A tropical experience in Costa Rica won’t be complete without a visit to the white or black sand beaches on the Pacific coast. Manuel Antonio National Park is a small park, but one of the most visited destinations in all of the Costa Rican national parks and reserves. You'll never forget the amazing natural and pristine beauty of these Costa Rican beaches.
It’s a short ride either by car or bus. Buses are comfortable, air conditioned, convenient and safe. You can get a bus from either San José or from Juan Santamaria International Airport which is just outside of Alajuela City. If you want to go to the coast upon arrival, get a taxi or Uber to the bus station in Alajuela and take the next bus passed Jacó Beach to Manuel Antonio. Surely its closeness is an additional reason why it’s one of the most visited beaches.
Manuel Antonio National Park is the jewel of the Pacific Coast. In Costa Rica there are many fabulous beaches. Manuel Antonio continues to be one of the top ecological beach destinations in Costa Rica for families, senior travelers or women traveling alone. It is known for its spectacular aqua blue, crystal clear waters; soft rolling waves; and wide, white sand beaches. It is not stretching it to describe it as “paradise” in the tropics, I promise!
1. Playa Espadilla: It’s the first beach you’ll see upon arriving to the town of Manuel Antonio. It’s a public beach where there’s a flow of wandering beach goers, rotating venders, boat tour captains and air glide rides.
2. Playa Manuel Antonio: To get to this beach, you’ll need to enter the Manuel Antonio National Park at the park entrance. It’s across the street from Espadilla Beach. It’s a short and wonderful hike through the National Park. There’s a small entry fee to help maintain the park. You can pay in local currency (colones) or U.S. $.
Take some picnic supplies and plan to spend some time or the whole day there! No doubt if you look up you’ll see some of those cute and fascinating monkeys in the branches above. But watch out, while these guys usually keep their distance, they have been known to come down cautiously and help themselves to shinny or otherwise interesting things left unattended. Keys, cell phones, silverware are a few of the things they like. They like fruits too, but please don’t feed them yours –they have their own.
3. Playa Gemelas: A white sand beach on the trail to Puerto Escondido on one side of Manuel Antonio. It’s small, but usually without many visitors.
4. Playa Escondido (Hidden Beach): Another amazing white beach with clear blue-green waters. Be sure to check the day’s tide schedule before you make camp for the day; it can be inaccessible during high tide.
5. Playa Biesanz: A relaxing, tropical beach that is public but tends not to get much tourist traffic making it seem quite private. The swimming conditions are nearly always good. It’s near the Parador Resort.
Manuel Antonio National Park hosts one of the most diversified ranges of flora and fauna in the world. There are at least 109 species of mammals and 184 of birds. Some of the most common animals in Manuel Antonio are 2 and 3 fingered sloths; white-faced, howler, and squirrel monkeys, raccoons, iguanas and frogs. For birdwatchers, it’s a delightful spot for exotic birding. There are exotic birding checklists online that are fun to take.
If you hike or explore with a guide, let him/her know what you’re hoping to see. S/he will be happy to make your wishes come true by trying to spot a particular animal, bird, butterfly or flowers and native plants. Generally, Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tuesday–Sunday, 7AM – 4 PM.
A day at Manuel Antonio will offer a menu of experiences from bird watching to beach bumming to souvenir shopping all combined with the pleasures of tropical fruit drinks. Boat captains are happy to take you on ocean water tours or parasailing above the beach. During different seasons, there may be dolphin tours or whale tours as dolphin or whale pods are passing through. These captains can take you close.
The town of Manuel Antonio is small, but welcomes tourists. There are vacation rental options for all budgets; including luxury hotels, Airbnb, and hostel options. There are plenty of places to treat yourself and family to fun and health foods and including fresh tropical fruits, fruit drinks and typical dishes and seafoods. Be sure to try Costa Rican ceviche! Ask about the “feria” (weekly green market) in nearby Quepos. Not only is it entertaining and relaxing to walk around, but there are often delicious, homemade desserts or breads to purchase, along with handcrafted souvenirs. Homemade baked goods are great additions to have with morning coffee or on picnics.
Don’t leave Costa Rica without visiting Manuel Antonio National Park and area beaches. Buy souvenirs, especially Costa Rican coffee. Take lots of photographs, too; so you can share the fun memories of the tropics at Manuel Antonio that you’ll never forget.
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