Off the Beaten Path in Manuel Antonio

Off the Beaten Path in Manuel Antonio

As Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, is slowly discovered, more and more tourists come seeking its famed natural beauty. Manuel Antonio national park and the primary public beach, Playa Espadilla, are its biggest draws-however, with such topography and flourishing rainforest, it is also home to numerous off-the-beaten-path gems.

One of the greatest things about visiting Manuel Antonio is the juxtaposition of a variety of different adventure tours with boutique, luxury accommodations. It is one of the few destinations in the world where travelers can stay at a luxury condominium with full amenities, and still have nature and adventure knocking at the door. Boutique accommodations such as the Shana Residences provide a perfect base from which to explore the area-without sacrificing all of the comforts of luxury travel:


Ronny's Place:

Description: Ronny's Place is a local dive with a fantastic location. Set along a bumpy, dirt road, a row of cement tables provide great sunset views over the Pacific, and cold drinks to accompany them.

Directions: Turn right in front of Amigos del Rio, and follow the dirt road ½ mile up to the restaurant.

Notes: Get there well before sunset to ensure getting a front-row table.

El Salto Waterfall:

Description: One of the only waterfalls in Manuel Antonio, 15-foot El Salto is an easy 10 minute hike from Valle Pura Vida.

Directions: Take a left just after Amigos del Rio into Valle Pura Vida, and drive to the end. In front of Rancho Manuel Antonio is a path which leads along the creek directly to the waterfall.

Notes: Do not jump-hidden rocks below!

Playa La Macha:

Description: Playa La Macha is one of the least-frequented beaches in Manuel Antonio-likely because it takes a 20 minute hike down through the rainforest to get there. It is a picturesque cove beach, walled by rainforest-topped cliffs.

Directions: Take a right just after the Blue Monkey hotel, on the paved road which quickly becomes a dirt road. Take the next left-in front of Hotel Villa Teca, and then another immediate left down into the rainforest, towards Villas Kristina. Go to the top of the hill, past a couple of homes, and park. The road turns to a rough path, and winds down directly to the beach.

Notes: Best at mid-to-high tide. Bring sun protectionlittle shade.

Playa Cocal:

Description: Playa Cocal is the long, open beach just north of Quepos. While it's the closest beach to Quepos, because it is only accessible by crossing the river mouth in a ferry, there tend to be few tourists.

Directions: Look for the ferryboat near the bridge to enter Quepos.

Precautions: Irregular ferry. Bring sun protection & water.


Description: 'Playitas' is what the locals call the surfer's beach-the northwest end of the main public beach, Playa Espadilla. For travelers looking to escape the crowds and vendors at the southeast end of the beach (near the national park), Playitas is much more relaxed and has plenty of shade.

Directions: Walk northwest along the main beach until passing the big rock formation on the left. With a good 4x4 its possible to drive down: Take the Hotel Parador road, and the first left, which winds down directly to the beach.

Notes: Bring water & sun protection-no services available.

Playa Bisanz:

Description: While not totally unknown, Playa Bisanz requires a 10-minute hike through the rainforest to reach it, and therefore draws fewer people. Sheltered by Quepos Point, it has smaller waves than the main beach, and thus is also decent for snorkeling.

Directions: Take the Quepos Point road for approximately 1 km. Just past the Shana Residences & Hotel, at the lowest point there is a signposted trail to the right and parking along the road.

Notes: Best at mid-to-low tide.


The Rainmaker:

Description: The Rainmaker is a 1500-acre rainforest reserve on a mountainside, with miles of hiking trails, hanging bridges, waterfalls and pools. Great option for nature enthusiasts who want to get some hiking in. There's also a nano-brewery on the premises-which makes a great reward after a sweaty hike!

Directions: Take main coastal highway north out of Quepos approximately 12 minutes, and turn right just after the town of Pocares, where the turnoff is signposted. Follow this dirt road for approximately 15 minutes, until it dead-ends at the Rainmaker.

Notes: Some of the bridges and walkways are old; take caution.

Damas Estuary:

Description: Located just north of Quepos, the Damas estuary system provides miles and miles of wildlife-filled channels. There are tours which follow the 'beaten' estuary channels, but you can also hire a boat to go fishing-or simply exploring-in areas where few people go.

Directions: Go approximately 5 minutes north of Quepos along main coastal highway. The entrance to the village of Damas is well signposted. Head west through town until you hit the estuary, where there are boats for hire.

Notes: Bring sunscreen, water & insect repellent. No swimming in estuaries-crocs!

Playa El Rey:

Description: Playa El Rey is the long, open beach just to the south of the national park-in fact, part of the national park, though rarely visited. A cinnamon-colored beach stretches for miles to the south.

Directions: Best to have a guide. The turnoff is just south of the Naranjo River bridge, off the main coastal highway, and the road out to the beach is for stout 4x4 vehicles only.

Notes: It is technically part of the national park-meaning access could be charged or denied-though rangers hardly ever frequent the beach.

Rafiki Lodge:

Description: Rafiki is a lodge set along the Savegre River valley, with 500 acres of reserve, and hiking trails. The lodge itself has a peaceful, gorgeous setting, whether or not you are doing a rafting trip on the Savegre, or hiking the trails.

Directions: Head south from Quepos along the main coastal highway. There are 2 major bridges-the Naranjo and the Savegre. Just past the Savegre bridge, head left along the dirt road, past the village of Silencio and Santo Dominigo, to the well-marked entrance. The entire journey is approximately 1 hour.

Notes: Bring sunscreen and repellent. Be sure to organize rafting trips ahead of time.