Costa Rica's Biodiversity Showcase: Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica's Biodiversity Showcase: Manuel Antonio National Park
Beach signage at Manuel Antonio National Park

Most visitors to Costa Rica are drawn by its renowned nature and wildlife ecotourism. Costa Rica is small yet is home to tropical rainforests and waterfalls, a volcano, and beaches. Manuel Antonio National Park, located in the southwestern part of the country is one of the best places to see this nature.

What is There to See at Manuel Antonio National Park?

Manuel Antonio National Park is almost 5,000 acres and has a number of hiking and walking trails, as well as two beaches. The trails provide visitors of varying physical abilities with the opportunity to see the incredible variety of trees and plants in the park, as well as coastal vistas from the top of two of the trails. The park is full of wildlife; we saw monkeys, sloths, giant grasshoppers, iguanas, crabs, and so much more.

Looking to see sloths without paying for a tour? Check out Chasing Rainbows, Finding Sloths: How to Spot Sloths in Costa Rica

The monkeys at the beach have learned to unzip people's backpacks to rummage for food, so make sure to keep a sharp eye on your stuff if you go swimming! We saw a girl's bag being raided by a monkey who wasn't deterred by any of the people nearby.

How Many Days Should I Spend at Manuel Antonio National Park?

Manuel Antonio National Park requires an advanced ticket purchase for entry, and they sell out weeks or months in advance depending on the season, so make sure you plan ahead and purchase your ticket before your trip.

Originally we planned for one day at the park, but we were incredibly lucky and were able to go back the next day as well because it was free national parks day in Costa Rica and the park was open for free first-come first-served. The first day we spent about three hours at the park, but it was a torrential rainstorm and we ended up leaving early - all of the animals were hiding from the rain and we were absolutely soaked. The next day was sunny and we spent the whole morning and afternoon until the park closed at 3 hiking and sitting at the beach.

If you have enough time, I would highly recommend spending two days at the park; there is a ton to see and the beach inside the park was the most scenic beach we went to on our whole trip.

There's more to do in the town of Manuel Antonio outside of the park. I have a page about the beautiful coastline trail which is a great free activity if you have an extra day!

Where to Park at Manuel Antonio National Park?

Finding the best place to park was something I spent the most time researching prior to our trip. There is no official parking lot operated by the park, but there is a parking lot very close to the park gates which is reasonably affordable and guarded. It was about the equivalent of $10 USD for the day, which we paid in cash.

Driving in the last mile or so through downtown Manuel Antonio is the tricky part; there are a number of parking lots on the road leading into the park where people will try very aggressively to get you to park, even going so far as stepping in front of your car and insisting that it is the official parking lot. Don't be fooled, because if you park here you will have quite a ways to go to walk to the park entrance and you want to save your energy for walking around the park! The picture below is the signage on the parking lot right by the entrance to the park. It is on the right hand side of the road and had plenty of parking space both days we went.

What Should I Bring to Manuel Antonio National Park?

The first day we spent at Manuel Antonio we were woefully unprepared for the rain. The second day in the sun was fantastic though, and after two trips to the park I have a list of must-have items for your trip no matter the weather:

A Good Rain Jacket: We had rain jackets that held up well in normal rain, but after 10 minutes we were soaked even underneath our rain jackets. A heavy duty rain jacket with reinforced zippers and seams would be needed to stay truly dry if you get hit with a rainstorm while you are there.

Tevas/ Outdoor Waterproof Sandals: As with the rain jacket, my shoes were not appropriate for the rain. I wore a pair of sneakers that I ended up having to throw away because they got so soggy and smelly from the rain. I thought about bringing my Tevas with me but went for packing light and I really regretted not having them. The hiking trails in the park could have easily been done in Tevas and they would have kept my feet comfortable in the rain. I have a pair of the Teva Voyas, which I love because they are super lightweight and can be used as a casual going out shoe as well when packing carry-on only.

A Waterproof Backpack: Yet another piece of gear I wished I'd had! Immediately after we got home I purchased this Cor Surf 25L waterproof backpack which I'm planning on using for future travel; I did a lot of research about the best affordable waterproof backpack and this one turned up as a winner. When we were in the park I used a double bagged trash bag inside my backpack which did keep all of my stuff dry but was really clumsy and unenjoyable to dig around in.

Reusable Water Bottle with Filtration: There is no outside food or drink allowed in the park, so bringing a refillable water bottle is an absolute must. I have a LifeStraw water bottle which has a filtration straw built in that I would highly recommend for anyone who travels. I love this water bottle because I can fill it up at any bathroom sink without worrying about water quality or buying a bottle of water and its great for both city and nature adventures.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.