Gandoca-Manzanillo (Wildlife Refuge), Costa Rica

The Caribbean Hideaway of Gandoca-Manzanillo

Jungle Trail
substantial coconut grove
lizard lizard
On the way to vacancies
Point of view
An (even more) rich coast
bathing eden
Manzanillo Viewpoint
Rastafarian Territory
Roca Manzanillo
Pochote (pachira quinata)
Manzanillo Coast
surf trio
Tropical Garden of Eden
dark brook
oropendola with young
Style: moth
Roca Manzanillo II
At the bottom of its southeastern coast, on the outskirts of Panama, the “Tica” nation protects a patch of jungle, swamps and the Caribbean Sea. As well as a providential wildlife refuge, Gandoca-Manzanillo is a stunning tropical Eden.

In true fashion on this eastern side of Costa Rica, it rains in buckets almost all night long.

It dawns cloudy and gray. A remaining layer of humidity that, little by little, the tropical sun takes care of dissipating.

With the breaking of light, the Nature bustling and exuberant life that surrounds Puerto Viejo de Talamanca comes into play. We see a squirrel determined to gnaw the hard shell of one of the many coconuts in a heavy bunch and then secure breakfast from there.

Macaws fly high above the jungle, a pair of toucans play hide-and-seek around raffia palms, coconut palms and wild almond trees that make up the territory of two sloths.

By itself, in other parts of the world, the Caribe Town hotel that welcomed us, the garden and the lush surroundings would already guarantee an unbeatable wonder. We were, however, in Costa Rica, of the supposed eco-consciousness and numerous natural parks.

That dawn, in the vicinity of Puerto Viejo, served as a preamble to some of the wildest and most protected stretches and scenarios in the small Central American country. We point to one of them.

The Tropical Path to Manzanillo

A secondary route 256 winds through the dense forest, still soaked, adjusted to the contours of the Caribbean Sea that only, at intervals, allows us to see.

This happens shortly before and shortly after crossing the Cocles River and the beach bathed by its almost unusual mouth. A campaign bridge crosses it on a low and humid stretch on the bend, almost suffocated by vegetation.

Next to Punta Cocles, we also pass by the local Jaguar Rescue Centre, one of several such centres, dedicated to different Central American species that require specific care.

Even a little far from Playa Grande, we know how much the coast rounds out there, on the way to the next ledge, that of Punta Manzanillo.

And since the vastness of trees and curled lianas, extended inland, already belongs to the jungle of Gandoca-Manzanillo, which served as our final destination.

The road leads to Manzanillo.

Pueblo Tico and Something Rastafarian from Manzanillo

Discover an unobstructed waterfront, dotted with coconut trees and served by a few inns and restaurants.

The last one, more dismal, basic, the obvious favorite and frequented by the natives of the village, displays a poster with a dual function.

It welcomes visitors with a multitude of country flags around its edge.

Featured in the centre, images of Bob Marley, fellow Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey, former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and the lion of Judea, announce Manzanillo Rastafarian territory.

As they are – or strive to be – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cahuita e other Caribbean places in Costa Rica.

Local customers watch us pass through the door, almost in slow motion, towards the parking lot, on the way to the jungle and sea trail that takes everyone there.

Once the due registration and monetary contribution have been completed, we begin the route.

The Irresistible Coves Around Punta Manzanillo

First, through an interior coconut grove full of stiff trunks. Soon, leaving it, overlooking a succession of small bays over which the coconut trees on the shore lean.

A few bathers splash around, others flirt.

So surrendered to the verdant beauty of the scenery and to their passions that not even the fins of a few whitetip reef sharks seem to bother them.

We admire the unexpected marine warmth. Aware that, on the way back, we would enjoy it twice as much, we resumed our walk.

The trail takes us to new Tip, to Manzanillo, where an elevated rocky platform serves as a lookout point over a photogenic and, on that day, rough Caribbean Sea.

There, the curious follow one another.

Most are hikers who reward themselves with the stop and the view.

The Waves Idolized by Surfers and Roca Manzanillo

A few are surfers.

They appear holding their boards. They study the renowned waves that, a little below, are ready to surf.

A quasi-islander claims a well-deserved role.

baptized as Roca Manzanillo, breaks the waves pointed at the base of the viewpoint and the sands that surround it.

It also serves as a home for a few cormorants and pelicans.

A hallmark of the Refugio Gandoca-Manzanillo, the view of the rock appears a few more times, from different positions on the trail and its improvised extensions, to spaces, in the form of a hologram, shining beyond the penumbra in which the vegetation keeps us .

Punta Manzanillo Towards the Village of Punta Mona

In the winding up and down trail, we discover new beaches.

A trio of surfers, disappointed with the profile of the waves ahead, abandon one of them.

Continue in the direction of La Cueva.

We followed them, but for a short time.

The singing of toucans seduces us again.

We got lost in search of eccentric birds without ever getting close enough to photograph them, so we continued.

Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge, surfers

Walkers in bathing suits and bare feet pass by us, on their way between Manzanillo and the hippie towns or, at the very least, alternative life, of Punta Mona and Mile Creek.

The mud made worse by the rain at night makes the successive slopes a punishment that we face with patience and extra care.

After all, we shared the awareness that it is the high rainfall – between 2000 and 3000 mm per year – that makes this area of ​​the South Caribbean so lush and Gandoca-Manzanillo a jungle that we could not face lightly.

A Fauna and Flora that comes to Intimidate

All around, hyperbolic green and black spiders wove huge trap webs.

trees pack (pachira quinata), lined with sharp spikes flanked the muddy ramps.

Over there, any imbalance or distraction would cause serious damage.

Gandoca Manzanillo Refugio, pochote (pachira quinata)

On the edge of a clearing generated by a farm, a family of howler monkeys perched on prickly pear trees observe the clumsiness with which their primate cousins ​​move below.

We admire them when, once again, the singing and flight of exotic birds leads us astray.

This time, a flock of oropendolas (a species of Central American orioles) flit around a colony of their nests hanging from high canopies.

The adults feeding the young, in full support.

Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge, Oropendola with young

We came across a man on horseback who was pointing to Manzanillo.

“The trail further ahead is horrible. Prepare to suffer!” it alerts us, with a smile on the lips of someone who has been as honest as possible.

We go a little further.

We quickly surrendered to the evidence of leaving the visit to Punta Mona for a next opportunity. We had explored a small but crucial part of the refuge.

Beyond Punta Mona, there was still the beach and town of Gandoca, closer to the homonymous river and the north of Panama.

Going Back in the History of this Remote Caribbean and the Foundation of the Refugio Gandoca Manzanillo

The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo was created in 1986 in a territory originally inhabited by the Bribri natives of Central America and where, during the XNUMXth century, Afro-descendants from the surrounding British colonies settled, dedicated to fishing and catching game. turtles that have been laying eggs for a long time.

Even if this remote area of ​​Costa Rica has never seen tourism development elsewhere, at a certain point, the worsening capture of turtles, their eggs and even other species, led Costa Rican environmental authorities to dictate the protection of a vast area of ​​jungle, beach and sea, around the prolific offshore coral reefs.

As always happens in these cases, the process proved to be arduous and complex.

The expropriation and removal of most settlements and their inhabitants had to be reversed.

Even more delicate, the fight against poachers and collectors of turtle eggs was carried out with effort and personal damage by rangers and volunteers. One of them paid for his dedication to protecting turtles with his life.

The Rebaptism of the Refuge in Honor of the Martyr Jairo Mora Sandoval

In May 2013, just before midnight, environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval (born in Gandoca) and four female colleagues were kidnapped from a beach near Puerto Limón (the capital of the province of Caribe Sur) by a group of masked men. .

Despite being tied up in an abandoned house, the women managed to escape. Jairo suffered a violent beating from which she perished.

In his honor, four months later, the authorities acceded to the request of other environmentalists and renamed the refuge wild life that we traveled from Jairo Mora Sandoval Gandoca-Manzanillo.

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