If you get to visit just one destination during your Costa Rica vacation–make it Manuel Antonio.

There is no other single destination in Costa Rica which has nearly everything you would want to see and do: world-class beaches, a famous national park, tons of tours & activities, plenty of shopping and restaurants, and enough natural beauty to inspire poets. Also, it is one of the only coastal destinations with all of this AND monkeys swinging through the trees. (Isn’t that what it’s all about?)

Manuel Antonio can be described as the 7 kilometer (5 mile) stretch of rainforested hills that begins with Quepos in the north, and ends with the national park and public beach in the south. While there is a small commercial district with some lower and mid-range hotels and restaurants down by the public beach, most of the nice hotels, homes and restaurants are ‘up on the hill’.

Spend the morning watching wildlife at Manuel Antonio national park and lounging on the sun-bathed beaches. Spend the afternoon zipping through the rainforest on a canopy tour, or rafting the Savegre River. Spend the evening with sunset drinks at the Ronny’s Place, and then a gourmet meal served by a private chef in the comfort of your own home..

If you prefer raw nature to manicured gardens, barefoot elegance to diamond heels, and wildlife to wild nightlife–then Manuel Antonio is perfect for you!


In 2011 Forbes Magazine lauded Manuel Antonio as one of the ‘World’s Most Beautiful National Parks’.

With only 4014 acres, Manuel Antonio national park is Costa Rica’s smallest national park—and also its most potent. Where else can you find so many wild animals in such a concentrated space? (Including both the furry kind AND the sunburned kind…) If you don’t find monkeys at Manuel Antonio national park, then you need to have your eyes and ears checked.

Perhaps the most iconic image in Costa Rica is the famous Cathedral Point—a 100-meter-tall ‘island’ right off shore, connected by a sand-bar-become-land-bridge called by geology nerds as a ‘tombolo’. (Break that one out when you’re showing off your vacation photos back home!)

The park entrance is a 3-minute walk from the main beach. There’s a 10-minute walk down a wide path through the rainforest before you get to central area with bathrooms & showers, so be sure to come prepared with water, sunscreen, shoes and insect repellent (if you happen to be of the sweet-blooded variety).

The first beach you come on is Playa Manuel Antonio, the most popular beach in the park. Cross the tombolo, and you’ll be at Playa Espadilla Sur—more waves, less people. Two beautiful hikes take you up around the circumference of Cathedral Point (25 min), or to a lookout above Puerto Escondido (45 min). For the nimble, a steep path leads down to Playa Escondida (Hidden Beach), which is only accessible at low tide.

Multi-lingual, certified guides can also make for an educational, and wildlife-filled visit. They know where to spot the animals. (Or they have little tracking devices on all of them, I’m not sure…) Either way—if you’d like to learn about the rainforest flora and fauna, or if you’d prefer just to romp around by yourself–you won’t get lost. (Hey, it’s ONLY 4014 acres!)


Quepos is named after the indigenous tribe that inhabited the area when the Spanish first arrived—the Quepoa.

There may still even be one or two of them around. More recently, however, it owes its existence to the United Fruit Company, which created Quepos as a port to ship billions of bananas up to the hungry gringos. Being the sensitive company that they were, when they realized there wasn’t enough land along the swampy coast for all of their operations, they simply chopped the neighboring hill in half and filled in the mangrove swamp with the rubble. Voilà—instant land!

Today, Quepos is in effect the commercial gateway to Manuel Antonio. With a population of only 14,000, it’s a small town and easy to get around. ‘Downtown’ is a 4×4 grid, at the center of which is the bus station, the central market, and the best supermarket in the area.

Quepos is also a sport-fishing Mecca, and home to the new Pez Vela marina. Though STILL under construction, when finished it will be the largest full-service marina in Costa Rica (and all of central America, depending on whether you talk to them or the competition). Either way, it is the ideal port for ocean sports like fishing, sailing, scuba diving, and snorkeling.’ – change to: ‘Quepos is also a world-famous sport-fishing Mecca and home to the new Pez Vela marina. It is the departure port for most ocean activities like fishing, sailing, scuba diving, jet skiing and snorkeling.

Hint: Parents—check out the city park ‘Parque Nahomi’ just south of the marina! A great way to tire the kids out AND get a view!


The new Pez Vela Marina is located just outside of Quepos, and is a step out of Costa Rica. It is as fancy and modern as Quepos is dirty and old. It’s the takeoff point for most of the ocean tours and activities in the area–from sport fishing, to catamaran tours, to boat rentals. Aside from its gorgeous setting and beautiful architecture, it’s also a mini mall, with numerous shops, restaurants and boutiques.

The marina frequently hosts events such as the World Billfish Cup, live music events, and holiday parties. It is also home to a number of shops, bars and restaurants—a couple of which have great sunset-over-the-marina views. (Parents—take your kids to the gelateria ‘Amorosi’–you won’t regret it!)