Manuel Antonio Beach in Costa Rica: Best Tropical Jungle Beach

By Tee1

Manuel Antonio Beach

Set in a tropical jungle in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region, the Manuel Antonio National Park is a wildly popular tourist destination for beach vacations in this Central American nation. With an abundance of wildlife and the best beaches in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is considered by many to be a real life Eden. From the small town of Quepos for nearly 4 miles, the Manuel Antonio National Park meanders alongside a road with a number of restaurants and hotels on one side and a perfect beach on the other. It is a fairly active road, lacking sidewalks, but with a number of great spots for a cold beer. The park entrance is only 200 meters from the beach, so staying close to the entrance could very well be your best bet.

The tropical jungle beaches of Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park consist of a beautiful white sand and are elegantly surrounded by rainforest. The large Manuel Antonio beaches are bordered by forest that reaches to the high tide line in the sand. Within the boundaries of the park, there are four immensely popular beaches. Exploring tidal pools, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, surfing, birding and a host of other activities are all good activities to consider from this beach. The beaches are guarded by lifeguards.

[pullquote]Manuel Antonio is one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world according to Forbes.[/pullquote]

The Manuel Antonio National Park offers quite easy access to its beaches for the many international tourists. There is a tremendous variety of fauna and flora in a small location. The jungle and beaches of Manuel Antonio are among the most famous and visited destinations in Costa Rica. A wide range of services and amenities help to make a beach vacation or day trip here especially pleasant. Family beach vacations here are great for ecotourists, swimmers, surfers and people of all ages.

Where is Manuel Antonio? 9°39N 84°14W

Tropical Beach Vacation in Costa Rica

Found just a bit south of Quepos, Puntarenas, the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. The national park and its beaches are located in the Central Pacific Conservation Area, which administers the conservation of the southwestern area of Costa Rica’s coast. The Manuel Antonio beaches are 82 miles from San José. Forbes magazine named this park in 2011 as one of the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks. Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica at 1983 hectares or 7.5 square miles. This jungle beach park on the Pacific Ocean was created in 1972. Each year upwards of 150,000 people visit for the both ecotourism (hiking) and the spectacular beaches.

[pullquote]Manuel Antonio National Park protects 12 islands that are excellent refuges for different species of seabirds.[/pullquote]

Set in a protected tropical rainforest, Manuel Antonio is impressive. The park is home to pretty white sand beaches as well beautiful landscapes that include forests and mountains. The elevation of the park varies from 0 (sea level) to a little more than 500 feet. The park has superb weather: Manuel Antonio National Park’s year round average high temperature is 87°, and the low on average is a reasonable 70°.

Blessed by such a pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, the Manuel Antonio beach and its park are well known stops for visitors from far and wide. The park’s infrastructure is being improved in an ongoing manner to cope with the stress of an ever increasing number of tourists. The work is being carried out under the direction of a pair of renowned international architects to “reduce the visual impact under strict environmental protection.”

Manuel Antonio is now the most visited park in Costa Rica. Previously, that honor belonged to the Poás Volcano National Park, which has been closed indefinitely due to volcanic activity. There has been a some slight negative impact to the beaches and surrounding forest as a result of the Manuel Antonio National Park and related tourism. Development resulting from the increased visitors will hopefully be sustainable. A relatively close place to check out for surfing is Playa Esterillos, about 30 minutes north of the park. It’s great if  you would like to surf and have a bit more solitude. 

Fishing near Manuel Antonio National Park

The sport fishing in Costa Rica, in particular in the Pacific Ocean in front of Manuel Antonio’s beaches is world famous. Some of the best fishing in Costa Rica happens by Manuel Antonio. In season, from November through April, fisherman frequently catch and release multiple 100 pound billfish. There are a variety of sport and trophy fish species such as dorado, red snapper, sailfish, snook, rooster fish and of course- Marlin. Whatever your target, you will have unforgettable vistas of golden sands and blue water before the verdant palm trees and the jungle begins.

[pullquote]Costa Rica’s beaches on the Pacific Ocean are more dangerous than their Caribbean counterparts, owing to the great waves and rip tides.[/pullquote]

With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Coast on the other, Costa Rica is one of the best tropical beach destinations for a vacation. Costa Rica means Rich Coast in Spanish. There is an insane wealth of fauna and flora in this peaceful Central American country. In the jungle surrounding the beaches of Manuel Antonio, there is both a primary and secondary forest. Additionally, there are mangroves, lagoons and the vegetation growing on the beach. The fauna consists of an astounding number of mammals (109) and birds (184). 

Best in Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio Beach

There is also a rich pre-Columbian culture to explore, in addition to pretty plants and great beaches. The country is rightfully famous for a number of things, among them surfing and the hospitality of the local Ticos.

Just off the coast, there are 12 small isles which are part of this national park. Out on the water, dolphins are frequently seen swimming in the area. Whiles migrate through the area as well.

The stated objective of the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is “to provide tourists a unique activity and ecological experience while, at the same time, helping to aid in the preservation of the world’s endangered rain forests through direct financial support to conservation, education and reforestation efforts.” By all objective measures, it is a smashing success.

In 1972,  the Manuel Antonio National Park of Costa Rica was established. One of world’s most beautiful spots was preserved for generations to enjoy in perpetuity, when the Ticos protected these lands. The diverse wildlife and stunning natural beauty of the Manuel Antonio beaches and jungle are unmatched throughout Costa Rica.

Scuba Diving : Manuel Antonio National Park

The Manuel Antonio beaches are the best in Costa Rica. The park also has nice coral reefs in addition to the spectacular beaches and surrounding rain forest. The snorkeling off the beach is fun. For certified divers, there are about 15 dive sites to explore. Most of the dives in the Manuel Antonio area are relatively shallow, from 35 to 60 feet. Divers can expect to see hard and soft corals as well as volcanic rock formations. From December through May, it is possible to see the Giant Manta Ray! White Tip Reef Sharks, Angel Fish, Octopus, Puffer Fish, Eels, Sea Turtles and schools of Jacks and Snapper also make these waters home year round. 

Manuel Antonio National Park (closed on Mondays) contains three beautiful beaches, casual forest trails, and a dense rainforest teaming with animal life. In 2011, it was named by Forbes as one of the world’s most beautiful parks.

Sided by a lush rain forest, Manuel Antonio easily has the best beaches in Costa Rica. If you venture off the beach to look for creatures, you will not be disappointed as there are a lot of animals. Iguanas, sloths, crabs and cute squirrel monkeys all call the forest home. There are actually three types of monkeys, Capuchin, Howler, and Squirrel. They are social butterflies. Please don’t feed these thieving mischief makers.

Wildlife and the Manuel Antonio Beaches

Keep an eye out for the Fer de Lance while wandering along the jungle trails. The Fer de Lance is an extremely venomous snake in the viper family. In Spanish, their name is barba amarilla (yellow beard). This viper has “a broad triangular head and is usually about 1.2 to 2 metres (4 to 7 feet) long. It is gray or brown, marked by a series of black-edged diamonds often bordered in a lighter colour. Its bite can be fatal to humans.”

Tourists to the beaches of Manuel Antonio and the entire park have the chance to experience an abundant variety of wildlife in a semi-natural state. As the park has been open since 1972, some of the creatures do seem to have acclimated to the humans over the years. If you have have more than a passing affinity for wildlife and birds, it would be a good investment to hire a private guide and take a tour of the park.

Playa Manuel Antonio

The two most popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio, on Manuel Antonio National Park are separated by Cathedral Point. These 2 main beaches are about a half hour hike from the park’s main entrance. Once an island, Cathedral Point is attached to the mainland by a thin land bridge created by sand accumulations. The name sake beach of the park, is a stunning 1/2 mile stretch of white sand. One side faces a private cove and jungle is found on the other. There are good snorkeling possibilities here as this beach is one of the better beaches for swimming in the entire country of Costa Rica. Not only that, this is the beach that is frequently named one of the ten most beautiful in the world, like Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos. Playa Manuel Antonio has a number of tidal pools very similar to Laguna Beach. ( If you are staying in the area, get here early, before the crowds. Hopefully, a few people lying around won’t scare you away. The sunsets are stunning and worth the effort to watch. Swimming, snorkeling, surf lessons and relaxing are all popular activities here.

Playa Espadilla Sur

Playa Manuel Antonio is the showstopper and a must see due to its phenomenal views. However, if you want some solitude or just want to avoid crowds, head to Playa Espadilla Sur. Found on the north side of Punta Catedral ( check out the forested cliffs!). Mostly the water off this beach is calm, but be mindful of rip tides. If it is rough, it might be dangerous.

Playa Espadilla

This beach is closest to Manuel Antonio’s downtown area. It is quite popular with tourists and features a sandy stretch along the coast for over a mile!

Playa La Macha

If you are trying to stay away from the masses, this is a very good beach for you! It can be slightly tricky to get to, with a small windy path, but you will be glad you made it when you have left the backpackers behind. Playa La Macha is beautiful and quite serene.

Playa Bisaenz

A hidden public beach, off the beaten path. Playa Biesaenz has lovely tropical trees and sand which is impossibly cream colored. A word of warning, the beach gets dark early due to the high cliffs acting as a shelter.

Are the Manuel Antonio Beaches the Fountain of Youth?

In 1519, the Spanish explorer, Ponce de León “discovered” Manuel Antonio and Quepos along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This happened to be de León’s finest moment, yet he will forever be remembered for his quest for the Fountain of Youth. It has been posited that maybe the Fountain of Youth could have been located, if only de León choose to explore the Central Pacific coast of this Central American nation. This is a beach destination with something for everyone. The wealth of activities and natural biodiversity of the region is staggering.

Costa Rica was included by Ethical Traveler magazine in the 2011 and the 2012 list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations

This section of Costa Rica’s beaches offers everything you might want to do on a glamorous beach getaway to Central America. It would be very simple to spend your all of your time here lying on the Manuel Antonio beach and not regret a second of it! Manuel Antonio offers a number of smaller hotels and eco resorts that have been built into the hillside of a rainforest with a considerable amount of flair. These hotels are found between the town and the Manuel Antonio National Park.

The deluxe hotels in Manuel Antonio may offer impressive cliff-side views, however no matter how much guests are paying, they will not be staying in beachfront rooms as none of the hotels are on the beach. This is a result of the forward thinking environmental regulations that Costa Rica was wise enough to enact. Most of the resorts and hotels in Manuel Antonio do not have direct beach access.

Tourism in Costa Rica is booming

By 1995, tourism in Costa Rica had become the largest foreign exchange earner. It is also one of the fastest growing economic sectors in Costa Rica. The tourist industry has earned more hard currency than the combined exports of bananas, pineapples and coffee in this former banana republic every year since 1999.

The number of tourists in Costa Rica has grown steadily over the years. It all began in 1987, as world slowly trickled out about this paradise with shores on both the Caribbean and Pacific. In 1988, Costa Rica counted 329,000 tourists. Word of mouth contributed greatly to the growing popularity of this country. By 1999, there were more than a million visitors annually. The total number of international visits for 2015 was 2.66 million. Beach vacations, surf trips, ecotours and white water rafting, etc accounted for 12.5% of Costa Rica’s GDP by 2012 and more than 11% of employment.

The main competitive advantage Costa Rica has vis-a-vis the countless other beautiful tropical beach spots in the Americas is its well established and funded system of protected areas and national parks. These protected regions make up 23.4% of Costa Rica’s total land mass, which is the largest in the world as a percentage of a sovereign nation’s territorial holdings. This Central American beach paradise has been the premier outdoor and adventure travel spot since the late 1980’s.

This little country is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, yet only 0.03% of the world’s landmass. It is unbelievably rich in flora and fauna. The Costa Rican beaches are some of the top in the world, on either side of the country. In their embarrassment of riches, Costa Rica even has multiple volcanos that can be safely visited on a day trip.

Costa Rica: eco-tourism and beach vacations

From 1986 through 1994, Costa Rica’s annual tourist arrivals grew by an amazing 14% per annum as word spread about its ecotourism industry. Nearly half of the foreign tourists to visit Costa Rica in 2009, were involved with ecotourism, according to the  Costa Rican Tourism Board.  Ecotourism is an all encompassing description, but it is considered to include bird watching, trekking, flora, fauna, and visits to rural communities. The rest of the tourists to Costa Rica are involved with adventure activities.

With 2.3 million international tourists in 2012, Costa Rica and her beaches were the most visited nation in the region of Central America. The country had an astounding 26.4% market share of all visitors to the region. In that same year, the second most popular nation in Central America was Panama with 1.6 million visitors, followed closely behind by the 1.3 million guests to Guatemala.

The main reason to visit the Manuel Antonio beach and Costa Rica in general was word of mouth from friends and family. An average of 58% claimed the influence of other’s recommendation to be the leading reason for visiting this paradise for vacations and leisure. The poor condition of the roads was the main visitor’s complaint.

Who was Manuel Antonio?

Unfortunately, there is nothing more than rumor or speculation for who Manuel Antonio was. There are two stories, but both seem to be just myth. A park guide claims that a family moved to the park to grow bananas and found an elderly alone man, named Manuel Antonio.

A less likely but much more entertaining tale has it that Manuel Antonio was a Spanish conquistador who was killed by the natives and buried on the beach. Unfortunately, there is no record of any conquistador of that name.

Think of the unlucky soldier while paying the admission fee of $16 to enter the park. The park is closed Mondays and alcoholic drinks are prohibited. Visitors are welcome to bring a packed lunch and water or soda. The restrictions are in place to reduce the impact on the environment as much as possible.

The images on this page were provided by an old friend from Margarita Island, Paul C. Paul has recently returned to his Canadian homeland from another long-term expat gig. Paul traded the Rasta colors of MoBay, Jamaica for the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs.