Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica – a field report

The Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest national park of Costa Rica and is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Even if it is a national park by name, we would like to anticipate false expectations already at this point. Clearly, tourism is the main focus of this park. The trails in the park are easy to complete in a good hour but most people come anyway because of the bathing beach.

The beach is picture-perfect

The bottom line is that it is a well commercialized and institutionalized way to get closer to Costa Rican nature with as little inconvenience as possible. It fulfills that goal well.

The place Manuel Antonio

Early in the morning hours, the first tour buses push their way through the town of Manuel Antonio. The town itself consists primarily of restaurants, hotels and souvenir stands. The beach of Manuel Antonio is the same as in the national park, only the illusion of a lonely idyll is destroyed here by sunbeds, vendors and the adjacent small town.

Manuel Antonio is a bit more expensive than other Costa Rican small towns. What bothered us a lot is that most restaurants write out the prices without taxes and service. The bill is then simply at the end 23% higher than the prices on the map. However, this is not the same in all restaurants. We happened to find the small Soda El Chante del Parque on the first day of our stay, which has very fair prices and good food. We also found the Soda Costa Linda to be good. No matter where you go, ask in advance if taxes are included in the prices.

The nice thing about Manuel Antonio is that many animals of the park can already be seen here. Regularly groups of monkeys gymnastics through the power lines, raccoons clear out the garbage cans at night and occasionally a sloth wanders the streets.

Shortly after 16:00, the streets of Manuel Antonio are then empty again. When the park is closed, the tourists move on and the merchants go home. Then the place is almost cozy and you can drink a cocktail in peace while watching birds.

The Manuel Antonio Park

Tickets for the National Park

Tickets for the park should be purchased the day before at the bank about 50m before the park entrance. The guides on site always limit the crowds of visitors. Then ticket sales are suspended and only people with tickets can still enter the park. The tickets cost 16 US$

The entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park

Before entering the park, numerous guides try to talk you into taking a tour. Tours cost around US$45, including admission. The guides usually have binoculars with them, so they can also show you birds. We find there are parks in which guides are more worthwhile, because the trails are more impassable and you will hardly see animals without guides. Here it was more the case that you recognize animals by the tourist trots on the path. But that is a subjective assessment.

Entrance to Manuel Antonio Park

The park opens its doors at 7:00 am in the morning. By then, many tourists are already lining up. The Internet speaks of waiting times of over 1.5 hours, because the visitors did not let everyone in at once. We had a leisurely breakfast and went through the gates without waiting at 9:30 – on a Thursday outside the school vacations. Friday and weekends, of course, the park is much more crowded than during the week – Mondays it is closed.

Wide concrete paths make the mangrove forest easily accessible

Attractions at Manuel Antonio Park

The paths in the park lead through tropical rainforest and mangroves tothe beach.There, in addition to numerous fish, you can also see humpback whales with a little luck from September to November. The beach of the national park is very pretty and looks like from an advertisement. He is really full but still worth seeing.

With luck, you can see humpback whales

Manuel Antonio National Park is particularly famous for the fact that its inhabitants show little shyness toward humans. We didn’t see many animals during our visit, but the ones that were there seemed accustomed to humans and ate quietly in plain sight.

A black iguana sunning itself on the beach

Trails in Manuel Antonio Park

The paths in the park up to the beach are highways that go through the forest about one meter above the ground. They are made ofconcrete and have solid metal railings. This makes Manuel Antonio one of the few national parks that can be well visited with wheelchairs and strollers.

The trails are wheelchair accessible

From the beach, however, comes sand, gravel and stairs. The peninsula can be visited accordingly not with drivable vehicle. There are then also clearly less tourists to be found.  Be careful with the wooden paths that are there in sections. The wood is partly so rotten that you can break through.

Sand paths lead along the beach
There are some stairs

Tips for visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Buy tickets the day before
  • Don’t come first thing in the morning
  • Come Tuesday through Thursday
  • Spray yourself with bug spray before your visit
  • Bring plenty of water with
  • Bring swimwear
  • Alcohol is prohibited in the park
  • Only food that does not create waste is allowed
  • There are showers and restrooms at the beach (4/19 currently under renovation)

Summary Manuel Antonio National Park

In our opinion, it is the perfect forest for people who are not good on foot or don’t like hiking. Nature is presented to you here on a silver platter with all the amenities. At the moment, birdwatching towers are also being built, which certainly enrich the visit.

For our taste, however, the park was too touristy and in a national park we find a swimming beach with showers and a restaurant with souvenir stands simply out of place. On the other hand, we are happy about any project that leads to the preservation of nature. If this also supports the local economy all the better.

The final conclusion is therefore:For nature boys, adventurers and explorers there are better spots in Costa Rica, but for tourists it is a good thing.

The beach in the national park
Red crabs in the mangroves


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