Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

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?

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

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.

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

Do not write this park off though. It is popular for a reason; it is beautiful! Plus, this post should help you see that there are a few ways to avoid crowds. You will not see many people in our photos because we were able to find peace and quiet during our day there. Did we see other hikers, sun bathers and rowdy college kids? Yes. But there are ways to avoid most of the people:

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).

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

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!

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

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.

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa RicaVisiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

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.

Visiting Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica

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.

2 thoughts on “Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

  1. Patascha

    We visited Manuel Antonio NP last year in May (green season). It was not that crowded, but yet we were a bit disappointed. A few days before we explored Cahuita NP and were totally mindblown by the beauty of nature and its wildlife. Manual Antonio seemed to us too comercialized. It begins already at the entrance: we’ve been harrassed by a crowd of tour guides to take a tour with them and every single one of them offered another price (and this was in the green season…imagine what is going on in dry season!!!). We explored the park on our own and quickly noticed that most of the animals, especially monkeys and raccoons, don’t behave like they’re in their natural environment. They are looking for the tourists to beg for or even steal the food they bring to the park. If you ignore them, they even become aggressive by showing their teeth! Cahuita NP was different. You had to find the animals because these have been hiding from you (which is a natural behaving). Maybe some people like feeding the animals, but for us this is not the goal of exploring a NP. There is no question that Manuel Antonio offers beautiful beaches and hiking trails and everyone should explore it and make his own opinion. For us it wasn’t the trip we expected and our all time favourite in Costa Rica is Cahuita NP. Greetings from Tascha & Patrick

    Reply
    1. Wife with Baggage Post author

      Crowds do not always equal a bad time, but we agree, the quieter Cahuita NP on the Caribbean is spectacular!

      Reply

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