200km (124 miles) E of San José; 55km (34 miles) S of Limón
On the coastal road south of Puerto Viejo are several of Costa Rica’s best beaches. Soft white sands are fronted by the Caribbean Sea and backed by thick rainforest. Playa Cocles is a popular surf spot, with a powerful and dependable beach break. South of here, the isolated Playa Chiquita is characterized by small pocket coves and calm pools formed by dead coral reefs raised slightly above sea level by the 1991 earthquake. Beyond this lies Punta Uva, a long, curving swath of beach punctuated by its namesake point (or punta), a rainforest-clad mound of land that looks vaguely like a bunch of grapes from a distance. If you come here, be sure to hike the short loop trail up and around the point. From Punta Uva, the coastline stretches to the large and popular Playa Manzanillo. Along the way, the white sands are fronted by a living coral reef, which breaks up the waves and keeps the swimming here generally calm and protected. When it’s calm (Aug–Oct), the waters here are some of the clearest anywhere in the country, with good snorkeling. The tiny village of Manzanillo is literally the end of the road. The shoreline heading south from Manzanillo, located inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, is especially beautiful, with a series of pocket coves and small beaches, featuring small islands and rocky outcroppings offshore, and backed by thick rainforest. This park stretches all the way to the Panamanian border.