Playa Espadilla: 6 Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio’s Most Stunning Beach

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Costa Rica is known for its gorgeous beaches and lush rainforests. Playa Espadilla, in Manuel Antonio, is the perfect combination of these two things- with its turquoise waters and soft white sand, surrounded by luscious jungle, this beach is basically the definition of a tropical paradise.

So if you’re visiting Manuel Antonio National Park and looking for some beachtime, here’s 6 tips to know about Playa Espadilla to make the absolute most of your pura vida.

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Psssst… are you heading to the Arenal area during your time in Costa Rica? If so, get ready to have your mind blown, cuz it’s AMAZING! You may want to check out our post all about the best things to do in La Fortuna and tons of other posts about Costa Rica.

How to get to Playa Espadilla

Playa Espadilla is located here within, as well as just north of, Manuel Antonio National Park near Quepos along the Pacific coastline (about an hour south of the popular surf spot, Jaco). You can reach the beach by driving two and a half hours southwest of the city of San José, where most travelers arrive in Costa Rica.

It’s easiest to get to Manuel Antonio (and frankly, around the whole country) if you rent a car, but you can also look into transfer options or, for a more budget friendly option, consider a direct bus from the San José Tracopa Terminal (a ticket should cost you under $10 one-way!).

Couple embracing at sunset on Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Tips for Playa Espadilla

1. Playa Espadilla is actually two beaches. 

Playa Espadilla Norte is on the north side and is publicly accessible, whereas Playa Espadilla Sur is on the southside and only accessible through Manuel Antonio National Park, which, with its abundant wildlife and thick jungles, is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica.

Woman walking on a beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

There’s pros and cons with each of the beaches:

Playa Espadilla Norte is totally free and has bars and restaurants at the ready if you’re feeling like a midday cerveza. On the other hand, because anyone can come and go as they please, there tends to be a lot more beach vendors selling everything from margaritas out of a bag to fresh coconuts. The vendors I encountered respected a simple “No gracias”, but sometimes, you just don’t feel like being on the end of a hustle.

Playa Espadilla at sunset in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

On the other hand, because Playa Espadilla Sur is in the national park itself, you’ll need to buy a ticket, which costs about $18 USD for foreigners or about $3 USD for Costa Ricans (you can buy it here– you annoyingly have to create an account before you buy a ticket). Alternatively, you can join one of the Manuel Antonio tours. Once you enter the park you’ll walk approximately 30 minutes through the jungle to reach the beach.

But on the plus side? Playa Espadilla Sur is one of the most stunning Costa Rica beaches, tucked away in a beautiful cove and surrounded by impossibly green rainforest. It’s also much calmer and has no vendors, with nothing around but you, the tranquil sounds of the ocean waves, and some very mischievous monkeys (okay, they’re cute, but they will try to steal your stuff as soon as you walk away). 

Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Frankly, besides making sure that you’re not burgled by monkeys, there’s not too much else to know about Playa Espadilla Sur, so this article is mainly going to focus on the Playa Espadilla Norte portion of the beach.

2. You may be asked to pay to park.

Most people find parking for Playa Espadilla along Route 618 (around here). Usually, while you’re looking for a spot, some guy wearing a safety vest will likely flag you down and indicate that parking is some fixed fee. To be clear, these guys aren’t official security guards and unless you park in an actual private lot, parking is free.

That being said, it usually only costs a few dollars for these entrepreneurial spirits to watch your car while you’re at the beach all day (don’t pay any more than around 3000 colones). Between supporting a friendly local (all of the “security guards” we met were really sweet and helpful, like helping us park in tight spots and backing out into a busy street) and making sure your car doesn’t get broken into, it seems worth a couple of bucks to me!

I’ve read some reviews on TripAdvisor and similar websites where people are really upset about these people posing as security guards. If it sounds kind of scammy, buckle up- this happens in pretty much every touristy spot in Costa Rica.

However, if you’re truly on a shoestring budget and can’t spare those few extra dollars, I’d recommend taking an Uber (…which probably will cost just as much as parking would), biking there, or staying in accommodations within walking distance (check out my section on where to stay below!).

Van parked on a street in Costa Rica
Tip: There’s a side street towards the north side of the beach by the Igloo Beach Lodge, where my husband, Justin, and I snagged free parking two days in a row. It could be a coincidence (perhaps the side street’s security guard was on his honeymoon that week!), but it’s worth checking out if you really wanna save a few bucks.

3. Bring cash because there’s all kinds of vendors.

As mentioned above, you’ll likely be approached by different types of vendors selling all types of products and services, from beer to massages to even, ahem, some illegal substances. 

playa-espadilla-manuel-antonio-national-park-costa-rica-beaches-3.jpg

You can expect to pay:

  • 2000-5000 colones to use an umbrella and two chairs
  • Around 1500 colones for a beer (that’s cold and hand-delivered to you!)
  • Between 4000-5000 colones for two cocktails
  • About 1000 colones for a coconut
Coconut on a beach

If you’re looking to save some money, it’s cheaper to buy snacks and beer from the store than these vendors (not by a lot, though- you’ll save about a dollar on each beer). If you’re interested in doing that and want to keep your beer cold, my husband and I bring this dry bag with us on almost all of our trips because of how versatile it is, from protecting our electronics when we visit hot springs to even serving as an excellent beer cooler when you’re on the beach.

4. There’s lots of activities to choose from.

One of the reasons that Playa Espadilla is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica is that there’s a TON of different activities to choose from- parasailing, surf lessons, banana boats, and all the other water sports you could think of.

Two women parasailing at Playa Espadilla

If you’re interested in doing these, most of these stalls and vendors are located at the southern end of the beach. Shop around between vendors to make sure you’re getting a good price and be leery of anyone who asks you to pay a deposit– I’ve heard it’s not uncommon for people to pretend to be selling various services and then disappear with your deposit.

Man surfing in Costa Rica

5. Don’t leave your stuff laying around. 

While Costa Rica is generally pretty safe, especially for being a Central American country, petty crime, like theft, certainly still occurs, especially in places where tourists tend to not be diligent about keeping an eye on their belongings. So unless you have someone to watch your stuff while you’re playing in the water, leave any valuables or items you’d be heartbroken to lose back at your accommodations.

Woman with a backpack walking around Playa Espadilla

6. Stay for sunset.

I’m saving the best for last- Playa Espadilla is one of the only beaches in Manuel Antonio to fully face west, so it’s easily one of the best sunset spots! Add to that the beautiful sea stacks, vibrant pink and orange skies, and the reflections from the Pacific Ocean and I’d seriously rank this as one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in my life (and I’ve seen a LOT of pretty sunsets!).

Sunset over Playa Espadilla, Costa Rica

So carve out time in your Costa Rica itinerary to stay for sunset and take in those sweet views (and the smells- if the Playa Espadilla’s fragrance of tropical flowers, ocean, and campfire could be made into a candle, I’d buy a whole truckload of ‘them’em!). 

Couple holding hands at sunset on Playa Espadilla

Where to stay near Playa Espadilla 

Given that part of Playa Espadilla is literally in Manuel Antonio, it’s no surprise that it’s conveniently close to the park’s entrance and a variety of other shops, restaurants, and bars. So why not make your life easier and just snag beachside accommodations?

Sunset over Playa Espadilla, Costa Rica

Check out…

  • Costa Linda Art Hostel: If you’re on a budget, this cute and colorful hostel is just steps away from the beach, with friendly staff, excellent home-cooked food, and clean facilities.
  • La Posada Jungle Hotel: For something more mid-range, check out this simple, yet clean hotel, with free breakfast, a pool to cool off in, and lots of monkeys to enjoy.
  • Hotel San Bada Resort and Spa: If bougie is more your speed, this hotel is the cream of the crop at Manuel Antonio, with beautiful architecture and meticulous landscaping. Of course, there’s a lovely pool, delicious breakfast on offer, and some rooms with ocean-view balconies.

When to Visit Playa Espadilla

As mentioned above, Manuel Antonio is known for its luscious rainforests- meaning this area can get quite a bit of rain. So if you’re trying to maximize your time soaking up the sun on Playa Espadilla, visit during Manuel Antonio’s dry period from December (perhaps to celebrate at the beach on Christmas?) through March.

Beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

Even if you visit during its rainy period from May through November, the rain showers are usually intense, but short-lived, so you should still be able to squeeze in plenty of time on the beaches in Manuel Antonio.


Enjoy Playa Espadilla, in all its gorgeous glory and let me know if you have any questions about the beach in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Playa Espadilla: 6 Tips for Visiting Manuel Antonio’s Most Stunning Beach”

  1. We are planning to hold a small ceremonial wedding on Playa Espadilla in late February 2023. We heard that the North end is less populated, and we can probably do OK, without too many interuptions or people in the background. We are holding later afternoon so we can get sunset pictures. We also heard we may need a 4×4 to get close, is that true?

    Reply
    • Hi Todd,

      We parked and walked to the northern end of the beach for a few days in a row and, while there were some other people around, I certainly wouldn’t say it was crowded (obviously noting that I’m sure that varies on a day by day basis!). I’m not sure if you’re planning on carrying chairs or a bunch of other equipment to the wedding, but if not, we were easily able to park by the Igloo Beach Lodge in a sedan and make the 15 or so minute walk to the north of the beach. Hope that helps and CONGRATULATIONS!

      Reply

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