National Parks and Wildlife Reserves

It’s no wonder Christopher Columbus called Costa Rica “La Huerta”–the garden, because Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Slightly smaller than the state of Virginia, Costa Rica is packed with lush rainforests and cloud forests, spectacular beaches along the rich coast, active volcanoes and more wildlife than you could ever imagine. One of the best ways to see Costa Rica in all its beauty is to visit some of its many National Parks and Wildlife Reserves.

In the heart of Costa Rica, Volcan Paos National Park is the site for an active volcano that most recently erupted in 1954, with the last major eruption in 1910. An outstanding example of the effects of acid rain is in evidence all around. At nearly a mile across this volcano is the largest crater in the world. The clay-colored robin–Costa Rica’s national bird, the beautiful quetzal along with many other birds can be seen here. Volcan Paos National Park is the country’s second most visited conservation site.Manuel Antonio National ParkFor the true adventure seeker, more than forty limestone caves are the biggest attraction at Barra Honda National Park. Barra Honda is located in a tropical dry forest, which is one of the rarest habitats found on earth. The caverns have vertical entrances, which makes them impossible to access without climbing gear. A trained guide and advance permission from the park service is a must.Manuel Antonio National Park, on the west coast, the smallest of Costa Rica’s National Parks, is also one of the most visited. Scenic mountains, breathtaking beaches and captivating fauna such as raccoons, two-toed sloths, squirrel and white-faced monkeys can all be seen in one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful National Parks. Available activities include hiking, fishing, rafting, kayaking and championship surf tournaments.

Further south, Corcovado National Park contains thirteen ecosytems which include highland cloud forest, lowland rain forest, jolillo palm forest, and coastal marine habitats, with thirteen miles of beaches. In addition to beautiful scenery, many of Costa Rica’s endangered species can be seen here, such as Jaguars, Red-backed squirrel monkeys Baird’s tapirs, Scarlet Macaws, White-lipped Peccaries and Harpy Eagles. Camping equipment is available for rent and tours can be arranged.

On the east coast, the Cahuita National Park and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is a humid tropical rainforest and is located right along the coast between the mouths of the Cocles and the Sixaola Rivers. Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is just north of Panama and offers hiking trails with opportunities to see more than 360 kinds of bird species, monkeys, sloths, turtles, crocodiles, caimans, dolphins tarpons, and manatees. The most significant thing about this refuge is that it contains the only natural mangrove swamp in the Atlantic. Manzanillo is popular for fishing. Just north of Manzanillo Refuge is Cahuita National Park which offers snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking and camping.

The people of Costa Rica have worked hard to preserve the wildlife and natural habitat of this beautiful country. No visit would be complete without seeing at least a few of the many national parks and wildlife reserves offered by Costa Rica, the garden between two oceans.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Limon province, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a vibrant seaside town with magnificent beaches. It has quickly become one of Costa Rica’s number one tourist destinations. International surfers from all over the world come to defeat the famous Salsa Brava waves. Simply referred to as Puerto Viejo by the locals, this quaint village has a relaxed atmosphere with a unique blend of Bribri, Afro-Caribbean and Latino indigenous cultures.

Puerto Viejo features a wide variety of restaurants, discos and bars throughout the village. In addition, there are many good shopping venues. Besides the golden sand beaches and tropical vegetation, there are many interesting attractions, such as the Gandoco Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, the Talamanca Indian Reserve and the Cahuita National Park. Although most of the roads are dirt paved, it adds to the rustic charm of the village.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa RicaWhile many surfers flock to Puerto Viejo for the great surf, there’s a plethora of activities is you’re looking to enjoy the outdoors in the great tropical climate. Horseback tours, scuba diving, snorkeling, mountain biking and kayaking are just a few of the fun activities available in the village. Puerto Viejo’s tropical temperature is approximately 80 degrees year round, which makes it a pleasure to be outdoors.

It was difficult to reach the Talamanca coast until the 1970s. The far distance of San Jose and difficulty of travel by canoe caused the coastal villagers to be somewhat isolated from the mainstream of Costa Rica. As a result, the villagers developed customs and cultures that were unique to themselves. Roads were built in 1979 and connected the village to Limon. Today, it is only a 3 hour drive from San Jose.

In the 1800s, English speaking Afro-Caribbean people came from Jamaica to settle along the Talamanca coast. They brought an African based culture of culinary arts, fishing, and farming that are reflected in Puerto Viejo today. British colonial customs from generations of slavery were retained and cricket and May Pole dances still played a role in their activities. These Caribbean farmers also brought cacao, coconuts and cola nuts. They planted the coastline with these cash crops and facilitated local development by establishing commercial ties.

The interesting cuisine in Puerto Viejo seen today was greatly influenced by the Afro-Caribbeans. Patacone, a French fried style, is still a favorite of the locals and tourists. Spicy patti and jerk chicken is commonly offered by street vendors and restaurants.

With its beautiful beaches and quaint charm, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a great retreat for a perfect vacation.

Manzanillo-Gandoca National Wildlife Refuge


Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, in southeastern Talmanca area of Costa Rica, is a set of rainforest and wetland environments including a coral reef. The refuge has over 20,000 acres and starts south of Punta Uva that is three miles south of Puerto Viejo and continues to the Sixaola River near the border with Panama. The only other coral reef in Costa Rica is in Cahuita.

The small beach village of Manzanillo is found inside the park and has white sandy beaches of the Caribbean. Trails reach up six miles from the town to Mona Point. Close by are the red mangrove swamps, the only one on the Atlantic Coast of Costa Rica. Two palm swamps that harbor tapirs within the marshes are found inside the park.

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Costa RicaThe park’s tropical plant life and isolation attract more than 350 species of tropical birds including the harpy eagle. This is a major feature for birding.

Examples of marine turtles – Green Sea. Leatherback and Hawksbill- nest on the southern beaches of the park. While not a main nesting site for turtles because of people using the beach, conservation authorities have increased plans to preserve the area for nesting.

The Kekoldi Indian Reserve shares land with the Gandoca-Manzanillo Reserve to preserve the indigenous Cabecar and Bribri native tribal areas. The tribes live in the park, subsisting off the land.

The Reserve has a diverse number of animals including eagles, manatees and dolphins. Other examples of wildlife are caimans, tapirs, tarpons, and crocodiles. Visitors who snorkel or scuba dive will be able to view the tropical fish in the coral reef.

The dry season, March to April and then from September through October, is the best time to visit Gandoca-Manzanillo as the park gets high rainfall. Both towns of Manzanillo and Gandoca have entrances to the park. Local accommodations are limited. Visitors will find lodging in Puerto Viejo.

Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge is 73 km in distance from Limon. It is not easily reaches because most of the roads are dirt, so the best route is to drive from San Jose to Limon and then drive south to the town of Cahuita. Pass the town of Puerto Viejo for 12 km and then reach the entrance of the reserve.

The small towns of Punta Uva, Punta Mona, Home Creek and Manzanillo are located in the refuge.