It's no secret that we love Costa Rica. 😎 Manuel Antonio was the first place we visited in Costa Rica and we quite literally fell in love with the place immediately. We vividly remember walking through the jungle out to the beach for the first time and being completely SHOOK. It was magical, and we knew it was our new home. We put together a guide of our favorite places to stay, eat, drink and even hang your hammock for a sunset sesh in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Linda is our number one recommendation for an affordable, comfortable place to stay with panoramic views of the water and the jungle. We had the pleasure of meeting the owners, Dan and Stephanie, during our first trip to Manuel Antonio and connected with them right away. Casa Linda is in the perfect location in the heart of MA, just a 3 minute drive or 5 minute bus ride down to Playa Manuel Antonio. They have a beautiful tropical garden in the shared patio where you can enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or watch the epic sunsets in the evening. Dan and Steph also have a lot of connections to excellent tour guides who can give you a true local experience.
We stayed at Hostel Selina during our first quick trip to MA – mainly because we were procrastinating and when we finally searched Hostel World, it was one of the only places available. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived to the hostel and they informed us we chose the right time to come for a weekend full of celebrating their one year anniversary. There was live music, DJs, pool parties, and boat trips all weekend to celebrate. The rooms range from $20-$70/person per night, depending on type of room. There is a bus stop directly in front of the hostel making it easy to get around the town. Playa Manuel Antonio is just down the hill from Selina too, only a 2 minute drive or 10 minute walk.
We haven’t stayed at Hostel Plinio yet, but we did spend an evening here drinking Pilsens and chiliguaro poolside thanks to our good friend, Carlos, who was bartending. We loved the vibe of the hostel. There is a beautiful tropical pool and fun patio to hang out on. Rooms range from $13-$30/person per night depending on type of room. The location is a bit further from the beach than the first two, but it's still only a 6 minute drive.
WHAT TO EAT
Sanchos is hands down our favorite spot in Manuel Antonio. During our last two-week stay in MA, our routine always started on the beach, of course, where we'd stay until sunset sesh in the hammock, and then we'd hit up Sanchos for drinks and dinner. We love the local vibe, the blackberry margaritas, fish tacos, wet burrito, and carnitas nachos. The back patio with a jungle view is one of our favorite post-ups.
Café Milagro was part of our morning routine to get a little bit of work done while chugging fresh fruit smoothies and mugs of coffee. The staff is always super friendly, and the open courtyard is lovely. We’ve literally had dreams of the El Tico breakfast since we left. They load the plate with beans and rice, eggs, avocado, sweet plantains (what we miss most), cheese, tomato, and handmade tortillas! We also stopped in for dinner one night and would highly recommend the Caribbean Jerk Chicken. It was all totally delicious.
Emilio’s Café was recommended to us by a local, so we stopped in for breakfast on Manda’s birthday. We shared a veggie omelet and a tico breakfast. On our way out we walked by the pastry counter and couldn’t resist snagging a couple treats. We got a chocolate soufflé cake and a piece of coconut bread, which we snacked on during our hammock sunset sesh.
You should for sure hit up Jolly Roger for some delicious hot wings, fun live music, and a cute rubio bartender. ;) We stopped in one night to meet some friends and totally vibed, so we came back a couple more times. Get the Hot Honey Garlic Wings, you can thank us later.
Café Mono Congo in Dominical has to be our all time favorite breakfast spot ever. With the view of the river, organic ingredients, and jungle vibes, it’s one of our top recommendations.
A couple of others:
We stopped in Tiquicia Delicias for lunch in Quepos one day. It had really solid casado and typical food.
El Avion was right across the street from Selina, so we went there a few times during our first trip. It was really touristy, but the epic view is worth at least a happy hour visit.
La Colina Steak House has great wood fired pizza on a poolside patio.
WHERE TO DRINK
If you are unfamiliar with chiliguaro, you need to get familiar. The base of the chiliguaro shot is Cacique which is known as the Costa Rican liqueur made from sugar cane. Cacique tastes similar to a clear rum. To make chiliguaro, Cacique is mixed with tomato juice, lemon juice, usually tabasco or another hot sauce of your choice, and a mix of spices like pepper.
Selina Hostel is the party in Manuel. Little did we know on our first night arriving in Manuel Antonio that we were staying at "the party hostel.” Not only did we have the time of our lives staying here, but we met lifelong friends through our stay. We didn’t stay at Selina during our second trip to Manuel, but we spent more than enough time there – it’s impossible not to. From Fillo Fresh dj'ing to rock and roll Irish Celtic bands to after-party bonfires on la playa after 3 a.m., it’s always the spot to be.
Do not miss out on a Monkey Madness at Buena Vista's beachfront tiki bar. They have a 2-for-1 happy hour everyday just in time for sunset. The monkey madness is made with fresh banana, coconut cream, rum, and Kahlua, blended, and it is totally addicting. We’ve tried to recreate the delicious frozen cocktail at home, but nothing compares to the fresh, tropical produce in Costa Rica.
WHERE TO TRAVEL NEARBY
We rented a 4x4 SUV, so we took advantage of checking out some nearby areas, including Guanacaste. Samara is about a 5 hour drive from Manuel, and although it also has a beach, the climate is much drier. We stayed at Kiban's Surf Hostel which was steps away from the beach, on a street with lots of restaurants and there was a Pali Market around the corner. This was another "party hostel," because it was located next door to one of the most popular clubs in Samara, Bar Arriba. (PS. Monday is ladies' night and it's lit). Samara is a small beach town that has recently become a tourist attraction – it felt like we saw a lot more families and Americans here than we did in Manuel. There's a more secluded beach just a short drive away called Playa Carrillo that is beautiful. Some of the tourism companies in Samara take groups for excursions out there.
When we “missed” our return flight home during our first trip, we went down south a little ways to explore Dominical. We stayed at Hacienda Baru and absolutely loved the peaceful oasis tucked away in the jungle. You are totally surrounded by tropical gardens and wildlife. There is a pool in the middle of the gardens that we swam in under the stars. Hacienda Baru is about a 5 minute drive down the road from Dominical, so if you would like to be closer there were plenty of cheap hostels around – on our second trip, we found a room super last minute to stay in at a hostel right on the beach, plus it was super cheap. (PS. Don't leave before watching the sunset at Playa Matapalo.)
If you have the time, the cloud forest in Monteverde is a different experience from the beach. It’s a pretty bumpy 3.5 hour drive, so if you are short on time it may not be worth it. We had the funnest, more extreme jungle zip line experience with 100% Aventura in Monteverde – highly recommend doing their Canopy Tour. It’s $50 for 2 hours on the zip lines. Don’t back out of the Mega Tarzan swing, it may be the sketchiest looking “swing” I’ve ever seen but it was also the funnest thing I’ve ever done.
Jaco is nearby if you feel like exploring something a bit more "bougie." We’ve heard the nightlife is lively and fun, but the tourist vibes haven't been very appealing to us.
WHERE TO HANG YOUR HAMMOCK
This is the realest recommendation in this post.
Walk a few meters down the right of Buena Vista away from the crowd. If you are driving from Manuel Antonio, it’s the first public access beach parking lot on your right. Buena Vista is to the left when you park, where we recommended enjoying a Monkey Madness before walking out to catch the sunset. Along the beach, you'll find some low hanging trees perfect for hanging a hammock. It is also ideal if you have more than one hammock because the trees are close together so you can form a web of hammocks.