Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

This national park in Costa Rica was created in 1985 with special provisions that allowed the residents of the small town of Manzanillo and other surrounding areas like Punta Uva to continue living in their communities, which fell within the Park’s boundaries. This wildlife refuge in Costa Rica is one of the only mixed refuges of the country. It also protects 70% of the southern Caribbean coast.

Where is it?

Limon Province, 12 km south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 73 km Southeast of the city of Limon in Talamanca, Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

How big is it?

12,382 land acres and 10,950 marine acres

Weather?

Hot and humid.
Annual average temperature: 26 C (79 F)
Annual average rainfall: 2500 mm (98 inches)
Sept / Oct and Feb / March are the least rainy, however even then afternoon and evening storms roll in.

Did You Know?

It extends all the ways down to the Río Sixaola which forms the Panamanian border and protects the gorgeous beaches, coral reefs, lowland tropical forests (some primary), and several of Costa Rica’s most endangered habitats including the only jolillo palm swamp in Costa Rica.
This humid tropical forest, is one of the most important parks in Costa Rica to have reefs along the Caribbean coast.
It protects major freshwater and marine habitats, including one of the least-spoiled coral reefs on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
The wildlife refuge officially begins at Cocles River (south of Puerto Viejo) on the ocean side of the road extending 30 kilometers down to Río Sixaola at the Panamanian border. At the Punta Uva River, the refuge begins to move inland, eventually encompassing Hone Creek into its boundaries.
The living coral reefs, which begin offshore from Punta Uva extending south to Manzanillo’s Punta Mona, support more than thirty five types of coral, 11 species of sponge, 27 species of algae and 34 species of mollusk.
Beyond Punta Mona (AKA Monkey Point, the point of land you see from the beach in Manzanillo as you look south towards Panama) are beaches that serve as important nesting grounds for the four species of endangered sea turtles that nest from March through July (green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles).
The region is well-known for the only red mangrove swamp remaining in Costa Rica. The swamp serves as a spawning site for Atlantic tarpon, oysters, and many other marine organisms.
In the Gandoca lagoon, crocodiles, caimans, shrimps, manatees, snook and tarpon all contribute to the cycle of life.
The only natural mangrove oyster beds left in Costa Rica exist here as well.

Activities

Guided hikes
Dolphin watching tours
Fishing excursions with tarpon fishing, which is said to be better than in Tortuguero
cuba diving and snorkeling – swim off the white sand beach in Manzanillo to where the water arkens, this is where the coral reefs are.The best time for these activities: Sept / Oct and March thru May.
Hiking on trails
Turtle tours can be coordinated through the Minae office in Manzanillo

Wildlife, Flora & Fauna

Gandoca Beach is the most important nesting site for leatherback turtles in the south Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. The nestings consist of up to 580 egg-layings each nesting season (March – July).
Three other species of marine turtles lay their eggs on the beaches here: the green turtle (July thru October), the hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles (February thru May).
In the red mangrove swamp and lagoon: Caimans, Atlantic tarpon, and manatees.
In the Fall, raptors migrate here.
358 species of birds, of which 102 are migratory, mainly from the North.
Baird’s tapir (endangered)
Harpy eagle (endangered)
Red-capped manakins
Collared aracaris (small toucans)
Angelfish
Blue parrot fish
Anemones
Crabs
Starfish
Sea fans
Sea cucumbers

Recommendations

Be prepared for hot, wet weather, with afternoon showers. Wear cotton or quick-dry clothing. Bring sunscreen, a hat, bandana, plenty of water and insect spray (mosquitoes and no see-ums can be bad).
Check at the Minae office for trail conditions. Many parts of the trail are often flooded.
Hire a naturalist guide. You will see so much more and enjoy a more fulfilling experience.

This is definitely a park worth checking out ir you are exploring the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. So, consider it for your next vacation.

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About Marina Kuperman Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 10+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

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