During your time teaching English in Costa Rica, you’ll have the chance to see first-hand the surprising array of landscapes the country has to offer. From the cloud forests of Monteverde to the beaches of Tortuguero, you’ll find incredible biodiversity and endless opportunities for adventure! One of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica (and the perfect distance from our in-class TESOL course in San Ramon for a weekend adventure) is Manuel Antonio.
The origin of the naming of Manuel Antonio remains a mystery, though some legends suggest it was named after an ever-present hermit or a conquistador who seems to be scrubbed from history books. Manuel Antonio is located about 3 hours from San Jose and features attractions that can satisfy any type of traveler. With beaches, coral reefs, rainforests, and one of the biggest concentrations of biodiversity in the world, it’s no surprise why this is a favorite stop for those visiting Costa Rica! There are endless ways to spend your time in this sunny sandy playground, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to make the most of a weekend. We’ve made it easy for you and rounded up the top ten attractions for you to check out on your stay!
Whether you’re walking or riding, the road down to the National Park will offer stunning glimpses of the brilliantly blue waters off the Pacific coast!
Take a hike through Manuel Antonio National Park
The most popular tourist attraction in Manuel Antonio by far is the National Park of the same nomenclature. The park features many trails to explore, leading to waterfalls, beaches, and a jungle peninsula jutting out into the Pacific. The entrance fee is only $16 for tourists, and you have the option to hire a guide or DIY it. Inside the park, you can spot sloths, monkeys, birds, insects, and deer!
I have been to Manuel Antonio thrice and, regrettably, have yet to visit this iconic National Park. Please let this be a cautionary tale, and make not the mistakes of your predecessor. It’s easy to get caught up in hostel activities and beach days, so I recommend knocking it out on your first full day to make sure you don’t miss it!
Tickets are no longer sold at the entrance, so buy them online ahead of time! The park is open from 7 AM to 4 PM and is closed every Tuesday. You’ll definitely want to bring your walking shoes for this – especially if you’re planning on hitting the longer trails!
Lounge on the beach at Playa Espadilla
Shortly before the entrance of the National Park is Playa Espadilla. This beach is one of the most popular beaches in all of Costa Rica, and if you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for all of your beach bum needs, look no further. Parasailing, renting catamarans, kayaking, snorkeling, surfing lessons, chairside food, and beverage service, souvenirs – seriously, they’ve got it all! The beach is open to the public, and there are restaurants, souvenir shops, and a mini-mart across the street for anything you may need.
Bring smaller bills and coins for renting chairs, or they will take a LONG time to return with your change. Expect a markup if you’re getting drinks or food brought to your chairs. There is a bus that passes from Quepos to the national park frequently, and it’s about 50 cents USD per person. There are usually taxis around as well, but they tend to name their own prices rather than using a meter and can be quite steep. Taking the bus allows you to save some cash for other excursions while doing things the local way!
Try your hand (or rather, your balance) with a surfing lesson
Costa Rica is a huge surfing destination, and Manuel Antonio is a great place to give it a shot for the first time! There are surf lessons available to book online or with your hotel or hostel, and many places on the beach that welcome walk-ups if you forget to book ahead or decide to go on a whim. A good surf teacher will make sure to provide a rash guard and measure you for your board, and the lessons are usually around 2 hours long.
When I was last there, my friend decided to give surfing a shot and selected one of the instructors we came across on the beach. While she had her lesson, the staff at the surf tent gave me a chair to sit in and put my things on and I played with their pup while watching the lesson. You’re welcome to go in groups, and the staff will keep an eye on your things, but I highly recommend having a friend on solid ground to take photos! The staff was incredibly friendly, and actually tipped us off on the bus when they saw us looking for a taxi. You can check them out here on TripAdvisor – they were great
Dine in an airplane with a scandalous history
Nestled on the cliff between the main road in Manuel Antonio and the ocean one can find an old C-123 cargo plane that was built in the 1980s. Purchased for use by the Contras transporting illegal arms, its sister plane was downed and it subsequently never took flight. It was purchased and transported (largely by ferry as many of its parts were too big to get through the narrow jungle roads) to Manuel Antonio to be gutted and transformed into a restaurant.
The restaurant serves both Costa Rican and international fare, and guests can enjoy a breathtaking view of the jungle and ocean while they dine. Be careful though, a friend of mine experienced a fortuitous fiasco involving capuchin monkeys ransacking their table and making off with someone’s lunch.
We dined here once for the notoriety but found the food to be average and overpriced. Despite that, the view was spectacular! We also visited the coffee shop attached, which had pretty solid coffee and seating to enjoy the same view as the restaurant!
Take a catamaran tour from the Quepos marina
Enjoy a sunset sail on a huge catamaran where you can snorkel, slide, cannonball, dance, and soak up some rays! The catamaran tours offer a luxurious and all-inclusive experience that is loads of fun for any type of traveler. The tour will run about $70, and it’s cheaper to pay with cash typically. Your ticket will include not only the boat ride, but also a lunch buffet, cocktails, juices, and gear for stopping to snorkel. The top-notch service is the most memorable part of this experience, with a friendly cruise crew who will chat with you and get you drinks while you lounge. Depending on the time of year, you can often see dolphins swimming alongside the catamaran! There is also the option for a morning cruise for early birds, running from 8:30 to 12:30!
This was one of my favorite experiences from all three of my trips to Costa Rica. While it’s a bit pricier than most other excursions, I thought it was money well spent and I highly recommend this tour to anyone with the time and funds to go. I recommend booking in advance, as you’ll get transportation to and from your accommodation included. You can also arrive early to enjoy the sights and shops at the marina!
The options for how to spend a weekend in Manuel Antonio are endless.
Even if these adventures aren’t your cup of tea, there are so many more to choose from! Ziplining, horseback riding, white water rafting, kayaking, snorkeling, and mangrove tours are more great options for enjoying Manuel Antonio. You’ll have the chance to visit as a weekend excursion during our in-country TESOL course in San Ramon and see which activities make your top five list!
Ready to get started? Submit an inquiry today to chat with one of our experienced Enrollments Coordinators and make your Pura Vida dreams a reality!