The Best Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, Beaches

Coastal Manuel Antonio is an oceanside village and national park. Read about the best Manuel Antonio Costa Rica beaches.

Manuel Antonio

Situated off the west Pacific coast, the idyllic hamlet of Manuel Antonio used to be a sleepy fishing village. Today, the Costa Rican community is a tourist hotspot, and rightly so. From golden sands and emerald waters to abundant sea life—Manuel Antonio Costa Rica beaches have it all.

One of the most well-known national parks, Manuel Antonio National Park, attracts tens of thousands of people each year. Despite being one of Costa Rica’s smaller parks, it offers a wide variety of activities. Many national park visitors love the biodiversity; others come to unwind on one of the numerous beaches nearby and escape the commotion of city life.

While most people stay on the town’s main beach, pristine and unexplored coastlines wait to be discovered on the outskirts of the city. Here’s a guide to nine gorgeous Manuel Antonio beaches.

Info about Manuel Antonio

The Manuel Antonio National Park (MANP) is a geographically protected area with set hours of operation, entry fees, and visitation restrictions. The beaches on this list are either inside or outside the national park. You must pay an entrance fee and visit at specific times if you wish to lounge on the beaches inside the park. 

We recommend you hike through the national park’s rainforest in the morning and kick back on the beaches in the afternoon.

The beaches outside the national park are public and free.

Beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park

Playa Espadilla Sur (South)

Ideal for relaxation-seekers

beach near Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Located inside Manuel Antonio National Park, Playa Espadilla Sur sits on the northern side of Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point). Punta Catedral is an isthmus that boasts high, jungle-clad cliffs and hiking trails with insane views. 

Getting here requires a 20-30-minute trek along the signposted trail, which is why it’s not as packed as others on this list. 

To reach Playa Espadilla Sur, also known as Playa Dos (Beach 2), go to Manuel Antonio National Park’s main entrance. Then, follow the path marked “Bahia” on the park’s maps, the main trail past Bahia 8. You can do it on your own; it’s an easy walk, so you will not need a guide. But you must buy a national park ticket online in advance. 

Alternatively, you can choose path 11 past Senedero Perezoso and keep right. It’s a lovely place to spend the day and spread your towel on soft gray sand. Looking in either direction, you can enjoy stunning views of the coast and rock formations out at sea. 

If you get lucky, you might have the crescent-shaped, palm-fringed beach near the tropical rainforest all to yourself. 

Facility-wise, there’s nothing on the beach. However, you can find a snack shop past the Sendero Perezoso route. As you can only carry water and mustn’t bring food into the national park, getting a few nibbles from that shop is worth it.

You can park outside the national park for about $10. 

Playa Espadilla Sur is one of the best beaches in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica if you seek relaxation. You can swim and snorkel in the turquoise sea, but beware of rip currents in lousy weather. Walking along the beach, you might spot pelicans and iguanas and can listen to squeaking gulls.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Ideal for wildlife lovers and snorkelers

Manuel Antonio beach aerial in Costa Rica

Punta Catedral separates Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. Several scenic stops make trekking here well worth it. Also, you’re bound to spot adorable sloths lingering in the trees, inquisitive capuchin monkeys, and colorful, croaking frogs along the way.

As Playa Manuel Antonio is surrounded by deep green mangroves and palms swaying in the wind, it’s pretty clean and popular with tourists. Come before 10 am if you visit in the peak season from December to May, as it can get crowded. 

From the national park entrance, follow the main trail past Bahia 8, Sendero Perezoso, and the cafe. After descending a steep hill, you’ll see the beach’s brilliant white sand and only have to cross a land bridge to set foot on one of the best beaches in Manuel Antonio. You’ll reach the beach within 30 minutes.

Families love the shallow water, tidal pools with armored crabs, and, generally, the calm sea of this beach. It’s pretty rocky, though, and there are sea urchins, so wear water shoes if you go swimming.

Snorkeling is excellent here. Apart from colorful coral, you may see spotted eagle rays, turtles, and schools of small fish. Other activities include surfing in the clear waters of Playa Manuel Antonio, taking pictures of wildlife, and recharging your batteries on the beach.

While restrooms and changing areas are available, you can’t find hotels or anything else here. 

Playa Escondido

Perfect for tranquility seekers

Playa Escondido near Manuel Antonio beach Costa Rica

Playa Escondido is the least accessible beach in Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s also only reachable at low tide. So getting to this 650-meter-long cove requires a bit of a trek. 

It’s no longer on the official hiking paths map of the national park so ask a park ranger how to get there. 

You won’t come across many travelers as you hike through the steep rainforest, which is abundant with wildlife. However, if you’re up for the effort, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly scenic, remote beach away from the masses. 

Deep within the national park, Playa Escondido, or Secret Beach, is the perfect place to relax and get away from it all.

Unsurprisingly, you can’t find any facilities here, so bring enough water for the day. 

Playa Las Gemelas

Ideal for off-grid nature lovers 

Playa Las Gemelas Beach

Another beach on a list of the best Manuel Antonio Costa Rica beaches is Playa Las Gemelas. 

Hidden inside the national park, it’s an isolated stretch of sand surrounded by jungle and split by a rock formation. The two tiny coves are ideal for soaking up that off-the-grid feeling. But be cautious of the breaking waves and slick rocks; water shoes are a must. 

While you can swim and snorkel, wild waves crash onto the rocks in thundering blows, so be careful. 

Genuinely wild without any facilities, Playa Las Gemelas is ideal for nature lovers looking for a place to wind down. Away from the national park’s action, the beach is rarely crowded. 

While it takes 15 to 20 minutes to reach Playa Las Gemelas from the national park entrance, getting here isn’t a walk in the park. You’ll have to hike on the main path starting from the entrance and keep left. Playa Las Gemelas is signposted.

Beaches outside Manuel Antonio National Park

Playa Espadilla

Perfect for lovers of busy beaches 

Playa Espadilla beach in Costa Rica

Spanning almost three kilometers (1.85 miles), the gold-sand Playa Espadilla is the longest beach in the area, located on the outskirts of the main town and national park. It’s ideal for people who like the social experience of a free-access public beach, but it can be busy in the high season. 

Both locals and tourists come to Playa Espadilla with their families to play beach games and relax on rented recliners in the shade of umbrellas. It’s a great choice if you have young children. It is one of the beaches near Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, where a lifeguard keeps watch throughout the day. 

Parking is available nearby. If you don’t mind sparing a few bucks, you can ask one of the guards to keep an eye or two on your car for added security.

You can also find several restaurants, bars, and shops at Playa Espadilla. But it’s much easier to order a fresh, rum-drenched coconut or a cold drink from one of the vendors roaming up and down the beach. Got a sweet tooth? They also sell milk-based snow cones of differing flavors. And if you’re looking for a souvenir, check out the crafts they offer.

Activity-wise, Playa Espadilla is ideal for swimming, but rip currents can occur. 

Do you love exhilarating watersports? 

Parasailing, jet skiing, and banana boat rides are available. 

Active travelers can play soccer on the warm sand or ride horses, cantering down the beach. If you’re a fan of long beach walks, this beach is the one to do it, particularly at dusk.

Playa Biesanz

Great for wildlife lovers

Playa Biesanz beach near Manuel Antonio

Are you looking for a quiet beach? Then, Playa Biesanz, one of the best beaches in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is a great spot to hit. 

Surrounded by jungle and towering cliffs, Playa Biesanz only gets sunshine until early afternoon. So come early. 

What the beach lacks in warm, all-day rays, it makes up for with abundant wildlife. Looking around, you’ll spot capuchin monkeys and howler monkeys swinging in emerald canopies. Just as typical are two and three-toed sloths and exotic birds piping up from the trees.

Facility-wise, Playa Biesanz has bathrooms, and you can get snacks and drinks here. 

In the peak season, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, snorkeling gear, recliners and umbrellas from mobile merchants setting up shop along the rocky shoreline. If you want to venture out with an expert and spot turtles gliding along the reef, you can join guided kayak and snorkeling tours.

Numerous vendors offer blackberry margaritas—don’t pass them up. They’re the perfect drink to listen to the calm waves lapping the shore while sitting in the shade of trees. 

Due to the shallow water and calm waves, Playa Biesanz is family-friendly and ideal for swimming. The rocky coast makes for great seashell collecting, too.

To get here, head to Punta Quepos, a tiny peninsula close to many beach resorts. Parking is available, and locals will watch your car for a few bucks. 

From the parking lot, it’s a challenging 10-minute trek through the rainforest, but the soft sand and serene atmosphere make coming here well worth it. We recommend wearing athletic or water shoes to get past the black rocks that frame the secluded beach.

Playa Playitas

Best beach for LGBTQ travelers

Playa Playitas in Manuel Antonio national park

If you want to stay in Playa Espadilla’s main strip but are keen to get away from the masses, Playa Playitas is for you. 

One of the best Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, beaches away from the hustle and bustle, Playa Playitas is separated from Playa Espadilla by several rocky outcrops. The large beach, roughly a 20 to 25-minute walk from the main town, is LGBTQ-friendly.

Pro tip: It’s only safe to get past the rocks at low tide. However, you can drive a 4×4 car to Playa Playitas. Park beneath the swaying palms, and you’ll be steps away from surf lessons or enjoying a picnic.

Playa La Macha

Best beach for naturists

La Macha Beach Manuel Antonio

North of Manuel Antonio is the off-the-beaten-track beach of La Macha.

It’s a little more challenging to access since it requires some hiking through rocky and slippery terrain from the roadside. But it’s ideal if you really want to escape the crowds. 

While hiking to the beach, keep an eye out for wildlife. You’re likely to spot lumbering anteaters, timid pacas, and shy deer strolling through the jungle. In addition, the canopy is home to colorful toucans and macaws, as well as poison dart frogs that hop from leaf to twig.

Flip-flops would be disastrous on this narrow trail. Wear proper shoes or bring at least a pair of sturdy water shoes that you can also use for hiking. 

But once you arrive at Playa La Macha, also called Doctor’s Beach, it’s like a balm for your soul. 

As this is one of the most remote Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, beaches, don’t be surprised if you see boisterous howler monkeys, agile spider monkeys, and endangered squirrel monkeys. Or spot sea turtles gliding through the shallows while you swim in the clear, calm water. 

Additionally, since La Macha is pretty secluded, nobody minds if you’re nude. Clothes or swimwear are optional.

Pro tips: There’s nowhere dry to put your belongings when the tide is high—the waves reach up to the tree line. So, better to go during low tide or carry a dry bag. Also, gauge the force of the sea before jumping into the water, as there could be currents. 

Remember to bring food and water to Playa La Macha—there aren’t any facilities. 

Playa Tulemar

Best beach for travelers seeking total privacy

white sands of Playa Tulemar beach Costa Rica

Playa Tulemar, accessible to guests staying at the surrounding resorts, is the only private beach on this round-up. 

A 10-minute-drive north of Biesanz Beach, Playa Tulemar is undoubtedly among the quietest as only resort guests can visit. 

Whichever Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, beaches you choose, one thing is sure: you’re guaranteed to find an ideal place to spread your towel. Enjoy!

Weather in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica

The peak season from December to April is when the beach weather is at its best. 

Come prepared for afternoon showers if you’re traveling during the green season from late May through November. Rain showers are generally short between May and August, so you still get enough sunshine during those months.

Packing list essentials for Manuel Antonio

Here’s a list of items you’ll want to pack when visiting the beaches in Manuel Antonio:

  • A beach hat
  • Reef-safe sunscreen
  • Water shoes
  • Swimwear
  • Snorkeling gear
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Beach bags
  • Dry bags

FAQ

Does Manuel Antonio have nice beaches?

Absolutely! Some are accessible to everyone and free; others are more remote and part of the national park.

How far is Manuel Antonio from the beach?

Playa Espadilla runs alongside Manuel Antonio and is within walking distance of several hotels. It’s a 10-minute walk from the town center, but many hotels provide transportation.

Is Manuel Antonio Beach free?

Visiting the beaches outside the national park is free; those inside will set you back $18. Buy your ticket online through SINAC

Posted October 18, 2022
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Philipp Meier
Philipp Meier is a Phuket-based travel writer passionate about Thai culture and wandering off Thailand’s well-trodden tourist trail. His work has been published on the Nat Geo Traveller India, South China Morning Post, Culture Trip, BootsnAll, GoNOMAD, and elsewhere. You can find him at Writer Philipp Meier and LinkedIn.
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