Best Manuel Antonio Adventure Guide

Best Manuel Antonio Adventure Guide

Ahh, Manuel Antonio. This is where verdant jungle meets pristine beaches. The town itself is situated on a hillside with winding roads leading down to the coastline. The main attraction here is the popular Manuel Antonio National Park which is home to a vast array of wildlife leading to seemingly undiscovered beaches. Whether you are a beach bum or an avid jungle trekker, Manuel Antonio has something for you.

Where to stay:

Hotel Plaza Yara is a small mid-range boutique hotel that is a perfect home base for exploring the Manuel Antonio area. Offering all suites, a pool, onsite restaurant, and an art gallery, you’re sure to have a comfortable stay. It sits on the main road, but you won’t notice since all of the rooms face the jungle and swimming pool area. The pools are especially magical at night when the jungle lights up with fire flies.

Getting around Manuel Antonio from Hotel Plaza Yara is easy. There is a public bus stop just a five minute walk up the road. From there you can take the bus into town, the Manuel Antonio National Park, or to the popular Espadilla Beach. The hotel is also a short walk to Q’Tuanis Restaurante which serves awesome and affordable Casado (Costa Rican dish consisting of meat, rice, beans, and plantains).

Gorgeous pool area at Hotel Plaza Yara

What to do:

Playa Espadilla

Just outside the entrance to the national park, Playa Espadilla stretches out for over a mile. It is a very popular spot for both locals and tourists. From our hotel it was about a 10 -15 minute ride on a local bus (which cost about $1 US). It can be a little crowded where the bus drops you off at the south end, but a short hike up the beach will get you more space to lay out. If you get tired of sunbathing, there are many activities available like, parasailing, horseback riding, surfing, and jet skiing. The water is warm, averaging about 80 degrees, and the waves range from 2 to 5 feet.

After a little swimming and soaking in the sun, we walked over to Restaurante Balu which had an awesome 2 for 1 drink special. We sat at a table right on the sand and even had to pull it back when the tide rose closer to sunset. It was the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset away from the crowds at the south end of the beach. With the last light of the day, we made our way back to the bus and hitched a ride back to our hotel.

Less crowded area of Playa Espadilla
Restaurante Balu at Playa Espadilla

Kayaking Pacific Mangroves

Our first full day in Manuel Antonio was spent exploring the largest mangrove ecosystem in Central America with Damas Island Mangrove Kayaking Tours. The start time of the tour is highly dependent on the tides so our day at the mangroves didn’t start until 2pm. It was well worth the wait because the scenery was spectacular.

Once we arrived we were each given our own kayak to navigate through the mangrove forests with. Paddling along the tranquil estuary we got to see Tea, Red, Black, White and Green (aka “Pineapple”) mangrove trees. Our guide pointed out plenty of wildlife along the way including tiny bats, monkeys, crabs, and an owl. There were also lots of flying insects so don’t forget to bring bug repellent. After we made it back to the launching point we were given a simple lunch. Our favorite part of the tour was maneuvering through the maze of enchanting Tea Mangroves.

Passing through the Tea Mangroves.

Manuel Antonio National Park

For our next adventure, we visited Manuel Antonio National Park. While you can hike through the park on your own, we decided to book a guide through our hotel. Either way, there is a $16 entrance fee. Having a guide on the trek was the right choice. He spotted animals we would have never seen on our own. Just to name a few, we saw sloths, capuchins, basilisks, “Costa Rican turkeys”, a toucan, and an agoutis. The trail ended forking into two beautiful beaches that can only be accessed from the park. The easy hike to the beaches took roughly an hour and a half at a slow pace. The tour ended once we got to the beaches and we spent the next couple hours enjoying warm waters and white sand.

Beach at the end of the Manuel Antonio National Park trail.

Horseback Ride to Nauyaca Waterfalls

While these waterfalls aren’t in Manuel Antonio, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit them via horseback ride. This adventure was on the expensive side ($145 per person), but it was well worth it. We booked this tour through, but we can’t find this tour on their site anymore so try Costa Rica Jade Tours (transportation is included from Quepos/Manuel Antonio).

After a 7am pick-up from our hotel and an hour drive south to the Dominical area, we met our horses at the starting point. Riding for about an hour or so we made it to our first stop, breakfast. A typical Costa Rican breakfast was served and once everyone was ready, we mounted up to head to the waterfalls.

After about another hour we made it to the waterfalls. Our guides tied up the horses and showed us the restrooms in case we needed to change into our swimwear. Walking down to the waterfalls and seeing them for the first time was indescribable! We immediately picked a spot to leave our packs and jumped into the pool below the jaw dropping cascading falls. After gathering a little courage Larry left me with the GoPro and met one of our guides at the 33-foot ledge of the cascades. After a little nervous waiting it was finally his turn and he leaped off the ledge into deep cool waters. If you aren’t looking for that much adrenaline, there is also a 7-foot ledge and 25-foot ledge you can jump from.

Roughly two hours later we packed up and got back on our horses. We made our way back to the breakfast spot for and were served a typical Costa Rican lunch. There were some peacocks and a scarlet macaw by this covered picnic area. When everyone was done eating and snapping pictures with the beautiful parrot, we hopped back on our steeds for the final ride back to the starting point to end the tour.

Our trusty steeds for the ride into the jungle.
First view of the massive 200-foot tall Nauyaca Falls through the jungle. Fun fact: After Larry survived the 25-foot cliff jump, we got engaged!

There’s a reason Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular destinations on Costa Rica’s pacific side – it has both beautiful beaches and jungles teeming with wildlife waiting to be explored. If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, don’t pass up this amazing region. Be sure to check out our other posts like Arenal and La Fortuna, Costa Rica Adventure Guide and leave any comments or questions below. Happy travels!

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