Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular parks in all of Costa Rica. This fact makes visiting the park both exciting and annoying. With popularity comes beautiful views, great hiking trails, picturesque beaches, but also crowds and noise.
We debated about driving to Manuel Antonio from our Jaco hotel. Our idea of fun does not include crowds and lines. But, ultimately, we decided to go after seeing one too many pictures of monkeys hanging from the trees and crashing waves from the Pacific Ocean. There is a reason so many people love it! Right?
There is no way around it, Manuel Antonio park is a crowded park at times. Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest parks in the county (around 1,700 acres), but also the most visited. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that all of those people do not have as much room to spread out in, hence the crowds.
1. Arrive early in the morning and be at the gate when the park opens. Crowds begin to accumulate after 10 o’clock in the morning. We did not know this fun fact, so heed our warning. We did not get to the gates until after 1 pm. We also found that we had to pay more for parking because only a few spots were left. Supply and demand, I guess. Luckily, we found a spot on the side of the road that was not too far from the park entrance. Just be prepared – none of the parking around the Manuel Antonio National Park is free. I strongly suggest arriving as early as possible and buying tickets with cash (again, to save on fees).
2. Avoid Playa Manuel Antonio. While you should check out the tide pools at Manuel Antonio Beach, the other beaches in the park offer a less crowded view – at least this was the case on the day we visited. (See map.) Manuel Antonio Beach is the most crowded as it is the closest and easiest to get to. Another 20 minute hike rewards you with fewer people and stunning views!
3. Hike the marked paths around the park. I was very surprised by how many people walked to the beach and stayed. The paths not only offer peace and tranquility, they also offer panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. The paths are steep in places, but there are stairs to help you ascend and descend. The paths were very well done and looked new when we visited in 2013.
4. Visit during the week. We spoke with three families visiting Manuel Antonio National Park that were local Costa Ricans. All three family were just there to enjoy their Sunday. Like beaches everywhere, locals obviously love to visit the beautiful places and spaces of their homes on their days off too.
A crowd does not automatically equal a travel calamity. While there were more people visiting Manuel Antonio Park than Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, the park still provided beautiful views, glimpses of wildlife, cool waters to swim in and warm sand to lay in. I really am glad that we listened to other travelers and bloggers and decided to visit Manuel Antonio National Park.