Visiting Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast will leave you speechless in wonder and amazement that a place so stunning truly exists. The coast has its unique history and culture with rich flavors that extend along the coconut tree-lined shores, an essence like no other within Costa Rica. Colorful seaside villages, jungle and white-sand beaches attract those in search of the country’s pura vida vibes and escape from the daily grind.
Along the southern Caribbean coast’s breathtaking landscape in the province of Limon is Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo reaching from Manzanillo and extending to the Sixaola River on the border with Panama.
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge Basic Information
It is about 4 hours from the capital of San Jose and offers an array of jungle bungalows and seaside accommodations to get your mind off of your to-do lists and back into the flow of tranquility and nature. Many of the small towns within the area neighbor the reserve, including Manzanillo, Punta Uva and Punta Mona.
This refuge is a beautiful combination of several different ecosystems and environments made up of just over 5,000 hectares protecting almost 70 percent of the southern Caribbean Coast. Comprised of jungle wetland and lowland rainforests, mangrove swamps, reefs, flooded forests and lagoons, oceanfront, and sand beaches the opportunity for adventure is at its finest.
With such an extensive variety and vast land of ecological habitats, this is an exciting and rich location for wildlife and exploration of Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes. This ultimately makes Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo a definite stop in your itinerary and one of the many reasons to make your way over to the Caribbean Coast.
Turtles at Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo
Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo is an important nesting ground for various species of sea turtles with the endangered Leatherback turtles nesting on these southern protected shores. If wanting to witness the spawning of the leatherback turtles you can take a chance during February to September on the beaches of Gandoca; however, the peak season occurs from March up until May.
Making the journey annually these gentle giants return as they battle to keep their species in existence laying the eggs of their next generation in the soft sands. During April and May, the shores come to life with the hatchlings emerging from their nest, making their way out into the world. The little leatherback hatchlings crawl towards the sea with such zest and determination with no hesitation of the struggles and danger that surround them.
Green turtles and Hawksbill turtles make appearances as well and taking a guided turtle nesting tour provides you the unbelievable experience to witness these remarkable creatures in their natural environments.
Typically, the females will make their way up onto the shores in the evening and your expert guide will help you have an up-close and personal once-in-a-lifetime experience while ensuring the endangered species are respected and not disturbed. No white lights, photos, or videos are permitted with only red lights being used to promote a natural surrounding for them.
The overwhelming memory and indescribable emotions you will endure will engrain in you for a lifetime of memories you won’t need a photo as a reminder of the pure raw beauty that you will be a part of.
Wildlife and Environment
Protection and the conservation of the wildlife and environment is an important factor in the country’s ecotourism recognizing the role it plays for both the country and sustainability of countless species.
Therefore, there are many respectable local tour companies to choose from in order to really enjoy everything that this refuge has to offer as the grounds are extensive and the wildlife can be camouflaged deep within the tropical humid forest. They are experienced to traverse you through the canopied trails that host much of the endangered flora and fauna of the region and where mosses, bromeliads, and many medicinal plants can safely grow.
The trained eyes and awareness of a guide can create an exciting jungle hike and exploration in search of the extensive wildlife in Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo. Howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas, pacas, anteaters, and tapirs are some of the fascinating wildlife nestled inside the refuge.
The protected coral reefs offer colorful sightings of tropical fish, urchins, lobsters, blue parrotfish, angel fishes, and sponges. Within the waters, the dolphins, tarpons, and turtles swim while crocodiles and manatees inhabit the mangrove swamps.
With over 350 different species of birds throughout you are sure to spot one of the many beautiful and unique tropical birds flying above. Chestnut-mandibled toucans, keel-billed toucans, the tufted harrier, tanagers, motmots, and the endangered harpy eagle are just a mere sample of extensive birdwatching opportunities within.
Red-lored parrots, the colorful and fast-moving hummingbirds, the black curré as well as an abundance of migratory birds create a rich and perfect bird-watching day. While exploring the refuge make your way to the mirador to have your own bird’s eye view of Manzanillo Beach.
The view will have you admiring and appreciating Costa Rica’s beauty in its natural state and simplicity, the white sand beach, the beautiful blue waters, the coconut-lined beaches, and the sprawling and mysterious ocean. A place to take a moment, to breathe, and simply just be.
Entrance to the Refuge
The refuge is free to enter and operates from 8 am until 4 pm, Monday to Sunday. Ensure you bring good closed-toe shoes if looking to explore the terrain and of course a change of clothes so you can relax in the stunning pristine waters and enjoy the postcard-like beaches. This area does receive a fair bit of rainfall therefore if you hoping for drier weather March and April, and September and October may be your best months to visit.
Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo is special in the sense that it doesn’t just fit into one specific itinerary, you can mold your time here into any ideal day you desire. Enjoy the calm spirit of the horses as you horseback ride, feel your heart come alive with joy as you watch the endearing turtles make their long journeys to shore, hike through the forests as you listen to the echoes of the monkeys and birds above, look for dolphins and marine life as you enjoy a day in the sun.
Step into your personal Costa Rica postcard at Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo and create a day of memories that seems like only a dream