17+ Awesome Things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (On a Budget)

Planning a trip to Manuel Antonio? Check out all the amazing things to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica in this comprehensive list including money-saving tips and off-the-beaten path activities! Click to read.

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If you’re headed to Costa Rica, be sure not to miss the paradise that is Manuel Antonio. Home to the famous Manuel Antonio National Park, it’s easily one of Costa Rica’s most popular cities for tourists, and with good reason.

While there are plenty of fun things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, not all of them are exactly budget-friendly. It’s a beach bum and hiker’s paradise, but it also offers an array of outdoor activities for the adrenaline junkies. In this Manuel Antonio guide, I’ve rounded up some of the best Manuel Antonio activities for both travelers on a budget and those that are willing to splurge. Here’s what to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

About Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is located on the West Coast of Costa Rica, about 100 miles southwest of San Jose. It’s an incredibly popular expat beach town, and is home to gorgeous beaches and wildlife; it’s most well known for its national park. Because it’s an expat town, cost of living (or vacationing) is fairly high, but this guide includes some tips to help you save money cause that’s how I roll.


Getting to Manuel Antonio

If you’re following my Costa Rica itinerary, it’s likely you’re driving or taking the shuttle to Manuel Antonio from Monteverde (or La Fortuna). Once you’ve rattled your way out of Monteverde’s rocky roads (hehe rocky road) then expect the trip to Manuel Antonio to take around 3 hours.

Another option is to fly into Quepos Airport from San Jose Airport, which is a short 15-minute drive from the heart of Manuel Antonio. Psst: check out all the cool things to do near the San Jose Airport here!


Fun Things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

There are tons of things to do in Manuel Antonio, but they can categorically be broken down into the beach, hiking, and water/outdoor activities. Although we considered hiking several times, the beach was so relaxing (plus we were lazy and it was hot) that we ended up swimming every day. #SorryNotSorry. Here are some of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio.


Spend the day at Manuel Antonio National Park

You can and should spend an entire day at Manuel Antonio National Park. This is the by far the best thing to do in Manuel Antonio, so if for some reason you’re in the city for just one day, this is where you should go. This national park is a beautiful rainforest that is home to a wide variety of wildlife, tons of hiking trails, and gorgeous beaches. We only hiked two trails because the mosquito situation was pretty unbearable but you can easily do more if you come prepared with proper repellent. One bonus of getting to the park early was ending up at the beach early and having it all to ourselves for a while, which was amazing.

Know before you go

  • The park hours are 7 am – 4 pm Tuesday – Sunday. It’s closed on Mondays. Get here early to avoid the crowds both at the beach and on the trails.
  • The entrance is a little strange – it’s located on a small road near Marlin restaurant. You can park at the lots near the entrance since there is no official parking lot.
  • The only licensed place to buy your tickets is at the Coopealianza booth right outside the park. Don’t buy them anywhere else. Tickets cost $16 per person.
  • Neither food nor drinks are sold inside the park, so bring your own lunch.
  • There are several beaches within the park, so bring your bathing suit and towel.
  • Wear hiking sandals! They may be ugly, but they’re the most practical thing to wear for both hiking and the beach. I recommend these.

Getting a guide

When you get to the park, tons of people will offer to be your guide to help you find the animals. Although there seems to be mixed advice online as to whether or not you need a guide, my answer is: get a guide. They have a great eye for animals that we would have missed otherwise and have telescopes so you can really see them up close. Don’t hesitate to negotiate on prices either: we paid $30 for a private guide for the four of us. Some people later told me that they snuck behind groups that had guides and managed to spot animals that way, but we felt like we got a good deal for the two hours.

The guide only leads you through the main trail, but we spotted bats, crabs, sloths, birds, monkeys and more. We would have never seen half of these animals without him. If you get to the park early, you’re more likely to get a private guide for a good price and you’re more likely to see animals because it’s still quiet. Win win.

Travel tip: Get the strongest insect repellent you can find, and put it on both under and over your clothes. Before you go to Costa Rica, treat all your clothing with Permethrin, a magical spray that makes your clothing repel insects (and doesn’t stick to your skin!). I brought some regular insect repellent with me and was bitten to death. So seriously, bring the heavy duty stuff.


Swim at Playa Manuel Antonio

Playa Manuel Antonio - the best thing to do in Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Once you’re tired of hiking, park yourself at the best beach in Manuel Antonio, Playa Manuel Antonio. This is one of three beaches in the park and is by far the most popular. It’s an exquisite cove with crystal clear water and white sands that are perfect for a beach day. The only annoying thing about this beach is the monkeys and raccoons who have a tendency to steal stuff, so keep an eye on your bags. If Playa Manuel Antonio gets too crowded, then check out Playa Espadilla Sur further down the trail. It isn’t as pretty, but you do get more privacy.


Learn about Spices at Villa Vanilla Spice Farm


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Located 10 miles outside Manuel Antonio, the Villa Vanilla Farm grows a variety of spices and essential oils including vanilla, cocoa, and cinnamon. You can come here for a half-day tasting tour and learn all about how these spices are cultivated. Tours run 9 AM Monday through Saturday and 1 PM Monday through Friday and must be booked ahead. The cost is $45 per person.


Hang with Cute Animals at Kids Saving the Rainforest


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This rescue and rehabilitation reserve for injured and orphaned animals is located just 20 minutes from Manuel Antonio. You can tour the sanctuary and learn about the conservation work KSTR does, as well as see a variety of animals up close. There are so many cute animals there and the organization is doing a great job of caring for them. Tours run every day except Tuesday from 9 AM – 12 PM and cost $60 per person. All proceeds go to the animals.


Kayak at Damas Island


One of the more unique Manuel Antonio tours you can do is a boating excursion to Damas Island. You’ll get a chance to visit the largest mangrove ecosystem in Central America, home to a variety of unique animals such as boa constrictors, anteaters, and capuchin monkeys. You can either do a regular boat tour or a kayaking tour depending on how much exercise you want to get that day. Check out this kayaking tour and this boat tour.


Sail on a Catamaran 


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What better way to enjoy Manuel Antonio than to spend it out on the water? With a daytime or sunset Catamaran cruise, you can spend a half day snorkeling, swimming and sailing along the Manuel Antonio coast. Lunch or dinner is also included. See all your tour options here.


Zipline through the forest


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There is no shortage of places you can zip line in Costa Rica. Nearly every major tourist hotspot has a forest nearby where you can fly through the air on some astonishingly long ziplines. It’s seriously exhilarating and an activity I wholeheartedly recommend you do in Costa Rica. Although I went ziplining in Monteverde, there are plenty of ziplining experiences available near Manuel Antonio as well. Check out all your options here.


Experience Campensino life at Santa Juana Mountain Village


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If you’re looking to experience a bit of rural Costa Rica, consider taking a day trip to Santa Juana Mountain Village, located just an hour outside of Quepos. This half-day tour lets you experience what life was like back in the day, complete with breakfast, a nature hike, swimming (under waterfalls, of course!), yoga, fishing, and much more. Participants also learn about Costa Rican agriculture as well. If you’d like to learn more about what you can do on the rural adventure tour, check out this review. The tour costs $125 per person and can be booked here.


Channel Your Inner Chef at a Cooking Class


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One of my favorite things to do in pretty much any city I visit is a food tour or cooking class. For this class specifically, you get a chance to visit the local farmer’s market and pick out your own ingredients before being transported to a private ranch in Londres. While there, you’ll pick out additional ingredients from the organic garden before learning how to cook delicious Costa Rican goodies like corn tortillas, ceviches, picadillos, and more. Book your experience here.

Planning your Costa Rica trip? Check out my one week Costa Rica itinerary!


Cheap Things to do in Quepos and Manuel Antonio 

Although budget travel in Manuel Antonio isn’t as easy compared to some of the other cities in Costa Rica, there are plenty of cheap things to do in Manuel Antonio. I’ve included them in the list below along with some money-saving tips for the budget travelers.

Swim at Playa Biesanz

This is hands down the best free thing to do in Manuel Antonio. In fact, once we discovered Playa Biesanz, it became our preferred beach spot. You have to walk for about ten minutes through a rocky path (bring hiking sandals!), but once you arrive, the beach is yours for the taking. There aren’t many tourists due to its somewhat hidden location, but there are a fair amount of locals.

There are a couple of vendors set up from whom you can rent beach umbrellas, chairs, snorkels, paddleboards, and more. There’s also a nearby stand selling a variety of snacks, drinks, and even ceviche. Plus, all the rentals are really inexpensive. While there are monkeys that hang out in the trees, none of them are daring enough to try to steal your things. The only drawback is that there are some bigger rocks in the water, so you might have to wear your hiking sandals while swimming. Besides that and the path at the beginning, this beach is perfect.

How to get to Playa Biesanz: To access the beach, you enter through a small opening on the side of the road near the Parador Resort. There’s usually a parking attendant there who will point you in the right direction.


Relax at Playa Espadilla


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Playa Espadilla is the other public beach in Manuel Antonio and it is much more well known amongst tourists. The south end is where the crowds are but it’s also where the restaurants and rentable beach chairs and umbrellas are as well. Unlike Playa Biesanz, there are waves here and the current is strong so it’s best to stick to the shoreline while swimming. There are lifeguards but I personally prefer the much calmer waters of Playa Biesanz.


Shop and Eat at Marina Pez VelaMarina La Pez - One of many things to do in Quepos Costa Rica

If I’m being totally honest, Marina Pez Vela feels a bit out of place in Quepos, with its somewhat high-end shops and restaurants. It’s small with a variety of fusion and international restaurants and shops. The only reason I have it on here as one of the things to do in Quepos is because the sunset views from here are spectacular. You can come for a drink or an ice cream to enjoy the view, but it’s by no means a must do in Manuel Antonio / Quepos.


Discover Local Goods at the Quepos Farmers’ Market

Bananas at Quepos Farmers Market - one of the cool things to do in Quepos Costa Rica

I totally understand that farmers’ markets aren’t everyone’s thing, but if you’re in Manuel Antonio on a Friday or Saturday, you should totally check the Quepos Farmers Market out. It’s on the larger side and isn’t just for food – although you’ll find plenty of that as well. You can buy handmade souvenirs here, as well as ice cream, local produce, homebaked goods, and more. Plus, it’s an excellent place to interact with locals and see what sort of fruits and vegetables are endemic to the region.


Hike to the Nauyaca Waterfalls


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Around 45 minutes from Manuel Antonio, in Dominical, you’ll find the stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls. These waterfalls are some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica and totally worth the short but somewhat steep hike. The entry fee is $8 per person and you can drive to the waterfalls directly or hike if you so choose. If you don’t have a car, there are a few bus options going and returning from Quepos to Dominical, but it’s a tad complicated and you’d have to time it really well to make sure you don’t miss your return. Alternatively, you can book a tour.


Adventure at Los Campesinos


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Located about an hour from Manuel Antonio, this rural nature park is excellent for hiking. It has a small waterfall where you can swim, a self-propelled cable car, and a long hanging bridge for $8 per person (self-guided). The highlight of this place is the $10 traditional lunch prepared by the local women. Note: the roads to get here are pretty rough, and you might need a 4×4 car to get here (partially depending on your driving confidence). If that feels like too much of a commitment, then it’s worth going to Rainmaker instead.


Explore (More) Nature at Rainmaker Conservation Park 


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This park is around 45 minutes from Manuel Antonio by car and offers a variety of tours including bird watching (early morning), river walk/canopy (daytime), and amphibians/reptiles (nighttime). For just $20, you can also go on a self-guided tour of the park, which has hiking trails, waterfalls, and hanging bridges. If you’re looking to get away from the tourists at Manuel Antonio National Park and see a different variety of wildlife, Rainmaker is well-worth checking out. Note: be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes, bug spray, and your swimsuit.


Watch the Sunset at El Avion


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The reason El Avion isn’t recommended in the where to eat section is because I don’t think you should eat here. Frankly, the food is mediocre and overpriced. What you’re paying for is the unique ambiance and the spectacular view (especially at sunset). Located on the hills above the beach, this cargo plane turned restaurant has quite the history, which you can read about here. I recommend getting drinks or a snack here then heading elsewhere for dinner.


Budget Travel Tips for Manuel Antonio

  • Travel during off-peak (rainy season). Mid-December to March is the dry season, and thus when Costa Rica is the most crowded and expensive. Aim to visit between May and October for the best travel deals, although you can still save money by traveling during the shoulder months of April and November, which are less rainy.
  • Stay in Quepos. Although Quepos is only a 10-minute drive from Manuel Antonio, the accommodations there are significantly less expensive. Check out your Quepos hotel options.
  • Eat at sodas. Sodas are local restaurants serving Costa Rican cuisine, typically under $8 per meal and are the best places for cheap eats in Manuel Antonio (and Costa Rica in general). If a restaurant or food stand has the word soda in the name, you can pretty much guarantee it’s inexpensive.
  • Hit the public beaches. Playa Manuel Antonio isn’t the only nice beach around. Both Playa Biesanz and Playa Espadilla are free local beaches and Playa Biesanz occasionally has vendors renting paddleboards and surfboards for cheap.
  • Do the tours on your own. Although it’s expensive to rent a car, you might find that you’ll save more money in the long run because you’ll be able to get around easily without booking a tour.
  • Drink the tap water. It’s totally safe to drink tap water in Costa Rica but if you want to be extra cautious, I recommend a filtered water bottle.


Where to Eat in Manuel Antonio

Marisqueria Jiuberths

Marisqueria Jiuberths is the best restaurant I ate at in Manuel Antonio. It’s SO good, especially if you like fresh seafood. It has great views and amazing food. It’s definitely on the pricier side for Costa Rica ($20-$30 per person) but everything we ate was delicious, fresh, and flavorful. It’s in a somewhat random location on a hill but don’t be deterred by the neighborhood. This was definitely my favorite restaurant in Manuel Antonio.

Seafood meal at Marisqueria Jiuburths - Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Sancho’s Tacos

We spotted Sancho’s Tacos on our way back from Manuel Antonio National Park and once we saw the sign for fish tacos, we were sold. It’s actually attached to a hostel, but this turned out to be a good thing because the prices were reasonable. The food was delicious and served in American-sized portions. It was a refreshing change from Costa Rican food.

Runaway Grill

It just so happened to be Mother’s Day when we were in Costa Rica, so the four of us decided to go to the Quepos Marina and eat there. We found ourselves at Runaway Grill, a Mexican-American-Costa Rican restaurant located on the water. While it was overpriced by Costa Rican standards, I admit that the food was delicious and the sunset views were to die for. They even have a live band that managed to provide great ambiance without being overbearing. For dessert, don’t miss the nearby gelato shop with tons of delicious flavors.

Meal at Runaway Grill at the Marina in Quepos Costa Rica

Travel tip/note: We did not do the Manuel Antonio food scene justice, so I’m linking to another trusted resource for food recommendations. If you’re looking to eat on a budget, find restaurants that have the word “Soda” in the name. These are budget-friendly local restaurants serving Costa Rican cuisine.


Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio

I’ve already mentioned that Quepos is more budget-friendly than Manuel Antonio. Quepos is about 2 miles from Manuel Antonio and is easily accessible by car, local bus, or taxi. We rented an apartment at Cabinas Mansion Tropical and it was perfect for our needs as a family, but here are a few other options for every price point:

Manuel Antonio


For even more accommodation options, check out the best hotel deals on booking.com below:


What to Pack for Manuel Antonio

I was surprised to find that traveling to an outdoorsy tropical destination requires some specialty items, which I’ve included below.Before you go to Costa Rica, treat all your clothing with Permethrin, a magical spray that makes your clothing repel insects (and doesn’t stick to your skin!). Also, click here to see which items are always in my suitcase, no matter the destination!

Check out the complete Costa Rica packing list here!

  • Hiking sandals: they may be ugly, but they’re certainly versatile! Not only did I wear them for every hike I took in Costa Rica, but I also wore them at the beach as well.
  • Waterproof jacket: It rains a lot in Costa Rica – especially if you’re there during rainy season. This jacket is lightweight and breathable but keeps you dry. It also fits into its own pouch to make packing lightly that much easier.
  • Sunscreen: The kind that is both lightweight AND doesn’t sweat off your face!
  • Insect repellent clothing: YEAH, that’s a thing! I wish I’d known before I went to Costa Rica. Honestly, you might think you won’t need it but this is a purchase I wish I’d made. Check out this men’s shirt and this women’s shirt.
  • Insect repellent: Don’t think you can get away with wimpy insect repellent…the mosquitos in Costa Rica are vicious! THIS is the best ones to ward off those bites.
  • Trip Insurance: A lot can go wrong when you travel which is why I always recommend getting trip insurance. World Nomads is my go-to company.
  • Waterproof dry bag or day pack (water resistant): Not only does it rain a lot, but Costa Rica is notoriously humid. Keep your valuables in a waterproof bag to avoid any kind of water damage. These are especially useful for hiking or water activities.
  • Waterproof phone pouch: If you want to take photos of your excursions underwater or just generally keep your phone dry and handy, this a must-have item!
  • Waterproof camera: Costa Rica is all about outdoor activities in the elements, and having a device that can capture your moments no matter the weather is a must! GoPro is the go-to camera for adventure enthusiasts and the best in the market. Plus, it’s waterproof without a case!
  • Insulated water bottle: Keep your liquids colder for longer. Nothing beats a cold drink of water after trekking through the national park!
  • Microfiber towel: Microfiber towels are a must-have for any outdoorsy trip. They dry significantly faster than regular towels are much more lightweight, too. Plus, this one comes with a bonus hand towel, which is perfect for hikes!
  • Portable clothesline: This is super handy for hanging swimwear, towels, and other gear to dry. Not only does it come with built-in clothespins, but it’s also easy to hook both indoors and outdoors.
  • Carry on backpack: Of course, no packing list is complete without a carry on to keep all your essentials. My go-to is the Tortuga Outbreaker Backpack, hands-down the best backpack I’ve ever used for travel.

Don’t forget to rent a eSIM for the road. It’s much easier than buying a local SIM, and it means you don’t have to worry about bad WiFi. Get 15% off your rental with code PASSPORT&PLATES! | Read my review here.

Other Practical Tips


U.S. passport holders don’t need a visa to visit Costa Rica but they do need a return ticket out of the country. Note: you may need to pay a departure tax at the airport when you’re leaving if the fee isn’t included in your ticket. The cost is $29 per person, payable in USD or colones.

Renting a Car in Costa Rica

If you aren’t taking a tour, the best way to get around Costa Rica is to rent a car, especially if you’re planning on visiting more than just one city. If you’re planning to only visit Manuel Antonio, you don’t really one.

Renting a car in Costa Rica isn’t cheap because there’s mandatory in-country car insurance and other fees, which can oftentimes cost more than renting the car itself. I like using Expedia to compare costs before renting. In the case of Costa Rica, read the fine print carefully when booking online. If you’d like to know more about the policies and fees regarding car rental in Costa Rica, I recommend this article.


The official Costa Rican currency is colones. At the time of updating this post (Sept 2018), USD $1 equals about ₡580. US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, but often at a fixed rate of about $1 to ₡500, so you lose a little money by using USD exclusively. This is not the case in restaurants, large grocery stores, or hotels that use exact rates but it’s true for smaller shops, cabs, etc. Credit cards are widely accepted, so I recommend bringing a no-fee travel card and some USD with you for smaller purchases. Make sure you bring your patience and your passport with you to the bank to exchange money: it’s where you’ll get the best exchange rate but the lines are long.

The Best Time to Visit Manuel Antonio

Mid-December to April is the dry season, so that’s the best time to visit if you want good weather. The downside of visiting then is that it’s when Costa Rica is the most crowded and the most expensive.  If a little rain doesn’t bother you, traveling during rainy season (May – November) can save you money on accommodation and tours.

How Long to Stay in Manuel Antonio

The answer to this one isn’t as straightforward as some of the other towns. I recommend anywhere between 2-5 days. It totally depends on which activities you want to do, how much beach time you want, etc. We stayed for 3.5 days and were happy with that decision.

No matter how long you decide to stay in Manuel Antonio, it’s definitely a city not to be missed. Whether you’re a watersports fiend, beach bum, or something in between, I’m confident you’ll find plenty of things to keep you relishing that pura vida lifestyle.

More Costa Rica Resources

Planning a trip to Costa Rica soon? Check out ALL my posts on Costa Rica below:  


Have you ever been to Manuel Antonio? What was your favorite part? Share in the comments below!


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20 thoughts on “17+ Awesome Things to do in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (On a Budget)

  1. Travel Pockets says:

    Such a bummer you couldn’t go to Drake Bay due to the rain. But Manuel Antonio looks like an amazing place for a nice vacation. I would probably spend most of my time at Playa Biesanz and Marisqueria Jiuberths 🙂

    • Sally E says:

      I know! Luckily we had an amazing time in Manuel Antonio so couldn’t complain too much :). Those are excellent choices! We definitely went back to Playa Biesanz more than once!

  2. dany2306 says:

    It doesn`t seem that you are very upset about the cancellation considering that you could spend more days in Manuel Antonio!! Even though it was more expensive than other places in Costa Rica

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Hahah no, I wasn’t complaining too much. Especially because Manuel Antonio is so beautiful and relaxing!

  3. Katie Dickinson says:

    This sounds like a great place to just hang. Sometimes, especially on ling trips. its really clutch to find a place where relaxing is easy and almost the only option. I like that you gave an honest review of the places you ate… I’ve found that non-local places wind up being much more expensive than the local spots- which if its not a delicious value, then it can really hurt ya right in the wallet!

    • Sally E says:

      YES agreed wholeheartedly! We’d been adventuring nonstop for a week up until this point so it was really nice just to veg.

      And thank you! I think honest reviews are really important – and I try my best to avoid tourist places when possible! They usually aren’t budget friendly and not as great as the local places anyway. Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. Vyjay Rao says:

    Wonderful place that you have written about, i would love the National park and could spend hours on the lovely beach and may be spend a couple of hours paddling.

    • Sally E says:

      Thank you! That is the perfect way to spend a day there to be honest. It’s great that you can hike and swim at the beach all in the same day. I hope you get a chance to visit sometime soon!

  5. lauren says:

    Gorgeous photos of wildlife. I’m really loving your unique perspective! I’ll be sure to give your blog and read through and connect via social media. Fab post! xx


  6. Danielle Desir says:

    Your photos from the Manuel National Park were gorgeous. My best friend just came back from Costa Rica and she’s been raving so much about the park. Can you get really close to the animals? I didn’t know there were beaches at the park – beach bums!

    • Sally E says:

      Thank you so much! And YES it’s amazing! You get to observe them in their habitat but lots of them are ballsy and get super close. The added benefit of having the beach there made the park one of my favorite places in Costa Rica! Beach bumming for the win 🙂

  7. Marcia Cerqueira says:

    how was transportation? did you rent a car? how did you get from the airport to your accomodations? thanks!

    • Sally E says:

      We rented a car at the airport and used it the entire time! Transportation is unfortunately a bit pricey, no matter if you decide to rent a car or take the shuttle buses. However, I still recommend renting since it offers a lot more flexibility with your schedule. Check out my one week guide here for all the info 🙂 https://passportandplates.com/destination-guides/one-week-costa-rica-itinerary/

  8. Kim says:

    I agree with your tip on staying in Quepos! We stayed at an Airbnb in Manuel Antonio for 4 days and our rental car got broken into TWICE because we were in a high traffic area (lots of people walking back and forth to the beach). While the location was convenient, I would rather stay somewhere less busy and cheaper! 😉

    Thanks for the post!
    Kim / www.simplylovebirds.com

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      YIKES. I’m sorry to hear that! We also had a rental car but perhaps part of the benefit of Quepos is less tourist traffic along with the cost! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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