The Costa Rican Caribbean Coast stretches from the San Juan River on the northern border with Nicaragua, to the Sixaola River on the southern border with Panama. Limon, the provincial capital, is located in the centre and is the main distribution point for tourism.
In the northern region, the principal attractions are the Green sea turtle nesting beaches of Tortuguero National Park, and sportfishing for snook, tarpon and other species in the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. These are complemented by the system of waterways linking the Port of Moin with Barra del Colorado, which is both a unique attraction and simultaneously the only means of transportation in the area. The northern Caribbean is particularly recognized for its wildlife as a world-renowned site for viewing sea turtles and birds.
The southern Caribbean uniquely blends stunning beaches with natural resources and Afro-Caribbean culture in the towns of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Gandoca-Manzanillo. Highlights include coral reefs, multi-coloured sand beaches (black, yellow and gray), coastal vegetation, and dense forests.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean region stands out for its extraordinary natural and cultural wealth. There are many activities available: fishing, boating, scuba diving, snorkelling, surfing, hiking, watching turtles and birds, observing dolphins, horseback riding, kayaking in the sea and rivers, among others. Additionally, you have direct contact with the diverse local cultures.
Caribbean Major Attractions
Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge
Barra del Colorado is composed of channels, lagoons, rivers, swamps, forests, hills of less than 250 meters, continental and fluvial islands. There is a rich biodiversity of plants and animals, with some endemic species. The flora is comprised of three types of vegetation: humid forest, wetlands and mangroves. Wildlife includes crocodiles, caimans, endangered West Indian Manatees, tapirs, jaguars, howler and white-faced Capuchin monkeys, and three-toed sloths. The area is considered a paradise for sportfishing for tarpon, snook, and Alligator gar fish, which is regarded as a living fossil. There are several world-class fishing camps in these waters. To get to Barra del Colorado, you can travel by boat from Moín, Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo or Sarapiquí, or by domestic flight from San Jose.
Tortuguero National Park
This famous national park represents one of the wilderness areas with the highest biological diversity in Costa Rica, and offers one of the most exuberant landscapes in the country. It was created primarily to protect the Green sea turtle nesting area. Tortuguero possesses a very wet tropical forest, since it rains between 5,000 and 6,000 mm per year. These climatic conditions favour the existence of more than 400 species of trees and around 2,200 varieties of other plants, as well as more than 400 kinds of birds, 60 types of amphibians, 30 species of freshwater fish, and various endangered mammals such as tapirs, monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, manatees, and sloths. Tortuguero’s canals, lagoons and rivers depict great scenic beauty and can be traversed by boats, canoes and kayaks to enjoy the wonderful landscapes. In addition to the Green turtle, three other sea turtle species nest on the Park’s beaches; there is a visitor’s centre that offers exhibitions, information, drinking water, toilets, trails and other facilities.
Barbilla National Park
This area consists of tropical humid and tropical very humid primary forest. There is rich biological diversity due to the altitudinal differences ranging from 110 to 1,617 meters. Making their home in the forests are pumas, jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, monkeys, and many types of birds.
Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve
The private reserve is surrounded by the three indigenous reservations of Telire, Tayni and Talamanca. It forms part of the La Amistad biosphere reserve. The names “Hitoy Cerere” in the indigenous Bribri language mean “moss-covered” and “clear waters,” respectively – the names of the two main rivers that run through the reserve. The area is very rich in flora and fauna; for example, you can find about 230 species of birds. There are rivers and streams where you may swim, and a beautiful waterfall you can visit by walking a nature trail along the river.
Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
Beaches spanning the coastline of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge are outstandingly beautiful and very suitable for hiking, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling around coral reefs, and observing flora and fauna. The Leatherback sea turtle is protected in the refuge. You can take a boat tour to the Gandoca Lagoon, a habitat for abundant tropical vegetation and also West Indian Manatees.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita is home to spectacular beaches and the largest and most important coral reef in Costa Rica. Here, you can see many different kinds of marine life. It is one of the most scenic areas of the country for its white sand beaches, thousands of coconut palms, turquoise sea and coral reef. In the national park, you can hike, swim, snorkel, dive, observe wildlife, sunbathe, play beach volleyball, or just do nothing and contemplate the marvellous scenery.
Principal Caribbean Beaches, Rivers and Canals
Barra del Colorado Beach
The northern Caribbean Coast is long and open, which leads to strong waves and hazardous currents for swimming. However, its main attractions are the channels and lagoons that parallel the beach, offering interesting boat trips through a picturesque landscape to observe abundant wildlife.
Tortuguero – Colorado Canals
This area is one of the country’s rainiest (5,000 to 6,000 mm annually), which contributes to its rich biodiversity. Visitors come here for this combination, exploring the extensive network of waterways in boats, canoes or kayaks. This amazing world is known for its quiet, and its unique exuberant nature. It is extremely relaxing touring these canals and admiring the exquisite green of its incredible tropical vegetation, reflected in the mirrors of water that form everywhere.
This beach is also long with strong waves and tropical vegetation. It is best suited for walks and to see the diversity of the flora and fauna of the Tortuguero National Park, which abuts the village of the same name near the beach. Along this coast is where four species of sea turtles come to nest – the most abundant is the Green sea turtle, which comes in the months of April through August; the Leatherback sea turtle, arriving from February to July; the Hawksbill sea turtle, coming between April and October; and the Loggerhead sea turtle that nests in a short season from April to May.
In its lower reaches, the Reventazón River, one of the country’s largest, joins the Parismina River. This river, particularly the areas near its mouth, has a great reputation for remarkable fishing. There are several fishing lodges that offer everything you need for fishing in this area, which adjoins the northern and the southern limits of the Tortuguero National Park. The Caño Blanco pier is the starting point for trips to this area.
This river features great tropical exuberance is world-renowned among fans and experts of whitewater rafting. With class III-IV rapids, the Pacuare is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world for rafting and kayaking. During a rafting tour, you can enjoy waterfalls and tributaries of the Pacuare, complemented by lush green vegetation. This trip is famous for its outstanding value.
A beautiful navigable river, the Colorado is protected by the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. The river is famous internationally for its phenomenal fishing for tarpon, snook and other species.
Easily accessible, Bonita Beach has strong waves that are ideal for surfing. The beach is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, especially coconut palms which give a special scenic beauty. Due to its appeal and proximity to the city of Limón, Playa Bonita is a preferred site by residents and tourists to enjoy the sea. There often are happenings such as concerts and surf tournaments. Playa Bonita is ideal for sunbathing, hiking, swimming (with caution), observing nature, playing beach volleyball, picnics, family fun, etc.
Playa Blanca, Cahuita
Known for the white colour of its sand, Playa Blanca is part of the Cahuita National Park. A small beach, at the outset it slopes with strong waves; this section is not recommended for swimming. Toward the middle, and before reaching the Suarez River estuary, it is ideal for swimming. After crossing the creek, the presence of the outer fringing reef completely transforms the shoreline into a vast lagoon. Here, the sands are white and the reef is close by so you can easily swim out for snorkelling and diving.
Puerto Vargas (Port Vargas)
Here, the water is crystal clear and calm, due to the presence of coral reef. The other side has darker sand and mild to moderate waves.
Puerto Viejo Beaches
These beaches are composed mainly of coralline rock shelves; for this reason, many areas are not suitable for swimming. However, there are other places that do have white sand and cafés ideal for enjoying the sea. Pirripli Point is one of the best places on the entire Caribbean Coast for surfing. International surf tournaments are regularly held here.
This beach is perfect for enjoying sunbathing, swimming, walks, horseback riding, playing beach volleyball and football, etc. There is a small coral reef in Punta Cocles (Cocles Point). Along the beach, there are many services for tourists, including surfboard and bike rentals. In Puerto Viejo, you can hire horses and motorcycles to explore Cocles and other beaches further south.
This is another ideal beach for sunbathing, swimming, walking, horseback riding, and playing beach volleyball and soccer.
Punta Uva (Uva Point)
A wide sandy spur, Punta Uva extends northwest to the promontory at the end of Chiquita Beach. Bordering this point, there is a coral reef where you can dive and snorkel.
It has the notoriety of having truly black sand, due to its high content of manganese.
This coastline is exceptionally beautiful, especially in the vicinity of Punta Mona (Mona Point), where the presence of a small island completely covered with vegetation adds great appeal. The coastal scenery is complemented by lush green forests and coral reef ideal for snorkelling and diving.
Yellowish sand and moderate to strong surf characterize Manzanillo Beach. It is ideal for walking and horseback riding, as well as for sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling/diving, especially in the waters facing the village and close to Manzanillo Point. The Manzanillo Community is located at the very end of the road that connects all of the beaches south of Puerto Viejo (about 12 km from this point). Manzanillo offers many services: equipment rental for scuba diving and snorkelling, and tours to observe dolphins, go scuba diving, etc.
Here, the beach has grey sand and strong waves. Gandoca stretches south to the mouth of the Sixaola River, which serves as the border with Panama. This last coastal stretch is a little more than 8 km, and is very suitable for walks to observe the rich biodiversity of its ecosystems. Gandoca also is ideal to see nesting Leatherback sea turtles during April to August.
Recommended Partners in the Caribbean