It just might be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica.
You’ll find it at the end of the road, literally, in the far southeastern corner, near the border with Panama.
It’s on the Caribbean coast, the most undeveloped portion of the country. You drive two hours east of the capital San Jose, on Highway 32, and hang a right at the port city of Limon. Another two hours down the two-lane road that passes through jungle and within a stone’s throw of the water, and you’re in Manzanillo.
It’s a stretch calling it a town. Try settlement.
Stop at Aquamor, the red building on your right, for snorkeling gear—just $4 an hour or so (they’re not that strict about the time). Then keep driving. Pavement turns to hard-packed sand and then ends. Park underneath the palms, pay the attendant $2 for the day and start walking south. Beyond the parking lot is the heart of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Before you head in, be sure to pick up a spicy chicken or sweet banana patty from the lady in the thatch-roofed lean-to. She’s one of the descendants of Jamaican immigrants to the area around the turn of the century and has the Caribbean inflected English to match.
Across the way, they’re selling pipa fria, the ice cold juice of a young coconut. You can buy little boxes in the States for several dollars but here you get the whole coconut… top chopped off with a machete just for you—$1.
Now you’re ready for your expedition.
Walk through the jungle, keeping an eye out for monkeys, sloths, and toucans, three of the many animals that call the park home. Then you pick your spot on the beach. The shore is dotted with little coves, offering privacy and a quiet spot, especially on weekdays.
The water is warm. And completely clear. On calm days, it’s as “flat as a bathtub” as the locals say.
Just off the beach is a full-fledged coral reef and several patches of sea grass. The reef extends dozens of feet offshore. But within 30 feet you can see a score of different species of tropical fish. On my recent trip I saw brilliantly-hued surgeonfish, angelfish, tangs, parrot fish, and several species I didn’t recognize. On my way back in I stumbled upon a school of five cuttlefish, a reddish brown with bright green stripes and spots on their back. Their tentacles flared as I approached. My son saw a stingray.
You can scuba dive farther offshore in this area as well. But as an experienced scuba diver snorkeling on the same patch as me said, there’s no need when you can see so many fish beach-diving.
If you’re not into snorkeling, no worries. Find a spot underneath a palm tree on the beach and enjoy the view. Brilliant blue water… Vivid green jungle… Jagged rock islands just offshore… And a ribbon of white sand.
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