Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica
Costa Rica's southern Caribbean might have more rain than the Pacific coast, but it also has a laid-back Afro-Caribbean vibe and great beaches.
We loved sipping beers in a beachside bar on the Caribbean coast listening to Bob Marley and watching out for falling coconuts!
Costa Rica has both Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Far more people spend time on the Pacific coast as the infrastructure and choice of resorts there is far better than on the Caribbean, but . . . Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean has some lovely laid-back spots to relax in and generally cheaper (and less fancy) hotels. It has a more Afro-Caribbean vibe than the rest of the country.
It rains much more on this coast so you need to accept the higher chances of rain, but the compromise on that score means you will generally be with fewer people. The best weather on this side is in February, March, September and October.
- Puerto Viejo: Puerto Viejo on the southern Caribbean coast has a laid-back Caribbean vibe and a multicultural community. It’s quite touristy but in a friendly way. Its waves, including the famous Salsa Brava, attract surfers from all parts of the globe. As well as enjoying beach life you can visit national parks including Cahuita and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge during your stay here and take bike rides to explore the local area.
- Punta Uva: Between the towns of Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo, Punta Uva is a pristine little beach which is great for swimming and snorkelling and you can even swim from shore to a coral reef here. It’s a pretty place with very little here but great beaches.
- Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife refuge: This little-visited park on the southern Caribbean coastline is close to the Panama border. Its humid rainforest, coral reef and two mangrove swamps are home to some of the country’s most endangered flora and fauna. You could see caiman, manatees, crocodiles, tapirs, toucans, parakeets and frigate birds. The beach is used as a nesting site for several species of turtles between March and May. It’s a great snorkelling and diving location. The area is best visited from March to April or September to October.
- Cahuita National Park: This relatively small park is known more for its marine protection than land-based wildlife. Within its boundaries is the country’s largest coral reef with some 35 coral species and some 500 fish species. There’s also the wreck of an 18th-century slave ship under the seas here. Guided snorkelling is good in the dry season.
On land, there is tropical rainforest and sandy beach. The rainforest is home to sloths, howler and capuchin monkeys, iguanas, caimans and armadillos plus a range of birds including toucans, kingfishers and green ibis. There’s also the town of Cahuita.
- Tortuguero National Park: On the northern part of this coastline, Tortuguero offers an insight into the rainforest wildlife of the country, as well as being a great place to see turtles some of the year. It’s on the coast but it’s not a place you come for time on the beach; this is all about nature and wildlife.