The Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is situated in one of the most stunningly beautiful regions of Costa Rica. Located just a few kilometers north of the Panama border in Talamanca County, this wildlife refuge protects some the region’s most endangered flora and fauna. Lying on the Caribbean coast of Limon province and bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, this refuge is classified as a humid tropical rainforest and also looks after the only natural mangrove oyster beds found along the reefs of the coast.
Encompassing several rare habitats like a lowland rainforest, a wetland and a mangrove swamp, the Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo also safeguards the only orey and jolillo palm swamps in Costa Rica. This wildlife reserve is very important from an ecological point of view because it contains the only intact mangrove swamp in the Atlantic, and the primary lowland small rainforest found here is the only one of its kind in the region. A unique habitat, this reserve includes a 10 kilometer beach strip, a 740 acre forest, a coral reef and 2 swamps. The Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo is also the nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons and dolphins. The turtle nesting season here lasts from March to May.
Remote and exotic, the Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge lies 73 km from Limon, past the Cahuita National Park and the towns of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. Not very easily accessible as the roads that lead to here are mostly dirt routes, the best way to get to the refuge is to drive from San Jose to Limon and then head south to the village of Cahuita. Drive past the town of Puerto Viejo for 12 kilometers and you will reach this wildlife reserve. Do keep in mind that the small villages of Punta Uva, Punta Mona, Home Creek and Manzanillo are also part of the Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge.
Among the plethora of wildlife found here are; crocodiles, pacas, West Indian manatees, caimans, tapirs, tarpons, dolphins, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, frigate birds, woodpeckers, parakeets, eagles, pelicans, toucans and motmots. Inhabiting the lovely coral reef here are many brightly colored fish and marine life including the blue parrot fish, angel fish, sea anemones, urchins, Venus sea fans, shrimps, oysters, sea cucumbers, lobsters and sponges. While its rains here throughout the year, the best time to visit this refuge is between March and April and from September to October, which are considered drier months.