How to Spend 3 Days in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica: Perfect Itinerary

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica sees over 150,000 visitors each year, and for good reason!  I saw more wildlife in their natural habitat than I have seen anywhere else before.  The wildlife, beautiful beaches, and scenic hiking trails make this a must-do stop on any Costa Rica trip.  This was an unforgettable experience that I would do many times over.  

We’ve created this 3-day itinerary with our favorite activities while in Manuel Antonio, but we could have spent many more days exploring all this area has to offer.  

Where We stayed

We stayed at a fantastic Airbnb halfway between the small town of Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park. 

Lorena was an amazing host and explained to us how to easily use the bus that runs back and forth from Quepos to Manuel Antonio to get to the park itself, as well as how to get to some of the other smaller beaches. 

The rooms were comfortable, we had shared access to a full kitchen, and the location was incredibly convenient.  We would recommend this stay to anyone.

spacious jungle room airbnb lounge near manuel antonio costa rica

Day 1 Manuel Antonio: Playa Biesanz

We were traveling to Manuel Antonio from Monteverde, so we used a shared shuttle service through Paradise Shuttle.  They picked us up around 8 a.m., and the trip to Manuél Antonio took us about four and a half hours with a short rest stop.  

After check-in, we walked the 40 minutes to nearby Playa Biesanz, where we swam and just hung out on the beach. 

NOTE: the road down to Playa Biesanz is quite steep, so it was a hike for us to get back to our Airbnb.  There were also many portions of the road with no adequate sidewalks. 

We enjoyed the walk after a long travel day of sitting, but for many, it may be easier to call a taxi service.

sunset over the beautiful neighborhoods near Playa Biesanz
We walked through some lovely neighborhoods on our way down to Playa Biesanz
Manuel Antonio Costa Rica ocean overview

Day 2 Manuel Antonio: Manuel Antonio National Park

If you want to see monkeys in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is the place to do it.  We got incredibly lucky with animal sightings, and today ended up being one of our favorite days of our entire 2-week Costa Rica trip

The incredible wildlife-sighting opportunities here in Costa Rica were a big consideration for me when deciding between Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic for that year (the DR is another fantastic destination that I love).

We paid the small fee in colones to hop on the bus that shuttles between Manuel Antonio Park and Quepos and arrived at the entrance at 8 a.m. 

NOTE: you must buy tickets to the park ahead of time online; the tickets are timed entry, and you must show up within your entry window. 

Also, the ONLY food allowed in the park are sandwiches and pre-cut fruit in reusable containers(no plastic bags).  I tried bringing some trail mix in a reusable container and had to dump it out before entering.  They are very strict about the food type and will check your bags.  This is to protect the wildlife.  

One thing to note: Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Central America, and there will definitely be crowds. In comparing our last-year trip to Peru vs Costa Rica, the crowds in this park were almost as thick as those at Machu Picchu, especially near the entrance.

Right as we entered the park, we saw a white-faced monkey scaling the building next to the entrance.  We continued to see white-faced monkeys as we walked the loop through the park. 

Be careful with your food!  These monkeys can get aggressive.  Esther was eating an apple when, out of the blue, a monkey ran up, jumped on her, and snatched it out of her hand.

Tourist with a monkey observing in a nearby tree
monkey lying in a tree, straddling a tree branch

Our best animal encounter happened right before heading over to Manuel Antonio Beach.   On this last bit of trail, we began seeing a few squirrel monkeys jumping through the trees and calling to each other. 

As we watched, these monkeys got into a wrestling match on the viewing platform.  Before we knew it, at least 15 monkeys had joined this giant game; they were running around and pouncing on each other right in front of us. 

What an experience!  We got lucky; we overheard a tour guide saying that he had never seen these monkeys behave this way in all his time as a guide.

Before heading out, we walked up to a beautiful overlook above Manuel Antonio Beach and then spent some time down at the beach itself.

Iguana we saw on this short overlook trail

Day 3 Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Itinerary: Day Trip to Nauyaca Falls

On our final day in the Manuel Antonio area, we decided to do a half-day tour to visit Nauyaca Falls, about an hour and a half from our Airbnb. 

You can visit the waterfalls on your own; you just need to have a rental car or figure out how to use the bus system.  We looked into the bus but decided against it. 

There isn’t a legitimate bus stop near the falls, so you would need to coordinate with the driver to let you off and then flag down a bus for the return trip. 

We booked a half-day excursion with Jade Tours and were picked up at 8 a.m.  After arriving at the trailhead, our guide purchased our tickets, and we hopped on a tractor-pulled trailer that took us most of the way to the falls. 

If you decide to do this on your own, the hike is about 2.5 miles, and tickets must be purchased at the small office building near the entrance to the trail ($10 for foreigners or 3,500 colones for residents).  We enjoyed the trailer ride as we had already done a lot of hiking during the week.  

Besides the beautiful La Fortuna waterfall, these falls were our favorite of our 14-day Costa Rica Trip. We had fun swimming in the pool and climbing on the rocks beneath the falls. 

We watched another tour group using a rope attached to the rocks to climb up to a cliff-jumping spot.  Our guide specified that this activity was NOT included in our tour, and we were not allowed to climb the rope.

That was fine with us; we’d already had enough of an adventure ziplining in Monteverde, and the jump seemed too extreme for us. But if you want the cliff jumping experience, other tour companies offer it.

Our tour included lunch afterward, a traditional Costa Rican rice and chicken dish with fresh blueberry/pomegranate juice.  We were hungry after exploring the falls, and everything tasted amazing. 

We arrived back at our Airbnb mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing in the awesome outdoor lounge area and prepping for our trip to Drake Bay the following day.  

With More Time

  • Book an ATV tour through the Manuel Antonio and Quepos areas
  • Kayak through the mangroves near Isla Damas, just a 20-minute drive from Quepos
  • Take surf lessons at Manuel Antonio Beach
  • Visit some of the other Manuel Antonio beaches (Escondido Beach and Playa Espadilla)
  • Book a sportfishing tour in Quepos