Just nine and a half miles south of the lively Caribbean coastal city of Puerto Viejo lies the tiny village of Manzanillo Costa Rico. Manzanillo Costa Rica itself is modest–home to a few inexpensive cabinas and sodas; but the Manzanillo- Gandoca Wildlife Refuge that surrounds the town shelters manatees, crocodiles, four species of sea turtles, and over 350 species of birds.
A daily bus runs from Puerto Viejo down to Manzanillo at 7:30 in the morning and returns at 5:30 PM—plenty of time for an inexpensive day trip. A cab ride runs around $6 each way, but intrepid travelers can even bike the distance in about 90 minutes, or walk along the beach from Puerto Viejo right into town.
Upon reaching Manzanillo Costa Rica, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Maxi, the most popular place in town. Restaurant Maxi occupies the second floor of an old building facing the sea and fills up quickly, so arrive early to get a good table with a great view.
The Manzanillow-Gandoca Wildlife Refuge extends all the way to the Panamanian border and includes an offshore coral reef that offers some of the best snorkeling and diving on the Caribbean coast.
Three separate species of dolphins also inhabit the waters just off Manzanillo Costa Rica, and many local operators and tour guides offer boat trips to view them. The Talamanca Dolphin Foundation (www.dolphinlink.org) even offers research internships to study the animals.
To explore the Manzanillo-Gandoca Wildlife Refuge on foot, find the beginning of the single trail by walking along the beach south of town. Visitors will have to first wade across a shallow river to pick up the trailhead. The trail can easily be thoroughly explored in a single day and is well worth the hike. Take a pair of binoculars for spotting wildlife and some dry socks.
Another option for exploring the Manzanillo-Gandoca Wildlife Refuge is to rent a kayak or hire a local guide for between $15 and $55 USD. Diving equipment rentals cost about $30 per person per day with a guide included.
Exploring the area by water is both pleasant and revealing and yields a different perspective than taking the trail on foot. Kayak tours of the Refuge can also be combined with snorkeling or diving the shallow reef.
Sport fisherman hunt for tarpon in Manzanillo Costa Rica, and the waters surround the town attract hordes of them year after year. To hook one of the big fish, check out Manzanillo Tarpon Expeditions (www.tarponville.com). These outfitters have everything an experienced fisherman needs, including knowledge of the waters and the habits of the fish.
Other options for exploring Manzanillo Costa Rica include PADI dive certification courses, guided hikes into the Talamanca mountains, and boat trips to Bocas del Toro, Panama, a marine archipelago that includes nine islands, 52 keys and some 200 tiny islets.