Going to do my best to do Manuel Antonio the justice it deserves.
We started our journey late at night on the 22nd, flying from Seattle to Orlando then a hopper from Orlando to Miami. On the runway in Miami we had to sit on the runway for an hour because they located some sort of problem with the plane, ended up having to go back to the gate and sit for about another 30 minutes. They luckily fixed the problem and we were on our way. Sitting in first class was sure nice, first and possibly the last time ever in our lives but so worth the extra miles. We landed in San Jose and had only about 1.5 hours before our flight to Quepos. We opted not to rent a car this time around and spend the whole time in Manuel Antonio. I will say up front that I am not sure there is too much time in this city, I read many times on the forum before people saying that you will run out of things to do after about 4-5 days. We did not run out of things to do, how can you when there are about 5 beaches to frequent within walking distance. Back to it.
We landed in Quepos after a flight with Sansa which was a great decision. Cheap and took about 20 minutes. The planes are small and you are packed in but for 20 minutes you can survive. We caught a taxi from the airport to our condo. We opted to rent a condo off of vrbo called Casa Voladora. The cost of hotels in this area is quite steep and this house was nothing short of amazing and way cheaper than 8 nights in a hotel. Kitchen, two separate sitting areas, wildlife right outside the windows, quiet. It is the only set of houses that we saw while we were there that were in the ideal setting, sitting up on top of a hill with an amazing panoramic view, a care takers who takes amazing care and is beyond knowledgeable about the area, within walking distance of everything that the Manuel Antonio area has to offer. We will for sure be going back again another day purely for this house.
All of the days sort of mesh together so I will just tell about what we did the whole time we were there. We explored all of the beaches in Manuel Antonio. They do get busy and at times do not have any shade and that Costa Rican sun gets hot, hot, hot. So go in as soon as the park opens and enjoy them for a few hours before the huge tour groups show up. We also took the time to hike all of the trails in the park. Get off the main path with all the tour groups and you will see more. We elected not to do a guided tour and I am very happy we didn't. We hiked up all of the trails and saw more monkeys and sloths than any of those tours did. The trails are not crowded and you can take your time looking around. Bring water and a lunch as there is nothing in the park for sale, the water in the park is potable as long as you have a water bottle.
We did do a couple of tours. The first was through Si Como No hotel. They have a private reserve across the street from their hotel, we chose to see the night tour because we knew we would be in the park during the day. The tours leave at 5:30pm and the first half an hour or so seems to be a bit boring but then out of no where there is tons of wildlife, the sun just needs to be down all the way and they come out in full force, we saw snakes, bugs, tons of frogs, they have crocs and caimans in a separate area that they take in to keep them safe and then release them into the right areas. The tour guide was beyond knowledgeable, a biology student in the area and he knew more than we could have asked for. Stopped for every question and found insects to describe to us. Worth every penny this tour was.
Second tour that we did was by far our favorite, and I will go to say the best tour I have ever been on. We went on a kayak tour through the mangrove with Manuel Antonio Expeditions. We called one day and just asked when they had an opening and signed up. They came to our house and picked us up, took us to have an authentic Costa Rican meal, then off to the Mangroves we went. We ended up getting a private tour from Juan because no one else signed up for that day. Bring sunscreen, it was hot out there, but so worth it. Juan was very helpful and knew a massive amount about the area and habitat. We saw many different species of birds and of course more monkeys. I will say that Manuel Antonio Expeditions is one of the companies that do NOT feed the animals, this is very important. Many of the tours we saw going by were giving the monkeys food to come closer, this is horrible for the animals and you are going to see them either way. Just call and Juan will help you out, they all speak perfect English and know the area.
We went down to Quepos one day to walk around, the town is very very small and doesn't have a tremendous amount to offer. Still nice to see the little city and buy some trinkets to bring home for friends. Cafe Milagro does have a roasting room with some great coffee options.
Lastly about the area: FOOD. I will say we walked away from the area a bit disappointed about the food. The only traditional meals we ate were one in Quepos at a place called Soda Sanchez, a tiny little place with a huge punch of traditional meal. Worth the bus ride into the city. Huge plate of food for 4 US $. Beyond that we really enjoyed Cafe Milagro, although it is a bit Americanized they do have their own twist on food that has a carribean/latin feel. The rest of the restaurants along the strip from Quepos to Manuel Antonio are all very american. We stopped into Cafe Agua Azul the first night out of pure hunger and were disappointed by the service and the food was just like eating at a Red Robin or something similar. Salsipuedes has a very friendly atmosphere and a great happy hour but the Tapas are american food as well. If you do like sushi they get it fresh day of, which is nice to know.
A couple of random tips that we picked up while we were there. Bring a flash light, we walked everywhere but there are zero sidewalks which at night makes it a bit dangerous, nice to have a light to flash at cars so they know you are there. Taxis: we only took two while we were there but we did barter with them, do so, if not you pay about 7$ to go from the beaches to the main strip. The sun is hot, and I know that sounds silly but really it is. We got burnt through an umbrella we had rented down at the beach, make sure you are wearing sun screen at all times or you will get fried. If you are down at the main beach there is a Super Joseth grocery store, buy your water or beer there and bring it down to the beach, you will save money this way.
Hope this was helpful for someone, I enjoy this Trip Advisor community and find great value here. Keep on keeping on friends.