Travel
2 min

Manuel Antonio

Spectacular beaches are Costa Rica’s most popular destination

Playita nude beach at Manuel Antonio, Credit: costarica.com

Set on the beautiful Pacific coast, 130 kilometres west of San Jose, Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destination.

Just south of the city of Quepos, in Puntarenas Province, this small beach town ends where Manuel Antonio National Park begins. With its impressive tropical forest, biodiversity — including 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds — and spectacular beaches, the park was recently chosen by Forbes as one of the world’s most beautiful.

While the park is one of Costa Rica’s smallest, Manuel Antonio’s four beaches stretch out well beyond its borders. The last on this northwestern stretch is Playita, the unofficial nude and gay beach.

Though Manuel Antonio is a small town, it has a number of places to stay and to eat. While accommodation near the beach is desirable for obvious reasons, staying atop the hill offers great views of the forest and the ocean. The expat-owned Villa Roca is a gay resort with great rooms and apartments and an infinity pool with a spectacular view of the ocean. It is not uncommon to see lazy iguanas taking in the sun near the pool or to hear white-faced monkeys in the trees down below.

Sprinkled along the town’s main road are a variety of restaurants; the most striking is El Avion. Most tables are outside, on a terrace overlooking the forest, with the interior reserved for the bar. Most of the restaurants in Manuel Antonio offer a mix of continental and American food and a traditional Tico (as the locals are known) breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans), eggs and fried plantain. Sancho’s taqueria serves a mean burrito and a variety of other delicious Mexican foods. Most restaurants stay open fairly late, but if you’re looking for drinking and duancing, Liquid is the place. Marked on the outside by a rainbow banner, where each colour demarcates the day and its theme, this is a small but popular club that stays open till the wee hours. For more late-night entertainment options, take a quick cab ride to the more lively Quepos.

The next day cure your hangover on the beach with a chilled pipa (coconut water served right in the coconut); after you’ve absorbed all those electrolytes ask the vendor to cut open the coconut for you and you’ll see a man do some amazing things with a machete.

Manuel Antonio is about a 90 minute drive from San Jose. For the most up-to-date travel information on gay San Jose, see our City GuideListings GuideEvents Guide and Activities Guide.