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Playa Espadilla Sur - Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Puntarenas Province – Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park sits on the stunning Pacific coast of Costa Rica and offers incredible beaches, fascinating hiking trails and an amazing array of wildlife

Manuel Antonio National Park and the nearby town of Quepos are located on the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The rich biodiversity of this area, coupled with a wealth of activities makes this a destination that offers something for everyone. It’s easy to spend your entire holiday in this area of the country! Manuel Antonio is the premier destination of the Central Pacific region offering a variety of small intimate hotels artistically built into a rainforest hillside between town and the popular Manuel Antonio National Park.

MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK

Manuel Antonio National Park was created in 1972 to protect the rainforest and animals that inhabit it from private development. It also ensured locals would permanently have access to the beaches and forest. It is one of the smallest national parks in Costa Rica at only 1,983 hectares or 4,900 acres. The park ranges in elevation from sea level to 160 metres. It protects rainforest, beach, and mangrove habitats. There are hiking trails in the park that lead through the jungle and to one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Manuel Antonio.

Logging and agriculture have left only two significant areas of tropical rainforest (tropical lowland wet forest) along the entire Pacific coast of Central America. Corcovado protects one on the Osa Peninsula, and Manuel Antonio protects the other.

The rainforest of Manuel Antonio supports an incredible range of biodiversity. The dense vibrant forest is made up of guácimo colorado, madroño, cenízaro, bully, cedar, locust (including the endangered surá black locust), cow, and silk-cotton trees strung with vines and lianas. Along the shore are a mix of manzanillo, beach almond (an import from the East Indies), and coconut palm trees.  Near the entrance, a small area of mangroves boasts three species, red, buttonwood, and white.

Between the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park and the beach is a small area of mangroves

THE BEACHES

Manuel Antonio is home to some of the best beaches in all of Costa Rica, and consequently the World. From its two classic crescent-shaped beaches to more natural and remote beaches, the beaches of Manuel Antonio have something to offer everyone.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Costa Rica is known for its gorgeous beaches and lush rainforests. Playa Espadilla is the perfect combination of these two things- with its turquoise waters and soft white sand, surrounded by luscious jungle, this beach is basically the definition of a tropical paradise.

Playa Espadilla is in two halves. Playa Espadilla Norte is on the north side and is publicly accessible, whereas Playa Espadilla Sur is on the south side and only accessible through Manuel Antonio National Park, which, with its abundant wildlife and thick jungles, is probably what you imagine when you think of Costa Rica. The good thing about Playa Espadilla Norte is that it is totally free to access. The downside is that you are more likely to be pestered by vendors whilst enjoying the beach. Playa Espadilla Sur can only be accessed through the National Park entrance and will cost you (unless you are a Costa Rican National) $18 to access the beach.

This beach is perfect for relaxation, swimming, wildlife viewing and snorkelling. There are more waves at Playa Espadilla Sur so Playa Manuel Antonio might be better for children. 

Playa Espadilla Sur

Playa Manuel Antonio

Just along from Playa Espadilla Sur, connected by a short land bridge, is Playa Manuel Antonio. The sand here is perfect and the water is incredibly safe for families with young children, as it is shallow and there are virtually no waves. Once you enter the water it’s quite rocky, so water shoes are highly recommended. The snorkelling is pretty good here, as there are no waves to buffet you around, although the water might not be the clearest.

To get to the beach directly from the park entrance, follow the main path past Bahia 8, Sendero Perezoso and the Cafeteria. You’ll go down a steep hill and see the beach entrance.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Playa Gemelas

Playa Gemelas is one of the smallest beaches in Manuel Antonio National Park. Nestled in a cove, it’s a fun place to just chill. It’s further away from the main action of the park, so it’s typically less crowded than some of the other spots on this list.

To get to Playa Gemelas, take the main path once you enter the national park and walk until you get to the cafeteria (about 15-20 minutes). From there, go left on the path towards Playa Gemelas.

This beach is definitely rockier than the other two beaches, and with more waves, too. The water is a bit murkier and has more leaves and sticks floating in it.

Playa Gemelas

THE WILDLIFE

Red-backed squirrel monkeys are a big attraction, surviving only in Corcovado, and Manuel Antonio. The park is actually too small to support a viable population, and the monkeys travel to surrounding areas aided by aerial bridges over the road sponsored by local school children. White-faced capuchin, spider and mantled howler monkeys commonly hang around the entrance station looking for handouts (it is illegal to feed wildlife). The white-faced capuchins can be a nuisance and you need to be aware of putting your possessions down, particularly on the periphery of the beaches.

Two and three-toed sloths, raccoons, white-nosed coatis (pizote), and agoutis are other common mammals. 

A howler monkey high in the trees
A white-faced capuchin
Tiny bats hanging out under a leaf

Over 350 species of birds call Manuel Antonio home, and many more visit the park. You’ll certainly see brown pelicans fishing offshore, and five species of kingfishers including the brilliant emerald amazon species working the streams and lakes. Despite their brilliant colours, fiery-billed aracaris and chestnut mandible toucans blend with the forest remarkably well. Other species including lineated woodpeckers, barred woodcreepers, and red-capped manakins are even harder to spot, and a good guide is indispensable.

There are plenty of reptiles to find. You are very likely to see iguanas, both of green and black varieties. As well as these you may come across Jesus christ lizards, leaf litter geckos and various types of frogs, including the red-eyed leaf frog. There are also plenty of snakes around. When we were there the Park Rangers reported a large fer de lance (which is very poisonous) close to the trails.

Black iguana hiding in the trees
Iguanas on the beach
A jesus christ lizard

The wildlife is not exclusively in the rainforest, there is plenty going on on the seashore of Manuel Antonio. Keep an eye out for beautiful red crabs and scurrying hermit crabs on the beach.

Planning your visit to Manuel Antonio National Park

HOW TO GET THERE

From San Jose, take Rt. 27 west until you reach Rt.34.  Take Rt.34 south along the coast all the way to Quepos.  When you reach Quepos, bear right and drive into town.  After crossing the bridge, follow the signs to the national park.

PARKING

Parking is limited and can be a nightmare, so try and get there early if you are driving. There is no actual parking inside the National Park, so you will have to use one of the private parking lots. Well before you reach the park, there will be people trying to guide you into a parking lot, they can be very pushy – even standing in front of your vehicle. Ignore these people and keep driving otherwise you might end up with a long walk. The closed parking lot is about 100 yards from the park entrance. The parking lots are very tight and you can easily get blocked in. If you have trouble getting your car out go to one of the attendants and make them do it. They often have the keys to cars that might have blocked you in. Parking for the days should be about $10 USD.

TICKETS

Tickets cannot be purchased at the entrance and can only be purchased online on the government website. To purchase tickets you will have to create an account. https://serviciosenlinea.sinac.go.cr/

Manuel Antonio National Park is open Wednesday through Monday year-round (including weekends and holidays) from 7:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

TOURS

You can visit Manuel Antonio without taking a tour. We did this on our first day. If your interest is wildlife then we highly recommend taking a tour; either a group or private tour. The guides are amazing and will spot things that you would never see. The tours will include the entry fee to the National Park and can be booked here: https://manuelantoniopark.com/book-your-tour/

The other nice thing about booking a tour is it will include transport to and from your hotel to the park, saving all the hassle of parking.

Website:https://www.sinac.go.cr/ES/ac/acopac/pnma/Paginas/default.aspx
Telephone:T: +506-2777-5185
Hours:

Manuel Antonio National Park is open to visitors from Wednesday to Monday from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm (closed on Tuesdays)

Admission Fees

– Non-resident adult (over 12 years old) $16 + VAT
– Non-resident child (2 to 12 years old) $5 + VAT

Children under 2 years old are free

What to pack?

  • bathing suit
  • towel
  • shorts
  • tee shirts
  • water shoes
  • rain gear
  • sun block and
  • insect repellent

Best time to visit Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a jungle beach area that is usually hot and humid. Daytime highs are typically in mid-80s to low 90s and overnights lows are normally in the low to mid-70s. As it is a rainforest area, you can expect at least some rain. The area receives an average of 3,840 mm of rain per year. The driest months are typically December through April, July and August. The heaviest rains are usually during the months of September and October.

Places to eat in Manuel Antonio

1. VISTA VERDE

Vista Verde is a bar/restaurant that was close to where we were staying at the Peace of Paradise. There were a number of vegan/vegetarian options on the menu.

Address: Frente a la plaza Manuel Antonio MAP

Telephone: +506 4701 8816

Facebook Page: Vista-Verde-Restaurant

2. SODA ANGEL

Sodas are traditional Costa Rican cafes popular with locals and tourists alike. These sodas serve traditional Costa Rican food, so there are always rice and bean options for vegans and vegetarians. Soda Angel is less than a 2-minute walk from the Peace of Paradise hotel.

Address: CR5V+VFG, 618, Provincia de Puntarenas, Quepos. MAP

Telephone: +506 2777 6597

3. MANUEL ANTONIO FALAFAEL BAR

Our favourite place to eat in Manuel Antonio / Quepos was the Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar. For us, they had fantastic vegan and vegetarian options. The portions were amazing and great value for money.

Address: Across the street from Casa Linda and Tulemar Resort 60601 Quepos 

Telephone: +506 2777 4135

Facebook Page: Manuel Antonio Falafel Bar

4. EL AVION

This restaurant did not have great eating options for us, but the C-123 Fairchild cargo aircraft that El Avion is built around is eye-catching. It has been converted into a bar. As well as the cargo plane El Avion has the most amazing views across the bay out to the Pacific Ocean. 

Address: CR2W+VP Quepos, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. MAP

Telephone: +50627773378

Website: https://www.elavion.net/

Where to stay in Manuel Antonio / Quepos

1. PEACE OF PARADISE

For our stay in Quepos / Manuel Antonio, we booked into a small hotel called Peace of Paradise. This was located three or four miles from Quepos Centre up on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. The area around Peace of Paradise is quieter than the main town but there are several bars and restaurants within a minute or two’s walk from the hotel. There are also two very well-stocked supermarkets very close by.

The hotel is located on a side street, so it is very quiet, with no passing traffic or people milling around. The hotel is hard to miss with its purple paint joint. There is parking off the street for a couple of cars, but plenty of places to park on the street, which feels very. 

2. TEVA JUNGLE HOTEL & HOSTEL

Teva Jungle Hotel and Hostel is Manuel Antonio’s premier eco-hostel. With 8 hectares of primary forest with private hiking trails, a brand new shared kitchen, a drum circle, hammocks, a jungle pool, permaculture gardens, abundant social spaces, and one of the best restaurants on the Pacific Coast. The hostel is a 5-10 minute walk from the commercial centre of Manuel Antonio where all of the shops, bars, and restaurants are located, and we are a quick 5-10 minute drive from the National Park and famous beaches.

3. MAKANDA BY THE SEA HOTEL

This is an adults-only 5-star hotel located only a short walk from the beach. There are two stunning ocean-view infinity pools with hot tubs and drink service, including a swim-up bar. The Chic spa features a luxe sauna with rainforest views; group yoga classes are available.

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