Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

The Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is one of those beautiful and exotic destination in Costa Rica, not visited by many tourists. It is special for tourist who would like to get away from the busy beaches and look for an unique experience in a very diverse ecosystem. It is located on Costa Rica’s southern most Caribbean coastline, and includes three small towns which are Punta Uva,  Punta Mona, Home Creek, and Manzanillo. It covers around 12.000 acres including low lands, rain forest, endangered swamps (988 acres of marshlands home of millions of migratory birds), red mangrove areas (the only intact mangrove swamp on the Atlantic), farmland, and the Gandoca River Estuary (home of Spawning Atlantic Tarpon, crocodiles and West Indian Manatees). This National Wildlife Refuge protects 70% of the southern Caribbean coast.   It not only protects the land ecosystems but also 10.950 marine acres, home to one of Costa Rica’s two live coral reefs .The refuge is also a nesting are for the green sea turtle and the leatherback sea turtle, which come to shore during the months of March to July with a peak in April and May.

The Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1985 as a way to protect the area, but it also allows local communities to continue to live within the park. The protected area begins South of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, around the borders of the Cocles River, and it ends South of the Sixaola River, at the Panamanian frontier.

The Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge has beautiful beige sand beaches and crystal waters, special for swimmers and surfers. It is also a nice place for snorkeling and scuba diving, about 200 meters off shore; and the best time to practice this sport is from February through April. One of the best places for snorkeling is Punta Mona, where visitors can see many species of corals and sponges, algae, mollusk, sea cucumbers and Venus sea fans, among others.

How to get here

To get to Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge visitors should take the road that goes from San Jose to the city of Limon.  Before entering the city of Limon, visitors should turn south towards the town of Manzanillo, passing through Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. Although the town of Manzanillo is not very accessible, it is located very close to Puerto Viejo, around 12 km.

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