This page have been written in collaboration with eisenarik (1 spot)

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most wonderful places in terms of biodiversity. Even if it is the smallest National Park in the country, it is also the most famous (and visited) and Forbes magazine even graded it as one of the most beautiful in the World. Its beautiful beaches are turned towards the Pacific Ocean and rimmed by an intense jungle with a unique concentration of fauna and flora. A unique diversity of species can be seen here. Manuel Antonio beach sums all this up: huge trees home to sloths and howler monkeys tower over the sand, a calm water bay ideal for snorkeling. There is one flaw in this perfect picture: poor underwater visibility, especially after heavy rains.

Aerial view of Playa Manuel Antonio snorkeling area

How to get there?

Manuel Antonio National Park is located close to the city of Quepos, on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, about 170 km from its capital, San Jose. Driving from San Jose to the Park takes about 2.5 hours. There are several options for a visit: paying the single entrance fee (USD16/CRC1600) or having a guided tour (from USD50pp.). Be careful, as the number of visitors is limited to 600 per weekday and 800 during weekends. You will need to arrive early to ensure you can get in (opening hours: 7h-17h, closed on Mondays). Manuel Antonio beach is the most accessible and frequented in the Park. Walking there from the entrance will take you about 20 minutes.

Water entrance

We advise you to walk over to the end of the beach and settle close to the rocks emerging in the bay: this is the best area for snorkeling. Be careful if you leave your belongings on the beach, raccoons here are famous for stealing in bags left unattended.

Playa Manuel Antonio snorkeling map, Costa Rica

Exploration

You can basically explore the whole bay, but we advise you to focus on the area located at the southern end of the beach. It is rockier and underwater life especially abounds (see map above).

Surgeonfish at Playa Manuel Antonio

Sand strips and rocks alternate on the seabed. Even if there is not a lot of coral, numerous species typical from East Pacific regions can be spotted. You will come across schools of surgeonfish, Cortez rainbow wrasse spurting over the rocks and several blowfish species hiding away at every sudden move. Two butterflyfish species (blacknosed butterflyfish and threebanded butterflyfish) and two angelfish species (Cortez angelfish and king angelfish) also dwell here.

Cortez rainbow wrasse at Playa Manuel Antonio

The bay is generally sheltered from currents. However, as anywhere else in Costa Rica, visibility can sometimes be so poor you might be compelled to give up your excursion. This phenomenon is caused by sediments spilled out by rivers into the ocean after heavy rains. Improve your chances by planning your visit during dry season (December to March). And remember that whatever you get, you won’t regret your visit to the splendid, wildlife-packed Park.

Restaurants and accommodation

Sleeping is prohibited inside the National Park, but there are numerous options fitting all budgets along the coastal road between the park and the city of Quepos. Bring your own food and lots of water; you will need them for the walk to/from the
beach.

 

  • Level required Beginner
  • Protected areaParque Nacional Manuel Antonio
  • Maximum depth12ft/4m
  • Water entranceEasy, from a sandy beach
  • Potential DangersWaves
  • LifeguardNo
  • Visitor numbersMedium
  • Access costsNational Park entrance fee ($16pp.)
  • Public toilets & showersYes

MAP Spot

These snorkeling spots are accessible to beginners and kids. You will enter the water gradually from a beach, or in a less than 3ft. deep area. The sea is generally calm, shallow, with almost no waves or currents. These spots are usually located in marked and/or monitored swimming areas. It is not necessary to swim long distances to discover the sea life.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.