There are a few great options for getting from the capital city of San José to Manuel Antonio, but the best way is to rent a car and drive the 99 miles (160 km)—the roads are good and part of the drive is along the Pacific coast with dazzling scenery. You can also get a private transfer and leave the driving to someone else, with even more opportunity for seeing the sights.
A shared shuttle is nice for solo travelers or couples, it keeps the costs low and offers door-to-door service. Yet another choice is a flight, but you will need to arrive at the airport 2 hours early—so while the flight is quick, the total amount of time is longer than driving.
By Car or Private Transfer
Duration: 3 hours
Renting a car and driving is a great way to experience Costa Rica (see more in this Driving FAQ). There are multiple rental companies to choose from in San José, and the roads are good. Be aware of traffic—especially on weekends, a lot of city dwellers will be flocking to the beach with you, so there are often backups. Make sure to bring Costa Rican colones for the tolls—they don't accept credit cards or US dollars.
To make the journey to Manuel Antonio, the best way is to head west on route 1. Getting out of the city will be the trickiest part of your drive—it's easy to get turned around, so pay particularly close attention to your GPS on the way out of town. Get on route 27, and after about 50 minutes, look for exits "to Jaco".
From here, you'll take Route 34 the rest of the 2-hour drive down the coast to Manuel Antonio. Along the way, you'll see roadside stands selling coconuts. Pull off and they'll machete one open for you, and you'll taste the freshest coconut water of your life, also known as a "pipa".
A private transfer can make the trip simple, with a safe driver, and prices that make a lot of sense—especially with three or more people in your group.
By Shared Shuttle
Duration: 3.5 hours
Shared shuttles are a fantastic choice when traveling to Manuel Antonio. There are many reputable shuttle companies, and they will pick you up in a timely manner at the airport or wherever you are staying, and take you directly to your hotel. The only inconvenience may be picking up and dropping off other travelers, which may add some time to your journey.
Once you arrive, it's easy to get by in Manuel Antonio without a car. There is one main thoroughfare and taxis are abundant (you can have your hotel call one for you) or a public bus that goes up and down the road hourly— a great, extremely low-cost option for getting to the national park, restaurants, or anywhere else you'd like to go.
Duration: 3 hours, including drive time
With regional airlines offering more than 5 flights per day, and at a price not much higher than a shared shuttle, a plane seems like a good way to get from San José to Manuel Antonio. But by the time you factor in getting to the airport two hours before the flight and paying for transfers to and from the airport, you are spending just as much time and a lot more money taking a plane.