Costa Rica

Costa Rica Caribbean-Day 2: Manzanillo, Punta Uva and Puerto Viejo

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Last Updated on March 31, 2024 by Carolyn

View from Puerto Pirata Beach Restaurant
View from Puerto Pirata Beach Restaurant-Can you feel the stress melting away?

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Exploring the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica: Punta Uva, Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo

We arose a bit late the next morning, and hastily readied ourselves for breakfast. Our stay at Physis included full breakfasts and we could select from 4 different menu options. Breakfast was delicious, I had french toast with fresh fruit and Wally had eggs and fresh fruit. Doesn’t this look awesome?

Breakfast at Physis Caribbean B&B
Delicious Breakfast at Physis Caribbean B&B

Snorkeling at Arricefe

I was relieved to see the sun was out as this was the day we were going snorkeling, one of the main reasons we were visiting the Caribbean. We were advised to go out sooner rather than later as apparently the water is usually calmer in the morning with the wind picking up during the course of the day.

It is only about 3 miles from Cocles to Playa Arrecife in Punta Uva. We parked on the beachfront road and walked through the palms to the beach. A long sandy beach and turquoise ocean welcomed us, with reef formations visible beneath the waves.

We asked a local guide where the best place to snorkel was and he sent us around to the next cove. We donned our snorkel gear and waded in. Much to our dismay, the water was pretty murky, probably due to the previous day’s rains. So much for crystal clear Caribbean waters! We each saw a stingray which was pretty cool and of course some coral formations. And I did see some large blue fish but not quite clear enough to identify. We were disappointed with the snorkeling experience but that just seems to be the way with snorkeling, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. I figure it’s a good reason to go back!

Gandoca Manzanillo National Refuge

After snorkeling, we drove the remaining couple of miles to Manzanillo, which is as far south as you can drive on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Manzanillo is a tiny fishing village of about 2 blocks in size, blink and you’ll miss it! (Truthfully you can’t, as it’s the end of the road). Here we parked our car and headed for the entrance to Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo.

Gandoca-Manzanillo national refuge extends from Manzanillo all the way to the border of Panama, protecting over 5000 hectares. When the refuge was created in 1985 it initially encompassed the whole town of Manzanillo. Residents rebelled as it subjected them to Costa Rica’s onerous Maritime laws and strict building codes. It wasn’t until 2014 when the Costa Rican government passed “Recognition of Inhabitants of the South Caribbean” by which 900 acres of land was removed from the refuge.

Like Cahuita National Park, Gandoca-Manzanillo refuge is home to a host of flora and fauna and one of only two places in Costa Rica where manatees still inhabit! Great green macaws have also been reintroduced to the area by Ara Manzanillo, a conservation center for parrots. To date they have released over 60 birds in the area.

The park hours are 8:00am to 4:00pm (and you can be sure I made sure I was there within those hours this time, having been turned away at the Cahuita National Park the previous day. Admission is by donation. The park has a lovely 5.5km coastal trail that winds between through the lowland rainforest and along the lustrous sandy beaches, giving you an awesome glimpse into life in a rainforest. Initially as you’re walking the trail you might think there is not much life around you. Stop. Be quite. Listen. You will be astounded at how much wildlife is right off the trail watching you!

Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge
Mirador Gandoca Manzanillo“, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge

Puerto Viejo

After visiting Manzanillo refuge we returned to Physis to freshen up and then headed to explore Puerto Viejo and have dinner. We parked road side and were immediately hassled by some men looking to sell weed. They can spot a hippie from a mile away! They took no for an answer and left us alone. We walked down the main street dodging construction tape and holes looking for an appealing restaurant. There is no shortage, so making a choice can be difficult. I wanted a reggae beach restaurant vibe and we certainly found that at the Puerto Pirata Tiki restaurant. Our table had a lovely view (see 1st photo of this post) and the ambience couldn’t have been better.

Ever since I’ve been going to Costa Rica we’ve joked about having an umbrella drink on the beach. Well this was as close as I’ve come, sadly I forgot to ask for an umbrella! It is called Marvin’s mango and is a tropical drink made of the delicious albeit unlikely combination of Vodka, mango and basil. It was awesome!

The restaurant bills itself as “serving Ayurvedic inspired organic food with Mediterranean and Caribbean ingredients”. I was all in! There were so many tempting choices on the menu, so I asked our waitresses for her recommendations, and following her advice chose the Volcano Bowl, a shrimp vegetable curry concoction. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we lingered savoring the Caribbean ambience. When the restaurant began to fill again, we dolefully gave up our seats so some other diners could enjoy the lovely setting. We wandered the streets of Puerto Viejo mostly window shopping looking at the colorful wares offered by various stores and boutiques, listening to the booming music and laughter wafting from various bars and dance venues.

Marvins Mango and Volcano Bowl at Pirata Beach Restaurant
Marvins Mango and Volcano Bowl at Puerto Pirata Beach Restaurant

Since Cacao is produced by several local plantations we thought we might find some roasted Cocao, a favorite snack of ours. We looked in several souvenir shops and then asked someone. They thought we might find it at Choco. Choco didn’t have any roasted Cocao but is definitely an interesting store. It pairs locally grown cocao with alcohol and has fine chocolate and holds chocolate and alcohol tastings. Sounds kind of fun to me! With no roasted Cocao to be found we headed back to Physis.

Kayaking at Punta Uva

The next morning was our last in the Caribbean. Boy time flew by. I was told about 3 days is plenty for a visit. NOT. I would have happily stayed a week. I felt everything was way too rushed with only 2 nights there, and that we had just cracked open the jar full of fun!

On our last morning we decided to go kayaking. Kayaks are available to rent at Punta Uva and we rented from Juan’s Kayak rentals. Rates are reasonable being only 5,000 c per hour. I wasn’t quite prepared for this experience. I had read that you go down a river and that sound nice and sedentary to me. When Juan carried the kayaks out to the beach, I tried in broken spanish to explain “No, no we want to go in the river not in the ocean”. He managed to convey to us that we go in the ocean and around the point to the river mouth. OK, I guess. These were tiny little kayaks not ocean kayaks. I wasn’t prepared for wading into the ocean and had regular clothes on. I did have the foresight to leave my phone stashed in the car, thank goodness.

I let Wally take the larger of the kayaks as it looked more stable, and I have more kayaking experience. I climbed into the little one for me, and a wave promptly rolled it over. Until that day, I’d never rolled in a kayak. Then I realized, my eyeglasses had fallen off and were in the sea. This couldn’t end well. I communciated to Juan what had happened. He asked me if they were just sunglasses or to see. I responded “to see, to see”, which is very true, I’m pretty blind without my sunglasses. Memories of our trip to Playa Manuel Antonio flooded back where I’d played in the sea and stupidly forgotten to take off my prescription sunglasses. They fell victim to the waves. We searched frantically and I was beginning to despair. Getting a new pair of prescription eyeglasses would take a while and until then I’d be mostly blind. I was ready to bail and go home, when Juan cried out “Los encontre” (I found them in Spanish). Relief washed over me, all was good with the world again.

I still wasn’t so sure about going out on the ocean in the kayak. But I handed my eyeglasses to Wally who had pockets and ventured deeper into the water where the waves weren’t breaking. I very ungracefully clambered into the kayak and managed to stay upright this time. We set off for the point around which we hoped to find the inlet to the river. It was a pretty paddle but I was a little unnerved and couldn’t appreciate the scenery much as my eyeglasses remained safely in Wally’s pocket

Once around the point, we scanned the bay for the inlet and couldn’t really see it. My eyes were useless and Wally’s aren’t a whole lot better. He “thought” he could perhaps see a break in the sand, so we paddled towards it. Sure enough there was a sand bar that Juan had told us about where we’d have to get out, pull the kayaks over and then get back in. We got that accomplished, and much to my relief were on a quite river that headed into the jungle.

We enjoyed the paddle up the river, there were lots of snapping turtles watching us indignantly as we floated by. Wally saw a little crocodile (I was staring right at it but didn’t see it). There were lots of jungle sounds, I was hoping to see some Macaws or Sloths in the trees but only saw various wading birds and a toucan.

After an hour of paddling, I thought it prudent to turn around as we didn’t want to be out too long, and we did have the long drive back to San Jose ahead of us.

We paddled back around the point and that’s when I realized we hadn’t noted where we launched. We aimed back to where we thought we had launched and weren’t too far off the mark. We returned the kayaks to Juan ( or rather found Juan and helped him bring them to his house). We thanked him and headed on our way.

I had hoped we would have time to visit Cahuita National Park on the way out but it was already 1:00pm and I really didn’t want to have to drive in the dark. So we headed back to San Jose, we’ll visit Cahuita on our next trip (For a personal account of another blogger’s visit to Cahuita, Kathryn of Stayingafloat.com writes about her visit to Cahuita here).

Trip to Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica Takeaways

I really enjoyed our quick trip to the Caribbean but do recommend if you go to spend at least 4-5 days. At least I have things to look forward to seeing next time including exploring Puerto Viejo and enjoying some more of the awesome restaurants, going to a reggae bar, seeing the shipwreck, going to Ara Manzanillo to see the green macaws, visiting Cahuita National Park, going to Tortuguera and perhaps even venturing to Boca del Toras. Hmmm maybe a week won’t be enough!

Takeaways from out Trip to the Caribbean Coast

The Costa Rica Caribbean coast is easily accessible by bus and while staying there you don’t need a car. There are buses, tuk-tuks, cabs and bike rentals to get you around.

I had read that bugs are really bad there but oddly enough we experienced exactly the opposite, very few bugs, but I think we must have just got lucky, I would definitely bring good bug repellant

Petty crime is always an issue so be wary of leaving valuables anywhere. We did use the hotel safe to stow our electronics. Though we had no issues, its best not to walk around by yourself after dark.

Remember in Costa Rica it always gets dark pretty early between 5:00-6:00pm, it’s best to rise with the sun (I’m not a morning person so I struggle with this). Mornings are absolutely the best time of the day being cooler and the wildlife is at its most active.

If you go snorkeling be prepared!

Since my trip I have bought these eyeglass holders, so I don’t have to relive that panic of eyeglasses lost at sea. I purchased a 6-pack for just $8.99, you can change them out to match your attire or share with your friends.

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Floating Dry Bags

and I also purchased these floating dry bags  so useful for storing your keys, phone, cash etc. Why risk having those get stolen when there is this very affordable solution. I paid just $12.99 for two.

I used both when I did a kayaking luminescence tour-I highly recommend them!

Did you miss my post on our first day at the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica? Read it here: The Striking Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo
Pin me-You Know you Want to Go to the Costa Rica Caribbean!

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