Quepos and Manuel Antonio are two separate but completely interdependent central Pacific coast towns. Quepos is a fairly good sized town with about 7000 permanent residents, large hospital, banks, markets, stores, hotels, bars, restaurants and main bus terminal. Manuel Antonio to the south is much smaller and extends along both sides of the road that stretches the 7 kilometers down to the entrance of the national park.
Quepos started out as a small fishing village and shipping port for the banana plantations in the area. Over the last thirty years that has changed due in part to disappearance of the banana crop due to diseases and the increase in tourism to the area. While no longer a major port, Quepos has become Costa Rica's sports fishing Mecca. With a catch, shoot and release policy, local fishing companies take fisherman from around the world out into the waters off the coast in search of giant blue marlin, bright yellow and blue finned tuna, dorado and the worlds best sail fish. Staying in Quepos is inexpensive with a number of different cabinas priced under $10 per night.
Manuel Antonio is truly the place in Costa Rica were tourism and the preservation of the environment come together in harmony. Since the establishment of the national park over two decades ago the development of the area around it as a tourist destination has been accomplished with as minimal an impact to the environment as possible. And, they have succeeded with flying colors. It is common to walk along the lush green, tree lined road and see two toed sloths, bright green parrots and giant green iguanas. In an effort to maintain a natural balance in the area the Gila Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Center has been formed. Two kilometers south of Quepos, this center is dedicated to the saving of injured or abused animals with their eventual release back into the wild. They are also involved in the breeding of endangered species of birds for release into the wild to help the native populations grow and become stronger. In the hills overlooking the ocean are some of the most picturesque and stunning views in the country along with the most luxurious accommodations around.
Parke Nacional Manuel Antonio is by far the country's smallest at just over 683 hectares, but it is also one of it's most amazing. Home to one of the last sizable populations of the endangered Squirrel Monkey in the region, White Faced and Howler monkeys are also common in the park. Cathedral Point with it's forest topped cliffs use to be an island but is now connected to the main land by a thin land bridge. This land bridge separates the parks two most popular beaches, Playa Espadilla Sur and Playa Manuel Antonio. Playa Manuel Antonio is the most beautiful beach in all of Costa Rica and has been rated one of the top ten in the world. The beach is a half mile long, perfect white sand crescent bordered by deep green mangroves and palms. The park abounds with wildlife and in a days visit it is possible to see iguanas, monkeys, sloths agoutis, paccaries, armadillos, pisotes, coatimundis and raccoons.
Travel to the area is easy and can be done in a number of different ways. Regularly scheduled air service is available through Sansa and for $25 you can be there from San Jose in 15 minutes. It is a three and a half hour or more drive by car or bus from San Jose. Direct buses leave Coca Cola bus terminal in San Jose three times a day and are in large, comfortable and air-conditioned Mercedes buses. If you are renting a car it is advisable to rent a 4x4 vehicle because certain sections of the road can be difficult. Daily bus service to other beach communities up and down the coast is available, the price is right, but the buses are slow and stop at every town and village.
Just as Cathedral Point juts out of the national park into the deep green and blue Pacific, Manuel Antonio leads the way for eco tourism in the region. It is the little slice of paradise that is only a 15 minute flight from San Jose.
Directions to Manuel Antonio/Quepos
Travel to the to the Quepos/Manuel Antonio area is easy and can be done in a couple of different ways. Regularly scheduled air service is available through Sansa Airlines and Travel Air with daily flights. It is a three and a half hour or more drive, depending on weather and traffic, by car from San Jose. The direct bus is a little slower and usually takes about four hours. Direct buses leave Coca Cola bus terminal in San José three times a day and are in large and comfortable Mercedes buses. There are also indirect buses, but these should only be used when there is no other alternative. They make frequent stops and can take more than six hours.
Renting a car and driving
If you are renting a car it is advisable to rent a 4x4 vehicle because certain sections of the road, especially after Jaco Beach, can be difficult. All major car rental agencies (See the car rental section) have offices at the main airport and in San Jose. From San Jose or the airport, take the Pan-American Highway north till you reach the turn off to Puerto Caldera and Puntarenas. This exit will be to your right and the over pass will cross over the highway and proceed west toward the coast. Once you have come down from the mountains and reach the Pacific coast, follow the signs to Jaco and Quepos. You should reach Jaco beach in about two hours, but don't go into the town itself. Continue on down the coast road to the south. From Jaco south is a strait shot, but the road is usually in very bad shape with potholes literally everywhere.
Upon reaching Quepos, continue into town across the final bridge and turn left on Avenida Central. This will take you into the heart of the town. There are a number of cheap places to stay and lots of bars and restaurants. If you want to continue on into Manuel Antonio, proceed down Avenida Central two blocks, till you pass the main bus terminal. At the next stop sign turn right, go down the one block to the next street and turn left. This road will take you all the way down to the national park at the end of the road. It is about a four mile drive through twisting and turning roads that have wonderful views of the coast.
Air service to Quepos on Sansa flies out of the main international airport, while Travel Air flies out of the smaller Pavas airport. On Sansa it costs around $25 each way and takes 15 minutes. Travel Air is a little more expensive with the ticket price closer to $45. Flights on Sansa leave every day at 8:10 am and 1:40 pm with an extra 9:25 am flight on Tuesdays. The Sansa terminal is about 100 meters north of the main international airport.
If you are flying into the main airport and are trying to make the connector to Quepos, you will need to exit the main terminal after going through customs and immigration. If you have a lot of baggage, grab a cab and tell the driver to take you to the Sansa terminal, it should cost you about a dollar. It is not far but it might be worth it in lessening the hassle. If you would like to walk, go out to the main road in front of the airport where the buses stop. Turn left and walk up the street. Walk for about five minutes or a little further than a football field and you will pass the fire station. On the other side to your left should be a parking lot and at the far end will be the Sansa terminal. Walk in and buy your ticket at the counter.
The Quepos bus takes off from San Jose at the main Coca Cola bus terminal. As you know (see crime and ways to prevent it from happening to you) Coca Cola is the pickpocket capital of Costa Rica. It is important to keep you eyes on your stuff at all times. Adjacent to where the buses line up along the back wall, is a small farmers market. The office for the bus company is inside this market in the northwest corner. You need to purchase your ticket in advance and the cost is around $5. If you are planning on traveling on either Friday or Sunday, it is important to buy your ticket well in advance, so that you will be able to get a seat. Buses leave San Jose daily at 6:00 am, 12:00 and 5:00 pm. The times are the same for buses leaving from Manuel Antonio back to San Jose. You will also want to buy your ticket in advance on that end too.
If you are attending classes at La Escuela D'Amore you will need to stay the night before classes begin in a hotel or pension. There are a number of inexpensive places in Quepos with nicer, but more expensive places, in Manuel Antonio. In Manuel Antonio we have an arrangement with La Colina to give our students discounted rates. For a single room w/ private bath it is $20/night and their number is 777-0231. You need to be at the school by 7:30 am on Monday
Bus service between Quepos' main terminal and the national park departs every half hour from 5:00 a.m. till 10:00 p.m. and is less than $.40