Extending southward from Moín to the mouth of the Río Sixaola, the Caribbean’s southern half has a much more irregular coastline which features several picturesque inlets and Costa Rica’s largest coral reef. This palm-fringed stretch of coastline includes scenic tropical beaches, charming towns, and well-developed tourism infrastructure.
Idyllic beaches and the turquoise Caribbean Sea draw many visitors who come to enjoy the sun and engage in water-sports such as diving and snorkeling amid the colorful coral reefs. Surfing and kayaking are also popular in the area. Add to this delicious cuisine, Afro-Caribbean music and the friendly and laidback nature of the locals and you’ve got the ideal tropical vacation package.
small mom & pop “cabinas”, quaint hotels and secluded jungle lodges offer visitors attractive accommodation options. In addition, several small-town hotels offer guests the opportunity to enjoy hip-hopping Caribbean nightlife just steps from the beach. Many hotels are nestled in palm-fringed coves with spectacular views of the shimmering sea and abundant tropical vegetation.
The Southern Caribbean’s extraordinary natural and cultural wealth allows for a wide range of activities including sport-fishing, diving, surfing, hiking, dolphin-viewing, horseback riding, sea and river kayaking and more, in addition to direct contact with local cultures.
The natural beauty of Cahuita and Puerto Vargas’ beaches is complemented by the largest fringing coral reef in the Costa Rican Caribbean. In addition, the reefs off Punta Cocles, Punta Uva, Manzanillo and Punta Mona provide ideal spots for exploring exotic underwater habitats that feature mollusks, sea fans, crustaceans, turtles and multicolored fish, as well as several species of coral (brain, moose- and deer-horn, fire, rose, lettuce and more).
Southern Caribbean Festival
Taking advantage of Costa Rica’s dry season and high season for tourists, the Southern Caribbean Festival takes place at Playa Chiquita during the first weeks of April and showcases a variety of participants and music genres including salsa, reggae, and calypso.
Keköldi Igneous Reservation
Located close to the town of Puerto Viejo, this indigenous reservation is a great place to experience the unique culture and tradition of Costa Rica’s original inhabitants. The Bribri natives who live on the reservation offer several wildlife attractions and items of interest to tourists, including a green iguana farm and indigenous handicrafts such as wooden bows and arrows, handbags, nets, hammocks, and baskets. The reservation features several trails that offer marvelous glimpses of the area’s lush vegetation and wildlife, as well as two observation towers for bird-watching. A total of 17 raptor species have been observed here, including eagles, sparrow hawks and falcons. Sightings of thousands of birds per day make for a spectacular phenomenon, particularly with the migration of raptors during the months of January, February, October, and November. Finally, the stunning Río Cocles waterfall is located within the reservation and may be visited with local guides.
Cahuita National Park
Established as a national monument in 1970 and officially designated a national park in 1978, this wilderness area protects 2,636 acres of land, 1,482 acres of coral reef and 55,351 acres of marine territory. Its two main areas, Cahuita and Puerto Vargas feature highly scenic beaches as well as the largest fringing coral reef in the Costa Rican Caribbean. Various species of marine life may be seen here, including coral (brain, moose- and deer-horn, fire, rose and lettuce), mollusks, crustaceans, turtles, multicolored fish (angelfish, isabelitas, etc.) and many others.
The park also protects its distinctive plant life, both wetland and coastal, as well as diverse wildlife such as monkeys, sloths, squirrels, coatis, and many birds and insects. Light-sand beaches, myriad coconut palms, turquoise-blue seas, and a coral reef make this one of the most scenically beautiful areas in the country. The park offers various activities, such as hiking, swimming, diving, sunbathing, beach volleyball, observing the wealth of natural attractions or simply doing nothing and enjoying the marvelous scenery.
To make your visit even more enjoyable, Cahuita offers the following visitor services: information, drinking water, restrooms and showers, picnic tables, trails, and a camping area.
Gandoca – Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Located in Talamanca, this exquisite refuge stretches from the mouth of the Río Cocles near Puerto Viejo to the mouth of the Río Sixaola on the Panamanian border and covers an area of 23,348 acres (10,962 marine and 12,386 lands). Its highest point is the Manzanillo hills at 185 meters above sea level.
Its wooded floodplains and hills are home to tree species such as cativo, caobilla, yolillo palm, mangrove, and mountain almond. Monkeys, crocodiles, peccaries, agoutis and other animals thrive in its lush tropical forests. Visitors to this refuge will have the opportunity to observe a wide variety of birds such as parrots, harriers, toucanets and more. Unspoiled beaches stretch along the entire coast and are ideal for walking, sunbathing, swimming, nature viewing, and reef diving. Gandoca Beach serves as a nesting site for the giant leatherback turtle which comes to lay its eggs between the months of March and July. Boat tours are available to Gandoca Lagoon, lush with tropical vegetation and a prime habitat of the endangered manatee.
Trails, observation points, drinking water, restrooms, and other services may be found all along this area and in towns such as Manzanillo where the refuge’s administration office is located.