Costa Rica has so much to offer that if you have limited time, if may be hard to choose where to go. If you’ve narrowed your search down to La Fortuna Vs Manuel Antonio, then I’ve put together a list comparing each so you can make your decision.
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Both are great places to go in Costa Rica with a family. But they are so different that you need to decide what your priority is. Are you looking for beautiful beaches? Or exotic adventure? Here you’ll find details of each city so you can choose: La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio?
What Makes La Fortuna Great
Walkability of La Fortuna
When it comes to going to dinner and visiting local shops, La Fortuna is very walkable. The downtown area is laid out in typical streets where it’s easy to park and then walk around for the night. There is a lot in this large (er) town, including a park in La Fortuna for the kids and plenty of places to eat.
When comparing La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio, La Fortuna has much more that you can walk to.
When it comes to adventures, you do need a car to access the different areas of town.
La Fortuna, the Adventure Capital of Costa Rica
Chances are La Fortuna was one of the first places you heard of when you started planning your family vacation to Costa Rica. La Fortuna is filled with adventure galore. While all of Costa Rica is filled with adventure, La Fortuna seems to stand out as the adventure capital.
From adrenaline packed activities to gentle, family-friendly floats down the river, there is adventure for anyone of any age in La Fortuna.
In La Fortuna, you’ll find hiking, volcano, zip lines, hanging bridges, rivers with crocodiles, night walks, sloths, hot springs, and so much more. We found that there were plenty of activities that kids could participate in in La Fortuna.
If pure, family adventure is what you are seeking when comparing La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio, then La Fortuna wins out.
Tons of Family-Friendly Restaurants in La Fortuna
La Fortuna has a great downtown area. If you are looking to take the family out to eat, there are plenty of options.
As La Fortuna is a main tourist area of Costa Rica, there are plenty of restaurants and all sorts of cuisines.
If you’re wanting a Costa Rican style meal, check out Tiquicia where food and service are both superb (and you must try the pineapple dessert).
Italianissimo will treat your family to a delicious Italian meal, and you may even meet the owner standing outside greeting everyone. They serve all tastes. Great pasta and great pizza make it kid-friendly from the get-go.
You can even find great sushi (raw, vegan, or tempura) at Kappa Sushi.
Family-Friendly Restaurants in La Fortuna are not lacking and you’re sure to find something for everybody’s taste.
And Plenty of Affordable Places to Eat in La Fortuna
We mostly ate at Sodas in La Fortuna.
Sodas are the most affordable restaurants in La Fortuna. They cook up authentic, local food. Most of the menus are similar, but you can find some that have larger menus.
Our favorite was Soda Visquez, located in the downtown area. We ate at plenty other sodas during our time and loved the authentic experience. We also loved being able to eat on a budget in La Fortuna!
Plenty of Hotels in La Fortuna
As La Fortuna is a hot tourist spot in Costa Rica, there are SO. MANY. hotels to choose from.
You can take your family to a luxurious place like Tabacón Resort or The Springs Resort to enjoy the gorgeous hot springs on site.
Or you can choose something more mid-range like Los Lagos.
(It’s where we stayed and I highly recommend Los Lagos) which still has its own springs and is very family-friendly.
There are hundreds of places to choose from in La Fortuna. That makes it great for families traveling on any budget to get their pick of choices.
Hot Springs at Los Lagos
Hot Springs in La Fortuna
You can find hot springs all across Costa Rica. But if your top priority in deciding in La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio is finding those amazing hot springs, La Fortuna wins.
Manuel Antonio claims to have hot springs, but really you’ll find tours that take you to hot springs an hour away. Totally doable as a day trip, but you won’t find them at the hotels.
In contrast, there are so many hotels in La Fortuna with Hot Springs.
The most popular hotels with hot springs are:
La Fortuna has so many hot springs thanks to nearby Arenal Volcano.
You can even access FREE hot springs in the river in La Fortuna. El Salto is a local hang out spot that is grabbing the attention of tourists.
Activities for Families
While nature is full of its own adventure, there are plenty of family activities in La Fortuna as well.
Kalambu Hot Springs (see? another hot springs) is a great place for families to hang out in La Fortuna. This is actually a cool waterpark where you can spend the day, play, and eat lunch.
Club Río is another great family attraction in La Fortuna. Club Rio is filled with adventure at the Springs Resort. It’s perfect for families of all ages. The whole family will love horseback riding, river tubing, the wildlife sanctuary, and more.
Lava Trail at Arenal Volcano National Park
National Parks in La Fortuna
One of the crowns of La Fortuna is Arenal Volcano National Park.
When comparing La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio, this weighs in heavy for La Fortuna!
Arenal Volcano is such an incredible sight, and getting to hike through hardened lava trails in the park is pretty awesome, especially for kids.
If you’re looking for a National Park with adventure, then La Fortuna wins the La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio debate.
What Makes Manuel Antonio Great
National Parks in Manuel Antonio
Let’s quickly get to Manuel Antonio National Park right away, as this is Manuel Antonio’s crowning gem.
Manuel Antonio is the most popular national park in Costa Rica.
The park is filled with wildlife, beauty, and even pristine beaches.
This national park is way more crowded than Arenal Volcano National Park was. By that, I mean we saw way more people, and way more animals.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the top places to see sloths in Costa Rica.
Most Beautiful Beach in Costa Rica – Playa Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio Beach, or Playa Manuel Antonio, is often touted as the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica.
It’s a smaller beach area that you have to hike in to (not a hard hike at all), but once you get there, you understand immediately. The beautiful sand and blue waters make Playa Manuel Antonio postcard-worthy.
When considering La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio decide if you really want to be on a beach. La Fortuna doesn’t provide any beaches, as it is land locked.
But Manuel Antonio will give you beaches both inside and outside of the national park.
Unique Hotels in Manuel Antonio
While you won’t find hot springs in these hotels, you will find many unique hotels in Manuel Antonio.
For instance, the most sought-after hotel is Tulemar, a 4-star beachfront resort that also has luxurious treehouse accommodations.
Whether you are looking for affordability, location, or unique hotels, you can find them in Manuel Antonio.
Plenty of Adventure – Things to do in Manuel Antonio
While I wouldn’t list Manuel Antonio as the adventure capital of Costa Rica, there still is plenty of adventure if this is where you decide to stay.
Manuel Antonio offers many adventures like horseback riding, night tours, coffee/chocolate tours and zip lining. Those can be found in La Fortuna as well. But what you won’t get in La Fortuna is surf lessons and beach days.
Walkability of Manuel Antonio – is Manuel Antonio walkable?
Manuel Antonio is a cool area with a lot to do.
However, when it comes to the town itself, it is a little trickier to get around. The roads are built on huge hills with many things around town being very spread apart. This makes walkability rank pretty low.
The exception is when you are right near the national park; there you will find a small town of vendors, restaurants, and a couple hotels that are easily walked to. It is small though, whereas La Fortuna’s downtown area is rather large in comparison.
La Fortuna Vs Manuel Antonio – which should you choose?
Here’s a quick breakdown of La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio:
Restaurants: More choices in La Fortuna
Hotels: More choices and hot springs options in La Fortuna; Unique hotels in Manuel Antonio
Adventure: Definitely La Fortuna wins here. Volcano hikes, night hikes, river floats, zip lines, hanging bridges, and more.
National Parks: La Fortuna if you want volcano; Manuel Antonio if your goal is sloths and beautiful beaches
Walkability: La Fortuna; the town is laid out in a much more walkable design.
Beaches: Manuel Antonio, as La Fortuna is land locked. And Manuel Antonio is home to Playa Manuel Antonio, or Manuel Antonio Beach which is known as the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica
The Drive From La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio
Having a hard time deciding between La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio? Want to make it to both spots? I’d make sure you have at least a week in Costa Rica to make it worth the drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio.
Drive Time from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio
It is roughly a 5 hour drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. I say roughly because really it can really vary.
We made drives where halfway there, a road was completely washed out and impassable and we had to turn around and start a different route.
We’ve hit traffic on a major highway that set us back an hour.
So when you make the drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, one of the best tips about driving in Costa Rica is to make sure to plan plenty of extra time to make it before dark.
Where to Stop when you Drive From La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio
A great stop on the drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio is in the town of Tarcoles. It’s about 3-1/2 hours into the drive, making for a great time to stretch.
It’s a pretty small stop that has a restaurant and bunch of vendors right on the road you are on. You’ll notice it and wonder what is going on that this little random place has some life infused to it.
Park the car when you arrive to this spot, as you can then walk right past the vendors onto the large bridge. Look over the side and you’ll most likely see lots of crocodiles below!
This is known as Crocodile Bridge and makes a great little pit stop to get out and stretch.
After you admire the crocodiles below, head to the buffet-style restaurant for a hearty meal and grab some souvenirs.
Jaco- daytime stop
As you drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, you’ll pass right by Jaco. If it’s daytime (and hopefully it is, as you shouldn’t transfer towns at night!), you may find some fun adventures in Jaco. It’s a pretty big destination and touristy town.
I would not stop in Jaco at night time. It is known as a wild, party town at night, and this is a family travel blog. I would not take my kids to Jaco at night. (You’ll see road signs along the way that explain why I wouldn’t).
How to Drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio
As roads are often closed, under construction, or just changing, I recommend entering your destination into Google Maps before you depart. That will give you the most up-to-date route to get to Manuel Antonio.
We used Google Maps all 3 weeks when we were in Costa Rica. Besides the washed-out road it didn’t know about, it never steered us wrong. There were times we definitely thought we were on the wrong road or there was no way we were going the right way…but in the end, it was correct!
La Fortuna Vs Manuel Antonio
If you aren’t able to take your family vacation to both beautiful towns, then I hope this breakdown has been helpful in deciding if you will visit La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio.
Perhaps you’ll have time for both (I’d recommend at least 5 full days to see both. Maybe you’ve started your planning and want to know where to go after La Fortuna. Well, Manuel Antonio makes a great spot.
But if you only have a couple days, you’ll have to decide if you’d rather go to La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio.
Are you mainly looking for adventure? Or are you mainly hoping to find the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica? Your goal for your family vacation to Costa Rica can be found as you compare La Fortuna vs Manuel Antonio.
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