You cannot go to Costa Rica without visiting Manuel Antonio National Park. It is probably the smallest park in the country, but for a good reason the most famous.
Written by Mette / Photo by Martin
The Travel Guide has been published in IN Magazine, 2016
Translated from Danish
Manuel Antonio is on the west coast of Costa Rica and is both the name of a small town and the world-famous natural park. The richness and multitude of species of animals and plants is unparalleled anywhere in the world. The beach is on Magazine Forbes’s list of the most beautiful in the world, and the entire area is full of Pura Vida. Visiting Manuel Antonio is our idea of being in the Garden of Eden.
Here you will find a range of delicious restaurants and environmentally sustainable hotels, located on top of lush cliffs – also called ‘the mountain’ among the locals – stretching along the coast between the small harbor town of Quepos and the entrance to the national park. All with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. And plenty of Costa Rican karma.
OUR FAVORITE TIPS TO
We have collected our best tips for where to live, eat, shop and – simply – just get lost in the nature paradise of Manuel Antonio!
Stay: Room with a view
The unique boutique and spa hotel Arenas del Mar has both won several prizes in sustainability and has one of Manuel Antonio’s best locations. The hotel has its own path to a peaceful beach and is only a 15 minutes walk from the national park and close to some of the area’s best restaurants. The tropical-picturesque views of Manuel Antonio’s green jungle, golden beach and blue coast reaches a level of true magic when enjoyed from one’s own private outdoors Jacuzzi.
Eat: Gourmet with a paradise panorama
It is hard to let go of Manuel Antonio’s beautiful scenery. Fortunately you don’t have to at La Luna Restaurant at the luxurious Gaia Hotel & Reserve. The gourmet restaurant is located at the top of the mountain and has a mesmerizing 180-degree view. Paradise extends at your feet while a sea of stars hangs over you on the endless night sky.
The outdoor restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere, first-rate service and an elegant menu with an exquisite mix of international, local and vegetarian cuisine. Start the evening’s culinary experience with a cocktail at the bar, such as a pineapple jalapenos margarita.
Beach: Costa Rica Bounty
Let it be said right away: Manuel Antonio’s beach will forever haunt your daydreaming when back home. The beach is not only considered Costa Rica’s most beautiful, but the world’s most beautiful. The National Park’s chalky white sandy beach is unspoiled, surrounded by rough granite gray cliffs and a rare lush jungle paradise. Puffy palms hang over the horseshoe-shaped cove and in the azure water the dolphins are playing. With a bit of luck you can even see humpback whales in the periods August-October and December-April.
Experience: The animal paradise
The main attraction in Manuel Antonio is the National Park, where lush tropical forests and pristine white sandy beaches make up one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. The park is home to a wealth of wildlife – including howler monkeys, sloths and the lizard with the biblical name ‘Jesus Lizard’ which inspired the author of Jurassic Park.
With a private nature guide like Reynier ‘Rey’ Hernandez you will get close to the exotic wildlife without hordes of tourists. Get up early, as it is best to visit the park from the morning time where the animals are most active. Bring your smartphone to take pictures of the animals through Rey’s specialized telescope and remember swimwear as the trip ends at the beach. Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shop: Local weekend market
Every Friday and Saturday farmers from the vicinity drive into the small port town of Quepos to sell their fresh crops. Although the market is not large it’s a colorful and enjoyable experience to walk around among the little stalls, where the locals sell exotic fruits and vegetables, which you probably never heard of before.
For example, try the brown tulip tamarindo that tastes sour-sweet and sprinkle with sugar and eaten as candy. Or the green guanabana fruit that has a hard shell with spikes and tastes of strawberry, cinnamon, mango and pineapple. Farmers Market is located along the dike at the end of the main street of Quepos and opens Friday afternoon at 16:00 and closes Saturday at 14.00.
Drink: Black gold
From outside Café Milagro does not look like much, nor is it equipped with a breathtaking panorama of the coast. But the little charming place has another strong card at hand: Manuel Antonios best coffee! Milagro is both a bar and cafe – and in short a popular hangout selling its own coffee beans and serving creative interpretations of classic café food with a Costa Rican twist.
Try their mango cake with blackberry syrup for breakfast and a sandwich with grilled mahi mahi and aioli for lunch. Also check out when they arrange live music in the evening, as the Costa Rican rhythms make it extra atmospheric to end the day with a good dinner in the courtyard.