Drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio Featured

You picked two incredible locales in Costa Rica to share with your family, but now you’re wondering if the 4 hour 20 minute drive is too far of a distance to travel between them.

Not to fear, here are 10 ways to break up the journey and make the most out of your driving day from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio.

(The same stops, naturally, will work if you’re starting in Manuel Antonio and ending in La Fortuna. Just re-order them from the bottom up.)

Don’t miss the Costa Rica Facts for Kids at the bottom of this post!

1. Eat Like Ticos

Devour Mouth Watering Casadas like the Ticos (Costa Ricans) do!

La Fiesta del Sabor or Soda Los Cocos are both excellent options about 1 hour 20 minutes from La Fortuna so an ideal spot to stretch your legs and fill your stomach. Eighty minutes may not feel like a long drive back home, but add windy roads, scary drivers, and noisy kids and you’ll want this break.

Kids in Costa Rica La Fortuna
Casado at La Fiesta del Sabor

Our rule of thumb when dining out in Costa Rica was, when offered, order the Casado. This never steered us wrong. “Casado” translates to Marriage and the assortment of foods marries several Costa Rican stables into a well rounded dish of carbs, fat, and protein. Even the kids gobbled up these plated meals.

There’s no shortage of worthwhile Sodas on the route from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio and Google ratings didn’t lead us wrong.

2. Stock up on Fresh Fruit at a Roadside Fruit Stand

Frutera La Amistad in Coyolar is 2:45 min south of La Fortuna and offers a wide array of freshly picked fruits. It’s right along the highway with ample parking. .

3. Take a Jungle Cruise

Get up close and personal with the crocodiles and countless species of birds on a quiet pontoon ride up the Tarcoles River.

There are a few other companies along the way from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, but Kayaks aren’t as kid friendly as this pontoon option.

la fortuna to manuel antonio
Zdenek Unsplash

4. Pull off at Crocodile Bridge

Depending on the time of day, be prepared for traffic galore when approaching the Crocodile Bridge of the Tarcoles river. Pedestrians run from one side of the bridge to the other, backing up vehicle traffic as a result.

If the weather suits them, you might find the river littered with this slow moving beasts. We saw 5 total crocodiles when we stopped; 2 on one side and 3 on the other.

It’s a popular stop, so there are several places to grab a bite to eat or a quick refreshment. We were scorching hot, so we grabbed ice cream from Pops and a “Batido” (fresh fruit smoothie) from Mi Rancho (which had bathrooms for customer use as well.)

Parking attendants man the lots near Crocodile bridge. We handed ours 500 colones ($0.75USD) to avoid the back and forth bartering. Keep small change on hand for this reason!

Kids in Costa Rica Tips

5. Carara National Park

Not far past the Crocodile Beach is a wonderful park to explore; Carara National Park. It’s name, fittingly means “River of Lizards.” They have an accessible trail at their main entrance so we enjoyed having our umbrella stroller to dock our 1 year old in when he got tired.

The entrance fee was $10 per person, but our young children were free. I didn’t see anything posted to say what the age cutoff was for free child’s admission.

We saw green and black poison dart frogs and lots of butterflies and millipedes. Others said they saw monkeys and heron, but I think we were too noisy for their liking.

Make sure to apply bug spray!

There were public restrooms at the entrance and at the halfway point of the accessible trail.

6. Keep your Eyes Peeled for “Roadside Fish” and Wildlife

We came to an abrupt stop to avoid a Coati once and also a couple times for domesticated dogs on our way from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio. I was a bit surprised by how many collared dogs would meander right along the road or be sitting/sleeping in the middle of a side street.

Another unusual spectacle was seeing people, all women, with these popup fish ‘markets’ near Jaco. Putting myself in a local’s shoes, I thought, “how convenient to grab an ultra fresh dinner on the way home!

Seeing these Fauna crossing signs encouraged us to stay alert and soak in the scenery versus bury our face in a device.

7. Catch a Glimpse of Macaws near Jaco Beach

If you haven’t seen one yet, Jaco might be your best bet! We saw 7 Scarlet Macaws in the trees just off Playa Pita. My husband said it was the same area he spotted them the last time he was in Costa Rica.

There’s plentiful parking along this stretch of sandy beaches.

8. Visit a Wildlife Sanctuary

Checkout Neo Fauna if you want to squeeze some more animal encounters into your day. Visit their Facebook page to confirm opening hours.

Kids in Costa Rica Manuel Antonio Rainmaker Hanging Bridges

9. Ride an Aerial Tram or Zipline through the Rainforest

If our kids were a tad older, I would have jumped at this experience! Check out the rave reviews of Rainforest Adventures Jaco.

They also have a butterfly garden.

Perry Grone (Unsplash)

10. Dazzle the Family with Costa Rica Facts for Kids

  • There are 2,000 species of butterflies in Costa Rica, that is 18% of the world’s species!
  • Costa Rica produces more than 99% of its electricity with renewable sources.
  • Costa Rica is home to 9,000 species of plants.
  • Costa Rica translates to “Rich Coast” as when Christopher Colombus came ashore, he saw the native people were adorned with jewelry and gold.
  • 876 species of birds can be found in Costa Rica’s unique ecosystem.
  • Approximately 25% of the land in Costa Rica is a national park or nature reserve. This is higher than any other county.
  • The common basilisk, nicknamed Jesus Christ Lizard, can run up to 330 feet on water!
Kids in Costa Rica Manuel Antonio National Park
“Jesus Christ Lizard” Common Basilisk

There you have it, 10 ways to breakup your drive and make your ‘relocation day’ a memorable one while you journey from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio.

Have you booked your car rental for your drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio?

You will certainly find having your own vehicle to be the most efficient way to move about Costa Rica with your family. We enjoyed being able to keep our car fully stocked for daily adventures with anything we might need in the trunk.

We picked up our rental car as soon as we landed in San Jose and used the same drop off point at the end of our journey, but Adobe Rent A Car has drop off points in Fortuna and Quepos (next to Manuel Antonio) as well.

It took about 90 minutes from the time we left baggage claim to when we pulled out of the rental lot with our sedan. Rental companies want you to think you need an SUV, but on the route from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio our sedan was just fine.

Getting gas on your drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio

All gas stations in Costa Rica are full service, meaning there will be an attendant who will pump the gas for you. You are not expected to tip and can pay in either colones or USD.

Regular (or sometimes called “Plus”) is good for any rental car. We noticed we were asked if we wanted “Super” or “Plus” making it seem like Plus would be more expensive, but it is the base.


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  2. Thank you for this great write up! We are a family of 5 and thinking of doing the sam etrip.

    Did you guys make this trip in 1 day and what time did you leave La Fortuna?

    1. We did do it in one day, we left about 10am by the time we had breakfast and coffee. We hit the alligators at HIGH heat and much appreciated the cold smoothies at a nearby vendor.

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