Beautiful rainforest, stunning beaches, and cute animals are usually high on the agenda when visiting Costa Rica. However, you won’t find much of that among the city streets of San José, the country’s inland capital. Instead, we suggest you turn your attention to Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast because there you’ll find all those things and more. What’s more, it’s a destination that is relatively easy to get to from San José.
What makes the trip from San José to Manuel Antonio so easy is that there are lots of options for getting there. In fact, there are so many options it can start to get a bit overwhelming.
We know you’d rather spend time learning about all the fun activities waiting for you rather than researching each of the options for transport from Manuel Antonio to San José and back. That’s why we’ve collected all the options right here for you and included all the important details like time, cost, and comfort so that you can quickly decide what you’re going to do.
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Plane
The quickest way to get from San José Airport to Manuel Antonio is by plane.
The closest airport to Manuel Antonio is at the town of Quepos, roughly 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) north of the town. Sansa Airlines and Costa Rica Green Airways both fly the route several times a day. Flights from Manuel Antonio to San José Airport and back cost between $80 and $120. Check Skyscanner to compare ticket prices.
While the flight from San José to Quepos only takes around 30 minutes, the total trip should take around 1.5 hours, not including time spent waiting at the airport. That’s because you also need to factor in the 40 minutes or so it takes to reach San José Airport from the city center, as well as the 15 minutes it takes to get from Quepos Airport to Manuel Antonio by taxi.
What makes flying the quickest option is that planes are able to fly over the mountains that separate San José from Manuel Antonio, whereas every land option must drive either through or around them. While fast, flying doesn’t really save you too much time in the end and it’s the most expensive and least environmentally responsible option, so consider whether it’s worth it.
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Rental Car
For the travel option with the most flexibility and freedom, you’ll want to rent a car for your Costa Rica trip. The drive from Manuel Antonio to San José takes roughly three hours when following Route 34 along the coast or closer to four hours taking Route 301 through the mountains.
By driving yourself to Manuel Antonio National Park, you have complete control over every detail of the journey. Not only do you get to go when you want, you can choose your own route and take detours or stop along the way.
For instance, with this approach you could stop at the surf town of Jacó and visit each of the viewpoints south of town along the coastal road. Best of all, you’ll have a car at the other end when you get to Manuel Antonio.
Driving does come with its own considerations, though. For one, you’ll have to feel comfortable driving and navigating in a foreign country. You’ll also spend the journey over-focused on the road rather than sitting back and relaxing.
The cost of renting a car and driving yourself is also difficult to know in advance. Not only do you have to factor in the cost of the car rental but also fuel and toll booths along the route. There are a lot of toll roads in Costa Rica, and they’re best paid in Costa Rican colones and in small denominations or coins. Tolls are usually under 250 CRC, or $0.35, but along this route they can be up to 900 CRC, or $1.30.
If you decide to rent a car and do the drive yourself, we recommend checking out RentalCars.com as it filters through hundreds of car rental sites to make sure you get the best price!
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Shuttle
The easiest way to get between Manuel Antonio National Park and San José is by shuttle. With a shared shuttle service, you’re collected from your hotel at one end and taken to your hotel at the other end. All the stress and navigating is handled for you, so there’s nothing more for you to do than sit there and relax.
A shuttle from Manuel Antonio to San José usually ends up taking around four hours, as it needs to collect and drop off passengers at different hotels at either end. On the journey, shuttles generally stop once for a break at a rest stop. Shuttles typically use a minibus capable of carrying 10 to 15 people. There are several shuttle companies that offer this route, with most of them providing one or two services daily.
Tickets for shuttles usually cost around $54 per person. While significantly more expensive than traveling by bus, it’s worth remembering that you’ll be saving money on taxis or buses getting to and from your hotel at either end.
Besides the convenience of door-to-door service, going by shuttle allows you to relax and spend the journey as you’d like. It’s also a very safe means of travel as there aren’t people coming and going throughout the journey and there are a limited number of stops.
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Private Transfer or Taxi
With many of the advantages of renting a car and traveling by shuttle, getting a private transfer can be an awfully tempting idea. Whether you book a private shuttle in advance or simply get a taxi, this approach can work out really well in certain specific scenarios.
Travel time for a taxi or private transfer between San José and Manuel Antonio is usually around three hours, much like driving yourself. This option is faster than a shared shuttle as it only needs to make one stop in both San José and Manuel Antonio. Private transfers come in a variety of sizes, from smaller six-seater minivans to larger 20-seater minibuses.
Private shuttles for six or seven people usually start at around $180 and go up from there. Taxi fares from the city for a regular car usually come to about $140–$150. This approach can provide excellent savings for groups compared to getting individual tickets on a shared shuttle. You also have the benefit of it being a private vehicle, meaning you get to choose your pickup time and don’t need to interact with random people.
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Bus
Like so often in Central America, your cheapest option for traveling between two places is to go by bus. The most important thing to check when choosing this option is whether you’re getting a bus all the way to Manuel Antonio or are actually going only as far as Quepos, the nearest town. Should the bus only go as far as Quepos, you can then get the local bus to Manuel Antonio, which fortunately runs frequently.
Traveling by bus between San José and Manuel Antonio takes around four hours, but that’s only if you use direct buses, which will be labeled directo. The alternative to direct buses are colectivos, which take considerably longer as they pick up passengers along the way.
While there are other companies that travel this route, the most useful one for tourists to know is Tracopa. Their Ruta 27 service goes eight times a day between Manuel Antonio and San José. Tickets cost 5285 CRC, or $7.70, and can only be purchased at the company’s ticket office.
Please note that Tracopa has its own dedicated bus terminal in San José on Calle 5 in Laberinto. It is recommended to get your tickets at least 30 minutes before departure or to even go the day before to ensure they don’t sell out.
The most appealing thing about taking the bus is certainly the price; it also won’t take you much longer than if you used a shuttle service. However, it is the least flexible option, and you will still have to think about how you get to and from the bus stops at either end.
From San José to Manuel Antonio by Tour
Are you short on time and just want a taste of what Manuel Antonio has to offer? Then you’ll want to consider visiting this fun coastal destination with this day tour.
With a day trip to Manuel Antonio, you’ll be taken on a guided tour of the national park to admire its rainforest, beaches, and wildlife. On the guided rainforest walk, you’ll have the chance to see all sorts of local creatures, including monkeys, sloths, and toucans. You’ll also have free time down by the beach and stop along the way at Crocodile Bridge and at Jaco Bay. At the end of the day, you’ll be taken back from Manuel Antonio to San José.
Besides including return transport and various sightseeing activities, this option also comes with breakfast and lunch. So, it’s an excellent option if you want all the decision-making of the trip handled for you. The obvious drawback is how limited your time is for exploring Manuel Antonio National Park.
There you have all of the possible ways you can travel between San José and Manuel Antonio National Park while visiting Costa Rica. Because each approach has its own benefits and drawbacks, choosing the right option really comes down to which is the best for you.