Gandoca, Costa Rica

A tiny coastal village that gazes on the Caribbean Sea, Gandoca, Costa Rica may be one of the tropic’s most untapped treasures. Tucked amid lush jungle foliage, silky-sanded beaches and unspoiled wilderness, it is near Panama’s border and home to commercial banana plantations that serve as the area’s main employer and represent an industry that has been present in Central American for over 100 years.

Gandoca is best known for the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refugeand is located at the southern end of it. Here is where some sole survivors of Costa Rica’s wildlife and rain forest ecosystems are protected. Residents include crocodiles, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, eagles, toucans, lobsters, exotic fish and numerous other inhabitants of sea, land and air. The refuge has several rare habitats including a natural mangrove swamp and a lowland rain forest.

Rocky Coast, Gandoca- Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Costa RicaFrom March through July, a visit to Gandoca offers an opportunity to witness turtle nesting season, one of nature’s most fascinating events. A nighttime stroll on the beach may come to a mesmerized halt as huge leatherback sea turtles emerge from the turquoise water and use their flippers as shovels to dig pits into the pristine sand. These large holes are where they settle their 1000 pound bodies to lay as many as 80 to 120 eggs before returning to their tranquil, underwater world. This has drawn a turtle conservation project to Gandoca, where turtle eggs are a delicacy and vulnerable to human poachers. Project members relocate the eggs to safer ground, patrol the site from dusk to dawn, keep the beach clean of debris and build hatcheries. Prior to this project commencing in 1986, almost all eggs fell prey to poachers. The survival rate is now 90 percent, making Gandoca’s beach one of the world’s few to see nesting numbers rise. Volunteers are welcome to join the project’s mission to help hatchings make a safe run to the sea.

Gandoca is a humid rainforest with February, March, June, September and October comprising the dry seasons, making them the recommended time for nature lovers, hikers, dolphin watchers, kayakers and snorkelers to visit the area and refuge.

Located a short seven miles from the popular tourist town of Puerto Viejo, Gandoca is close to restaurants, accommodations and shopping. Gandoca itself, though, truly is a secluded and remote paradise that some might say is best experienced in a hammock.

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