Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio: 10 Tips You NEED to Know BEFORE You Go

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Sarah Fischer
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Eight years ago and before we had kids, Colby and I visited Manuel Antonio National Park in Quepos at the end of our 10 day trip to Costa Rica. It was the highlight of our entire trip. We loved it so much that it was a huge deciding factor into why we chose Costa Rica as our first destination on our travel adventure with the kids. We were SO excited for them to see the amazing wildlife up close and personal.

Seeing these monkeys, especially the mamas with babies clinging to their backs was our favorite!

Sadly however, our romanticized memories, and poor planning tricked us into being foolish about our trip there this time around. There were so many things that we didn’t even consider, or that had changed since the last time we visited.

Can you spy those tiny little eggs and chicks in that nest? They were literally smaller than a blueberry!

So, after both being ridiculously grumpy before we even entered the park (more on that below), and after leaving the park slightly bereft and disappointed, we composed a list of things we wished we would have known or thought of before we went. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes so that you can have the amazing experience we did the first time we visited.

See our TOP 10 TIPS for a great trip below:

1. Get an EARLY START if you’re not staying in Quepos . The park opens at 7am. We would recommend getting there by 10am at the latest. (See tip #10 for why)

2. DO NOT go on a Monday. The Park is closed.

3. AVOID going over Holidays & school breaks if at all possible.

4. KEEP DRIVING ALL THE WAY UNTIL YOU SEE THE PARK ENTRANCE. THEN find a place to park. DO NOT play into the tricks and lies of all the men insisting that you MUST park in certain places and that there are no closer parking spaces remaining. — When we arrived in Quepos (the week after Christmas) there were men herding traffic to parking lots off to the side. They were wearing shirts that seemed to indicate that they worked for Manuel Antonio and that they were gesturing us into overflow parking because the park was so crowded. We were really confused and ended up wasting a good half hour or more trying to figure out what the truth was. Someone may insist that you pay them even though the park indicates that it has free parking. We were told several times that there was no parking remaining and we had to pay X amount of dollars to park “here.” Colby — who doesn’t have a confrontational bone in his body just fished up the money the guy asked for (after being followed to an ATM since we didn’t have the cash required) but the whole experience left us both with a horrible taste in our mouth and we were both grumpy as can be before even entering the park. So IGNORE the people. Just keep driving and find a place to park.

5. Use a CARRIER instead of a stroller if you have a baby or toddler. Some of the paths are dirt roads that aren’t the most stroller-friendly. Sometimes the trails can get crowded too, especially when an animal is sighted and it would be more convenient to not have to maneuver a stroller.

Leave the stroller at home and wear your suits!

6. Wear your swimsuit. Once you get to the beach there are places to change but they get quite crowded, and if you’re already wearing your suit it will be one less thing to carry into the park.

7. Go to the bathroom BEFORE entering the park. There are bathrooms near, but outside the entrance, and then there are some handicap ONLY bathrooms just inside the entrance. We were lucky enough to use those bathrooms because we had a baby covered in poop and no wipes on hand :0— which was convenient since Zoe and Crew also needed to use the bathroom. But when we left the restroom there was already a group of people waiting to use the bathroom we were in but an entrance worker sent them out of the park to use the restrooms outside the park and locked the door behind us.

8. Bring water and snacks with you. There is a cafe with snacks and meal options at the end of the forest trails just before you reach the beach but it took us nearly 2 hours to get there and by that time we were all famished and our kids were certain they were about to wither into nothingness and began to eat rocks. You think I’m joking. I’m not.

9. Pay for a guide for your best chance to see animals. The admission cost is $16/adult. Children under 12 are free. Guided tours are approximately $51 for adults and $35 for children. Private tours are available at $71 for adults and $55 for children. The last time Colby and I went we had a guide and loved it, but this time we felt like the savings to not have a guide were pretty significant and we talked to several people who went without a guide and had a great experience, so we decided to take our chances. Our kids were kind of hating us though for promising that they would see lots of animals when, after an hour and a half, they had seen a lizard and {maybe?} caught a glimpse of a frog head.

10. Plan enough time to spend at the beach. Manuel Antonio has BEAUTIFUL beaches that are private to the park, so you won’t want to miss them! But the park closes at 4pm and they will herd you out, so make sure you leave enough time to enjoy them.

Bonus Tips: If you decide to take your chances and go without a guide keep an eye out for them in the park. Oftentimes you can see them pointing animals out and you might be able to catch a glimpse of what they’re spying. And if you haven’t seen any monkeys by the time you’ve reached the beach don’t despair! The monkeys like to sweep the beach for snacks and are usually found swinging through the trees at the beach. Hold onto your snacks though, they might just swipe it out of your hands!

And snap a pic with this low-hanging branch as you leave the park!

Have you been? How did we do? Did we forget anything? Leave a comment below and give us a clap if you appreciated this article.

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