From picture-perfect bays backed by lush jungle, to secluded coves fronted by crashing waves, it’s true to say that Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio area is blessed with an abundance of beautiful beaches. Planning to visit? Read on to discover the best beaches around Manuel Antonio.
With Manuel Antonio National Park being one of Costa Rica's top tourist destinations, this area rewards ramblers, wildlife-watchers and beach-lovers in equal measure.
Located on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast, the national park includes a stack of beaches, lush rainforest, and reefs.
Add to that top hiking trails and a staggering diversity of wildlife — hundreds of bird species, endangered white-faced capuchin monkeys, and three-toed sloths — and Manuel Antonio offers a unique beach-to-bush experience.
Before you visit, be aware that the beautiful beaches around Manuel Antonio are called by a variety of names.
Importantly, given that some are unsafe for swimming, it’s essential you know which beach you’re on. You should also check conditions with rangers.
Also be aware that the National Park closes on Mondays to give the animals a rest and the trail maintenance staff chance to do their thing. You'll find more detail in our guide to Manuel Antonio National Park.
For more insights beyond the beaches, read up on the best tours to take around Manuel Antonio National Park. You could also contact our local experts to help you make the most of your trip.
In the meantime, read on to discover the best beaches around Manuel Antonio. Walkers and wildlife-lovers, in particular, won’t be disappointed.
Located 6km south of Quepos, just north of the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, Playa Espadilla boasts a long curve of sand that stretches for over a mile.
Also called Playa Primera or Playa Numero Uno, it’s the closest beach to Manuel Antonio village.
Add to that its wide, smooth, light-grey sands and stunning sunsets, and it’s clear to see why Playa Espadilla is one of Costa Rica’s most popular beaches. It's also obvious why it's rated as one of the best beaches around Manuel Antonio.
Here you can rent chairs and umbrellas to add comfort to your day at the beach. Alternatively, you could opt for a more active experience and take a surf lesson.
Surf tip: be aware that Playa Espadilla is plagued by riptides, and lifeguards only patrol the beach in high season. So, be sure to listen to your surf guide.
Also known as Playa Dos or Playa Segunda, Playa Espadilla Sur is the last beach you come to inside Manuel Antonio National Park. The main trail towards the exit runs through jungle along the back of the beach.
On that note, be aware that as Playa Espadilla Sur is located within the park, and accessed via it, you must have a park entrance ticket to visit.
Practicalities aside, on arrival, your efforts will be more than rewarded — Playa Espadilla Sur is a bona fide beaut of a beach.
Surrounded by dense, wildlife-rich forest (beware of monkeys who may try to grab your stuff!), this picture-perfect cove has a secluded, away-from-it-all vibe.
While usually fairly calm, note that the water here can be dangerous in rough conditions – beware of the currents.
Travel tip: love exploring natural attractions? Read our guide to the best national parks in Costa Rica.
While handsome horseshoe-shaped Playa Puerto Escondido might be small in size (it’s just 650 metres long), its big in the beauty stakes.
Also called Playa Cuatro, it presents itself as a curved cove of super-soft white sand.
To reach it, follow the 1.6km Sendero Puerto Escondido, a route that leads through relatively dense tropical forest. Would-be explorers will enjoy having to cross a small creek along the way.
Visitors should be aware that at high tide you can’t get across the beach, or cross it from the dense forest. As a result, ask rangers about the marea (tide) before heading here.
In addition, as the currents can be dangerous, rangers advise against swimming at Playa Puerto Escondido
Travel tip: love the sound of Playa Puerto Escondido’s intrepid vibe? Discover the best hikes in Costa Rica.
Small, secluded and surrounded by craggy rock formations, Playa las Gemelas has an enchantingly wild ambience.
As for how to find Playa las Gemelas — keep following the Sendero Playas Gemelas y Puerto Escondido to the southern end of Playa Puerto Escondido. Halfway along, a turn-off will take you to Playa las Gemelas.
If you’ve ever wondered how it might really feel to find yourself on a desert island, visit Playa las Gemelas to get an idea. On arrival, chances are, your only company will be iguanas basking on the rocks.
Travel tip: while you can clamber along Playa Puerto Escondido at low tide between the two trails, check tide times with the rangers before leaving. You won’t want to get cut off.
Also called Playa Tres or Playa Blanca, Manuel Antonio Beach is located within the national park. Immediately south of Playa Espadilla Sur, you reach it via a 30-minute hike from the main entrance.
Known for its bright, white sand, and framed by more shades of green than you can shake a tropical twig at, this is one of most picturesque beaches around Manuel Antonio.
In addition, being a deeper, more protected bay than many others in the area, it's by far the best swimming beach around these parts.
As a result, it’s very popular, though you can get still battered by the deceptively gentle-looking waves as they reach the shore.
All in all, though, it’s clear to see why Manuel Antonio beach is so popular with local families, as well as tourists who’ve come to explore the national park.
Travel tip: arrive before 10am to avoid the crowds — there's a reason Playa Manuel Antonio features in our run-down of the best beaches in Costa Rica. Prefer a peaceful beach experience? Avoid weekends.
If you love wildlife and walks on the wild side, Biesanz Beach has your name all over its lesser-visited loveliness.
Located between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park, it’s accessed via a trail. You’ll find this on the road near Parador Resort.
The downhill route offers opportunities to see the endangered Central American squirrel monkey. Howler monkeys are also frequently sighted here, along with capuchin monkeys and the occasional sloth.
As for the beach itself, Biesanz boasts soft sand, and a blissful sense of seclusion.
Travel tip: thinking of visiting Costa Rica? Contact our local experts to help you make the most of the experience, whether you want to discover beaches and volcanoes, or enjoy epic eco adventures.
Another ideal spot for those like their beaches secluded, scenic and brimming with wildlife, Playa la Macha also requires a bit of effort to reach.
With that in mind, it’s one to recommend for more adventurous types.
South of Quepos, the hike down to the beach from the main road is around 1.5 km, and pretty steep.
While most of your walk will be along a wide gravel trail, the final segment is muddier and may demand some scrambling — be sure to wear decent footwear.
Though known as a “clothing optional” beach, you’ll most likely have Playa la Macha to yourself, but for the monkeys and sloths that populate the surrounding forest.
First things first – picturesque Playa Tulemar can only be accessed via road through Tulemar Resort.
Set in 330 acres of lush forest, and boasting the only sandy beach in this exact area, it’s not surprising people want to visit and stay here. It's one of the better beaches around Manuel Antonio, west of the National Park.
The beach itself is a perfect curve of soft sand, with scenic trails leading down to it. The water is calm, clear — perfect for swimming, soaking and floating — with kayaks and boogie boards on hand for when you want a little more action.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica. Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.
Not keen on planning? You'll love our customisable Costa Rica itineraries.
Top tip — our Costa Rican Eco Adventure trip includes Manuel Antonio National Park.
Header image: Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica © Shutterstock
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her