Manuel Antonio Costa Rica, with Kids
Costa Rica is known for a lot of wonderful things, but one thing that struck a chord with me most, is it’s people’s love for babies. My husband and I traveled to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica with my 9-month-old daughter and just turned-2 year old son. You don’t have to be traveling with young kids to really love Manuel Antonio, or any town in Costa Rica for that matter. But the fact that it is so baby-friendly just made our family vacation all the more wonderful for us. Below is a recap of where we stayed and some fun things we did with our little ones during our trip. If you’re looking for a good place to travel with kids, especially babies, Manuel Antonio Costa Rica is one of our favorites.
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How to get to Manuel Antonio Costa Rica
From the time you land and step foot in the airport, you immediately experience the culture’s baby fever. Airline employees at SJO were ogling over Emily, and offered to handle any luggage we were struggling with. We often look like we’re struggling. We were immediately pulled from the customs line (it looked like an hour wait at least) and put into the “family” line. This line only had 1 other family in it. I had read about Costa Rica’s “family customs line” before our trip. If you have ever stood in a long customs line with a baby, then you know what a big deal this is. Once through customs, we rented a car through Avis, along with the kid’s car seats.
Tip: all rental car companies are offsite. Keep this in mind when returning to the airport and allow for some extra time. From San Jose (SJO) International airport, Manuel Antonio is about a 2 1/2 hour drive west. Luckily the kids slept most of the way and the drive is beautiful!
Where to Stay
I found a pretty incredible property through VRBO. Monkeys would visit our balcony (looking for fruit) every morning. The kids loved watching them eat bananas. Luckily they would move on pretty quickly after we stopped sharing fruit. Our porch overlooked the ocean and the tropical rain forest. Early in the morning we would wake to the sound of howler monkeys (sounds like large gorillas). It was walking distance to a grocery store and several restaurants. It also had a pool! Click Here for the link for the property. I highly recommend this place, not just for families, but couples and/or friends as well.
We visited 3 different beaches during our stay in Manuel Antonio. There are actually about 6 or 7 beaches in total, but I, of course, was searching for the most baby-friendly beaches. Those were Playa Espadilla, Playa Biesanz, & Playa Manuel Antonio. We traveled in late November which is towards the end of rainy season, so about half of our days were thick overcast. And it would usually rain for a short period in the afternoon (timed wonderfully with naptime). For us, this was perfect! If you have ever been to the beach (or pool) on a hot sunny day with your kids, you know the struggle of constantly applying sunscreen and worrying about keeping their hats and sunglasses on.
Our hope is to travel as a family as often as we can (at least as often as our work schedules allow us). Click HERE to learn how we use points and miles to expand our travel budget. A step by step guide is included for you.
Playa Espadilla Beach
This public beach is right outside the entrance to the Manuel Antonio National Park. There are restaurants, bars, and vendors right along the sand. This beach is huge. The sand is solid, flat and smooth. Not your perfect bright-white sand but very clean. The water can be choppy at times, but the waves were good for boogie-boarders & surfers. You can pay to park. And if you’re lucky to grab a spot right in front of the beach, those spots are free. Local entrepreneurs will set you up with chairs and an umbrella for about $10-15 for the day. They also took our food and drink orders from the restaurants across the street and they’d bring it directly to our chairs. Several of the bars had Tvs with various sports just in case you aren’t trying to miss a certain game.
One negative: Microscopic ‘sand’ bugs show up in the early morning hours and late evening. Emily got a few bites and I did too. They left a tiny red dot and itched for about 24 hours. Not a game changer, but remember to wear bug spray. I used these mosquito repellent patches that attach to the kid’s clothing. They’re great if you don’t want to spray Deet on your little one’s skin! And they did the trick keeping bugs at bay.
Playa Biesanz Beach
If I had to choose, this beach was my favorite. It’s a bit harder to get to but it is so pretty and way less crowded. It was about a 5 minute drive from our condo, but after parking, you have to set out on foot down a rough trail for about a 6 or 7 minute walk. With 2 babies in carriers plus our beach bag…it was kind of a pain. Once you get there, however, there’s a couple guys down there that will set you up with chairs and an umbrella for $15 for the day.
They even had a tiki bar with drinks (Mojitos for mommy! woohoo!). They grilled hamburgers, turkey burgers, and veggies on a grill around lunch time. This beach is in a bay, so there were virtually no waves. There were also kayaks and canoes you could rent. All you need to bring is sunscreen, money, a few snacks & towels, and decent walking sandals for the trail leading to the beach.
Playa Manuel Antonio Beach
This beach is only accessible through the Manual Antonio National Park. Take the main trail (it’s stroller friendly) and it’s about a 15 minute walk from the entrance directly to the beach. Lots of monkeys and raccoons will rummage tourist’s bags along the beach looking for food. Was a bit crowded the day we went, but beautiful nonetheless.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Walk around inside a rainforest, relax on a beach, and see all kinds of wildlife! Park hours: Tuesday – Sunday 7am to 4pm. (may change due to holidays/off-season) Entrance fee: $16. Pay to park. I read that if you get there early, you won’t have to wait too long in a line. But we got there at 10am. The line was very, very long. Both of our kids were in strollers and Will & I debated whether or not we should forgo the park visit altogether. Luckily, the Park’s security officer saw our perplexed faces, pulled us out of line, and escorted us to the front. Turns out, if you have a baby, you get to skip the line (just like at the airport). Unfortunately, there were no signs that relayed that message to the rest of the people waiting in line, so we got “boo-ed.” They really should put up signs if they are consistently allowing families with young babies to pass. And I know they are because I’ve read this in other blogs about Costa Rica (its one of the main reasons we chose to vacation in Costa Rica).
Guided Tour of Manuel Antonio National Park
I recommend taking a guided tour in Manuel Antonio National Park if you want to be guaranteed to see wildlife. We saw howler, white-faced, and squirrel monkeys, a 3-fingered sloth, poisonous frogs, iguanas, crabs, and a few different tropical birds. We definitely would not have seen the sloth, frog, and howler monkey without the guide. Since we had strollers, we stuck to the main trail, but I do recommend, if you can, venture off on the dirt trails (there are several). You’ll see more wildlife and they’ll lead you to the other beaches in the park (Gemelas, Puerto Escondido, & Playa Espidilla Sur).
Continuing with the baby-friendly theme were the restaurants in Manuel Antonio. Every restaurant we went to had highchairs, and the employees will often offer to hold the baby while you finish your meal (if you are comfortable with that). I highly recommend Emilio’s Cafe (great breakfast and awesome friendly staff)! We also went to Parador Resort for a buffet style breakfast. This resort is open to visitors even if you aren’t staying at the resort. Food was good, but the views are what stand out about this place. And again, the employees melted over the kids. One employee even let James (my 2 year old) ride around in the golf cart around the resort just for fun. Made his day! Also check out the El Avion (its a restaurant inside an airplane and has an awesome view as well.)
You don’t have to be traveling with young children to really love Manuel Antonio. But the fact that Costa Rica is so baby-friendly made our holiday an actual relaxing vacation and not just a trip with kids. And with beautiful beaches, a huge rain forest & national park to explore, and soooo much wild life, you can’t ask for much more to have a fun and adventurous vacation.
Have you been to Costa Rica? What other cities are fun to explore with families? We can’t wait to go back and see!
Our family of 4 flew to Costa Rica using Southwest Rewards miles. We have a Companion Pass which allows us to to buy one ticket and get one free. Getting the Companion Pass was a game changer for our family and has allowed us to travel often. Read my blog post on how you can get a Companion Pass too and save your family thousands of dollars on airfare.