A magical place that will enchant you, if you drive your 4x4 south on the Costa Rican Caribbean coastal road until its end, is Playa Manzanillo, a small fishing town located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo protected area.
There you will find a beautiful beach for sunbathing and swimming, snorkeling and beautiful walks, all in an Afro-Caribbean atmosphere.
1. Enjoy the beautiful beaches
You can spend lazy days in Punta Uva reading and playing in the waves. The beach is lined with lush forests, offering plenty of shady spots to set up camp on the clear sand.
You won't see anyone there, especially if you go during the week! Take the opportunity to eat a lobster in the area.
Manzanillo's main beach offers great waves and is somewhat protected by a live coral reef less than 50m offshore, making it a great place for beginners.
There are, however, spots for the more experienced: reefs to the north and south of the main beach that break with big swells. These can be reached after a short walk through the forest. Beware, some breaks are only accessible by boat.
3. Visit the Gandoca-Manzanillo refuge
The Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge is a private and public protected area that covers more than half of the southern Caribbean of Costa Rica. It includes 15 km of beach.
You will find beautiful white sand beaches and reefs. It is a magical and wild place that you should not miss. Its protected waters are home to amazing coral reefs that are home to all kinds of fish.
The refuge has a primary tropical forest on its hills and one of the best preserved mangrove swamps, an ideal habitat for endangered species such as manatees or sea turtles (leatherback & green turtles), hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, which come to lay their eggs on the beaches of the refuge.
Please do not touch the turtles and do not dazzle them with artificial lights.
4. Spend a day on Punta Mona Island (closed at the moment)
Don't miss the opportunity to take the classic walk to Punta Mona Island. This path is easy to cross and what's more, it is in the shade.
This path reaches the viewpoint of Punta Mona, which is a great place to take pictures and enjoy the beauty of the southern Caribbean. There are also permaculture farms on the island that offer guided tours.
5. Visit Cahuita National Park
Cahuita is the most easily accessible national park in the Caribbean.
It consists of 2,732 acres of land and 55,200 acres of sea and was created to protect the largest coral reef in the country. With beautiful white sand beaches, abundant wildlife and a well-maintained hiking trail, this national park is a must-see for anyone visiting the Puerto Viejo area of the southern Caribbean of Costa Rica.
The 600-acre reef has about 35 species of coral, over 100 species of fish and shellfish, crustaceans and sea turtles.
There are also a few rivers in the park, allowing for a variety of wildlife sightings such as capuchin monkeys, herons, caimans, sloths, snakes and lizards and basilisks... that little neon green lizard that runs on the surface of the water!
Cahuita is not very touristy and is the ideal place for any traveler wishing to discover the fauna, the jungle and the beaches of Costa Rica in a virgin and peaceful area.
Opening hours and entrance fees :
The entrance to the Cahuita National Park is free, it is done by donation at the main entrance. However, if you enter the park through the Puerto Vargas sector which is closer to Puerto Viejo, the price is $5 USD for foreigners and 1,000 colones for Costa Ricans.
The national park is open every day from 8 am to 3 pm.
6. Snorkeling and scuba diving
In Manzanillo there is a magical underwater garden that will leave you speechless. There are sea stalks, gorgonians, brain coral, boulder coral, fire coral, elk horn coral, turtle grass, among other tropical species.
You will also have the chance to see parrotfish, angelfish, snapper, groupers, among others, as well as lobsters, crabs, conch, and even small white tip sharks.
7. Taste the local gastronomy
The Gallo Pinto dish
On the Caribbean coast, the dishes are different from the rest of the country. Here are some examples:
Rice and Beans: it is a "Gallo Pinto" (rice and beans) but with coconut milk. A typical Afro-Caribbean dish. From the first spoonful, you can appreciate the taste of coconut milk and Panamanian chili, to name a few. Sometimes it is accompanied by meat.
Bochinche casado: it is a dish mainly composed of spaghetti, mashed beans, patacones (fried green plantin), a portion of meat of your choice and green salad.
But also Patí, Rondón Caribeño, Plantintá (plantain pie), Hiel or Agua de sapo... there are dishes and flavours for every taste!
8. Take a tour of Puerto Limón
Parque Vargas de Puerto Limon
Puerto Limón is the capital of the province of Limón, with a strong Afro-Caribbean influence.
Puerto Limón is also one of the oldest cities in Costa Rica, with a history dating back to the time of the discovery of America. The port itself was only founded in 1870, but for hundreds of years it has been an important embarkation and disembarkation point for the Caribbean.
The drive takes about 3 hours from San Jose and you will be dazzled by the lush rainforest on the way through the Braulio Carrillo Park.