South of Cahuita

South of Cahuita, Highway 36 loses interest in the coastline and heads inland at Hotel Creek travelling through Bribrí for Sixaola and the Panamanian border. Energetic travellers will head straight on for Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, those of a calmer disposition should consider following the signs to Samasati Nature Retreat .

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, 17 km south of Cahuita, is a popular spot where the laid-back relax and surfers seek out the glorious
Salsa Brava
reef break which peaks from December to February. Out of the water, a dark sand beach stretches to the west. To the east the more enjoyable golden beaches of
Playa Cocles
,
Playa Chiquita
,
Punta Uva
, and
Manzanillo
offer a quieter retreat along a road blessed with countless hotels and restaurants. Onshore and away from the beach, botanical gardens invite you to explore: you can visit the nearby KeKöLdi Indigenous Reserve or enjoy countless other activities.

An early morning stroll through the streets puts you face to face with sleepy individuals dazed by the bright sunshine scuffling along scratching ruffled hair. Whether they are hyperactive surfers who have risen too early or late night wanderers who forgot to go to bed is unclear. As you will soon find out, Puerto Viejo, with its good beaches, surfing and energy has become the main party town of the Caribbean coast. With the steady arrival of expatriates setting up homes in quiet backwaters, the Afro-Caribbean feel of the town is slowly being diluted - the town is changing, and changing fast.

The
Botanical Garden
, www.greencoast.com/garden.htm
, just a few hundred metres west of the town is a fascinating experience with self-guided jungle trails that loop through a forest filled with flowering and medical plants, and over 60 kinds of fruit trees. In addition to learning about the forest pantry, there's a good chance of seeing toucans, sloths and butterflies from the treehouse and four different species of poison-dart frog that live naturally in the area. Peter and Lindy are incredibly knowledgeable and genuinely passionate about their work.

If you're based in the area for a while, most tour operators can organize trips to
Tortuguero
and
whitewater rafting
around Turrialba, or trips south for a few days to
Bocas del Toro
in
Panama
.

Manzanillo

Locally simply known as the 'End of the Road', Manzanillo is little more than a turning circle for buses, but there are good opportunities for laid-back and adventurous activity, including diving - in open sea or the lagoon - surfing, kayking and dolphin watching.

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo

At the southeastern corner of Costa Rica, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge protects some of the country's most important wetlands. While many areas in the country suffered from intervention before their value was realized, it looks as if Gandoca-Manzanillo's wealth has been recognized before much damage occurred. A combination of geographical, historical and cultural factors have limited human impact on the moist tropical forest and the inland and coastal waters have been left largely unscathed.

The 5103-ha land portion of the refuge protects creeks, lagoons and the only natural
population of mangrove oysters in the Central American Caribbean. The inland waterways
are home to manatee, crocodile and caiman, while the forests provide a refuge for jaguar
and tapir, howler, capuchin and spider monkeys. Over 300 bird species have been recorded
in the area including the vivid green emerald toucanet.

The coastal waters are equally diverse. White sandy beaches to the south of Punta Mona are used by nesting leatherback, loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles. Below the surface, the 4436 ha of marine reserve protects large areas of coral, including 11 species of sponges endemic to the area.

Marine and freshwater fish species throughout the reserve are estimated to number over 500 and mammals are topped off with three species of resident dolphins - the bottlenose, Atlantic spotted and the little-known tucuxi. All in all, Gandoca-Manzanillo is a natural wonderland and a magnet for wildlife lovers.

Bribrí

At Hotel Creek, north of Puerto Viejo, the paved road heads through the hills to the small village of Bribrí, the municipal hub of the region and really only of interest to the visitor because it has a bank.

The town is at the foot of the Talamanca Mountains and the
Talamanca Indian Reserve
. Access to the park is limited, the most viable option being to plan a trip in conjuction with ATEC in Puerto Viejo.

Sixaola

From Bribrí Highway 36 struggles valiantly through the potholed road that passes through line after line after line of banana plantations. Company villages of clapboard houses, with schools, football pitches and playgrounds for the children spring up from time to time between the banana packing plants and the churches of the Seventh Day Adventists. It's a funny old road that leads you to Panama.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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