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Costa Rica - Caribbean

General information

The Caribbean region in Costa Rica stretches little over 90 miles between the borders of Nicaragua to the north, and Panama to the south. This region is made of lowlands mixed with rivers and covered with rich banana plantations and lush rainforests. Superb natural beauty has made the Caribbean an investors' market in Costa Rica.The Caribbean region is definitely becoming a new hotspot in Costa Rica. Phone lines, improved services and relatively low real estate prices are constantly attracting new developers to the region.

The Caribbean's northern area is accessible by small plane or boat making Tortuguero an essential destination for developers in Costa Rica. On the south, the beaches of Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, Punta Mona and Manzanillo are popular among real estate buyers.

The Caribbean is forged of a mix between dense jungle, high mountain ranges and the sea itself. Columbus himself couldn't pass through the region's natural barriers to the Central Valley, and it wasn't until 1890 when the province was actually linked by railroad, achieved after nearly 20 years of hard labor.

The region continues to hold the highest percentage of protected land in the country, with exuberant vegetation and abundant wildlife, characterized by local culture distinct from any other found in Costa Rica.

Although the famous jungle train-said to have been one of the world's most scenic train routes-no longer connects Limon to San Jose, a new road does, allowing visitors to reach the region in about a 2-3 hour drive. Crossing the central mountain range, the differences are clear as the road descends from cloud forest to Caribbean lowlands. The distinct foliage of tree ferns and "poor man's umbrella" are replaced by the "pejibaye" and coconut palm as the coast draws nearer, as well as evidence of agriculture, such as plantations of ornamental plants or scattered cattle along the road. For an educational stop along the way, travelers can visit E.A.R.T.H. -Escuela de Agricultura de la Region Tropical Humeda- to see how banana paper (one of Costa Rica's nontraditional exports) is produced, or visit a banana or pineapple plantation to understand how these well-loved fruits are harvested and processed for the international markets. Tours to locations such as Standard Fruit's Finca Esperanza in Siquirres are available from both San Jose and from Puerto Limon, and a trip out to the farm will answer any questions visitors may have about the banana industry.

Passing through the town of Limon provides visitors with their first glimpse of the Caribbean. Serving as a gateway into the many towns and villages further along the coast, Limon exemplifies the diversity of Costa Rica's population. You are likely to see any number of large cargo ships, as well as the cruise ships that are starting to use the port more frequently. Turn right to follow the coast toward the many beach destinations that surely are the goal of most people's travels. The coastal road passes through the innumerable banana plantations that have helped from the history of the region. But new forces are at work in Costa Rica to reshape that history within a La Amistad 21st century perspective of preservation. Using large expanses of protected land such as inspiration, many smaller private and public reserves are working to create natural corridors and preserve habitat for endangered species. One such example is Reserva Selva Bananito.

Located on the slopes of Cerro Muchilla, this 840-hectare private reserve bordering La Amistad extends from 100 meters to 800 meters above sea level, allowing for a wide variety or microclimates and habitats. Funds from the reserve go to support regional conservation and education groups. Beautiful lodging constructed of salvaged wood in the Caribbean style provides tranquil evenings, while daytime activities can include scaling primary rain forest trees with a well-maintained rope system, or volunteering your time at the nearby Pacuare Turtle Reserve. This reserve, founded by the Endangered Wildlife Trust of England, is a newly registered nesting site of a giant leatherback turtle.

Spending time in Reserva Selva Bananito not only helps restore a visitor's personal equilibrium: it supports the spirit or conservation in the entire region.

Cahuita lies an hour down the coast road from Limon. More like a village, this typical Caribbean town has become a tourist destination due to the national park that protects that reef for 500 meters out from Cahuita Point. Water averages about six feet in depth offshore, and snorkelers will enjoy the extensive reef system made up of numerous types of coral and occupied by brightly colored tropical fish. Local guides can lead you to the best snorkeling spots, as well as give visitors the option of viewing the wildlife from a glass-bottom boat. The park also contains a series of freshwater rivers and estuaries, which are always good spots for observing wildlife. The seven-kilometer trail along the coast gives excellent opportunities to spot the area's avian, mammalian and reptilian residents. If you're looking for a day of relaxation, Cahuita's beaches can offer a quiet day in the sun.

Shaded by coconut palms, there are volcanic black sand beaches or more sheltered cover of white coral sand to choose from. In either, you're sure to spot an iguana lazing nearby, or hear the trees rustling with the movements of monkeys as they go about their daily business.

The Caribbean Ocean has undergone a "sea change" by the time it reaches the shores of Costa Rica. The gentle, turquoise waters of Cuba and Jamaica give way to strong currents and the "Salsa Brava", making our Caribbean a place unto itself. Visitors often come for just those reasons. The blend of cultures and the grassroots conservation movements in the area create an atmosphere quite different from others in Costa Rica or anywhere else in the Caribbean. Unique food, music and beaches have brought a parade of curious visitors into the region. The Talamanca Ecotourism and Conservation Association -or ATEC- has served the community very well by training local guides and involving the residents in educating tourist about cultural values of the region. They can offer visitors a range of tours, including early-morning birding walks, night hikes, snorkeling and dolphin-watching.

All along the coast travelers can find a variety of beaches and lodging to suit their tastes and budgets. Most hotels are built in the small, typical Caribbean bungalow fashion, which has created a low-density form of development that has kept the area rather quiet. Bicycles are available for rent, and this is most likely the nicest way to travel up and down the beach road. Make sure you stop every now and then to glance up at Cecropia trees, where there is likely to be a sloth or howler monkey returning your gaze!

Manzanillo is literally the end of line on this stretch of coastal road. A great spot for a lobster lunch or waiting for the fishermen to come in, Manzanillo is also the entrance to a refuge that protects nearly 4,500 hectares of coastal waters and beaches that serve as nesting grounds for 4 species of turtles, including the giant leatherback. An extensive reef system rings the point, creating an effective barrier to the rougher waters offshore, making this an excellent diving and snorkeling. Equipment and PADI approved dive masters can be found at Aquamor. Kayak rentals -with or without a guide- are also available for a quiet day in the mangrove estuaries, looking for birds, reptiles or elusive West-Indian manatee.

Caribbean map by Google


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Travel Tips

There are several ways to get the coast. Whether you rent a car or take the adventure some option of buying bus passage, the route is the same. Take the Turrialba road or the San Jose to Guapiles highway, either one will take you out straight to the coast. Once there, it's just a matter of choice whether you want to head east or west.

Climate

This area of the country is generally hot and humid, and experiences quite a bit of rain. Temperatures hover generally between the mid to high 80s Fahrenheit. As much as 400 centimeters of rain has been recorded during one year. Since the coast has the advantage of refreshing ocean breezes, the weather is bearable, the heavy rainy seasons span from May through August, and being once again in December on through January. If it�s cloudless skies you're after, then avoid these months for your Costa Rican visit.

What to bring

Since the weather is extremely tropical and changeable on this coast, it is a wise traveler who packs hat, sunblock and raingear. Clothing should be cotton and light colored. Hiking boots are recommended for rainforest activities.

Things to do

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Walking
  • Kayaking
  • Rafting
  • Horseback Riding
  • Swimming

Places to go

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge - Remote rainforest reserve with rocky coast that includes small-secluded beaches.

Selva Bananito Reserve - Private reserve where visitors can enjoy nature through hiking, horseback riding and tree climbing. Linked with a turtle nesting reserve.

Puerto Viejo Botanical Gardens - A tour here is an experience in tastes and smell as visitors learn about rainforest products such as fruits, vanilla and other spices.

Rainforest Aerial Tram - Take a ride the rainforest canopy.

Standard Fruit Co. Banana Tour - Enjoy a banana plantation tour and learn the history about this well-loved fruit.

La Selva Biological Research Station - A private reserve that has long been the sight of tropical scientific investigations. La Selva offers informative tours and excellent birdwatching.

Tortuguero National Park - A jungle on the coast with a large number of wild animals that can be seen while touring the canals by boat. Home to the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and site of Green Sea Turtle nesting.

Barra de Colorado Wildlife Refuge - Primarily visited by fishing enthusiasts for the world-class tarpon and snook fishing found there.

Cahuita National Park - Beaches, coral reefs and nature trails traverse the park.



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