Travel Guide To Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge In 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 few mixed refugees in the country. It also protects 70% of the southern Caribbean coast. That’s why today, I’m talking about Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.

As you may know, Costa Rica has many animals and is one of the best wildlife destinations in the world to travel to. You can enjoy many activities here, like bird watching, camping, hiking, and many other outdoor activities beside wildlife watching. It is an amazing place for eco-friendly travelers and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is not exception, is a must visit!

Where is Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge located?

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is located in the Limon Province, 12 km south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 73 km Southeast of the city of Limon in Talamanca, on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

The Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge is located in one of the unique and beautiful regions of the country, situated a few kilometers away from the Panama Borders, lying on the Caribbean Sea by the east.

How to Get to Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge?

The best way to get to Gandoca Manzanillo is by car, there are domestic flights from San Jose to Limon. It’s not a common tourist destination in the country, but you can find some tours willing to take you there.

If you’re driving to Gandoca Manzanillo, it is really simple, you need to drive all the way taking highway 32, located east of Guapiles towards Limon. After that, take a right and go to the south on coast road 36 and drive to the refuge. It’ll take you 3-4 hours from San Jose. There are no entry fees or permits

How big is it?

When it comes to dimensions, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is huge, covering a huge part of land and marine arena, 12,382 land acres and 10,950 marine acres (45.66 square kilometers of land and 59.23 square kilometers marine).

Gandoca Manzanillo Weather

It is hot and humid all year long. The annual average temperature is 26ºC (79ºF) and the annual average rainfall: is 2500 mm (98 inches). Sept, Oct, Feb, and March are the least rainy, however, even then afternoon and evening some storms might roll in. This influence a lot on your travel schedule.

Best Time To Visit

The weather in the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is completely opposite to the rest of the country. The rainy months, September and October are actually a lot less rainy in the southern Caribbean side. So, it’s safe to say that the best time to visit Gandoca Manzanillo is September and October. 

I would avoid getting there from December to May, as it’s expected to have a lot of rain.

gandoca manzanillo national wildlife refuge beach

Facts about Gandoca Manzanillo

  • It extends all the way 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 national 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 being 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.


  • Guided hikes
  • Dolphin-watching tours
  • Fishing excursions with tarpon fishing, which is said to be better than in Tortuguero
  • Scuba 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.
  • Turtle tours can be coordinated through the Minae office in Manzanillo.
  • Wildlife Watching

Wildlife, Flora & Fauna

  • Gandoca Beach is the most important nesting site for leatherback turtles on 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


  • Be prepared for hot, wet weather, with afternoon showers. Wear cotton or quick-dry clothing. Bring sunscreen, a hat, a 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.

What to pack

You can find great beaches in the area, so packing for a beach trip will be a great option. You can pack useful items for hiking too.

Here are some items you should pack for Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge:

  • Comfy shoes or Hiking Shoes
  • Sandals
  • Beach Towels
  • Swimwear
  • Sun Protector
  • After Sun lotion
  • Hats or Caps
  • Sunglasses
  • Beach Bags
  • First Aid Kit
  • Mosquito Repellent

This is definitely a park worth checking out if you are exploring the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. So, consider it for your next wildlife-spotting adventure holiday.

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Manzanillo National Park and Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica Travel Guide

Last Updated on May 27, 2023

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