Pura Vida! A Local Guide to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica sprinkles with natural gifts. From pristine beaches to lush rain-forests and exotic wildlife, it makes for a fine base to explore the country and also appreciate pura vida, the Costa Rican way of living a pure and full life.

Roughly two hours from San Jose International Airport, the area centers on the village of Manuel Antonio, neighboring Quepos and the ever impressive and popular Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. To get to know the region where toucans and monkeys roam, here is your local guide to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

Highlights and Adventures

Manuel Antonio impresses first and foremost with its Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. One of the most popular parks in the country lords over a somewhat small 1,680 acres. The park holds over 300 species include squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, three-toed sloths and hundreds of species of birds. In addition, you can expect to find turquoise waters, idyllic sands, rainforest covered hills and a number of hiking trails. It is best to go with a guide to get the most out of a rainforest hike in Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Overall, the park is lauded as one of Costa Rica’s most picturesque pieces of land, hence its overwhelming popularity.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Adventures

Photo from Sol Robayo on Flickr

For even more adventure, travelers can head down into the Damas Caves near Manuel Antonio. The caves dip down some 400 meters into the earth, presenting impressive stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are also the abodes of ten different species of bats. In addition to caves, Manuel Antonio also rests in a fine location to take part in other activities such as surfing, river rafting and bird watching.

Other highlights in Manuel Antonio are a bit stronger and spicier to stay the least. The area is rich in coffee and spice plantations. On your way to Manuel Antonio, you can charge up at Finca Rosa Blanca, roughly twenty minutes from the airport. The coffee plantation boasts one of Costa Rica’s best coffee tours where you can wander through the coffee farm, processing plant and roasting house. Finca Rosa Blanca also provides an in depth look at Costa Rican coffee history. For travelers seeking a plantation tour a bit closer to Manuel Antonio, the Villa Vanilla Spice Planation is just 10 miles from town. Visitors can tour the open-air botanical garden and the spice farm, where a commercial vanilla operation is in full swing.

Things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Photo by ep_broughton on Flickr

Tasty Meals and Thirst Quenching Night Spots

Where to eat in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Photo from Carole Dupre on Flickr

The culinary offerings don’t end with the spices and coffee in and around Manuel Antonio. For an iconic experience in the area, most travelers head to Barba Roja. A staple since 1975, the establishment serves up ocean views and a tasty surf and turf menu. Barba Roja is also one of the oldest restaurants in the area. For more of a morning jolt, visitors to Manuel Antonio can head to Café Milagro. Right in the heart of town, the café is known for its breakfasts, specifically for its fresh roasted Costa Rican coffee drinks.

With a full stomach from a day of foodie delights in Manuel Antonio, you can hit some of the most inventive bars in the country. Located in La Mansion Inn, The Bat Cave is a limestone cave bar. Carved from natural rock, you can sip on specialty cocktails all while watching real bats flat about the ceiling. This is their cave afterall. Another one of Manuel Antonio’s most inventive nightspots is El Avión. When you arrive at this area favorite, you might think you have arrived at an old airplane crash site. The bar uses a Fairchild C-123 transport plane as its foundation. It is even believed that the plane was one used by the CIA to run arms to Contras in Nicaragua back in the 1980s. Today, the plane’s main purpose is serving up drinks in an unusual location. El Avión also boasts live music most days of the week.

Things to see in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Photo by Vytautas Šėrys on Flickr

Local Festivities

Many plan their visit to Manuel Antonio around one of the area’s most celebrated events, the Festival de la Mar. The event honors the sea with concerts, parades, sporting events and performers and dancers from all over Costa Rica. The month long festival is held in the nearby town of Quepos each and every February.

Where To Stay

Places to stay in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

While there are a number of hotels and villas in and around Manuel Antonio, if you want a perch envied by all, it’s in the name at Villa Punto de Vista. Meaning, “Point of view,” Villa Punto de Vista lives up to its title with masterful views of both Manuel Antonio bay and lush rainforest. Measuring six stories tall, the villa boasts 10 bedrooms with plenty of common areas for events like weddings, family reunions or even corporate retreats. In addition, it is possible to plot a yoga retreat or wellness experience on site. The villa also caters to foodies with a personal chef whipping up Costa Rican delights.

Event Venues in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Villa Punto de Vista proves ideal for those seeking exclusivity on their vacation or for their event. The villa rests around two hours by car from the capital, San Jose. It is reached only by a small road, one mostly locals only know. Bedrooms soak up views of the Central Pacific Coast, beaches, and forests surrounding Villa Punto de Vista.

When To Go

With great beauty and appeal come the crowds. Due its natural gifts, Manuel Antonio is no stranger to hordes of travelers, especially at its national park. If you want to have a bit more peace and quiet, it is best to visit outside of the peak travel months of December, January, February and March. You can dodge most of the crowds by visiting out of season. If you have to come during peak season, travelers will want to avoid the park and its packed beaches on the weekends.

Your Turn…

Best time to travel to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Photo by Graeme Churchard on Flickr

Have you been to Manuel Antonio or Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast? Share your favorite experiences in the area with us in the comments below.