One Month, 30 Day, Family Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

One Month, 30 Day, Family Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

One Month, 30 Day, Family Trip to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

It’s been our dream to have the freedom to travel the world with our family while working remotely and homeschooling. Well, we did it! We just arrived back from a trip-of-a-lifetime to Costa Rica where I, my husband and two kids (ages 8 and 11) spent one month.  This was our first, long, international trip as a family and the memories we created were incredible. It was the perfect mix of fun, relaxation, and adventure. For the entire month, we spent $5,500 on everything (airfare, lodging, excursions, transportation, food, and souvenirs). Here are all the details to help you and your family plan your own incredible experience in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has two seasons, dry (January - April) and rainy (May - December). We traveled from March 28-April 28. By Mid April, the rain started and it rained many evenings, but the days were sunny and gorgeous. 

FREE Costa Rica Travel Planner

Airfare

FREE Flight to Costa Rica Costa Rica

 

I am so excited to share with you how we flew our family of four to Costa Rica for FREE! We signed up for a couple Chase credit cards, including this Chase Sapphire credit card (affiliate link). They are still offering a great sign on bonus of 60k points. The other chase card we got isn't available anymore, but with this Capital One Venture card (not an affiliate link), you can earn 75k bonus points. Both of these combined would likely be enough to get your family round trip tickets as well. We used 143,000 points toward four round trip tickets from Oregon to San Jose, Costa Rica. The Chase Sapphire card is also offering a $50 hotel credit, which is an added perk. This was a huge savings for us and helped make this trip possible for our family.

Sunrise on Airplane Ride to Costa Rica

Watching the sunrise as we land into San Jose, Costa Rica.

Link back to top of page.

Ground Transportation

We managed to get around the entire month without having to rent a car. Last time Chris and I were there in 2016 we noticed the driving was pretty aggressive, the roads were narrow, many dirt/gravel roads (requiring a 4x4), so we opted to use other means to get around. 

To get from San Jose International Airport to Manuel Antonio, we used this company Manuel Antonio National Park for private transport. The drive takes about 2.5-3 hrs depending on traffic. On our way to Manuel Antonio, the driver was great. He stopped at a restaurant for us to have breakfast near the Tarcoles Bridge, which is famous for its crocodiles. He also stopped at a grocery store for us to get some food before taking us to our apartment. We used the same company on the way back to San Jose from Manuel Antonio. It costs $172 each way. Read our honest review here.

We mainly used the local bus, Uber, and taxis to get to the beaches, shops, restaurants, excursions and to nearby towns like Quepos. The bus that runs from Manuel Antonio to Quepos was only 320 colones/pp, roughly $.50. Our kids loved the experience of riding on the bus.

Bus from Manuel Antonio to Quepos Costa Rica

Link back to top of page.

Digital Planners

Accommodations

 Manuel Antonio Apartment

Squirrel Monkeys in Costa Rica

Squirrel monkeys outside our apartment window.

 

To minimize the hustle and bustle of travel within the country, we decided to stay in one spot instead of jumping around to different areas of the country. After lots of research on where we’d find the best wildlife and beaches, we settled on Manuel Antonio and it did not disappoint in both areas. 

We picked Manuel Antonio because it's an ideal location where the jungle meets the ocean. It has an extremely dense population of wildlife and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Nearly everyday, we saw an array of animals, ranging from scarlet macaws and green parrots soaring through the sky to three different species of monkeys swinging from treetops to sloths hanging out at local beaches.

Another bonus to staying in one spot for the entire month is AirBnB offers great discounts for long stays. We snagged this apartment (two bedroom) for $1300 for the entire month. 

Link back to top of page.

Excursions & Attractions

Tours/Excursions

We had great experiences with all the tours we went on throughout our trip. Our kids (ages 8 & 11) were safely able to join us on all the adventures. Be sure to ask tour companies if there is a price difference between paying in cash or by credit card. Sometimes, there is a high service charge if paying by credit card. We saved quite a bit by paying in cash for excursions.

Canopy Zipline Tour - We used Titi Canopy Tour. They offered 9, fun lines to zip line, including one that races against another person. It was my kids first time. They went from initially being scared to excited to zipline upside down. At the end, they had a short rappel, which wasn’t too exciting, but the Tarzan swing afterwards was exhilarating. We got a great deal, buy 3 at $75/pp and get 1 free. This included transport from our apartment and a nice traditional meal. They took photos of us along the way which we purchased for an affordable price afterwards. This is our honest review.

Canopy Zip Line Costa Rica

Zip Line

Canopy Zip Line Costa Rica

Zip Line

Canopy Zip Line Costa Rica

Rappel

Canopy Zip Line Costa Rica

Tarzan Swing


Horseback Riding Tour - We used Rancho Tipico Don Juan. This tour was extremely worthwhile. It was my and the kids first time horseback riding and it was a wonderful experience. We rode up and down hills on a private ranch with breathtaking views. Hiked through the jungle and learned so much about the local flora and wildlife from the passionate guide and his father who own the ranch. We took a dip inside a gorgeous waterfall and had an amazing, typical Costa Rican meal. As a bonus, we met wonderful friends on this trip that we connected with after the tour. The guide was gracious enough to take photos of us along the way and not charge for them. I would highly recommend this family-run tour. This tour included transport from our apartment and is well worth the $80/pp cost.  This is our honest review.

 Horseback Riding Costa Rica Waterfall Costa Rica


ATV Riding Tour - We used Manuel Antonio ATV Tour. We rode on double ATVs with our kids. We were given helmets and safety instructions before starting and felt very safe. The ride through the jungle included large puddles of mud and streams of water, which made it incredibly fun to splash through.The hike through Rainmaker Park was nice. The waterfall was gorgeous and so refreshing after a long, hot hike. The snack of crackers and fresh pineapple was delicious. The meal afterwards was arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and it was incredible. They had a professional photographer who took the most amazing, action photos of us, which we happily purchased (they were very affordable). Overall, I would highly recommend this ATV tour if you're looking for a family-friendly adventure. It costs $135/ATV, $270 total including transport from our apartment. This is our honest review.

ATV Tour Costa Rica AVT Tour Costa Rica

Rainmaker Park Costa Rica

Hike through Rainmaker Park

Waterfall inside Rainmaker park Costa Rica

Waterfall inside Rainmaker Park


Mangrove Monkey Boat Tour - We used Adventure Tours Costa Rica. This was a fun, informative boat ride. We learned about the local wildlife and what makes the mangrove forest special. We saw basilisk lizards run on water, a sloth climbing a tree, tiger heron birds, iguanas, and troops of capuchin monkeys. We even got a personal visit from some of the local monkeys, which was incredible. This tour did not include transport or a meal, but it was still worth the experience of having a hands-on monkey experience. This experience costs $67/pp.  My honest review is posted at the bottom of this page.

Mangrove Boat Tour


Guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park & Catamaran Tour - We used Iguana Tours for this combo tour. The first part was a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, which was great. We saw all three species of monkeys (howler, capuchin, squirrel), both two-toed and three-toed sloths, and so many other smaller animals, birds, reptiles and insects. We even saw a whiteface capuchin monkey eating a green iguana. It was an amazing experience to see the animals in their natural environment. One of the most top-rated beaches in the world is located inside the park. The beach is definitely beautiful. It’s located in a cove and has very minimal tide, making it safe and incredible for swimming. The tour included a typical Costa Rica lunch (Casado - chicken/beef/fish, rice, salad, beans, plantains) and smoothies which were delicious. The second part of the tour included a Catamaran Tour. The boat ride was lively and fun. We danced on the rooftop of the catamaran, bravely jumped off the side, slid down the fun slide, and the kids snorkeled for the first time. We had another great Costa Rican meal along with fresh fruit and juices. This tour included transportation from our apartment and was an incredible deal. They were running a promotion at the time and it cost $99/adult and $50/child. This is our honest review of the National Park and Catamaran

Manuel Antonio National Park

Whiteface Capuchin Monkey Mom and Baby in Costa Rica

Whiteface Capuchin Monkeys

Sloth Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Three-toed Sloth

Howler Monkey Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Howler Monkey

Lizard Costa Rica

 

 

    Manuel Antonio National Park Beach

    Catamaran

     Catamaran Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

    Catamaran Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

    Jumping off the side of the boat.

    Catamaran Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Catamaran Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

    Attractions

      • Manuel Antonio National Park - The smallest, yet most biodiverse national park in Costa Rica. Contains a lush rainforest full of wildlife and one of the top rated reaches in the world. Some of the many wildlife we saw while hiking through the park were: three species of monkeys, two species of sloth, lizards, crabs, birds, leaf cutting ants, and more. We came to this park two times. Once one our town and once with a guide. The advantage to coming with a guide is the knowledge they provide on the environment and animals. They also have powerful scopes that allow for close up viewing of the wildlife. When we came on our own, we were able to see all the same wildlife as with a guide. We even saw a capuchin mom monkey with her baby on her back. Tickets costs: The admission fee is $18.08, children from 2 to 11 years old pay $5.65. Tickets may be purchased, only, online here. Keep in mind the park is closed on Tuesdays and they have a cap for how many people are allowed in the park. By mid morning, they typically reach their capacity, so it’s best to get your tickets online ahead of time.
      • Tarcoles Bridge (on the way to Manuel Antonio) - known for its crocodiles in the river
    Tarcoles Bridge with Crocodiles in Costa Rica
      • Quepos - neighboring city with shops, restaurants and a scenic walk along the water and playground overlooking the water
        • Parque Nahomi - Cute spot next to the ocean with rocks you can stand while the waves crash. We saw many locals jump in for a swim. There is a kids playground and exercise equipment which was fun. It looked like you can rent kayaks also, but we didn’t.
    Parque Nahomi, Quepos Costa Rica Nahomi Park, Quepos Costa Rica

        • Quepos Farmers Market - open Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. Since we went during holy Easter week, not many vendors were there, but it was still fun to get fruits and shop for locally made souvenirs. 
        • Marina Paz Vela - Boutique shops, restaurants. Great for a stroll along the water and watching the sunset.

    Beaches

      • Playa Manuel Antonio - Beautiful beach with calm water. Our most favorite to swim in. This beach is within Manuel Antonio National Park and only accessible with entrance into the park.
    Manuel Antonio National Park Beach
      • Playa Espadilla - Popular public beach right outside Manuel Antonio National Park. Lined with shops and restaurants. Accessible by public bus. This beach has waves and sometimes dangerous rip currents. Be sure to pay attention and respect the warning flags for rip currents. There was a near fatal rescue while we were there. Parasailing and horseback rides on the beach are offered here. Treat yourself to crepes made by a local on the street, they were delicious. Whitefaced capuchin monkeys are often seen here climbing on the trees, rooftops, powerlines. We saw some sneak into a restaurant and steal sugar packets. They live up to their nickname, The Whiteface Mafia. 
     Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

      • Playa Biesanz - Small yet gorgeous beach right next to the rainforest. Located in a cove, the water is calm and great for swimming. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards are available for rent here. The ocean floor is covered in small shells and rocks on one end and large rocks on the other. The bus does not run here. Accessible by taxi/Uber or walking if you have accommodations nearby. The path to get to the beach from the street is fairly short, but rocky. Our water sandals definitely came in handy for the walk and inside the ocean.
    Playa Biesanz, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

      Link back to top of page.

      Free Costa Rica Travel Planner

      Cost Breakdown

      $0 - Airfare

      $90 - Checked luggage

      $147 - Travel Insurance (We are members of AAA and went through them to get Allianz Travel Insurance - TripAssist Plan)

      $100 - International cell phone coverage

      $825 - Food (Dining out and groceries)

      $73 - Airport transportation (in Oregon)

      $334 - Private ground transportation (Costa Rica)

      $1310 - AirBnB (two bedroom apartment)

      $225 - Zipline Canopy Tour

      $320 - Horseback Riding Tour

      $270 - ATV Ride Tour

      $267 - Mangrove Boat Tour

      $321 - Manuel Antonio National Park Guided Tour & Catamaran/Snorkel Tour

      $60 - Excursion photos

      $48 - Manuel Antonio National Park entrance

      $90 - Hotel in San Jose (one night)

      $470 - Misc items we purchased for travel (Water shoes, ponchos, steri-pen, sunblock, bug repellents, waterproof bags, vitamins, swimsuits, travel beach mat)

      $200 - Bus, Taxi, Uber

      $200 - Tip/Gratuity

      $150 - Souvenirs & Misc

      $5500 - TOTAL

      Link back to top of page.

      Homeschool

      For the plane rides, I printed a few Costa Rica printables and also lots of brain games to keep learning fun and interesting.

      Our many encounters with wildlife and learning from tour guides constituted for much of the learning on our trip. I bought a travel watercolor set and we journaled about our experience everyday. It was such a great way for us to reflect on our days, appreciate our experience, and be creative. Now we have a beautiful sketchbook that will take us back to the amazing time we had in Costa Rica.

      Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Journal

      The kids researched animals we encountered and created entertaining videos to share what they learned.

      We learned how to convert U.S. dollars to local colones. It’s roughly 600 colones to $1. The kids really enjoyed the colorful bills with images of wildlife. They paid for our bus fare and used it at the local market to buy snacks.

      Costa Rica Money, Colones

      Since my kids are avid readers and I knew it would be difficult for them to go without reading, we bought two used Kindles on Facebook Marketplace for $25/ea. Through our local library we were able to download kindle books for free. We also got a month of Amazon Kindle Unlimited for $10. It was the best investment. The books kept them entertained throughout the entire trip.

      The kids also practiced their writing skills by writing reviews for excursions we went on.

      We also started the kids on Duolingo to learn Spanish.

      Link back to top of page.

      Digital Planners

      Food

      We really enjoyed the food in Costa Rica. One of the traditional dishes we ate frequently were Casados (rice, chicken/fish/beef/pork, salad, beans, plantains). And the fruit smoothies are divine. We dined out about half the time and cooked at home the other half. We didn’t keep track of our food expenses while there, but once we got back, I tallied the numbers and was surprised that we only spent around $200/week on food. Many beaches have people who sell souvenirs, excursions, deliver food from local restaurants, and offer fresh coconuts. Be sure to grab some coconuts if you're a fan. They're delicious.

      Coconuts in Costa Rica

      Restaurants

      A list of the restaurants where we dined.

      • El Avion - This restaurant is built around a large airplane, which is converted into a bar  that you can go inside and even sit in the cockpit. Offers a great ocean view. Cost was on the high side. We got appetizers and enjoyed the great view and exploring the airplane.
      El Avion Restaurant, Manuel Antonio El Avion Restaurant Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
      • El Cerdo Feliz - This restaurant was right around the corner of our AirBnB. Great local food and smoothies with a jungle view. They have games like Jenga, dominoes, and Uno on the table which added to the fun. Very affordably priced, I recommend any of casados and chifrijo. Kids loved their burritos and quesadillas.
      Credo Feliz Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Credo Feliz Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
      • Soda Angel - Great local food and smoothies at a great price. A traditional plate of casado cost 2700 colones, equivalent to less than $5. I recommend any of the casados, chicken nachos, arroz con pollo (mixed chicken and rice and fries).
      Soda Angel Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Soda Angel Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

      • Vista Verde - Fun spot with good local food. We sat in the swing seats in the front of the restaurant. They also have ocean view seats toward the back. Also very affordable.
      Vista Verde Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica Vista Verde Restaurant, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
      • Falafel Bar - Not local Costa Rican cuisine, but still very good. The cost was moderate.
      • Rico Tico Jungle Grill - Breathtaking views of the ocean. We didn’t notice any local dishes on the menu. I got a vegetarian wrap that came with a guava sauce that was delicious. Cost was moderate.
      • Little India Manuel Antonio - Chris and I love Indian food so we gave this place a try. It was pretty standard for Indian restaurants and the food was good. Cost was moderate.
      • El Chante Del Parque - Restaurant right outside Manuel Antonio National Park with good local food. Made the mistake of getting the papas fritas con sausage and received a plate of fries with sliced hotdogs. Chris’ casado was great. Affordably priced.
      • Buru Seaside Restaurant - Had some great casados here which everyone enjoyed. Moderately priced. Great view of the ocean.
      • Pops Ice Cream - Ice cream shop in Quepos with great flavors
      • Sol Frozen Yogurt - Sweet little ice cream shop. My favorite flavor was guava.
      Sol Ice Cream Shop, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

        Groceries

        The main grocery chain we frequented was Super Joseth. We made the mistake of not checking the price/conversion of items on our first trip to the grocery store - just threw them into our cart and checked out. We learned quickly that many items are imported and yield very high prices (compared to the U.S.). We got frozen pizzas that normally go for about $5 in the U.S., for $14. After that, we opted for local items, which were much more fresh and affordable. The pre-marinated meats were a great way for us to cook delicious meals in our apartment.

        Drinking Water

        While dining at local restaurants we drank tap water. It tasted great and we never had any problems. While at the apartment, we did use a steri-pen to sterilize the tap water before drinking. Bottled water creates so much waste. If you are concerned, we highly recommend using a steri-pen on your travels. 

        Link back to top of page.

        Digital Planners

        Packing List

        For our full packing list, download our Costa Rica Travel planning spreadsheet.

        Recommended things to buy beforehand if you don’t already have them:

        Link back to top of page.

        Tips

        • We were able to use US dollars for payment at the majority of businesses if we didn’t have Colones available.
        • We were able to use our credit card at the local shops, grocery stores and restaurants without incurring service fees.
        • Some restaurants will automatically include service/gratuity on the bill. Others will note on the menu if it’s not included.
        • WhatsApp is widely used and works great to communicate (call, text, share photos) with locals.

        Link back to top of page.

        Costa Rica, Pura Vida, Family Trip FREE Flight to Costa Rica

        This trip was nothing short of amazing and full of memories we'll cherish for years to come. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. I hope this sparks the travel bug in you and offers some great ideas and resources for your trip to Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

        FREE Costa Rica Travel Planner

        More wildlife we saw during our trip

         

        Agouti

        Anole Lizard (our tour guide did this)

        Whiteface capuchin monkey eating green iguana

        Basilisk Lizard (Jesus Lizard) running on water

        Blue Button Jelly Fish

        Blue and Orange Crab

        Locoust

        Coati

        Collared Redstart

        Rocket Poison Dart Frog

        Green Parrot

        Iguana

        Hummingbirds

        Leaf-Cutting Ants

        Green Parakeet

        Black and Green Poison Dart Frog

        Royal Starfish

        Scarlet Macaws

        Scarlet-Rumped Tanager

        Sergeant Fish

        Tiger Heron

        Toucan

        Two-Toed Sloth

        Whippoorwill

        Digital Planners


        You Might Also Like...

        When in quarantine, we PLAY!
        When in quarantine, we PLAY!
        Hi Friend, How are you holding up?! Here in California, we are on a shelter in place, quarantine.What do we do when we're in quarantine during the ...
        Read More
        200+ Online Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning (many are free)
        200+ Online Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning (many are free)
        Below is a comprehensive list of educational resources for remote learning, teaching, and homeschooling for kids, teens, and adults. The list was o...
        Read More
        Homeschool During Coronavirus Quarantine
        Homeschool During Coronavirus Quarantine
        Hi Friend, Are you homeschooling for the next 30 days, too?Zander and Zoey created a quick 3-minute video all about the homeschool set-up we create...
        Read More