Unbelievably, in the FIVE years we've been in Costa Rica, we had never visited Manuel Antonio. Thankfully, Visiting Brother was up for the trip :-).
Our first glimpse of the beach...
--- trip details ---
We decided to rent a car and *drive* instead of taking the bus. We got a "full-size" car from Dollar for about $30/day, including the mandatory insurance. We had confirmed earlier with our credit card company that they would cover additional insurance, so we waived that. Renting from Dollar was pretty painless! Every car rental place here requires you to sign a "blank" credit card slip to cover damages, etc. We certainly didn't like doing that, but at least Dollar puts their name on the slip, reducing the risk somewhat. We had also double-checked with our credit card company on this situation, and they said they would treat it like any other fraudulent charge if something was inappropriately charged using this slip.
I took the bus to pick up the car in the morning, and drove it back to the house to pack up (bus, rent car, get directions, drive home, took about an hour and a half). The day after we got back, I returned it early in the morning, and caught the 7:45 bus to class. The entire experience was a far cry from the first time we tried to rent a car here!
We left San Pedro, on the East side of San José, at 12:15. After several ahem, "sightseeing" detours, and one official detour, we arrived in Manuel Antonio at about 4:00. All told, the detours probably only added a bit more than a half hour to the trip.
We decided to see a little more of the country on our return, so we went back via San Isidro de El General. We left Manuel Antonio at 9:15, driving South along the coast, were in Dominical 2 hours later, and stopped to stretch our legs in the park at San Isidro at 12:30. We drove through the 11,000 foot pass of Cerros de los Muertos, and stopped for lunch while we were still pretty high up (and while it was still pretty cold!). We got to San Pedro about 4:00, got gas (The entire trip took less than 1/2 a tank! It took about $24 to fill up.), and got a load of groceries ('cause we had a *car* to haul it all home!).
Manuel Antonio park entrance fees are c1600 for residents and $10 for tourists. Our hotel was between the two entrances/exits (very convenient!). We ate a *lot* of our meals at Costa Linda, an almost-hostel backpacker surfer place. This would be a great place to stay if you don't need air conditioning or private bathrooms, and if you can ignore the very prevalent smokers.