Image via Getty
The Costa Rica Caribbean coast sports an overdose of surfing, fishing, animals, eco tours and culture. Or, as they call it pura vida, or pure life. So, it's no wonder why Costa Rica is on everyone’s list for a tropical vacation.
Sun, surf, volcanoes, jungle critters, the country has endless opportunities for eco inclined tourism. Most folks fly into San Jose and head into the mountains or migrate to the famous beaches of the left coast. Tamarindo and Dominical beaches offer popular world class surfing, Manuela Antonio National Park is a mega famous beach spot (among dozens), and ritzy Papagayo for the upscale crowd are but a few of the hotspots on the Pacific side. If you read a list of best beaches in the country, 9 out of 10 are on the Pacific side. But, the Caribbean side sports endless sands and ocean, and far fewer travelers, making it “the quiet coast”.
The Caribbean Atlantic coast is much shorter than the Pacific but it’s packed with treasures. The culture is distinctive from the rest of the country. While Spanish is widely spoken, English and a local creole are spoken regularly, especially on the south coast, where many of the residents are of African descent, their ancestors’ victims of the slave trade. Today calypso music is popular and the local food is delicious, spicy ocean influenced cooking.
The ocean teems with life and the diving and snorkeling is as epic as anywhere. Several national parks and preserves dot the Atlantic coast. And as a bonus, you won’t be eaten by a crocodile. While their smaller cousins, caymen, are around crocs are a Pacific danger. So, walk, fish and surf in peace.
Highlights of the Caribbean coast include tiny Manzanillo, a decidedly mellow village literally at the end of the road near the Panamaian border. The local beaches are spectacular with soft sand and a rich coral reef just feet from shore. Mark Martin is an American who owns the Tarponville fishing lodge, in the jungle just outside Manzanillo. Martin and his guests fly fish the coastal waters for trophy sized tarpon that reach 200lbs. But he asserts the overall beauty of the area saying, “We have beautiful reefs out front (of the lodge), and shallower reefs with fish on them. We have beaches that you can swim and snorkel. The place has a lot to offer besides just fishing.”
Manzanillo is also the home of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Refuge, a pristine and protected rainforest full of sloths, monkeys and toucans among countless more species. The refuge is Shangri-La for eco-tourists.
Just north of Manzanillo is Puerto Viejo a little beach town with a plethora of food and drink and a busy nightlife. The town is full of young travelers in search of sun and fun, but it’s not overwhelming. It sits so far out of the way you have to make an effort to go there. For a few intrepid surfers, Puerto Viejo is a base for surfing Costa Rica’s biggest wave, Salsa Brava. Far from unknown, the wave is just too big and dangerous to be overrun with novice tourists. Luckily, plenty of other moderate surf breaks lie close by.
Stop by the Sloth Sanctuary, where you can literally meet and play with the furry, languid creatures. The Sanctuary is a 320 acre reserve dedicated to caring for injured and abandoned sloths. If you want to see sloths in the wild cruise over to nearby Cahuita National Park where the critters lounge at the jungle’s edge.
At the northern end of the Caribbean coast is the massive Tortuguero Conservation Area with a national park and the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge. The protected area encompasses lush rainforest, rivers and lagoons and miles of untouched beaches. There is only one village and a handful hotels and lodges within the park. Tortuguero is Spanish for “turtle catcher” and the park’s beaches are home to several species of nesting sea turtles where you can go on night time tours to see hatchlings pop out of the sand and race for the waves. This terrain is remote and roads don’t really penetrate the park and refuge so boats and airplanes provide access. And boat tours or DIY kayaks are definitely the way to see the park. You can paddle through a huge network of canals and lagoons through a cacophony of jungle noise from, “…57 species of amphibians, 111 species of reptiles, and 60 species of mammals. More than 300 species of birds live in Tortuguero for all or part of the year,” says Costa Rica Exotica Natural tour company. Can you count them all?
Book your ticket, slather on the sunscreen and head for the Caribbean.
Lead image via Getty.