Free Coastal Hike in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Free Coastal Hike in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
View of Playa Vaca from the Reto MAE

If you've been to Costa Rica, you know that it is not a cheap vacation destination. If you haven't been and are planning a trip, this is me telling you it will be expensive 😅. We stayed in Manuel Antonio for a few days of our trip, and after visiting Manuel Antonio National Park and Nauyaca falls in Uvita, we had an open day and were looking for a free adventure. After some digging on Google Maps, I came across the Reto MAE. MAE stands for Manuel Antonio Extreme, which is an accurate description of this 5 mile coastal trail that scales muddy steep cove edges and takes you through coastal jungle on an un-maintained footpath.

We set up a hammock spot at Playa Vaca

We didn't hike the full length for a few reasons, and you can easily walk a portion depending on the type of adventure you are looking for. The trail isn't a loop, so if you choose to walk the full 5 miles you will need to take a taxi back to your car at the beginning or walk back if you are really going for it. We wanted to do a mix of hiking and enjoying the secluded beaches and only had part of the day to spend outside because in August the afternoon is typically rainy.

Where to Park

If you have a rental car it is very easy to access the Reto MAE from Manuel Antonio or Quepos. There are several entrance points, but we discovered that parking overall is a challenge in Costa Rica (read: expensive/ out of the way) and were happy to find there is a small parking area at one of the entrance points where you can leave your car for free. To get there search for the BongO Hostel - see map below. Once you take the road towards the back of the hostel, you will see a small lot that is marked for hostel guests only; on the other side of the road there is a cleared out lane that is big enough to park several cars parallel to the road, and this is where we left our car. The trailhead is right in this lot and is marked by a large hand painted sign that says "Playa Macha" .

After we parked and started walking we discovered that you can continue to drive down the dirt road to the left of the sign; you will go down one steep hill then up another where you will reach the end of the road and can park to continue on the trail. This would save you about .5 miles but if you are a nervous driver I'd recommend parking up by the hostel; the road is narrow and steep though definitely drivable.

How to Find the Trail

Whether you park by the hostel or at the end of the road, you will start walking down the only trail in sight which is quite wide at first, and in the obvious direction of the coast. Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you will find a sign that directs you to Playa Vaca to your left (south) and Playa Macha to your right (north). At this point you are near the north end of the trail, so you can plan your route according to the length of trail you want to hike. We went north towards Playa Macha, and then backtracked along the coastal trail to Playa Vaca before ending our day.

What to Expect on the Trail

The trail is well marked, and beach entrances are obvious; we had no problems finding and staying on the trail. Along with signs like the above photos at all trail intersections, you will find pink tape tied to trees along the trail which you can use as a guide.

There are lots of lookouts along the coastline trail which overlook the beach coves, and if you walk the whole trail you will pass several beaches which are all secluded (a big plus if you like privacy like us!). Manuel Antonio has lots of wildlife and beautiful plants - we saw monkeys, birds, and an abundance of tropical plants.

Because you are scaling steep terrain and climbing over fallen trees at points, I would recommend that you wear sneakers or hiking sandals, and bring plenty of water.

If you are reading this page you probably are planning to visit Manuel Antonio National Park as well - Check out Costa Rica's Biodiversity Showcase: Manuel Antonio National Park for my tips on making the most of your trip!