Manuel Antonio, in Quepos, is a place EVERYONE who goes to Costa Rica visits. We wouldn’t be different, now, would we?
With the promise of sloths, pristine beaches, and good food, we’re sold.
It was our first destination there, and we found Manuel Antonio to be really family friendly. All the kids and the parents had lots of fun there!
We were there in August 2017.
Our little guide to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, with kids
Best beaches in Manuel Antonio with kids
We went to 3 different beaches in Manuel Antonio during our time there.
I had imagined paradise, to be honest, but the beaches weren’t all that. They were good beaches, the water was warm, but there was lots of litter on the sand, and so much trash scattered closer to the roads. It was quite sad to see, really. We picked up a bit every day but unless we had a truck, we couldn’t clean it, really.
– Manuel Antonio Beach
This is the main beach, and it’s a good one. When we were there, the weather wasn’t really helping so we didn’t get to see the blue waters. It was almost always a brown color due to the sand. I had read that there were many people walking around selling stuff. Indeed, there were, but when I said no, they left me alone.
And I found it pretty OK. Other tourists helped out by watching our stuff for us when we were swimming, and we did the same for others.
There are a lot of options on that beach, from paragliding to banana boat. We didn’t do any of them because, man, it’s expensive!
Everything there was expensive.
– Biesanz Beach
We asked Oscar, from the hotel we were staying, for a good beach for kids and he recommended this one because it was a calm beach.
Well, it wasn’t. First, we had to walk for 5 minutes in a rocky path to get to the beach. It would have been fine if the dirt wasn’t all muddy and our flip flops kept getting stuck to the floor, though.
Then the beach was packed! It was the most crowded one we visited for sure.
It’s a small beach, and it’s beautiful! It’s a beautiful bay in the middle of the forest. Sure is lovely.
But the waves and the current were pretty strong when we were there. It was hard to hold our ground in the water.
– The second beach in Manuel Antonio Park
It was the BEST beach there for sure. It’s not free – and not cheap either – but it’s sure worth it. We had a thunderstorm when we went, so we had to cut our beach day short but it was still great. The floor is full of rocks and stones and pebbles, which can be good or bad depending on your taste, but the waters were crystal clear and beautiful, the sand was warm, clean, and lovely. The waves were fun enough to play in but also strong enough to carry a child so be careful there. We played just beyond the break point of the waves and it was delicious. Hard to get there, but fun.
The first beach was more crowded. The third beach had no dry sand space to sit, so we chose the second one and it was perfect.
They’re all close, one after the other, so they should all be fine, really.
Manuel Antonio National Park for families
My first and foremost tip for this would be: bring your binoculars (a good one) or hire a guide. Well, hire a guide anyway.
We weren’t gonna hire one but last minute we decided to hire. We didn’t have any equipment to be able to see the sloths if they were too high up, so we hired one. Another tip here: check the prices.
The first guide we talked to wanted to charge us US120 for the family on a group tour (up to 20 people, he said). The second one said US$ 60 for the family on a group of 10 people. The third guide said US$ 80 for the family on a group of 10. We hired the second one and it was super good. It was US$ 20 per adult, but they didn’t charge the 3 smaller kids, so great deal.
You don’t really need a guide, you can walk without one, and sure, there’ll be people pointing and shouting, so you’ll know there’s something around. The guides are worth the US$ 60 for sure.
Daniel, our guide, is super young, and super patient. We had 7 kids in our group and they all wanted photos of all the animals, and he patiently helped them take the photos on his telescope-like thing, plus he took photos for me and showed us the photos from other days.
The guides know where the animals are, how to find them, and they tell you stuff about them that is really cool.
This was a highlight for us. We saw many animals there, and we’d have missed most of them had we not had Daniel with us.
There are many guides at the entrance, just waiting for someone to hire them. You can book in advance or not, all up to you.
So, OK, the park is huge, there are many trails to cover, but we kept on the route the guide set. You need to buy the entrance ticket in an office (you’ll see it because there’ll be people telling you where to buy it, and there’s always a line there). It cost us US$ 16 per person over 12 years old, and it’s a lot cheaper for nationals, as it should be.
It’s closed on Mondays – so avoid Sundays and Tuesdays, as they tend to be more crowded. When it’s full, they close the gates so you’ll have to wait in line until some people leave. I know we had to wait for around 20 minutes under the sun. If the gate’s closed, it’s full. The tickets aren’t dated, so you can just go another day.
Some paths are paved, some are dirt. Either way, they’re all very walkable and not too muddy, have no fear. No hiking shoes needed, but I would wear flip flops.
Do take rain gear because it’s a rain forest, you know.
Our first encounter was bats. Cute bats under a leaf, sleeping curled up together. Couldn’t cuter, even with the huge crowd cheering and taking photos.
Then we saw a chameleon, a tiny one, adorable! A baby iguana I almost stepped on it trying to see a butterfly better. The smallest hummingbird I’ve ever seen, a huge caterpillar (it was really really big), 2 sloths – none of them facing us, though – and so many spider monkeys! Then we saw a Halloween crab, a red eyed frog, and so many beautiful insects! Close to the beach, we saw a raccoon and many white faced capuchins very close, just walking around. There were also a lot of different plants and stuff, but I’ve no idea about plants so I’m not gonna comment on them here.
We spent 3 hours there, 2 with our guide and an hour between the beach and the walk out.
It was a Tuesday and it was crowded. You can’t take chips with you into the park (they say no ‘snacks’, no nuts), but we could take cookies and crackers, water and fruit. I’ve no idea what’s the difference, but well, their home, their rules. They do check all bags before the entrance.
From time to time, a cab would pass us, as people with physical disabilities can ride a taxi to the beach. They were building a better route for wheel chairs when we were there, but it was still far from done.
To recap the tips for Manuel Antonio Park
– Buy the tickets from the ticket booth just outside the park.
– Hire a guide, really, but shop around before closing a deal.
– It’s closed on Mondays, and Sundays and Tuesdays are more crowded.
– No need for hiking shoes, but do wear comfortable ones.
– Don’t leave your stuff unattended. The monkeys know how to open zippers and buttons. Even the raccoon was trying to get stuff from people at the beach.
– Don’t feed the animals.
– Take some insect repellent, even though we didn’t see the need. Everyone tells you to, so I think it’s wise to have one just in case.
It was my birthday. I decided to do something new and frightening for me, so I chose a zip line tour. Heights, insects, forest. It was all there. We chose this company because they had the best deal, really, and it was close to our hotel.
The bus arrived at the exact time they said they would: 10:30 am. It was clean and had air conditioning. Bliss. It stopped to pick up the other 8 people that would be part of the tour and headed to the office.
At the office, we were offered water, cookies, signed the waiver and chose our food options, we met one of our guides, used the toilets, and left our bags. We boarded the bus again to go to the site.
It was a short ride and we were already at the first zip line. They set our gear on us, gave us some VERY stinky gloves, and told us about security, how to, and all that. Then it was time to just start!
The first lines were short and easy. By the middle, we had one very long and fast line. At the end, we could choose between one last line or a rappel and a Tarzan swing.
Titi Canopy for families with kids: it’s not a self-breaking thing, we had to break in 2 of the lines. They do have breaking systems but depending on the weight and speed, you’ll need to break along. Coral (5) and Jose (10) were told to hold on and not mind about breaking, as they’re light and the breaking system did that for them. The straps were secure enough and we felt super safe. Smaller kids from 5 and up can go. They can choose to go tandem with a guide or alone. Coral wanted to do all alone. Coral and Jose did ride tandem twice, on the long lines, because their weight wouldn’t take them to the end.
Once, a guide had to go after Jose to push him a bit because he didn’t reach the end, but he enjoyed it anyway.
Our hands were smelling during that whole day. Yuck. If I knew, I’d have taken some surgical gloves to wear under their gloves.
They have someone taking photos and they charge for them – we bought them, a cool memory!
There are SO MANY options to zip line in Costa Rica, you’ll surely find one that’s close to where you’re visiting and that fits your budget and your family. Look around, ask at your hotel, or your host, or the restaurant owner. We found everyone very willing to help.
Where to eat in Manuel Antonio
Food, in general, is VERY expensive in Manuel Antonio. We never managed to pay less than US$ 100 for the 6 of us. The good side is that we didn’t eat anywhere where the food wasn’t good.
This was our go-to restaurant. It was close enough from the hotel, just across the street from the beach, and the food was good. The service is always nice and, if you’re lucky, little monkeys will show up and try to steal something from a table.
Hog and Bill
We went there only once because their credit card machine didn’t work with our card. It happened quite a lot of times in different places, but here, none of our cards worked. It’s a nice setting, the food is good, it’s just across the street from Marlin (and the beach). The waiter was super friendly and told us all about the options we had while there and even contacted some people to find the price out. If it wasn’t for the credit card failure, we’d have eaten there more often.
El Wagon, El Avion, Cantina
These 3 restaurants, probably from the same owner, are located one after the other. They’re a bit farther away, up the hill. It’s pricier, and the food is delicious. The menus are very alike, so you don’t have to go check them all out. El Avion has an actual airplane bar there, pretty cool. We ate there only twice because it was more expensive, and we didn’t know they were all the same thing. It’s cool, and the kids loved the Stranger Things feel it has.
Where to stay
We spent our days there. It’s a simple hotel, with air conditioning and pool. The pillows were terrible, but we survived. The staff was awesome all the way, and they’re very relaxed about everything. On the cleaner’s day off, the rooms just don’t get cleaned, though they offered to change our towels and sheets and clean our room if we wanted. It had a very basic kitchen in the room, but it would have been useful, had we ever cooked there. It’s SUPER close to Manuel Antonio park, it’s around a 5-minute walk from the beach, and there are iguanas and garrobos (another type of lizard) around. Super cool.
The wet season is from May to November, with September being the rainiest. January is usually the driest. The temperatures are always high.
We were there in August and although it did rain every day, we couldn’t enjoy it only one of the days. Well, that day actually caused havoc by being the worst storm – it even caused the water to stop in all Manuel Antonio area. It was still super hot, and we liked it cloudy, as it was easier to enjoy the beach without the scorching sun.
Tips for visiting Manuel Antonio
– People told us to take insect repellent and use it all the time. We didn’t see any mosquito in the area, but we did get some bites when we were out eating late afternoon. Besides that, nothing. So, well, bring it just in case.
– Take as little as possible to the beach – and everywhere else. But don’t forget to bring in some cash because the credit card machines sometimes don’t work. Take copies of your passports, not the originals, 1 or 2 credit cards, a little cash, the keys, a phone. We aren’t really guided by those rules, so we took phones, cameras, and everything else (except for the passports, because they’re bulky) everywhere and had no problems. Sometimes the whole family went for a swim and we left our stuff in the sand. We had no problems, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, I think. Do what you think it’s best.
– It is really hot, so you’ll probably want a place with air conditioning. We used them daily, during the afternoons. What a delight it was.
– Keep your eyes open: there are so many animals everywhere all day long! Saw a rustling on the trees? Check it for monkeys and birds. They’re almost always there. Watch the frogs, the insects, the lizards! SO COOL!
– There are ants all around. It was creepy. Watch those chocolate wrappers, dispose of them carefully. Don’t ever forget them inside the pocket of a garment on the laundry pile. Yep.
– Shop around for everything! You’ll have better chances of getting a better price by asking all around.
– You really don’t need to schedule anything beforehand. Everything was widely available everywhere all the time. Maybe not for the same day, but for the next. It was low season, though.
– If you’re driving, do it carefully. There are animals and tourists crossing the road all the time without any care and the streets are narrow and winding, with loads of trucks and buses all over.
– Have your rain gear at hand, we never know when it’s going to rain!
Manuel Antonio is a very cool place, and it’s sure worth the time for your visit. The park is incredible and it really delivers what it offers: wildlife, nature, and pristine beaches. I do think, though, that a week is a bit too much. If you have a short time in Costa Rica, 3 days would be enough to do the park, the beach, and something else. If you like to take things very slowly, like we do, then a week is best!
Just know that it’s a very touristy place, and everything is very expensive there. Well, sometimes it’s worth the price, some others, not so much.
Come and follow us on Instagram! We posted a lot of photos from Manuel Antonio!