Beautiful MANZANILLO in COSTA RICA – A Must Visit

The small laid-back fishing village of Manzanillo is the last town along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. This charming town with its vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture has two main attractions to explore. The fabulous golden white sand beaches and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. 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. 

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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, if you don’t want to drive yourself, 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.

If you don’t want the hassle of using public transport, which is a pain to be honest, you can also book this private transfer from San Jose Airport to Manzanillo. This is in particular a great choice if you are with a group of up to 5 people. Another great option is to book this shared shuttle service indicated below that goes from Puerto Viejo to San Jose.


What is the 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 of 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. Locals often go to the beaches when they have time off. Together with their family they have a barbecue and enjoy the beautiful coastline. 


Best tours to explore Manzanillo Costa Rica

Manzanillo Beach 

Manzanillo Beach in Limon is considered to be one 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 snorkeling 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. But this makes it the perfect place for nature lovers, peace seekers, and cultural travelers who want to connect with nature and see 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 secluded spot to enjoy the sunshine and water. However, there are not many facilities around. This is often the downside of 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 from the little village of Manzanillo down to the border of Panama. The nature park includes 15 kilometers of wild white sand beaches backed by coconut trees and lush primary rainforest. You can explore the park via its 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. From here on, the trail continues deeper into the park, and is only recommended to explore with a local guide.

Around 5 square kilometers 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 kilometers (3.4 miles) one way to Punta Mona. The trail is not well-marked and sometimes a bit overgrown. Therefore the best and safest way is to go with a local guide.

You can also explore the park at night to discover the amazing creatures that live in the jungle but can only be seen after the sun goes down. This is only possible accompanied by an expert naturalist who will show you the secrets of the nocturnal wildlife. You will use your flashlight to spot frogs, snakes, tarantulas and other fascinating animals. This is a fantastic tour for adventure seekers and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be in the wilderness, surrounded by sounds and sights that you have never experienced before. 

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. 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 are good walking shoes. There are parts in the park that 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, raccoons, many beautiful birds, emerald lizards, different kinds of geckos, tarantulas, frogs, crabs and white-faced monkeys. So keep your eyes open to spot these animals. Another way to increase 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 help you to avoid the heat and crowds.

But you can also book this Manzanillo Refuge night walk with a naturalist guide so you will be assured of spotting amazing creatures that live in the park and come to live at night.

Hiking in Manzanillo Gandoca Park

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 are 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 one of the most beautiful white sand beach fringed by palm trees.

Beautiful Punta Uva beach

Another fun thing to do is to go chasing the Bri Bri waterfalls for some refreshing fun in the jungle! The beautiful hidden waterfalls in the town of Bri Bri are so worth checking out. And you can perfectly combine it with a visit to the Indigenous people. Check out this tour below for the ultimate waterfall and Magic Chocolate experience. This is also a great option if you don’t have transport. Another thing to keep in mind is that it is highly recommended to go with a guide because of safety reasons.

The beautiful BriBri waterfall

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 to book 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.

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.

20 best hikes in Costa Rica – The Ultimate Guide

Best 14 beaches in Costa Rica – The Ultimate Guide

11 best waterfalls in Costa Rica – The Ultimate Guide

Santa Teresa Costa Rica- The Complete Guide

El Tigre waterfalls Costa Rica – The Complete Guide

Best things to do in Puerto Viejo – The Complete Guide

La Paz waterfall garden Costa Rica – The Complete Guide

Playa Cocles in Puerto Viejo – The Complete Guide

Catarata del Toro – The Complete Guide

Arenal volcano hike – The Complete Guide

Rio Celeste waterfall & Tenorio National Park

Playa Conchal Guanacaste – The Complete Guide

La Fortuna waterfall – The Complete Guide

Irazu volcano – Everything you need to know

Cahuita National Park along the Caribbean coast

BriBri waterfalls near Puerto Viejo – The Complete Guide

Manuel Antonio National Park – The Complete Guide

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One Comment

  1. Hi Ilse, at this time of the year in Holland (autumn) it is always nice to read your info and see your beautiful pictures. Manzanillo in Costa Rica looks very charming and must be beautiful to explore.

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