BeachNuts Beach Guide for:

Manuel Antonio National Park


Manuel Antonio National ParkThe three sweeping strands of pristine white beach that flow into the Pacific Ocean are only part of what makes this place paradise. Manuel Antonio National Park is where the jungle meets the sea. The beaches are long, wide and covered with beautiful soft sand, bordered by tall evergreen jungle on one side, and blue Pacific Ocean on the other. Cliffs overgrown by dense jungle vegetation surround the beaches and in spots the forest sweeps down to the edge of the water sheltering swimmers from the sun. In order to protect the parks eco-system, entrance to the park is limited. On weekdays rangers allow 600 visitors to enter and 800 on weekends.  In high season, it is a good idea to get there well before noon.

THE BEACHES

Playa Espadilla

On the northern outskirts of the park sits Playa Espadilla Norte. A long and wide beach, Playa Espadilla is stunningly beautiful, though swimming here can be dangerous because of the unpredictable riptides. The current travels parallel the length of the beach, then makes a short turn out to sea at the end of the beach, where it dies out. Playa Espadilla Norte is accessible to the general public and tends to receive more visitors than the beaches inside the park.

Many beachside restaurants, shops and street-vendors are located here, including a surf shop.This is a great spot for sunning, swimming, and surfing, especially when the tide comes in. Even when crowded the beach is so long that you can find plenty of space to spread out in the sun or in the shade of the surrounding palms and almond trees.

Playa Espadilla Sur & Playa Manuel Antonio
Inside the park, and accessible across a stretch of sand that becomes submerged during high tide, are Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio.

Playa Espadilla Sur is an extension of Playa Espadilla Norte as it curves seaward to Punta Catedral. Playa Espadilla Sur is separated from Playa Espadilla Norte by a rocky outcropping and an estuary, which forms the boundary of Manuel Antonio National Park.

The longest beach within the park, Playa Espadilla Sur is situated back-to-back with Playa Manuel Antonio. Sheltered from the surf by Catherdral Point, this beach is excellent for swimming, and has a panoramic view of Playa Espadilla. Cathedral Point with it's forest topped cliffs is connected to the mainland by a thin land bridge that separates the Playa Espadilla Sur to the north and Playa Manuel Antonio to the south.

Playa Manuel Antonio
Playa Manuel Antonio gives its name to the whole area south of Quepos. Local legend has it that a couple who farmed south of here were on their way by boat to Quepos, where the wife had planned to give birth to a child. But rough seas slowed them down and they pulled into this sheltered beach, where the child was born and named "Manuel Antonio".

Playa Manuel Antonio is one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and perhaps in the world. A southern facing beach, Playa Manuel Antonio, is a picturesque half mile long, white sand crescent disecting deep green folliage to one side and a private, secluded cove to the other.

Playa Manuel Antonio is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, lacking the heavier surf and rip tides of Playa Espadilla. It's an especially welcome place for a cooling dip in the sea after hiking the National Park nature trail around Cathedral Point.

Playa Gemelas is named for its view of the Islas Gemelas (Twin Islands). Both the beach and the islands are part of Manuel Antonio National Park. Playa Gemelas is a little beach accessed by following one of the park's nature trails. It's a fairly easy walk on mostly level ground. This beach is under water at high tide.

Playa Puerto Escondido meaning Hidden Harbor - is a wide, horseshoe-shaped beach that can be reached along the Puerto Escondido trail. The beach is situated in a cove ringed by steep cliffs. Playa Puerto Escondido is the most remote of the beaches that can be reached by following a National Park nature trail. The cove and beach can be viewed from above by following another park trail to the clifftops. On a clear day from these cliffs you can see the coastline all the way to the Osa Peninsula.
A good-sized sandy beach, Playa Puerto Escondido is a great spot for a rest-stop before resuming your hike.

Caution! Do not get caught here at high tide as the gets covered by the sea, with surf crashing into the cliffs.

There are also a number of other beaches located outside of the park that include:

Playa la Macha, Doctor's Beach, is the most secluded of Manuel Antonio's beaches. It can be reached by small boats or on foot. The trail to the beach is rough and steep and the uphill return trip is only for the fit.

When you arrive at the beach, you are likely to find that you have the beach to yourself. The beach is strewn with good-sized rocks. A semi-circle of rocks is believed to be a pre-Columbian sea-turtle trap. This beach is completely under water at high tide, so time your visit accordingly.

Playa Biesanz (the name of the family who settled the adjoining property) is a small secluded beach reached by a trail off the road leading to Hotel Parador.  Playa Biesanz can also be reached by sea-kayaks and other small boats.

Playita ("The Gay Beach") is found by walking to the north end of Playa Espadilla and crossing over the rocks at the end of the beach. Make certain to wear shoes or thick sandals to cross these volcanic rocks to avoid injury to your feet. Playita, a secluded little beach, is a favorite spot for gay tourists and residents. In practice, though not officially, it is considered a clothing-optional beach.

Following a path into the patch of jungle behind the beach, there is a small waterfall to play in. When you go to Playita, be sure to time your arrival and departure to avoid being stuck there during high tide.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

If you get tired of playing in the surf or sunning in the sand, Manuel Antonio Park has a number of wonderful trails for hiking, walking and wildlife viewing. One of them, Catherdal Point trail, heads up to the tip of the point providing beautiful views of the ocean and islands which are situated off the rugged coastline.

Many trails lead directly from the beach into the jungle where you can observe interesting flora and fauna and will encounter animals like the howler, squirrel and white-faced Capuchin monkey, as well as iguanas, raccoons and colorful crabs such as the red land crab or the mouthless crab, both abundant in this area.

Within the park are primary forest, swamps and tropical woodlands, containing hundreds of species of plants. The forest is home to over 100 species of mammals and 180 kinds of birds.

If all of this isn't enough for you, other activities in the area include white-water rafting, ocean cruising, big-game fishing, and horse back riding on the beach.

ACCOMMODATIONS

There are no resorts inside Manuel Antonio Park. Everyone has to commute from their lodging. Most of the hotels are located on the road between the town of Quepos and the beaches at the national park. An hourly public bus shuttle to the beaches of Manuel Antonio (about 15 minutes) make these hotels an ideal basis for beach lovers as well as for active people.

GETTING HERE
Located on the Pacific Coast, 7 kilometers southeast of Quepos in the Province of Puntarenas
You can get to Manuel Antonio by car, bus or plane. There is an airport 14 km from MANP or 9.5 miles away with several daily flights from two commercial airlines.

Driving: takes approximately three hours from San Jose.
The direct bus also takes about three and a half hours, goes three times a day, and costs about $5.50.
Flying It's only a 20 minute flight. There are two airlines, Sansa, the national airline service and Nature Air (formerly named Travelair) , a privately run airline. Sansa leaves from the main San Jose airport, and Travelair leaves from the Pavas airport, a bit closer to central San Jose.


Many restaurants and nightspots can be found along the 6 km long road winding north to Quepos. The small town of Quepos itself offers additional options for lodging and dining. After a lazy day of sunbathing, there are plenty of fun evening spots in the Manuel Antonio area including funky seaside restaurants, bars and cafes.

Currently, one of the hottest after-dark spots is “La Cantina” bar, right across from Costa Verde Hotel, which offers e-mail and Internet service during the day, and at night features the popular afrocaribbean music of the “Jungle Boys”.