Ten Things to do on the beach in Manuel Antonio
Espadilla is Manuel Antonio's most popular beach and the best kind of tourist trap, the kind where locals sell fresh coconuts to lobster-skinned travelers and you never have to leave your lounge chair to order a drink.
Where palm trees sway in the breeze, the Costa Rican sun beats down and the soft rhythms of the surf lull you into that dreamy, beach sleep. But before you nod off, remember there's more to Manuel Antonio than catching up on sleep.
From surfboard rentals to horseback rides, from snow cones to little hand-carved flutes, here's a list of our favorite things to do on the beach in Manuel Antonio.
Just look for the surfboards stacked against the palm trees anywhere along the beach and you're sure to find a well-tanned local offering surf lessons and rentals. Tours average about $40 for a two-hour lesson; some include the board for a couple hours afterward.
You can rent a board for a half day at $10, or a full-day at $20. Experienced surfers will have more fun on the north end of the beach called Playitas where you'll find a nice point break with powerful, curling waves.
Jet ski between the cliffs of the small scattered archipelago that skirts the bay off the coast of Espadilla Beach. Cool off in the ocean spray riding between the swells as they roll in with the tides. You can rent jet skis on the beach for $75 for a half-hour, or you can join a two-hour tour that starts in Quepos and takes you along the coast to Manuel Antonio National Park and Espadilla Beach for $130 per person.
Lounging on the beach
Hide your skin from the scorching heat of the equatorial sun under the cover of a beach umbrella in the lounge chairs that dot the beach from north to south. Chairs run anywhere from $2 to $10 for a full day and, with a little bit of negotiation, it's not hard to bring down the price. Expect offers for cocktails, massages, wooden flutes and jewelry.
Eating a snow cone
Blam! Snow cones on the beach to send your impulse control into overload with a brain freeze that will bring you back to your childhood. Faithful vendors walk the beach with their carts delivering icy treats to snowcone-deprived children and nostalgic adult-children for $2.
Drinking from a fresh Coconut
For a slightly more tropical twist, locals sell ice-cold, fresh coconuts right on the beach, order one and they'll pull it out of the cooler and crack it open with a machete in a feat of quality assurance that can only be achieved in Costa Rica. Also, nothing says "I'm living it up in paradise" like a picture of you drinking out of a coconut posted on instagram to make all your friends jealous.
Riding a banana boat
Somewhere between riding a bull and whitewater rafting, the banana boat is easily the most fun you can have for $8 in Manuel Antonio. Riders don life vests and pile onto a giant banana to careen through the waves and around the islands while occasionally getting bucked off and flying into the water.
The world is surprisingly tranquil parasailing 600 feet above the beach. The entirety of Manuel Antonio stretches out before you from the national park to the hotels that line the road to Quepos. Fly above the islands off the Manuel Antonio coast and enjoy the panoramic views while reclining in your harness.
Taking off is as easy as walking along the beach; landing is a gentle descent into the water where a Jet Ski rider waits to pick you up. Tours cost $75 per person and last about 15 minutes, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a more ideal location to try it out.
A trio of gallant steeds hangs out in the shade, saddled and awaiting riders who want to gallop along the shoreline feeling the wind in their hair and all those other movie tropes. Can you put a price on freedom? Well, yeah, an hour tour will set you back about $45.
Watching the sunset at Happy Hour
Stop in almost any of the bars or restaurants at Manuel Antonio for the nightly happy hour that runs from 4 to 6 p.m. Most places offer two for one specials; that is 'buy two drinks for the price of one', though some bars will only offer specials on certain drinks. El Sol, on the second-story above the supermarket in Manuel Antonio has the best views in downtown Manuel Antonio for viewing the sunset from the safety of a drinking establishment.
Looking for monkeys
A hop, skip and jump past Turtle point onto Espadilla Sur, the southern section of Espadilla Beach located inside the national park. A $10 ticket will get you inside where Espadilla Sur's soft sands have less visitors and a row of shady mangrove trees that stretch toward the surf.
White-faced, squirrel and howler monkeys scour the canopies, scurry down trunks, and hang on branches searching for food. The monkeys, used to human contact, don't mind the paparazzi snapping away while they chew on a fistful of leaves or a ripe mango. Just make sure to watch your bag on the beach or you may find the furry deviants digging through your stuff.