The Ultimate Guide Manuel Antonio

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The Ultimate Guide Manuel Antonio

Welcome To Manuel Antonio

Planning a trip to Manuel Antonio? We’re here to help. Manuel Antonio holds a special spot in our hearts. Anna and I set off on our very first trip to Costa Rica together, and guess where we headed? Yeah, you got it… Manuel Antonio!

We made a mistake by only allowing ourselves two days to explore the area, but we made the most of every second and fell in love with the place. We’ve now returned many times and use it as our home base to venture into the surrounding areas of Dominical and Uvita.

Below are many of the area’s popular restaurants, activities, and lodging. You’ll also find a guide map that visually displays the town and points of interest. Let’s go!

Getting There

Manuel Antonio is usually around 3 hours from San Jose. When you’re looking into flights, make sure that you select the airport code SJO (San Jose), and not LIR (Liberia). Liberia is the secondary airport in Costa Rica, and it’s up in the northern part of the country. You’ll add an extra 3-4 hours of drive time if you select the wrong airport. No thanks!

We prefer to take red-eye flights when possible. You’ll touch down in SJO, pick up a rental car or shuttle, and you’ll be in Manuel Antonio by check-in time. If your flight gets in later in the evening, spend the night at a nearby airport hotel and get a fresh start in the morning. It’s not enjoyable driving the 3-4 hours at night if you’re exhausted from a long travel day. It’s an easy drive during the day but can be nerve-wracking at night or in the heavy rain. Wake up fresh and start the drive with a clear head.

There is one direct route that consists of highways 27 to 34 to 618. The most popular midway stopping point is the Crocodile Bridge over the Tarcoles River. There are a few sodas (local Costa Rican restaurants) with markets, and you can stretch your legs by taking a short walk over the bridge to look at the crocodiles below.

We also love stopping at La Artesanal Panadería in Jaco Beach shortly after. It’s a great little bakery for some much needed caffeine. When you hit the 618 Highway and turn off into Quepos and Manuel Antonio, there’s the Palí La Inmaculada market, which is the best place for a big shop on your way into town.


Rental Cars

If this section sounds a bit repetitive from other city guides you've read... it is. We've synchronized the rental car section in our destination posts to provide you with the most up-to-date changes when we have something to add here, and the info applies to any place you'll be visiting.

Rental cars are honestly the best way to get around Costa Rica, and Adobe Rent A Car is now our recommended company. Their fleet of cars is refreshed every two years, keeping them in good condition. Plus, they have 13 offices in most of the major towns in case you need help with the vehicle.

We used to roll with Economy Rent A Car and have always had a good experience with them. Unfortunately, we've received too many complaints and can no longer recommend their general booking site. We have a contact at Economy who still sets up many of our rentals. Shoot us a message through Facebook or Instagram if you want his contact.

Confusing insurance requirements are the most frequent complaint about rental cars in Costa Rica, so we really like how Adobe displays their additional insurance options at checkout. It’s pretty hard to be surprised when you get there.

Rental car insurance in Costa Rica is complicated and often leaves you feeling burned at the rental counter. There are various levels of undisclosed insurance. Check out our full guide to renting a car in Costa Rica here to avoid some major frustration later. Also be sure to use our booking link here to receive an exclusive discount at Adobe Rent A Car.


If you really don’t want to make the drive from San Jose, ILT Costa Rica is a great shuttle option with nearly 100% positive feedback. Take a look at their TripAdvisor listing. We’ve used them a few times when traveling with larger groups, and their English-speaking drivers were friendly and professional.



The lodging section is a bit biased because there’s one place, without question, that’s our favorite place to stay in Manuel Antonio. And that’s Tulemar Resort. Even if you’re not a “resort person,” this place is for you. They continue to be rated one of the best hotels in the WORLD on Tripadvisor for a reason. Take a look here. The 40+ exclusive bungalows and private villas are built into the natural surroundings and exploring the grounds is an activity in itself.

The prices range from very reasonable to crazy expensive, and everything in between. We recommend one of the two “Mini Suites” for a comfortable budget stay that allows you to enjoy the resort’s amenities and easy access to the beach. It’s a no-frills spot and you can often find it for under $185/night.

There are larger romantic units for couples like one of the Bamboo Villas, and mega villas like El Escondite. There is also an on-site sloth sanctuary and three types of monkeys that roam the property including white-face, squirrel, and howlers. So just book here… we’ll leave it at that.

Anna at “El Escondite” Villa in Tulemar

One of the intimate Bamboo Villas

Our favorite “Mini Suite” at Tulemar

If you can’t find availability at Tulemar or it isn’t for you, a few other popular choices are below.

There’s tons of hotels in all budget levels. Take a look at the full list here.

Cheers from Arenas Del Mar

Vacation Rentals

Do a quick search on Airbnb or VRBO and you’ll find endless vacation rental options to fit any group size. We still prefer Tulemar Resort because it’s as private as any vacation rental, with all the amenities of a hotel.

Manuel Antonio Guide Map

Take a look at our interactive map to start the inspiration. It isn’t an absolute list, but we’ve put together some of the most popular places to visit in Manuel Antonio.

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

Manuel Antonio Activities:

  • Manuel Antonio National Park – Take a walk through one of the most popular parks in Costa Rica. We recommend hiring a guide if your goal is to see as much animal life as possible.
  • River Rafting – We’ve done river rafting nearly every visit to Manuel Antonio. Amigos Del Rio is our go-to tour company.
  • Zip Lining – Zip lining is fun activity for groups of different ages and activity levels.
  • Sailing and Snorkeling: Enjoy a catamaran tour or sunset cruise, complete with snorkeling stops to explore the underwater life and possibly dolphin sightings.
  • Sport Fishing: Manuel Antonio is a paradise for anglers. Venture into the Pacific for the chance to catch marlin, sailfish, tuna, and more.
  • Cooking Class: Take a guided tour of Villa Vanilla Spice Farm to learn about sustainable organic farming and learn how to cook with local ingredients.
  • Day Trip to Nauyaca Falls – This extraordinary two-tiered waterfall is always on our list when passing through the area.
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Don’t Miss Restaurants:

  • Emilio’s Cafe – This is our go-to spot for breakfast with a view. They also do a nice lunch, dinner, and takeaway coffee.
  • Tule Cafe – The on-site restaurant at Tulemar Resort. It’s worth a visit even if you aren’t staying there.
  • Cafe Milagro – A fun cafe in the heart of Manuel Antonio. We love the breakfast, but the places come alive in the evenings for some good live music.
  • Agua Azul – Great food with a beautiful view. Make a reservation for a table in the high season because it gets busy.
  • Ronny’s Place – This one is a little hard to get to in the Green Season due to the bumpy dirt road. It’s worth the adventure. The food is more traditional Costa Rican, and you’ll often see Scarlet Macaws flying around.
  • Samui Thai – Sometimes you just need to mix it up, and good Thai food in Costa Rica is just that. We love their Pad  Thai and Samiu Sling cocktails.
  • La Luna – The only restaurant on this list that we haven’t eaten at. Our friends just visited Manuel Antonio and said this was the nicest meal they had over their 2-week trip.
  • Ape Eclectic Social Bar – A funky cocktail bar with light bites. We normally end the day with a nightcap here.

Our Itinerary

Time Needed – 4 to 7 Days

This is our 7-day itinerary for Manuel Antonio. It’s probably overkill for most, but some families prefer one all-inclusive destination for their vacation, and Manuel Antonio has it all. Drop a few activities if you’re only spending 3-4 days here, and continue on to your next destination. Maybe La Fortuna or the Caribbean Coast?

Day 0 – The Travel Day

This is your travel day, so we don’t count it as a day to enjoy Manuel Antonio. Decompress, and enjoy your first afternoon exploring the town before catching a sunset at the beach.

Day 1 – River Rafting

Fuel up for a day of river rafting on the Savegre River. We love going with Amigos Del Rio. The guides have always been fun, professional, and safe. Book in advance to secure your spot and have a great day on the river. Have an early breakfast and bring some snacks because you won’t have the chance to eat much once you get going. They serve an authentic Costa Rican lunch when you get back to the office after the tour, and you’ll have the opportunity to purchase photos of your rafting trip.

So much fun rafting with Amigos Del Rio

Day 2 – Zip Lining

You came to Manuel Antonio for adventure, right? It doesn’t get more exciting than zip lining through the canopy on Central America’s longest twin zip line. El Santuario Canopy is a great option.

Day 3 – Manuel Antonio National Park

Start your day with breakfast at Emilio’s Cafe. You’ll have a sweeping view of the park from above before you head down the hill to the entrance. Buy your tickets online before you arrive. They don’t sell tickets in person, and it’s a nightmare trying to use the computers at the park. If you’re set on seeing animals, hiring a tour guide is the best way to see everything the park has to offer.

Playa Espadilla Sur is our favorite beach in Manuel Antonio and can only be accessed by going through the park. Be sure to read our full guide on Manuel Antonio National Park for more info.

Emilio's Cafe in Manuel Antonio
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Starting the day at Emilio’s Cafe

Day 4 – Marino Ballena National Park and Nauyaca Falls

Start your day with breakfast at Cafe Milagro before a day trip to Nauyaca Falls and Marino Ballena National Park. Which one should you go to first? That depends on the tide schedule for the day. It’s best to visit Marino Ballena on the lowest tide possible to see the famous whale tale emerge from the ocean. Take some extra time after the park to check out the small town of Uvita. Maybe a craft beer at Whale Tail Brewing! Check out our full guides for Marino Ballena National Park and Nauyaca Falls.

Marino Bellena National Park Whale Tail
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The whale tail on a low tide!

Nauyaca Falls
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A swim at Nauyaca Falls

Day 5 – Playa Baisanz

Looking to mix it up with a new beach? Playa Biesanz is a hidden gem offering calm waters with few waves. Spend the day relaxing on the beach, snorkeling in the coves, or renting a kayak from nearby beach vendors. This beach can be tricky to find, so check out our quick guide here.

Biesanz Beach
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The calm waters of Playa Beisanz

Day 6 – Free Day & Night Tour

It’s been a busy week, so enjoy a free day to relax. You can book a guided night walking tour that will take you to a nearby protected area to look for nocturnal animal life and experience the sounds of the rainforest. It’s not an adrenaline pumping tour, but we had a good time. 

Day 7 – Take A Surf Lesson

The trip is winding down, so now it’s time to maximize the ocean time. Try renting a board or taking a surf lesson at Manuel Antonio Beach.


  • Super Pura Vida – A small market in the heart of Manuel Antonio. Great for the essentials.
  • Super Joseth – Another small market in the heart of Manuel Antonio. Great for the essentials.
  • Palí La Inmaculada – The larger market on the outside of town. Stop here if you need to do a big grocery shop on the way into Manuel Antonio.


Ideally, you won’t need any of these, but we’ve listed them here just in case. Depending on the type of trip you’re booking, trip insurance could be a helpful peace of mind. We’ve used Safety Wing Travel Insurance. It’s affordable and covers most activities you’ll encounter on your trip to Costa Rica. Check their coverage here and see if it’s right for your trip.


  • Max Terán Valls Hospital – One of the few larger hospitals outside of San Jose.
  • Express Medical Costa Rica – A small local medical center nearby. It’s okay for minor injuries, but anything major may require transportation to the larger nearby hospital.


  • Clínica Médica Drs. Serrano – The highest rated of the many dentist offices in the nearby town of Quepos.


  • Farmapolis – A highly rated pharmacy with the essentials, in the heart of Manuel Antonio.

Manuel Antonio Tips:

Don’t Forget

You can buy almost anything you need in Manuel Antonio, but the prices of some items may surprise you. Sunscreen can cost upwards of $20 USD for a normal size tube at the local market. Some of our don’t forget items are listed below.

Sunscreen – Reapply all day when you’re outside. The sun is no joke here!
Bug Spray – Mosquitos and other bugs are around all day, especially in the shady areas near still water.
Quick-dry towel – These quick-dry towels are also sand free.
Waterproof hat – I like this floating hat, but any good hat works.
Polarized sunglasses – They don’t have to break the bank. Check out these polarized sunglasses by Blenders.
Waterproof phone case – Great if you’re planning on water activities.

Let’s Go

So that’s our 7-day trip to Manuel Antonio, with a taste of Dominical and Uvita. Remember, this itinerary is just a starting point. Feel free to customize it to suit your preferences and add additional activities or destinations along the way. Costa Rica is a land of adventure, and we encourage you to keep exploring.

Note: Always check travel advisories, local regulations, and current conditions before planning your trip.

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Cody & Anna

Cody and Anna Traxler

We’re Cody and Anna, and we’ve fallen in love with Costa Rica over the past decade. We’re not experts in every part of the country, but our countless adventures have inspired us to create this travel guide. Our goal is to share our experiences and help you jet off on your own unforgettable journey. Enjoy Ultimate Pura Vida and start planning here 🤙

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