For days packed with thrills, animal encounters and downtime on the beach, you can’t do better than a family vacation in Manuel Antonio, the most famous national park in Costa Rica. Located on the Pacific coast, the park showcases the perfect combination of rainforest and beach, with enough attractions to keep both the little ones and parents entertained and relaxed.
Small and easily manageable for families, Manuel Antonio is a highlight in Costa Rica, offering sure-fire ways to get little ones to swap their iPads for binoculars. Walk on the easy trails that crisscross the park, perfectly sized for little legs. During park visits, knowledgeable guides will point out sloths, snakes and iguanas that blend right into the surrounding nature. With its dense rainforests, mangrove swamps and white-sand beaches, the park is so rich with fauna that great animal spotting is guaranteed. There are, in fact, no less than 109 species of mammals and 184 bird species in the park. The wildlife experience in Manuel Antonio is just what families with small children in tow need — accessible, entertaining and easy.
But fun in Manuel Antonio doesn’t end with wildlife. Gorgeous expansive beaches fringe the park, backed by jungles growing all the way to the high-tide line. With many lagoons and 12 small islands just off the coast, these beaches feature a fairytale backdrop for unwinding, beachcombing for seashell treasures, playing in the sand and moonlit night strolls. Families can get out on the water, too: Snorkel through schools of colorful tropical fish, do a kayaking trip and sign up for a surfing class. Dolphin-watching excursions are available; you can even spot whales during migrating season. Families can picnic by the beach, with squirrel monkeys frolicking and spying on snacks to snatch away.
Beyond the beauty of its beach, Manuel Antonio also offers heart-pumping adventures, like canopy zip lining, hanging bridges and Indiana Jones moments such as swimming in waterfalls and tracking creatures straight out of Where the Wild Things Are in ancient rainforests after dark.
With so many activities on offer, it is important for families with small kids to work in some lazy time by the pool. Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort is a great place to stay, as it features two pools (one for splashing and the other for grown-ups) and direct access to the beach. Exhausted by all the fun, the whole family can spend an afternoon pretending they’re sloths and splashing about. The resort offers movie nights, tortilla-making classes, visits to local farmers’ markets and two gourmet restaurants that serve fresh Costa Rican dishes.
Rainmaker Tropical Rainforest Tour is a popular adventure for families staying at Arenas del Mar. This fantastic four-hour immersion experience (free for children under 7) allows families to witness tropical flora and fauna preservation at its best and the rich biodiversity that has flourished from these local efforts.
Another bestseller is a tour to Los Campesinos Reserve, ideal for adventurers wanting to experience a form of authentic rural life. The people of the Quebrada Arroyo community are the protectors of the Los Campesinos Reserve, which is located in the Savegre River in the Central Pacific. Browse the forest in the company of experts familiar with the medicinal uses of indigenous plants, cross the river over a suspension bridge 40 meters above a large waterfall, then cool off in natural pools or gaze at the Pacific from atop a lookout. This adventure in a small mountain community is the perfect complement to the beaches of Manuel Antonio. The tour lasts six or seven hours, and it’s only available for children over 5.
Another plus for families who choose Manuel Antonio is the ease of getting there. From San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive by a private car transfer (you can arrange this easy with Arenas del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort). This drive takes you over the famous Crocodile Bridge that crosses the Tarcoles River and gives you a prime view over many crocodiles that inhabit the river below. Alternatively, it is a quick 20-minute flight on one of the domestic airlines (two domestic airlines fly there, Nature Air and Sansa Airlines).
Also a boon for families with small children — there are no shots or pills necessary for traveling to Costa Rica. It’s basically the same as going to Florida or Puerto Rico. Medical facilities in Manuel Antonio are great, too: There are private doctors and a hospital in the town of Quepos (right next to Manuel Antonio), and San Jose also has a state-of-the-art hospital.
Manuel Antonio, where the beach meets the rainforest, is a fantastic family escape by all counts. From wake-up calls by howler monkeys to fun roams through the rainforest and lazy lounging on white-sand beaches, Manuel Antonio offers the type of vacation the family will be raving about for years to come.
To learn more about travel to Costa Rica, visit Cayuga Collection.