- The Best of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Top Spots for WIldlife
- Costa Rica’s Most Beautiful Beaches
- Costa Rica’s Best Beaches for Wildlife
- Best Surfing Beaches in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica’s Unique Retreats & Resorts
- Surf’s Up in Costa Rica
- Off-The-Beaten-Path Eco-Adventures
- Costa Rica Family-Friendly Adventures
- Adrenaline Rush
Manuel Antonio is fringed by Playa Espadilla, a two-kilometer-long scimitar of gray sand. Crocodiles are said to inhabit the lagoon at the north end of Playa Espadilla, beyond which lies Playita (aka Playa Dulce Vida), a small beach cusped by tall headlands; it was once favored by gays but went co-ed with the opening of the Hotel Arenas del Mar. Other beaches are tucked into tiny coves, but the only one accessible to the public is Playa Biesanz, facing north toward Quepos. Beware of riptides!
Alas, during my last visit in 2010, the development was out of control. A developer with land adjoining Hotel Arboleda has clear-cut the forest behind Playa Espadilla for condominiums called OceanAire. A pristine shorefront is now ruined.
For drinks, the always-lively Marlintinis (tel. 506/2777-7474, www.manuel-antonio-restaurants.com, 11 A.M.–1 A.M. daily) has live music and DJs, plus large-screen TVs and killer cocktails. Manuel Antonio has a “gentlemen’s club,” Las Sirenas (tel. 506/2777-1123).
Marlboro Stables (tel. 506/2777-1108), 200 meters before Playa Espadilla, offers guided horseback rides. Farmacia La Económica (tel. 506/2777-5370, 8 A.M.–8 P.M. daily) is down by the beach in Manuel Antonio hamlet.
Hotels and Resorts
Budget hotels are mostly found down near Playa Espadilla.
You can camp near the park entrance under shade trees on lawns at the back of the Hotel Manuel Antonio ($5 pp; showers cost $1); it will supply tents ($6).
By Playa Espadilla, the best budget option is Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda (tel. 506/2777-0304, www.costalinda-backpackers.com, $10 pp room, $40 s/d apartments), 200 meters inland of Playa Espadilla. It has 22 basic rooms with shared and uninspiring outside toilets and showers, plus apartments with private bath. The handsome frontage belies the dour interior, though the restaurant is attractive. It has WiFi and an Internet café, plus laundry and luggage storage.
The Restaurante/Hotel Vela Bar (tel. 506/2777-0413, www.velabar.com, $40 s or $53 d year-round), near the main park entrance, has 13 air-conditioned cabinas with fans and private baths with hot water, plus a house and two small apartments with kitchen. It has a popular thatched restaurant and bar. Perfectly adequate, although not inspired, it offers a cozy option close to the beach.
Offering one of Costa Rica’s premier beachfront vistas, the Canadian-run Nature’s Beachfront Aparthotel (tel. 506/2777-1473, www.maqbeach.com/natures.html, $45 s or $49 d small studio, $89 s/d luxury studio low season; $49 s or $54 d small studio, $99 s/d luxury studio high season) sits beachside at the bottom of a dirt road far from the main highway (you’ll need wheels). It has four self-catering units, including three studios and a backpackers’ studio. An upstairs penthouse ($159 s/d low season, $189 s/d high season) sleeps eight people and has a wraparound wall of glass, cable TV, and huge terrace. It has added a Nature Villa ($120 s/d) overhanging the river.
Just steps from the main park entrance, the three-story Hotel Villa Prats (tel. 506/2777-5391, www.villapratscr.com, $40–50 s/d low season, $50–60 s/d high season) has charmingly furnished air-conditioned rooms with ceiling fans, TVs, and WiFi; some have kitchenettes. It has a plunge pool with water slide.
The closest hotel to the southern park entrance, Hotel Manuel Antonio (tel. 506/2777-1237, hotelmanuelantonio [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, $62 s or $75 d low season, $89 s or $92 d high season) offers 26 spacious air-conditioned rooms in a modern two-story unit in Spanish-colonial style; all have ceiling fans, security boxes, and private bathrooms with hot water. There’s a swimming pool and a simple restaurant. It’s now a bit pricey for such homely rooms, however.
The lovely Hotel Verde Mar (tel. 506/2777-2122, www.verdemar.com, $60–90 s/d low season, $90–120 s/d high season), has 20 air-conditioned rooms in a two-story structure with balconies supported on rough-hewn logs. Each room is painted in soft pastels and has a queen-size bed, ceiling fan, and kitchenette; eight suites have two queen beds and a kitchen. There’s a pool, and a raised walkway (“77 steps”) leads to the beach.
The Hotel Villa Bosque (tel. 506/2777-0463, www.hotelvillabosque.com, $80 s or $90 d low season, $100 s or $115 d high season, including breakfast and tax), close to the main park entrance, is a Spanish-colonial remake with 17 pleasant, atmospheric air-conditioned rooms that each sleep three people; rooms have fans, cable TV, security boxes, and private baths with hot water, as well as verandas with chairs. It has a restaurant serving surf and turf, and a pool on the raised terrace. Potted plants abound. Public areas have WiFi.
Also a short stroll from the beach, the delightful Hotel Playa Espadilla (tel. 506/2777-0903, www.espadilla.com, $107–151 s/d low season, $140–180 s/d high season) has 16 spacious units in three types, all with lots of glossy hardwood furnishings. It’s gone more upscale in recent years, and the junior suites now boast deluxe decor. There’s a swimming pool in beautifully landscaped grounds, plus secure parking.
It’s not often I use the word “obscene” to describe a hotel, but it fits the bill for Hotel San Bada (www.hotelsanbada.com), which opened in late 2010. You can virtually reach out and touch the wildlife from your balcony. Therein lies the problem. This ungainly high-rise was built right up against the park boundary. Its ghastly design rubs salt in the wound. The rooms I reviewed on the eve of opening didn’t look anything like those on the website.
The budget-priced Soda El Parque (7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), outside the northern park entrance, has simple patio dining and serves a special seafood dinner nightly. Down by the beach, the simple Marlin Restaurante (tel. 506/2777-1134, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily, $2–12) offers delicious breakfasts such as omelettes ($6) or granola with yogurt and honey ($4), plus Tex-Mex, seafood, and steaks in a two-story structure with indoor and open-air dining. It serves killer margaritas and piña coladas and has happy hour 4:30–6:30 P.M. daily.
Down on Playa Espadilla is Restaurant Terraza del Sol (tel. 506/2777-1015, 7 A.M.–7 P.M. daily, closed Tues. in low season), a delightful open-air place in colonial style at Hotel Arboleda. Choose from American breakfasts ($8) and a wide-ranging dinner menu—from pastas and chicken woks to cordon bleu ($10).
A Manuel Antonio institution since 1975, Barba Roja (tel. 506/2777-5159, 4–10 P.M. daily) has superb ocean vistas and great surf and turf. Nearby, Salispuedes Tapas Bar (tel. 506/2777-5091, 7 A.M.–10 P.M. daily) has a great ocean view and gets packed, especially at sunset. Shared plates include such treats as sashimi and frijolitos blancos (white beans stewed with chicken).
You can buy baked goods at Musmanni (tel. 506/777-5286, 6:30 A.M.–9 P.M. daily), on the beachfront road.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition