The small laid back fishing village of Manzanillo is the last town along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This charming and characterful town with its vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture has two main attractions to explore. The fabulous golden white sand beach and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge which has helped to maintain the pristine nature of the local environment. If you’re staying in Puerto Viejo or even further up north in Cahuita, then a visit to Manzanillo can’t be missed! In this complete guide you will find all the information you need about Manzanillo Costa Rica. The wildlife refuge that protects some of the region’s most endangered flora and fauna and the stunning Manzanillo beach.
How to get to Manzanillo Costa Rica, Limon province
The best way to get around in Costa Rica is with a rental car. From San Jose it is about a 4 hour drive to get to the Southern Caribbean coast. However, you can also get to Manzanillo by bus from San Jose or the other nearby towns. From Cahuita and Puerto Viejo buses go to Manzanillo where you can hop off close to Manzanillo beach. At the end of the road is the entrance to Gandoca Manzanillo Costa Rica Wildlife Refuge, so you can easily visit both during a day trip from the nearby towns.
Best time to visit Manzanillo Costa Rica
In Manzanillo you can expect temperatures around 30 degrees year round. The wettest month is December, so try to avoid that time when visiting Manzanillo Costa Rica. The driest month is March, but of course in every other month there is a chance on rainfall.
In terms of the best time of the week or day to visit Manzanillo, the best advice we can give you is to avoid the weekends and Costa Rican holidays. The locals often go to the beaches when they have time off. Together with their family they have a barbecue and enjoy the beautiful coastline.
Manzanillo Beach in Limon is considered being some of the most scenic beaches in Costa Rica. And we understand why! The beautiful stretch of white golden sand accompanied by waving palm trees and turquoise ocean water invites you for a laid back day. This tropical paradise has an amazing coral reef offshore that is perfect for snorkelling and swimming. There is also a huge stranded ship along the shore of Playa Manzanillo which is worth checking out. Especially if you have a drone it is very cool to take pictures from.
The interesting thing is that Manzanillo Beach is not the most popular beach along the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This actually makes it the perfect place for nature lovers, peace seekers and cultural travellers that want to connect with the local life. In Manzanillo you can have a more authentic Costa Rican experience than in the more touristic locations. Also because Manzanillo beach is 4 kilometres long, you can easily find your own secluded spot to enjoy the sunshine and water. However, there are no great facilities around, which is mostly the other side of the more remote beaches.
Gandoca Manzanillo Costa Rica Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1985, the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge protects about 70% of the southern Caribbean. This area stretches all the way from the little village of Manzanillo down to the border of Panama. The nature park includes 15 kilometre of wild white sand beaches backed by coconut trees and lush primary rainforest. You can explore the park via it’s beautiful trails that lead you along the stunning beaches, picturesque little coves, rocky outcrops and through the rainforest.
Gandoca, where the jungle meets the ocean
The Gandoca Wildlife Refuge has a stunning viewpoint called Punta Manzanillo. From here you can see a part of the beautiful coastline and powerful waves crashing onto a huge rock. The trail continues after this deeper into the park.
Around 5 square kilometres of the coral reefs that go from the shore up to 200 meters offshore are protected as well. Here live threatened species like manatees but also sea turtles such as leatherbacks, green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles, They come to the beaches of Gandoca Manzanillo to lay their eggs. The nesting season of the leatherback turtle is from February to May. But if you want to witness this natural wonder, you must be accompanied by a local guide.
Hiking in Gandoca Manzanillo Costa Rica Wildlife Refuge
A coastal trail that starts in the town of Manzanillo stretches 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) one way all the way to Punta Mona. Here you will reach a privately owned Permaculture Center that offers lodging, volunteering and day tours. To do this, you will have to make a reservation beforehand.
If you’re not looking for a long hike, you can also only explore the first kilometer to Punta Manzanillo. This will bring you to the most beautiful viewpoint in the park and definitely the highlight of your visit. The other trails throughout Gandoca lead you to different areas of the nature park, varying from coastal trails to jungle trails. Along the trail you can have a stop at the beautiful beaches, so don’t forget to bring your bathing suit!
Other things which are highly recommended to wear – bring are good walking shoes. There are parts in the park which can be super slippery, especially after a rainy day. Also don’t forget mosquito spray and enough drinking water.
Wildlife in Gandoca Manzanillo Costa Rica Park
If you’re lucky you can spot lots of wildlife along the trails. In the park live sloths, vipers, racoons, many beautiful birds, emerald lizards, different kinds of geckos, crabs and white faced monkeys. So keep your eyes open to spot these animals. Another thing that increases the chance of spotting these animals is to come as early as possible! Because the park already opens at 6 AM, it is highly recommended to begin your hike in the park around 6 AM. This will also helps you to avoid the heat and crowds. However, if you’re not a morning person then of course it’s still worth it to begin your exploration a bit later.
Entrance fee and opening times Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
The opening times for Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge are from 6 AM to 4 PM and the entrance fee is a donation.
Other things to do near Manzanillo Costa Rica
If you’re looking for more things to do near Manzanillo Costa Rica, then here some recommendations. Visiting Puerto Viejo is one of the things you can do when going to Manzanillo. In Puerto Viejo you can also get a guided tour through the nearby Jaguar Rescue Centre. Or go Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles or Punta Uva to explore some more of the amazing beaches near Puerto Viejo. Punta Uva is known for having some of the most beautiful white sand palm studded beach in the area. Another fun thing to do is to go chasing the Bri Bri waterfalls for some refreshing fun in the jungle! There are some beautiful hidden waterfalls in the town of Bri Bri which are absolute worth checking out. However, you will need your own transport for this.
Best tours in Costa Rica
If you want to explore the best of Costa Rica, then it is highly recommended to book a tour. During most of these tours you will combine a few locations on one day so you can see the diversity that Costa Rica has to offer. Because of Costa Rica’s popularity it is highly recommended to book your tours in advance as it is likely that tours sell out. So don’t wait with booking until you get to Costa Rica. Choose your favorite tours here and secure your booking! All of these tours include air conditioned transport with hotel pick up and drop off, certified guides and sometimes also lunch and the entrance fees. You can reserve now and pay later, with cancellation up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.
- Cahuita National Park and Tortuguero Canal boat tour. Explore Costa Rica’s Caribbean side with this wildlife-rich shore excursion to Cahuita National Park. Admire the biodiversity of the Tortuguero Canals, hike across Cahuita and enjoy Puerto Limon’s city highlights.
- 3-Day Tortuguero National Park Excursion from San Jose. Visit one of the most important destinations in Costa Rica on a guided tour. Explore a beautiful natural paradise, tour the famous Tortuguero Canal and see diverse flora and fauna during this 3 day tour.
- Manuel Antonio National Park combo tour from San Jose. Explore the world-famous Manuel Antonio National Park and its beautiful white-sand beaches. Discover the abundant wildlife on the park’s rainforest trails. Enjoy included breakfast and lunch, and make stops to see crocodiles.
- Poas volcano, Coffee plantation tour and La Paz waterfall gardens. Visit 3 destinations in one day on this guided tour from San José. Learn about coffee production, visit the Poas Volcano Crater, and experience the incredible nature around La Paz Waterfall Garden.
- Irazú and Turrialba Volcanoes Guayabo Tour. Visit Irazu volcano and the “Central Town” at the foothills of the active Turrialba Volcano. Experience a unique history and culture, shaped by the tallest and most active volcanoes in Costa Rica.
- Night jungle tour Manuel Antonio tour. The best of the wildlife comes alive at night. Allow yourself to live amazing encounters that happen only at night in the rainforest. See wild night animals, and discover a whole new world.
- Tortuguero Park Day Tour with Breakfast & Lunch from San Jose. Spend the day discovering the luscious landscapes of Tortuguero National Park. Explore this vibrant rainforest, see native wildlife in its natural habitat, learn about the local ecosystem and enjoy a delicious Costa Rican breakfast and lunch.
- Celeste River and Llanos de Cortez Waterfall from Tamarindo. Hike through Tenorio Volcano National Park and visit the beautiful blue river. Discover the rainforest and swim at Llanos de Cortez waterfalls while observing sloths, red-eyed leaf frogs, toucans, and butterflies.
- La Fortuna 4 activities on 1 day; base hike Arenal volcano, hanging bridges, La Fortuna waterfall and hotsprings
More Costa Rica travel inspiration
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about Manzanillo Costa Rica.
For more travel inspiration about Costa Rica, have a look at our other Costa Rica travel guides.