For all intents and purposes, this string of beaches is an extension of Puerto Viejo, and all of the tours, activities, and attractions mentioned above can be enjoyed by those staying here. For organized scuba diving, snorkeling, sportfishing excursions, or dolphin-sighting tours around Manzanillo and the beaches south of Puerto Viejo, check at any of the agencies in Manzanillo or Puerto Viejo.
Manzanillo & the Gandoca–Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge ★★
13km (8 miles) south of Puerto Viejo
The Gandoca–Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge encompasses the small village and extends all the way to the Panamanian border. Manatees, crocodiles, and more than 350 species of birds live within the boundaries of the reserve. The reserve also includes the coral reef offshore—when the seas are calm, this is the best snorkeling and diving spot on this entire coast. Four species of sea turtles nest on one 8.9km (5 1/2-mile) stretch of beach within the reserve between March and July. Three species of dolphins (Atlantic spotted, bottlenose, and the rare tucuxi) also frolic in the waters just off Manzanillo. The tucuxi species favors the brackish estuary waters, but has actually been observed mating with local bottlenose dolphins. Many local tour guides and operators offer boat trips out to spot them.
If you want to explore the refuge, you can easily find the single, well-maintained trail by walking along the beach just south of town until you have to wade across a small river. On the other side, you’ll pick up the trail head. Still, this is a wild and remote area, and I recommend doing the hike with one of the guides mentioned above.
Sweet Stuff ★★
The Caribeans Chocolate Tour (www.caribeanschocolate.com; tel. 8836-8930 or 8341-2034; Mon 10am, Tues and Thurs 10am and 2pm, Fri and Sat 2pm; $28) explores a working organic cacao plantation and chocolate production facility. The tour shows you the whole process of growing, harvesting, and processing cacao, and of course there’s a tasting at the end. Tours can be arranged at other times by reservation. When you get around to the tasting, organic wine pairings are also available.
(Organic) Peas & Love ★
The Punta Mona Center for Regenerative Design & Botanical Studies ★ (inside the Gandoca–Manzanillo refuge; www.puntamona.org) offers day visits to its fascinating organic permaculture gardens.
Caribe Horse Riding Club ★★ (located between Punta Uva and Manzanillo; www.caribehorse.com; tel. 8705-4250; $50–$165/person) runs one of the better and more interesting horseback riding operations in the country. It offers a range of rides, from short 90-minute beach jaunts to full-day excursions into the mountains and nearby reserves, and even night rides. The half-day, Hippo Camp Tour features human and equine wading in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Especially for Kids
Several wildlife rescue centers and animal preservation centers operate in the area. The Jaguar Rescue Center ★★ (www.jaguarrescue.com; guided tours Mon–Sat 9:30 and 11:30am; $20 adults, free for kids under 11; tel. 2750-0710) is the most extensive of the batch. Located in Playa Chiquita, it features a range of local animals, including monkeys, sloths, snakes, caimans, turtles, birds, and more. Just don’t expect to see a jaguar; the center was named after an orphaned jaguar that died years ago.
Also down in Playa Chiquita, at the Tree House Lodge, is the Green Iguana Conservation Tour ★ (www.iguanaverde.com; tel. 2750-0706; Tues and Thurs at 8:30am; $15/person). This educational tour focuses on the life cycle and habits of this reptile, which is a threatened species. The tour features a walk around a massive natural enclosure, as well as a video presentation. Other tours may be arranged by appointment.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.