Walking into the Gandoca – Manzanillo Wildlife reserve is like entering another world. This 23,348 acre wildlife refuge houses a collection of stunning rainforest and wetland habitat, with secluded beaches that will make you imagine that you are Tom Hanks in “Castaway”.
The expansive refuge begins south of Punta Uva, and runs into the Sixaola River at the border to Panama. Not only does the refuge contain some of the most beautiful white sand beaches that the Caribbean has to offer, but it also has one of the country’s only coral reefs. The rich biodiversity of the area is evident from the moment you walk into the park – on our trip we saw monkeys, snakes, spiders, bats, and sloths sleeping in the trees. Cooper bravely made friends with a Golden Orb Spider; they can be found throughout the region, and although big and impressive looking, are harmless.
A hike through the wildlife refuge takes about 4 hours, with plenty of places to stop and explore along the way. The trails are a bit rugged, but clearly marked – you could certainly do the hike on your own, or hire a guide to take you through. We have done the hike on both of our trips to Costa Rica, and thoroughly enjoyed it both times. On our first trip, we had to turn back half way, when an impromptu rain storm turned the trail into a muddy mess. On our second trip through, we hired a local guide; for us, this was certainly worth the money – his knowledge about local history and ability to spot wildlife was impressive. The Coral Caves can be difficult to find, and hiring a guide will ensure that you get to experience them.
The Coral Caves are well worth the visit. The entrance can be a bit tricky to find, and climbing in can be a bit slippery, but the effort is well worth it. Be sure to scan the roof of the caves while you are there, as the caves are home to an impressive amount of local bats – the kids loved watching them zoom above their heads.
We booked our guided trek with Bucus Tours. The tours are led by Omar Cook, who grew up in the area and has been a trained and certified jungle guide for over 15 years. He is very knowledgeable of local history, as well as rainforest flora and fauna. While many different guided tours of the refuge are available, we thoroughly enjoyed our hike with Omar, and would recommend Bucus Tours without question.
A 4-5 hour guided tour of the refuge costs $40, and kids are half price.
What to bring:
Hiking boots or sneakers, bug repellent (I wore shorts and got bug bites all over my legs, but Jeff and the kids did not get any…), camera, binoculars, rain jacket, water, and snacks.
For more information on the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, click here.
For more information on Omar and Bucus Tours, or to book a tour, click here.
Like this post? You may want to check out these other posts about the area: