Quepos (Manuel Antonio)

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Visiting the Manuel Antonio area is a regular staple of itineraries around Costa Rica. The national park itself, the beaches, and the reasonable infrastructure is well-aimed at immersing visitors into the concept of pura vida.

The town of Quepos largely encompasses the area. It has three clusters of activity, none unmissable in terms of sightseeing, but worth visiting if you get restless at your resort of choice. The northernmost downtown and marina get fairly lively in the evenings. The southernmost beach-adjacent area is especially busy during the prime national park entry hours. And then, there is the geographically central cluster of restaurants and businesses along the main thoroughfare. We barely explored any of them, to be honest.

The Manuel Antonio National Park tour ♥ left us somewhat underwhelmed. The main part of the visit takes place along the single wide path shared by hundreds of visitors. With a guide, you get about an hour and a half for spotting animals, not overly successfully; without the guide and his telescope, you may be not limited by time, but you will certainly see practically nothing. Our guide tried his best to offer interesting information and to show us the variety of animals, but he could only do so much. We did see a few interesting insects (butterflies, a grasshopper), lizards, iguanas, crabs, bats, a couple of sloths at a distance, a couple of white-faced monkeys (and howler monkeys too far away to clearly see), an agouti (a rat-like rodent). There are several side paths that provide a bit of tranquility, but unlikely to feature too much when you are led by a guide. At the end of the walk, there was about half an hour for the gorgeous beach (which cannot be entered without a park ticket).

We also went for an ATV tour ♥♥♥ operated by Fourtrax. The ride itself was for about 8km each way along mostly rugged roads in the palm groves, but also through a village and some farm fields. At the other end was Rainmaker Park, where we walked a trail for 10 minutes and then had about 15 minutes to swim in a natural pool in a waterfall cascade. The rain, unfortunately, started as soon as we entered the park and got us soaking wet in addition to the swim, but did not diminish the fun. We then rode back to the base, where a light traditional lunch was served. Together with transportation, this took more than half a day but was very much worth it.

There are plenty of other activities in the area, including surfing lessons (our child happily partook in one), ziplines, hanging bridges, canyoning, etc.

There is basically one main road connecting Manuel Antonio with points to the north and west. The bridge over river Tarcoles is known as the Crocodile Bridge ♥♥ – more than a dozen crocs lounge in the sun on the river banks and can be safely observed from the bridge. The location is a good hour-plus away from Manuel Antonio, so you would not come here unless driving through, but you certainly should stop for the free diversion. And possibly for a reasonable buffet-style lunch in the commercial strip on the north bank.


In addition to the aforementioned beach in the Manuel Antonio NP (it is technically known as Espadilla South), we have been to a couple of other beaches in the area. Playa Biesanz ♥♥ can only be accessed on foot via a rocky trail that takes about 5-7 minutes to descend/ascend. The entrance to the path is a couple of hundred meters from the resort we stayed in (see below); a lot of people come to the beach purposefully, given its relative seclusion and romantic feel (the traffic and parking situation on the narrow road must take away some of that romanticism for those arriving at peak times). The beach is not too big and sandy, and the small bay is fairly tranquil with warm water. There are paid services – refreshments, lounge chairs, water sports.

The main beach of Quepos, Espadilla North ♥ is a much wider strip of white sand, with larger waves and a quicker-sloping ocean floor. Surfing lessons and a lot of water-related activities take place at the northernmost edge, which is consequently not too crowded. You can pay for an umbrella and two recliners – the cost of $20 is a bit steep if you do not stay the whole day. A few hundred meters southward, the waves get smaller and the beach gets busier – this is where the commercial activity cluster mentioned at the top of this post is.


Uber is practically non-existent in Quepos. Taxis are fairly efficient and advertise a standard $10 price for all trips, which is good from a predictability perspective, but somewhat impractical if you need to ride for just a couple of kilometers.


You will certainly need cash for tips. Taxis expect cash as well, so in general, for a 10-day stay in Costa Rica, I estimate a supply of at least $400 is necessary to have on hand. Dollars are accepted everywhere at ₡600 for $1, and you can use your credit cards in all other situations. Taking the local money out of ATMs is obviously an option, but you may end up with an unwanted surplus in the end; ATMs repeatedly teased me with an offer to dispense dollars and then refused to do that.

Beach sellers of refreshments and other stuff, if you decide to buy something, will also most likely want cash (and they can be bargained with); we’ve seen some accept Venmo from those who can easier communicate with them.

Places to Eat

We stayed at a full-service resort in Quepos in late 2022 and took full advantage of its dining options. Only twice did we venture off-premises for dinners, as a party of three.

El Lagarto ♥♥♥, at the northern end of the “central” commercial cluster offers a very fun ambiance with an open-fire grill. The place is pretty popular. We loved the food, from mixed seafood or roasted garlic in olive oil for appetizers to pork cutlets with bacon and cheese for the main course. Also, probably the best cortado I had in all of my time in Costa Rica. Our damage: ₡84,200/$140, with a regularly-priced bottle of wine.

Barba Roja ♥♥ is near the main intersection of the same “central” cluster. It is a more rustic and seemingly historic establishment that was not too busy on a Friday night while offering an undeniable pura vida atmosphere. The menu is not too extensive, and several dessert items, in particular, were unavailable. The food got the highest marks, especially churrasco and a very nice and juicy hamburger. Our damage: ₡49,500/$82, with a couple of drinks.


In late 2022, we stayed at the Parador Resort & Spa ♥♥♥. The large impeccably maintained territory includes beautiful Italianate gardens, the main restaurant-and-shops complex with views over the Pacific bordering the pool area that consists of three separate pools, a couple of additional restaurants and bars, a couple of additional pools and jacuzzis including an “adults only” area, a nature trail, a mini-golf course, and other diversions. Ours was a really big well-appointed room with all amenities. Pre-booked excursions aside, there is really very little reason to ever step outside of the resort grounds; and Playa Biesanz is not far away. Conversely, for those who want to explore beyond the resort on their own, the location may be a bit of a downside – it is at the end of a winding uneven narrow road about 2 kilometers from the intersection with the commercial “center” of town; walking is mostly impractical while taking a taxi quite uneconomical. The hotel offers a free shuttle to Espadilla beach but that runs only half a dozen times a day and requires reservations – we did not try it.

In the morning, monkeys can be seen all around the territory, in a surrogate national-park-visit way. Furthermore, the Monkey Trail, which is part of the hotel property, is an excellent onsite opportunity to immerse in the tropical jungle and catch sight of monkeys, agoutis, and some other species. There is a garden component to the trail and a couple of viewpoints over the coast, but mostly it is exactly what you would expect from a tropical-forest walk. In the evening, there are hundreds if not thousands of small lizards running the exterior walls and ceilings.

The main restaurant, La Galleria, offers a very good menu (different for lunch and dinner) and very nice food if a bit overpriced fittingly for an upscale resort. The service can be unhurried, but in this instance, it is hardly a problem. Live music in the evenings. Shrimp carpaccio, ceviche, Founder’s skewers were all at the top-rated-restaurant level of quality. Bar La Fragatta is only open during the “lunch” period (11 am-6 pm), has exactly the same lunch menu as La Galleria, and higher elevation with better views.

As we stayed through the New Year’s Eve, we paid for and participated in an elaborate celebration, with an open bar, extensive buffet, musical and dancing performances, discotheque, and brilliant fireworks. We heard from people at other resorts that nothing of the kind took place anywhere else. Whether it was worth the significant mandatory extra cost is debatable, but a different experience nonetheless.

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