If you’re interested in buying Manuel Antonio real estate, either for living or investment, it helps to know the area. This article offers an area guide to this part of Costa Rica for potential expats.
Manuel Antonio is an iconic location in Costa Rica. If you come across a photograph of a Costa Rican beach where the jungle meets the ocean, dotted with coconuts and monkeys, there’s a good chance it’s Manuel Antonio. The tourism industry often uses images of the area to promote Costa Rica.
As the poster child for Costa Rican tourism, Manuel Antonio owes its fame to the national park. Despite being the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it’s one of the most beautiful and frequently visited. Tourists come to Manuel Antonio for hiking, wildlife spotting, river rafting, kayaking, zip lining, fishing, surfing, and more.
The area offers everything except for golf, and even that’s no issue as the Los Sueños Resort, home to one of Costa Rica’s best courses, is less than an hour away.
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Some Manuel Antonio/Quepos area history and logistics
For much of the 20th century, it was all bananas around here. They began growing them in the 1920s, attracting workers and boosting the economy. United Fruit arrived in the ’30s, leading to further growth and infrastructure development. Flooding, banana blight, and labor issues caused the industry to decline by the mid-1950s. Now, the major agricultural industry here is palm oil.
The decline of bananas prompted the area to look at tourism as a serious source of income. In 1972, the government established the Manuel Antonio National Park to boost tourism in the region, and the rest is history.
Quepos became a sport fishing center in the 1980s, and by the 1990s Manuel Antonio began attracting a diverse crowd of travelers, including families, nature lovers, adventure seekers, and gay tourists (Manuel Antonio is still the most LGBT-friendly destination in Costa Rica).
Manuel Antonio itself is a small village on the beach at the entrance to the national park. Although it primarily consists of restaurants and tourist shops, the area also encompasses the seven-kilometer road between Quepos and the park entrance. This road weaves through the rainforest-clad hills, providing access to high-end boutique hotels and secluded luxury homes. Discreet luxury and a high-class living experience define the character of Manuel Antonio.
Highway 27 has made reaching Manuel Antonio from San José and the international airport easier than ever. What used to be a grueling four-hour drive on bad roads now takes significantly less time. This convenience allows for effortless day trips to San Jose to stock up on supplies, and nearby Herradura, just 45 minutes away from Manuel Antonio, boasts the region’s best supermarket. For day-to-day shopping and essential services like banks and healthcare, Quepos is a great option, along with Jaco to the north and San Jose when needed.
Manuel Antonio is the more picturesque and tourist-friendly location, while Quepos is the practical workhorse. Together, they offer some of the best real estate options for expats in Costa Rica
So, what are people buying in the Manuel Antonio area? Well, most private homes are on the higher end, often utilized as luxury vacation rentals, contributing to the thriving vacation rental home industry in Manuel Antonio.
One aspect to consider in Manuel Antonio is its topography. The area is one winding road with mountainous jungle on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Unlike other beach communities in Costa Rica, you don‘t get much room to expand. This keeps the area pretty much exclusive, development-wise. It also contributes to a growing feeling of “gentrification” that has permeated many beach communities in Costa Rica since the pandemic. This is something to keep an eye on, going forward.
Condo projects do exist in the Manuel Antonio and Quepos area, but the overall atmosphere is more low-key compared to the high rises found in Jaco or Guanacaste.
Living directly on the beach is not feasible due to Costa Rica’s strict zoning regulations. The law prohibits developing land up to 50 meters from the high-tide line. However, most beaches are within the national park, making development a moot point. Instead, luxury homes offer stunning views from the lush hills overlooking the ocean.
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In summary, the key points to consider when buying property in Manuel Antonio are as follows:
- Location. The area is close enough to San Jose and the international airport to make for easy day trips.
- Topography. The area comprises protected forests and jungles spreading down the mountainsides to the ocean. This doesn‘t allow a great deal of room for expansion.
- Home types. Because of the topography, most homes are discreet, hidden affairs in the hills overlooking the ocean. This means killer views. The area has one of the best luxury vacation home markets in the country.
- Amenities and services. Manuel Antonio has many restaurants, both down near the park and along the road to Quepos. Many of the hotels also have their own great restaurants that non-guests can use. Quepos is great for day-to-day services and shopping, also Jaco to the north, and San Jose on the odd occasion.
- Weather. The Manuel Antonio area sees a LOT of rain. This is an important fact to acknowledge. That lush jungle, home to all those monkeys that drop by your home, exists because of the rain. The dry season runs from December to April, but outside those months expect rain most afternoons. This is not a bad thing—but forewarned is forearmed.
Manuel Antonio is more of a tourist area than an expat area
That’s okay, but it means foreigners moving to the area should expect others foreigners to be more transient.
An expat community exists in Manuel Antonio and most people who move to the area love it. There’s no reason you shouldn’t either, as long as you know what you‘re getting into.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.