

Afternoons in Manuel Antonio

It is also a lot quieter in the afternoon. The park closes at four o’clock, so you have little time to explore the different hiking trails. Also, the number of visitors allowed for that day might already been exceeded. Which means you are not allowed to enter.

Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is located between villages. The main access road is at Quepos, where you can also find hotels, bed & breakfasts and restaurants. It is convenient to spend the night here so that you can enter the park early in the morning.

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