Located on the gorgeous Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. When it comes to exploring Costa Rica, allocating a minimum of 3 days in Manuel Antonio is an absolute must for every traveller seeking an unforgettable experience!
With its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and abundance of wildlife, it’s no wonder why so many visitors flock to this beautiful region.
I have spent over 1 month in Costa Rica now, and Manuel Antonio, in my opinion, is the most magical.
If you’re planning a trip to Manuel Antonio and wondering how to make the most of your time here, this 3 days in Manuel Antonio itinerary is for YOU!
This 3 days in Manuel Antonio blog post contains affiliate links, if clicked I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
Is Manuel Antonio worth visiting?
WITHOUT A DOUBT, YES! Manuel Antonio has now taken the top place in my heart as my favourite destination in Costa Rica, (and maybe even in the world).
Manuel Antonio is a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to Costa Rica. From the white sand beaches to diverse wildlife, this region truly has something for everyone.
You can relax all day or adventure until sunset. Manuel Antonio will NOT disappoint.
Manuel Antonio is a tourist-heavy town. Come into this with the right expectations and it will be great!
How many days should I spend in Manuel Antonio?
Recommended amount of days to spend in Manuel Antonio: 3 days (at minimum)
Our stay in Manuel Antonio: 3 days
A couple of days in the area is doable, however, I recommend spending at LEAST 3 days in Manuel Antonio to fully experience all that it has to offer.
With 3 days in Manuel Antonio, you will have plenty of time to explore the beaches, hike in famous Manuel Antonio National Park and spend quality time with the wildlife.
Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio
The best time to visit Manuel Antonio depends on what you’re looking for in your travel experience.
High season in Manuel Antonio runs from December to April, with January and February being the busiest months. This is the dry season, with temperatures from 80-90°F (27-32°C).
Low season / rainy season in Manuel Antonio is from May to November with the most rain in September & October. Rain and thunderstorms are to be expected but the rainforests are SO LUSH & GREEN. Temperatures in low season are from 75-85°F(24-29°C) and there are much less tourists around.
If you prefer less crowds and don’t mind some occasional rain, low season may be the time for you. However, if you want to be outside all day every day, opt for the dry / high season!
Overall, Manuel Antonio is a great destination to visit year-round!
How to Get to Manuel Antonio?
Manuel Antonio is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and can be easily reached by car or public transportation once inside the country.
First, plan how to get to Costa Rica with Manuel Antonio in mind.
Closest Airport to Manuel Antonio
The closest airport to Manuel Antonio is the Quepos La Managua Airport (IATA: XQP), which is located about 7 kilometres northeast of Manuel Antonio.
Quepos La Managua Airport is small and is mostly used for domestic flights. (Accepting international flights from Panama and Nicaragua).
If flying from outside of Costa Rica internationally, you will most likely arrive at the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose. SJO is 2.5 – 3 hours drive from Manuel Antonio.
In my experience, flying into SJO has been much easier and cheaper than flying into Liberia (Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, LIR). LIR is also farther from Manuel Antonio (4-4.5 hour drive).
Monitor flights on Skyscanner to watch for cheap, quick and best options. You can play with the filters and set email alerts to watch flights coming into all Costa Rica airports.
Driving to Manuel Antonio
The most popular starting point in many Costa Rican vacations, is Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO).
If you are driving from this area, drive southwest on the Inter-American Highway (Route 1), towards Caldera. From there, you will see signs for Jaco and Quepos, which will lead you to Manuel Antonio.
TIP: Download the App Waze, and whilst you have data or wifi, save your desired destinations. Once without wifi, these saved destinations will still work and provide you with directions to them offline.
If renting a car in Costa Rica, check out Rental Cars for deals and discounts!
Getting Around Manuel Antonio
Although I am a huge supporter of renting a car in Costa Rica, I would opt out of using one in Manuel Antonio. Reason being, the roads are steep, narrow and full of turns in this town.
The easiest way to get around is by taxi or bus. Taxis are readily available and can take you anywhere in the area. Buses are also a great option for getting around Manuel Antonio and are very affordable.
If taking a taxi, make sure they are official, government registered vehicles, RED in colour with a yellow triangle on the side with the licence number.
TIP: Negotiate the price before you get into the taxi. You can usually negotiate a good price and get back and forth to your destination quickly.
Where to stay in Manuel Antonio?
Manuel Antonio has a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference.
Keep reading for a list of some of the best places to stay for 3 days in Manuel Antonio!
Manuel Antonio Resorts
Sí Como No is located in a prime location in Manuel Antonio, just MINUTES away from the entrance to Manuel Antonio Park, (the main reason we are all visiting Manuel Antonio).
I recently stayed here (it was a wedding gift). Si Como No was an OUTSTANDING once in a lifetime experience. I have never been emotional leaving a hotel before… I cried leaving this one (lol, weird, I know).
This 4.6 star resort just knows how to make you feel special and cared for. Customer service is amazing, the food is DELICIOUS, the amenities, drinks, pools are all fabulous.
The views from the bedrooms are SPECTACULAR. I have nothing negative to say, the only complaint was that we had to leave.
One of the most practical bonuses at this resort, is their complimentary shuttle that goes back and forth from Manuel Antonio National Park multiple times per day.
Such a convenience while travelling!
I have already promised myself I will come back here one day. Don’t just take my word for it, go yourself!
Booking & Prices for Sí Como No:
Another 4.6 star luxurious resort in Manuel Antonio with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean! Tulemar Resort is highly rated with some of the most prestigious amenities in the region.
Stay in a villa or bungalow, lounge at the infinity pool all day or visit the resort’s private-guest only beach. Tulemar Resort is known for its exceptional service that goes above and beyond.
When you don’t want to swim, head to the resort’s on-site spa for a massage and some pampering.
The resort has a complimentary shuttle service that will take you to nearby attractions and beaches during your stay. This is a WIN in Manuel Antonio, as I do not recommend driving in this town.
Booking & Prices for Tulemar Resort:
Hotels in Manuel Antonio
- 4.5 Stars
- Adults – ONLY
- Breathtaking views of the Manuel Antonio coastline
- Infinity pool overlooking the ocean!!!
- 4.6 Stars
- Private balconies and terraces that overlook the ocean
- Infinity pool and spa for ultimate relaxation
- Elegant rooms and suites
- Delicious restaurant on-site
- 4.6 stars
- STEPS away from Espadilla Beach, beachfront hotel
- Gorgeous pool surrounded by lush gardens
- Free breakfast included!
- 4.4 stars
- Boutique Hotel with a rooftop terrace
- Private balconies & terraces with ocean views
- Infinity pool for your enjoyment!
- 4.3 stars
- Great range of accommodations for different budgets (helpful to those travelling on a budget)
- Modern style & vibrant social atmosphere to meet people!
- Great for solo travellers
- Offering range of organized activities, tours and classes
The Itinerary: 3 Days in Manuel Antonio
Welcome to sunny Costa Rica!!! Manuel Antonio is my favourite place in the entire country. The lush rainforests, pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and small, but vibrant town will DRAW you in!
In this itinerary, we’ll explore the top highlights that you can visit & do for 3 days in Manuel Antonio. We will hike through the national park, lounge on beaches and do exhilarating water sports.
Let’s get started!
DAY 1: Manuel Antonio National Park
Your trip to Manuel Antonio is nothing without a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park. It is the highlight of your time here and I could not think of a better way to start your 3 days in Manuel Antonio!
The National Park is a FULL DAY adventure. This park is one of the most biodiverse areas in Costa Rica and is home to a variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths and colourful birds!
Firstly, some Manuel Antonio housekeeping:
How to Visit Manuel Antonio Park?
- TIP: If you plan to visit WITHOUT a guide, buy tickets AHEAD OF TIME!!
- Tickets $$: ~$18.00 USD per adult, ~$6 USD per child (2-11 years of age)
- Park Hours: 7:00 AM – 4:00 PM Wednesday – Monday, CLOSED ON TUESDAYS
- Food is NOT ALLOWED inside the park, you may bring water bottles (water fill stations are available throughout the park)
Do NOT make the same mistakes that we did, purchase your timed entry tickets AHEAD OF TIME on their government park website (linked here).
We forgot to buy tickets before, and yes I know, I am Plan Before Land (I did not plan, I trusted my brother who was there the year BEFORE). Anyway – BUY AHEAD.
I recommend purchasing an entry for the first available time, this helps you get an early start to the day and you can be some of the first people in the park!
If there are no timed entries left for your day, head to the park entrance and see if you can purchase a tour. This is one of the few ways you can still get in. However, this is not recommended as these people may not be legit sellers, BE CAREFUL.
Do you need a tour guide for Manuel Antonio National Park?
This is VERY dependent on you and your travel style. It is not necessary to have a tour guide, and we personally did NOT have one.
However, we were travelling with my brother who had been there the year prior and DID have a tour guide and highly recommended it.
Many people enjoy having a guide to help enhance their experience. A knowledgeable guide can provide interesting information about the park’s flora and fauna, as well as help visitors spot wildlife that would be near impossible to find on your own!
Additionally, tour guides will have tips and suggestions that you may not find in your blog readings or online!
My brother spoke highly of his tour experience, his main takeaway was the ability to see hard-to-find wildlife and the opportunity to view animals up close through a special telescope camera.
That being said, visitors who prefer to explore the park on their own can still have an amazing time. Groups gather together when wildlife is spotted and it is easy to join them and see for yourself!
My priority when visiting Manuel Antonio was to see monkeys. I was within a lucky group of people that got to witness a monkey family for a full hour. For me, this was worth it enough to have no regrets about not having a guide.
However, if I had not seen the monkeys (and a toucan), I would have been upset and wanted more wildlife sightings.
Regardless of whether you choose to hire a guide or explore the park on your own, be sure to respect the park’s rules and regulations, including staying on designated trails and not feeding or approaching wildlife.
Manuel Antonio Tour Options
- By Jade Tours Costa Rica
- 3 hours in length
- 4.5/5 star Google reviews! 5/5 stars on TripAdvisor!
- Check for tickets & booking here on Get Your Guide!
- Check out their booking on TripAdvisor here!
Most tours include pick up & drop off at your accommodation, air conditioned transfer, your knowledgable guide, snacks, water and most importantly, your entry ticket!
2. Manuel Antonio Park Tour and its Amazing Wildlife and Beaches
- By Edwin’s Manuel Antonio Nature Tours
- 2 hours long
- Private & Group options available
- Does NOT include entry into the park (this is reflected in a cheaper tour price!)
- 4.8 Stars on Google, 5 stars on TripAdvisor!
- Check for tickets and booking on here on Viator!
- Check out Edwin’s tour on TripAdvisor here!
Morning: Hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park
Start your day EARLY! You want as much time as possible in this gorgeous park, trust me.
Head to the park by hotel shuttle, taxi, bus or walking. I do not recommend driving there. Ask your accommodation which they recommend, most hotels and resorts are right down the street from the park and have complimentary shuttles.
The park is downhill, so if you choose to walk it, I recommend going early to avoid the hottest time of the day.
If you are staying a few kilometres away, I personally suggest saving your energy for the park and getting there on wheels.
TIP: Download the FREE AllTrails app for your smartphone. You can look up and save different hikes anywhere you go! It helps you see the path, terrain, length of hike & so much more! Click here to get the FREE APP!!
There are a number of hikes available to you in Manuel Antonio National Park. Each hike has its own unique attractions and natural beauty.
Here are some of the most popular hikes!
You will enter the park at number 1 on the map.
Main Trail (Sendero Principal): This is the main hike in Manuel Antonio park. It will take you from the entrance to the beach. This trail has TONS of wildlife. I saw so many monkeys, a toucan and lizards!!
The Sendero Perezoso runs parallel to the main trail and is known as the sloth trail. It is a boardwalk and easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs! (See below).
To get to the beaches you will take Sendero Playa Manuel Antonio and Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur.
Afternoon: Swimming in Manuel Antonio National Park
Do NOT forget to bring your bathing suit and towel. Swimming in Manuel Antonio National Park is a MUST!
How to get to Playa Manuel Antonio?
The main walking path to get to Playa Manuel Antonio within the park is the Park’s Main Trail, also called the Sendero Principal.
This well maintained path is approximately 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) long and starts at the park’s entrance. The trail winds through dense tropical rainforest and offers visitors plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife!
We saw monkeys, sloths, lizards and a toucan all on our own on this hike! It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
The end of the path will go down a hill with stairs and open up to the stunning white sands and turquoise waters of Playa Manuel Antonio.
Playa Manuel Antonio can be very busy but it is gorgeous and warm to swim in. If you want some quality time with Playa Manuel Antonio, get there as EARLY as you can.
Spend the rest of your day here, or stay for a bit and visit the next most popular beach, Playa Espadilla Sur!
How to get to Playa Espadilla Sur?
To get from Playa Manuel Antonio to Playa Espadilla Sur, visitors can take the Sendero Playa Espadilla Sur trail. This trail begins at the end of Playa Manuel Antonio.
Walk along the coast for about 1 kilometre until you get to Playa Espadilla Sur. The trail is quick and easy. This beach is just GORGEOUS.
I preferred Playa Espadilla Sur over Playa Manuel Antonio. The swimming is calm and amazing… AND WARM. So warm.
The beach is much less busy, as most people stop at Playa Manuel Antonio and don’t walk further down. Make sure you keep walking, this beach is such a gem.
I also think it is more beautiful, but beauty is subjective. Go see for yourself!
Relax in the shade, swim for hours or try some surfing! Remember, when leaving take ALL of your garbage with you.
Evening: Dinner at Ronny’s Place
Freshen up at your Manuel Antonio accommodation and get ready for a delicious meal. You are probably SUPER hungry after your active day at Manuel Antonio National Park.
For a gorgeous sunset dinner, make your way to Ronny’s Place. The views at this restaurant are spectacular. Many locals recommended this restaurant to us and WOW, was it worth it.
The restaurant specializes in seafood. Try their fish of the day! Bask in the sunset while you enjoy some delicious food.
TIP: For sunset dinners in Manuel Antonio, make sure you make reservations to get the best table possible!
DAY 2: Parasailing and Beach Day at Playa Espadilla Norte
Morning: Playa Espadilla Norte
Start your day by heading to Playa Espadilla Norte, one of the most popular beaches in Manuel Antonio! This beach is known for its clear waters, white sands, and stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and jungle.
Playa Espadilla Norte is publicly accessible. There is no cost to visit the beach. Bring some snacks or a lunch, a beach towel and umbrella and set up shop for however long your heart desires!
There are beach chairs for rent by different companies along the beach, take your pick (and always remember, you can negotiate these prices).
Spend some time relaxing on the beach, swimming, and soaking up the sun! The waves can be intense sometimes at Playa Espadilla Norte, there are lifeguards on site to direct you in the case of dangerous waters!
Along the beach there will be vendors selling everything from cooked meats, fresh coconuts and T-shirts. If you are not interested, be kind and say “No, gracias”!
However, the coconuts are VERY refreshing, maybe give them a try!
Afternoon: Parasailing at Playa Espadilla Norte
I will be the first to tell you, I did not know WHAT to expect with parasailing, I was scared.
However, parasailing was one of the greatest experiences and has easily become a core adventure memory, along with zip-lining in Costa Rica.
Parasailing is one of the most fun and exhilarating ways to see the STUNNING coastline and mountains of Manuel Antonio. As you soar through the air, you are gifted with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and lush rainforest.
I was travelling with my husband and brother and we wanted to do the triple parasail. This was offered to us by Aguas Azules.
I highly recommend Aguas Azules for parasailing in Manuel Antonio. We received a complimentary pick up from our hotel and from the moment we got in the car to the end of our adventure we loved every minute with the Aguas Azules team!
They have perfect reviews on TripAdvisor, we were VERY safe (which is of utmost importance, in my opinion), we were given detailed instructions and had multiple guides to set us up into the sky.
You have the option of parasailing alone, with a partner or with two other people. There is a weight limit, make sure to discuss with the team before you go!
For those of you who are reading this and saying, “no way, that is scary”. Unless you are ULTRA afraid of heights, parasailing is one of the most calming and therapeutic experiences, (once you get up there…haha).
There is silence and views for DAYS, (unless you’re with your husband and your brother, then you’re just having a conversation in the sky).
Do not write off this experience for fear, it is a once in a lifetime experience and a forever memory of mine!!
Evening: Dinner at El Avion
Another restaurant with gorgeous sunset views!! El Avion is a very cool experience, dine in an airplane while you have some delicious and filling food.
The portions at El Avion are large, filling and yummy!
If you can plan in advance, make a reservation for their second floor and get a sunset table. The views of the sun setting on the ocean are breathtaking.
DAY 3: Your Choice! Manuel Antonio Catamaran Cruise, Day Trip to Dominical or Day Trip to Uvita
This is a “Your Choice” day! What do you want to do?
Are you feeling the vibes of the ocean and want to sail into the sunset? Catamaran cruises are a wonderful way to do this and Manuel Antonio has plenty of options.
What about a break from the beach? Are you itching for more culture and want to explore some towns?
Having 3 days in Manuel Antonio region, gives you the luxury to also spend some time in a nearby town.
Quepos is the bustling town right next to Manuel Antonio. It is smaller and less touristy than Manuel Antonio but there is still plenty to do here! You most likely won’t need the full day in Quepos, as most of the fun is over in Manuel Antonio, however, there are still places to explore.
Walk along the Marina Pez Vela, a quaint harbour, home to a number of shops, restaurants and bars. Stroll along the boardwalk and check out the boats in the marina.
I personally loved both Dominical and Uvita. These towns are well worth the visit when on their own! If you don’t have time to spend a few days visiting them, try and make the trip out to at least one of these towns while in Manuel Antonio.
Option 1: Chill beach day & Manuel Antonio Catamaran Cruise
For the last of your 3 days in Manuel Antonio, you have opted for the relaxing option. Good for you! We as humans don’t relax enough in my opinion.
Pick your favourite beach from the last two days and spend some more quality time with the waves.
Maybe this is all you want for your day. However, if you are interested, check out some Manuel Antonio tours here to do on your final day!
Option 2: Day Trip to Dominical and Nauyaca Waterfalls – MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE CHOICE!!
Morning: Dominical Town
Dominical is one of my favourite towns in Costa Rica located just 45 minutes outside of Manuel Antonio. It is one of the reasons I love this coastal region so much.
Dominical is a laid-back surfer town with GORGEOUS beaches, nearby attractions and an abundance of unique shops & restaurants.
If you are wanting to escape the crowds and tourism of Manuel Antonio, head to Dominical for some adventure.
After a morning of exploring the town and beaches, grab some lunch and a drink at Fuego Brewing Co. (pictured below).
After visiting this brewery, we noticed this beer being sold EVERYWHERE! It is a delicious spot.
Afternoon: Nauyaca Waterfalls
Head out for the afternoon to Nauyaca Waterfalls (my favourite waterfall in Costa Rica). This Costa Rican hot spot is about 30-40 minutes northeast of Dominical by car.
Nauyaca Waterfalls is a popular destination for visitors when visiting Dominical / Manuel Antonio. The two tiered waterfalls are grand, refreshing to swim in on a hot day and gorgeous to admire.
Each company offers a few different choices on how to get down to the falls; including horseback, 4×4, tractor and hiking. Check them both out. We bought our tickets when we arrived, however, if you want to purchase ahead of time, check out their websites above!
To get to the falls, you can hike down the 2.7 km path or take the trolley down (still needing to walk about 1km). I suggest the trolley both ways as the path can be steep and slippery.
Once at the falls, enjoy for as long as you would like! They are open from 7:30 AM – 4:30 PM daily.
I recommend visiting the upper falls first to admire the views, then trek down to the lower falls to relax and swim!
Evening: Dinner at La Parcela
Head back to Dominical to have dinner this evening at one of the greatest seafood restaurants, La Parcela.
We were highly recommended to dine at this restaurant by Costa Rican locals at Nauyaca waterfalls, and I am SERIOUSLY happy we took their advice. Thankfully, we got in without a reservation (although, we had to wait about 1 hour).
TIP: Make a reservation at La Parcela for sunset. The sunset views, seafood and daily monkey visitors make this restaurant one of the most POPULAR in the area.
If you find yourself in the position we were in, try and get there before sunset, put your name down on the list and wait until a table opens up. You will NOT be disappointed! AND, the views around the restaurant are spectacular.
Dominical is a true gem and very worth the visit!
Option 3: Day Trip to Uvita and Marino Ballena National Park
Morning: Travel to Uvita and Marino Ballena National Park
Uvita is a beautiful coastal town located 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Manuel Antonio. Day trips to this region can be long and are dependent on traffic and road conditions. Leave early to spend as much time as you can here!
Allocate about 1.5-2 hours of driving time between Manuel Antonio and Uvita.
Upon arriving in Uvita, the true worth of the journey will quickly reveal itself. Spend your day at Marino Ballena National Park and visit the famous Whale’s Tail!
The main highlight of Marino Ballena National Park is the iconic Whale’s Tail, a sandbar that resembles the tail of a whale. During low tide, you can walk along the sandbar and witness this unique formation up close!
However, keep in mind you can only walk along the Whale’s Tail during low tide!! You can Google the tide schedule or visit their website here.
You will not be able to see the shape of the Whale’s Tail unless you have a drone, (hence why I have no fun pictures). However, just being there in it’s presence is cool enough! The panoramic views of the coastline are amazing!
We set up camp for a couple of hours and swam in the warm waters. Crabs dig their homes all around the sand, we spent time admiring the scared little crabs (trust me, they are scared of you), it was SO FUN.
The gorgeous backdrop of the palm trees and jungles by the ocean are so special. It is so difficult to put into words or even show in these photos.
I spent hours just admiring the views. You HAVE to see for yourself!!
Afternoon: Uvita Waterfall
Drive from Marino Ballena National Park to Uvita Waterfall. The drive is less than 5 kilometre, just outside the main strip. You can also take a taxi from there for very cheap!
Spend your afternoon at the fun Uvita Waterfall!
Uvita waterfall is one of the best activities to do in the area. Who doesn’t want to slide down a waterfall into refreshing natural waters? Me… but don’t worry, my hubby did it.
Tickets: 2260 colones or $4 USD at the entrance, this gives you access to the waterfall and a butterfly conservatory!
The path is rocky, make sure you have a good pair of sandals or water shoes. The rocks are marked with orange paint to show you the way! It is a quick kilometre hike to the waterfall.
Enjoy swimming around the waterfall, if you’re daring, climb up the ladder (on the left of the waterfall in this photo, it’s hard to see), and slide down.
Arujan did the slide, and I was sitting on the side FREAKIN’ out, but it’s ok, he made it unscathed!
Spend as much time as you’d like cooling off in the fresh waters.
Head back to Manuel Antonio for your final evening in Manuel Antonio!
Good night adventurers.
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Manuel Antonio Itinerary Final Thoughts
Manuel Antonio is waiting for you!! Start packing your bags now for your 3 days in Manuel Antonio.
From the moment you step foot in this tropical paradise, you will be captivated by its natural beauty and charm. Exploring the lush rainforests, encountering exotic wildlife and participating in once in a lifetime experiences will fill your travel cup to the brim.
I hope that Manuel Antonio will leave an indelible mark on your heart, as it did for us. I will most definitely be back.
Joanna Neander is the author and creator of Plan Before Land. She is dedicated to creating detailed travel itineraries from around the world. Joanna’s most visited continents include, North America, Central America & Europe. Asia coming soon! Join along on Joanna’s travels!