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Costa Rica is one of the best places in Central America to travel to as a family if you want your kids to connect with nature and wildlife. Manuel Antonio is one of the more popular family vacation destinations in Costa Rica. For those families looking for some luxury, beaches and lush forests, you’re in luck. Continue reading to learn basic information about Manuel Antonio and about the kid-friendly things to do.
If you have ever visited Costa Rica, you probably already know of the extremes that can be found in that country. Not just because of all of the different ecosystems and activities, but also because of all of the options available for travelers of any budget.
Manuel Antonio is definitely on the more expensive side. For some, that would be an immediate turn-off, but it is actually perfect for traveling with kids. That is because there is more touristic infrastructure in it, meaning that there will be more tours and activities being offered for your little ones.
About Manuel Antonio
Located three to four hours drive from San Jose, and just a few minutes away from the town of Quepos, Manuel Antonio National Park is the main draw to this area of the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. One of Costa Rica’s protected national parks, wildlife abounds in the destination offering both lush jungle and beautiful beaches. Manuel Antonio is both a beach town and rainforest, located on the Central Pacific coast. Wildlife here is plentiful with balconies offering sights of monkeys, toucans, scarlet mccaws and other beautiful and unique wildlife.
I believe this area is best explored as its own destination. There are plenty of interesting and beautiful day trips from the area. And, it is a great place to relax on the beach after a full day of adventures.
Another fan of Manuel Antonio is fellow TMOM contributor Marina Villatoro. After living in the country for a few years, she learned about all of the regions where you could stay if you are a backpacker or a budget traveler. She also became familiar with what was available to someone looking for a luxury vacation. Here are our recommendations for things to do when visiting this Costa Rican destination with kids.
Quick Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Costa Rican’s currency is called Colón.
This is one of those countries where paying with the local currency might get you further than doing it with dollars. People may be more open to give discounts for Colones vs. USD. But U.S. dollars are widely accepted. And, definitely cash goes further than credit.
Restaurants – If it is a formal restaurant, chances are the 10% tip will already be added to the bill. Small eateries don’t charge it and most of the time they don’t expect it, but it is always nice to leave something.
Hotels – Tipping anyone who helps make your vacation better is always a good policy. Tip a couple of dollars for each bag carried, anywhere starting at a couple of dollars and up daily for housekeeping depending on number of people, number of bedrooms and more when there’s living space like kitchens to clean. If you have a concierge, be sure to tip them.
Tours – Villatoro says guides are used to getting $5 to $15 depending on the size of your group. But Moore went with 10% which typically worked out to about $10 per person.
Spanish is the country’s official language. But in the more touristy areas, or on the Caribbean side, you will be able to find a lot of people who speak good or at least basic English.
Just to be safe, have some basic Spanish phrases prepared before you go.
What to Pack
Manuel Antonio offers both beaches and rain forests. So, you will want to pack both for the beach and jungle. This included planning for rain whether visiting during dry season or rainy season. You will likely visit several different climates while exploring the area.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to check out our ultimate Costa Rica packing list before you go!
Things To Do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Most of the kids I know love water and swimming, my sons included. That’s why I think snorkeling is a must whenever you are near gorgeous beaches with clear waters. It can be so much fun! But most importantly, it is an extremely educational experience where kids get to see that the sea is much more than just water.
There are many companies in the Manuel Antonio area that offer snorkeling tours and provide equipment specialized for kids.
Take a Mangrove Tour
Mangrove trees grow in fresh waterways that flood with sea water at high tide. This is an excellent way to see animals when you visit Manuel Antonio, and to learn about the protected waterways. Damas Island is a popular area for a mangrove boat tour. Moore says that families with younger kids should take the mangrove boat tour. Families with teens should take a kayak mangrove tour. Either way, you will see animals such as white faced capuchin monkeys, beautiful birds and maybe even a crocodile or sloth.
While we recommend a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, wildlife can be spotted throughout the Manuel Antonio area. The closer you stay to the park, the better the chance that monkeys will visit your resort balcony. Iguanas can be found near the beach. Sloths are harder to spot. But if you are lucky you may spot sloths in the tree branches above. Toucans or mccaws and many other species of birds may fly overhead. Three types of monkeys make Costa Rica home: titi monkeys, howler monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys.
But don’t discount the sea animals. August through October you might even be able to catch a glimpse or two of majestic humpback whales as they migrate through the waters between Manuel Antonio and Jaco. And dolphins can actually be found in these same waters year round. The best way to locate these sea creatures is by taking a whale watching catamaran cruise with an experienced guide. You could even catch some marlin while sport fishing on a catamaran cruise.
This was one of Villatoro’s favorites activities. Getting views from the upper part of the forest was great. But the excitement of sliding down the cables was even better.
In the region, you will find tours that take a few hours and go through long lines. Others are shorter, and perfect for kids who get bored easily.
Exploring the Trails of Manuel Antonio National Park
If you want your kids to come across the local fauna, TravelingMom contributing writer Marina Villatoro says you should definitely take the time to go on the hiking trails. They aren’t steep at all and you may encounter monkeys and iguanas. She says, “It was so much fun to finally be able to see a free monkey just meters away from us.”
Be sure to stop and enjoy playa Manuel Antonio and the clear waters from the sandy beach.
Consider making reservations a week or so in advance, which can be secured with your entrance fee. Because food isn’t allowed in the park, a full day may be too much for kids. Plan on going early and being able to depart before lunch.
For Villatoro, this is a two in one. You get to experience a yacht tour along the gorgeous coast and you also get to experience the excitement of fishing and returning that fish where it belongs.
During her tour, one of her sons was able to learn the basics of how to fish while she and her husband managed to catch something. It was a lot of fun!
Kids 7 and older can get into this amazing sport. Manuel Antonio is perfect for getting surf lessons because its waves are enough to show you a good time, but not too large and strong, so it’s not dangerous.
Booking a two-hour lesson for the whole family is a lot of fun! Villatoro’s sons are now able to stand on their surf boards for a few seconds. They feel like pros.
Play on the Beach
One of the big draws of this area is to be able to enjoy both jungle and beaches. While of course you want to visit the Manuel Antonio beach, there are several others public beaches worth visiting. These include Playa Biesanz and Playa Espadilla Sur. Some of the resorts such as Tulemar offer their own private beach.
One of the most popular tours in the area is a waterfall tour. The Nauyaca Waterfalls is one of the better known waterfalls to visit in the area. But if you take a tour, you will discover waterfalls off the beaten path. You will be able to swim in some of them, and maybe even slide down one.
White Water Rafting
Water adventures abound in the Manuel Antonio area. For a river adventure, go white water rafting on the Savegre and Naranjo Rivers near Manuel Antonio. The Naranjo River offers exciting class III-IV rapids. Or the whole family can enjoy class II-III rapids on the largest river near Manuel Antonio.
Enjoy the Food
Experiencing the local favors of a country, is almost always a highlight. Costa Rica is no exception. But not only are the flavors spectacular, so are the views from many of the local Manuel Antonio restaurants. El Avion, Agua Azul and TuleCafe all offer beautiful views. But my family really enjoyed both breakfast and dinners at Cafe Milagro. The best lunches were the traditional Casados served at the end of a fun morning tour.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio with Kids
Many of the luxury hotels dotting the coastline around Manuel Antonio do not cater to families or kids. So, be sure to book a resort or AirBnb that is family-friendly. Tulemar, Los Altos, Arenas del Mar and Parador are a few that are great for families. Of course, an AirBnb can also work well for families. The benefits of staying at one of the resorts is pool and beach access.