It was a mission impossible from the outset. When Costa Rica in 1972 decided to preserve the unique habitat of Manuel Antonio and make it into a national park, it had to marry mass-tourism with biology doing its slow evolutionary work. The result is an ecological Disney World for some, and a tourist trap for others.
(there is also a photo album about Manuel Antonio)
The best thing to do is to not immediately head for the big beaches. It’s where everyone is going, and it would leave you with the feeling you are on ‘just another beach’, as if you were in Manuel Antonio village a mile down the road.
Go to one of the beaches here (Gemela or Puerto Escondido) to find some peace of mind. If the iguanas leave you alone that is. They will if you don’t have food and you don’t harrass them. Don’t worry, some old Americans will do all of that for you. Oh, and don’t forget to take some extra shoes with you, because these beaches can be rocky and stupid Dutch guys will rip up some body parts while trying to swim.
So far, so good. Maybe it would be better if you would leave it there, where the bigger groups don’t go. But in that case one would miss out on those famous Instagram moments of those famous Manuel Antonio beaches.
Admittedly, the Playa Espadilla Sur and the Playa Manuel Antonio are nice. But the former feels like a regular tourist beach almost, where people take all their gear just to sunbath. Which is alright, but you can do that anywhere in the world, so why here in Manuel Antonio? The latter is more recommendable because it feels more natural and quiet. But there are better beaches, for example in Charco Verde in Omotepe island in Nicaragua. Yes, spoilt me.
Good to know:
- Tickets can be bought at the Coopelianza office near the entrance, or in advance at the Coopelianza office in Quepos (five kilometres away) or in San Jose
- From San Jose, regular buses from Tracopa take you straight to Manuel Antonio in around three hours. Their terminal is south of the city center, in an area which can get sketchy after dark
- You can do the national park on a long daytrip from San Jose. You can also stay in Manuel Antonio village ( a gay paradise by the way). Or you can stay in nearby Quepos, which is not as beautiful but more laidback. Local buses take you to the entrance of the park
- Another option is to take dedicated shuttles / minivans from most major tourist destinations. You can even fly to Quepos, but why destroy the environment when you want to visit a national park?
- Take plenty of water with you. At the beach it can get very humid, you don’t want to get dehydrated there
- As said, walking all of the trails and taking a swim will cost around 3-4 hours. You can extend your stay as long as you want though of course, during opening hours
- You can find a map of the park here
- Official site: https://manuelantoniopark.com
I also have a photo album of the visit to Manuel Antonio.