7 Samara or Manuel Antonio Comparisons

There are so many amazing places in Costa Rica that it can be hard to narrow down where to go if you are deciding between Samara or Manuel Antonio. We were able to spend a few weeks in Costa Rica and visit quite a few places and truly they were all amazing. But we had to go through the torture of figuring out which places made the list and which had to wait for later.

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Luckily, we were able to visit both Samara and Manuel Antonio. But if you are short on time and need to decide, here is a guide to figuring out if you should go to Samara or Manuel Antonio.

Samara was an amazing city, unique from other cities we visited. Manuel Antonio was more touristy, but so incredible when it came to wildlife. Here are a few other things to consider between Samara or Manuel Antonio for your next trip to Costa Rica.

pinnable image with 4 pictures and text Samara or Manuel Antonio


Both Samara and Manuel Antonio are located along the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

Samara is about 2 hours south of Tamarindo, the popular Guanacaste beach town. It’s located in the Nicoya Peninsula among the trees, though the actual town area takes a tiny break from the jungle. The entire town is surrounded by jungle and just a short drive will get you to some fabulous attractions.

Manuel Antonio is located on the main landmass of Costa Rica just over an hour south of Jaco, another very popular tourist town. As you drive through Manuel Antonio, you’ll be among the canopies of the trees above with the ocean to the west.

Tulemar MAnuel antonio property

Tulemar Lodging in Manuel Antonio


How does lodging compare with Samara and Manuel Antonio? Overall, Samara does not have chain hotels or big fancy resorts. Most of the lodging in Samara is good, but basic. Manuel Antonio, on the other hand, has a nice selection of luxury (and budget) resorts with spas and amenities.


There are a few smaller hotels on the beach in Samara, as well as some that are not in the main town area. Samara also offers quite a few hostels. Basically, Samara is pretty low key when it comes to lodging.

We personally loved where we stayed. It was a rental right in town, spacious enough for our large family, a short walk from the beach, and great proximity to restaurants and grocery.

(See full details about this rental and why we loved it)

Our Pick
Best Rental in Samara costa rica kitchen

Coolest Samara Rental

This is where stayed. It was amazing, with great decor, AC, 3 bedrooms, large kitchen, laundry, dining area, and more! (And it was a great price for all that!)

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio has so many resorts to choose from. Some come with a hefty price, some are moderate. You can also find more affordable accommodations that don’t come with the same amenities, but are comfortable for a place to sleep.

Some of the most sought after accommodations in Manuel Antonio include:

Tulemar- Treehouse style rooms with a restaurant on site, private beach, and pools. Sells out QUICKLY!

Si Como No– A great family hotel with pools, waterslide, restaurants, free breakfast, and full-service spa.

There are a lot of hotel options in Manuel Antonio, including affordable hotels and even a hotel right outside the entrance of the National Park.

two beaches, manuel antonio on top with green lush jungle and turquoise water, Samara on bottom with large beach area, brown sand


Which beaches are better, Samara or Manuel Antonio? That really depends on what you are looking for.


The Playa Samara is a large, beautiful beach with plenty of room to spread out and play. Samara is known as one of the best places to learn to surf as the waves are gentle. This family-friendly beach has restaurants right off the sand and is easily accessible from town.

Just a short drive away you’ll find Playa Carrillo. This is a huge beach without any development along side it. Not only is it long in length, but the sand area is so wide that it takes a good walk to get to the water.

Manuel Antonio

The beaches of Manuel Antonio are absolutely gorgeous. Playa Manuel Antonio is often called the most beautiful beach in all of Costa Rica. It’s white sands contrast agains the turquoise waters of the ocean.

Manuel Antonio beach is much, much smaller than that of Samara. And you must walk through the National Park to access it.

The waves here are more intense, making it less family-friendly than Samara.

But oh is it gorgeous.

Neighboring the national park is Playa Espadilla. This beach is plenty gorgeous and is rather large in length. Tall, large rocks jet out of the water in some areas, giving it a scenic postcard look with the jungle trees behind.

Heading to Manuel Antonio? I highly recommend a tour guide to get the most wildlife sightings!

Samara downtown to beach road

Walking around town in Samara is easy



There is a big difference in walkability when considering Samara or Manuel Antonio. If walkability is important, then Samara is the winner.


Samara is an incredibly walkable town. We stayed here a few nights and walked all over town. From our rental (linked above) we were able to walk to the beach, grocery store, and restaurants. The town of Samara has everything you need, like a pharmacy, ATM, and even a car rental place.

If you are not staying in town, but along one of the connecting roads into town, then it’s a good idea to have a car. But in town, it’s very easy to access everything you need in Samara.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is not as walkable. This whole area is built on hilly roads with things spread out.

The exception is if you stay right near the park entrance. Up here you’ll find that there are restaurants, shops, and tons of vendors.

But if you aren’t right near the park, Manuel Antonio is not an idea place to walk around.


Both locations offer transportation for getting around town if you need to visit somewhere that’s not walkable. If transportation is a factor when deciding between Samara or Manuel Antonio, both offer great options.


While Samara is very walkable, perhaps you’d like to visit nearby areas. In this case, you can hop on the bus that runs through town. This will give you a (very affordable) lift from Samara to Carrillo, Estrada, or Nicoya.

Taxis are an option as well. You’ll find a designated taxi area down toward the beach (across from the soccer field) on the main road through town. Just make sure to negotiate your price before you depart.

Manuel Antonio

Since Manuel Antonio, overall, is not very walkable, it’s important to use the transportation options available if you do not have a car.

Whether you stay in Quepos (the main town near Manuel Antonio) or closer to the park, you’ll find a bus that runs about every 1/2 hour through the area. The route runs from Quepos to the park entrance.

Bus rates vary and it depends on where your point A and B are, but most rates are under $1 one-way. The bus runs from early morning until about 9pm (weekday/weekend times differ).

Manuel Antonio also has plenty of taxis. These are more expensive than the bus, but still very reasonable. This is a great option for getting you exactly to your intended location.

Manuel Antonio spider

There’s more than spiders, but this one looked pretty cool!

Wildlife: Samara or Manuel Antonio?

If wildlife is your goal, then Manuel Antonio is easily the winner here. Samara is a beautiful beach town and yes, it has jungle areas nearby. But it’s hard to find a place more full of wildlife than Manuel Antonio at the national park.

In fact, “they say” that if you want to see a sloth, you are almost guaranteed to see one in Manuel Antonio. The park is home to both 2- and 3-toed sloths. (The name is as it suggests, and 2-toed sloths are typically a little larger in size).

In addition to sloths, you’ll find frogs, unique spiders, snakes, all sorts of monkeys, coatis, lizards, crocodiles, and more in Manuel Antonio.

You may find monkeys, iguanas, and others around Samara, though a sighting is less likely than Manuel Antonio. We personally didn’t see any animals during our days in Samara.

Our Pick
Manuel Antonio Animals grasshopper bats

Manuel Antonio NP Tour

Get the MOST out of your time at Manuel Antonio with a guided tour. I HIGHLY recommend a guide who knows exactly where to look to find animals throughout the park.

Adventures and Excursions

Both places are great picks for adventure and excursions.


Samara offers great beach days and yoga opportunities. Ride horses on the beach or go snorkeling at a nearby island. Surfing is a popular activity in Samara as well, and a great place for beginners or first timers.

Day trips include fun trips to nearby national parks and waterfalls.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio has a bit more jungle opportunity nearby than Samara. The national park is the biggest attraction, but you can also learn to surf, try zip lining, ride on a catamaran, take a coffee/chocolate tour, or go on a night walk through the jungle (with a guide, of course).

Day trips from Manuel Antonio could include going up to Tarcoles to see the Crocodile bridge or going to Jaco for the abundance of activities there. Jaco is definitely a more touristy town, which makes it the hub of Costa Rica attractions.

Check out: Guide to Getting from La Fortuna to Jaco

streets of Samara

downtown Samara

Overall Feel of both towns

Which has a more local, natural feel to it: Samara of Manuel Antonio?

I’d definitely say Samara. But Manuel Antonio is catered more to tourists if you’re looking for that classic vacation full of activities and tourist fun.


Samara is more of a hippy, yoga, surfer town. The people here are friendly, helpful, and use to tourists, though not overrun with them. There is one large grocery store in town and a few smaller markets.

There are a couple medical clinics in town (including one right next door to the rental we stayed in). There is a pharmacy, plenty of fruit stand markets, and a great SAMARA sign to take that perfect photo.

Manuel Antonio

The overall feel of Manuel Antonio felt a little more disorganized to me. As mentioned earlier, the town is built on hills and some windy roads. It’s definitely more of a tourist trap as many people will insist that their parking lot is the only lot for the national park…until you drive farther and see other lots even closer.

The town is still gorgeous though, and the beaches are a real treat.

There are a few grocery markets here of varying sizes, though if you need a doctor you’ll have to head to Quepos (which really isn’t that far).

Final Thoughts: Samara or Manuel Antonio

As you can see from this post, the two towns are a bit different, but equally beautiful and worth a visit. So which should you visit, Samara or Manuel Antonio, if you only have time for one?

Here are my thoughts:

If you are also visiting La Fortuna, then make Samara your choice. La Fortuna is so full of jungle experiences that you can book a tour there to see wildlife. Then, spend the rest of your time in Samara and enjoy this cute beach town.

If you only have time for ONE city in your whole Costa Rica experience, then head to Manuel Antonio. This will give you the best of both worlds, jungle and beach, which represents Costa Rica at its finest.

Need more comparisons?

Decide whether you should visit La Fortuna or Manuel Antonio.

Or get the guide from Driving from Liberia to La Fortuna

pinnable image with 4 pictures and text Samara or Manuel Antonio

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