The Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is located at the Costa Rica Caribbean coast in Talamanca, canton from Limón. This recent addition to the Costa Rican national wildlife refuge system is located from the Manzanillo town to the Sixaola River, which forms the border with Panamá. The refuge was established to protect the flora and fauna of the area, especially those in danger of extinction, such as the spectacular manatee. It consists of 65% rainforest habitat, with the remainder being marine habitat, making it one of the most beautiful areas in Costa Rica.
Its coral reef is in better shape than the one in Cahuita, although the corals have not yet developed formations so large. There are more than 10 endemic species of sponge recorded. Naturally, there are excellent snorkeling possibilities. The terrestrial part of the reserve includes a number of habitats, such as the marine and including the best preserved coral reef of the entire Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, so naturally, there are excellent opportunities for diving and snorkeling. Similarly includes the beach habitat boasting four types of nesting turtle such as the Green, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Hawksbill. This peaceful Gandoca estuary backed by red mangroves with the country’s only population of oysters and 400ha (752 acres) of swamp forest in which the most common tree is the raphia palm, which claims to be plant with the largest leaves in the world – its fronds can reach 12m (39ft) or more. The rainforest section has recovered over 350 species of birds, while the estuary is a good spot to see endangered manatee. The refuge also has over 500 species of marine and freshwater fish have been recorded, as also has three resident species of dolphin like the Bottlenose, the Atlantic spotted and the extremely rare Tucuxi. Clearly Gandoca-Manzanillo is an absolute natural gem for Costa Rica, which makes it very attractive for both tourists and scientists.
The refuge has an information station, restrooms, drinking water and picnic area. Other nearby parks include Cahuita National Park, Hitoy Cerere Biological Reserve and Aviarios del Caribe National Wildlife Refuge.
Getting to Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge:
From the Juan Santamaria International Airport drive for about 8 km in direction to San Jose. On your right hand the Hospital Mexico will appear.After the Hospital Mexico, you must take the exit to La Uruca (on the rotonda, the third exit). Turn right at the traffic lights and follow to San José (keep the middle lane as much as possible) until you get to Shell gas station at a Y-junction, keep left. Take the exit Guapiles-Limon and follow the road (nr. 32) to Limón, passing through the Zurqui bridge and the Braulio Carrillo mountains. It is likely that you will encounter fog and rain. Please drive with your lights on. After the mountains the road to Limon is practically straight with no hills.
When you reach Puerto Limon, just before you enter to the city you will see a sign (at the Texaco Station) where you turn right and go to Cahuita and Puerto Viejo and just follow the coast all the way down. To reach the northern Manzanillo sector, drive through Puerto Viejo, and take the road through Punta Cocles and Punta Uva. To reach the Gandoca sector, take the highway south of Cahuita through Hone Creek, then BriBri. Shortly before you reach the town of Sixaola (at the Panama border), you will turn coastward to Gandoca. This route requires a total of five hours from San Jose.
Please note that if you have not left San Jose by 2 pm you will be driving part of the way at night. We do not recommend this for first time travelers driving in Costa Rica. Roads do not have lines, and rain can be bad and there are potholes and people walking/cycling that you can not see very well.
Take a bus from the route San Jose – Cahuita National Park – Puerto Viejo, which takes 3.5 hours (Transportes Caribeños, 2257-8129). We recommend buying the ticket a day earlier to be sure your seat is saved.
You can also take a flight from the Juan Santamaria Airport to the Limon, either with Sansa, TravelAir or Nature Air airlines, both with daily flights. From here you can rent a car and drive or take taxi to Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 50 minutes.
Location: Between Manzanillo town and the Panamá border, district: Sixaola, canton: Talamanca, province: Limon, Costa Rica. Zone postal code: 70402
GPS Coordinates: 9.631571,-82.661211 (9°37’53.655″N, 82°39’40.359″W)
Size: 5013 ha (12,387 acres)
Altitude: above sea level
Caribbean La Amistad Conservation Area (ACLA-C) Telephone: +(506) 2795-1446
INFOTUR Tourist Information: 1192