Costa Rica is blessed with countless beautiful beaches, but two destinations that consistently top the list are Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo. Both offer stunning coastlines, abundant activities, and unique experiences, but each has its own distinct charm. In this guide, our local specialists, Randall Jiménez, Sergio Bolaños , Yuliana Valverde and Olman Romero help you decide which beach destination is the perfect fit for your Costa Rican adventure, covering aspects like activities, wildlife, accessibility, nightlife, and accommodation.

Activities Available

Manuel Antonio

Boardwalk in forest Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio is known for its diverse range of activities, suitable for all types of travelers. Some popular options include guided hikes in Manuel Antonio National Park, mangrove boat or kayak tours, surf lessons, ocean kayaking, catamaran sailings, jungle horseback riding, and even a vanilla or spice tour. As Olman & Yuliana from Amazilia put it, "Manuel Antonio offers a variety of activities for everyone."  

Read more about kimkim's recommended activities in Manuel Antonio.


Surf's up in Tamarindo

Tamarindo, on the other hand, is more focused on surfing and water activities. Surf lessons, scuba diving, snorkeling, catamaran sailings, and ocean kayaking are some of the top activities available in this laid-back destination. According to local specialist Randall from Coast to Coast Adventure, "only a few activities are run in Tamarindo directly, many of the activities, the traveler will spend a some time in a van to get where the activities will be operated. For example a visit to Rincon de la Viejo volcano."

Read on for kimkim's recommended activities in Tamarindo.

Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo

If you're looking for a destination with a wider range of activities and a focus on wildlife, Manuel Antonio is the better choice. However, if you're primarily interested in surfing and water activities in a more laid-back atmosphere, Tamarindo is the way to go.


Manuel Antonino

Squirrel Monkey in Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaCaption

Manuel Antonio is an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts, thanks to its national park and proximity to other protected areas like Carara National Park, Marino Ballena National Park, and Corcovado National Park. The parks are home to a variety of wildlife, including three different types of monkeys, sloths, and numerous bird species. As Randall points out, "Manuel Antonio is a much better option for those people looking for wildlife, mainly families with kids."


A Pacific green turtle is heading up the beach to lay eggs

Tamarindo, located in the tropical dry forest, offers fewer opportunities for wildlife sightings than Manuel Antonio. One wildlife highlight for Tamarindo is to visit during nesting or hatching seasons for the turtles.  Three species of turtles come to the beaches near Tamarindo to lay their eggs, if you come at the right season, this is a can't-miss experience.

Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo

If wildlife viewing is a top priority for your trip, Manuel Antonio is the clear winner. However, if you're more interested in a beach-focused vacation with occasional wildlife encounters, Tamarindo could still be a good option.

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Manuel Antonio is located about three hours away from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose. The destination is easily accessible by rental car or shuttle, making it a convenient option if you're flying into San José.  

Tamarindo is just 1.5 hours away from Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR) in Liberia, making it an excellent choice if you're flying into this airport. Like Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo is also accessible by rental car or shuttle.

When it comes to accessibility, the deciding factor should be the airport you'll be using. If you're flying into San Jose, Manuel Antonio is the more convenient option, while Tamarindo is closer to Liberia's airport.


Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio offers a more relaxed nightlife scene compared to Tamarindo. While there are still bars and restaurants to enjoy, the atmosphere is generally quieter and more family-friendly.


Tamarindo is known for its lively nightlife, with numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants popular among young travelers.  Local specialist Sergio describes Tamarindo as a more energetic party scene with young people partying, bars and discos, compared to the more relaxed atmosphere in Manuel Antonio.  

Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo

If you're looking to unwind and enjoy a quieter vacation, Manuel Antonio may be the better choice. But for those seeking vibrant nightlife, Tamarindo is the way to go.


Manuel Antonio 

Typical view from hillside hotel in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio offers many accommodation options, from budget-friendly lodgings to luxury resorts. According to Olman & Yuliana, "Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo are two of the most famous destinations in our country.  Travelers can find accommodation for all budget levels, from basic to luxury."  Manuel Antonio is very hilly, and many hotels are on a hillside inside the lush jungle overlooking the ocean, but do not have direct beach access.  However, it's also an amazing experience to have access to the jungle and the beach in the same location. 

Read more about the best boutique hotels in Manuel Antonio


Beachfront hotels are more common in Tamarindo

Tamarindo also has a variety of accommodations, but as Sergio points out "Tamarindo has more beachfront hotels which many travelers are looking for their beach vacation. If beachfront is important, then you will have more options in Tamarindo."

See the best beachfront hotels in Tamarindo

Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo

Both Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo offer accommodation options for various budgets, but if you're looking for a beachfront hotel, you might have more options to choose from in Tamarindo


When deciding between Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo, consider your priorities and your desired experience. If wildlife encounters, diverse activities, and a family-friendly atmosphere are important, Manuel Antonio is the perfect destination. On the other hand, if you're seeking a laid-back beach vacation focusing on surfing and lively nightlife, Tamarindo is the way to go. Ultimately, both destinations offer unique and unforgettable experiences, so you can't go wrong with either choice.


Map of Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo
Map of Manuel Antonio or Tamarindo
Written by Yenyi Fu, updated Sep 19, 2023