Gandoca - Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Where is It?

12 km south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Southern Caribbean Coast

How Big is it?

12,382 land acres and 10,950 marine acres

When was it Created?

October 29, 1985

Bit of History:

When the park was created, 1985, the residents of Manzanillo and surrounding areas were permitted to continue living here. This is the only 'mixed refuge' in all of Costa Rica.

Did you Know?

  • The Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge protects 70% of the southern Caribbean coast.
  • It protects the coastal lowlands from the Cocles River south to Panama, including some of Costa Rica's most pristine coral reefs.
  • It protects significant freshwater and marine habitats where endangered species like the manatee, harpy eagle and Baird's tapir live.
  • The living coral reefs which begin offshore at Punta Uva extend south to Manzanillo’s Punta Mona (Monkey Point) support more than 35 types of coral, 10 species of sponge, 25 species of algae and 30 species of mollusk.
  • South of Punta Mona, the beaches are protected for nesting sea turtles: green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead
  • The region is well-known for having one of the only remaining red mangrove swamps in Costa Rica where Atlantic tarpon, oysters, crocodiles, manatees and many other marine animals may be found.

How's the Weather:

Hot and humid. The best times to visit for snorkeling: September through October and March through May.

Annual average temperature: 26 C (79 F)

Annual average rainfall: 2500 mm (98 inches), Sept / Oct and Feb / March are the least rainy months; even then, however, afternoon and evening storms roll in. There is no distinct dry season here.

Ranger Stations:

The park's main office is on the right hand side of the road in front of the beach just as the gravel road turns and becomes parallel with the shore (just before passing the little grocery store in central Manzanillo). They have maps and educational videos, restrooms, a picnic area and drinking water.  The main office is open Fridays and Saturdays from 8 am to 4 pm. You can coordinate turtle tours from February - October.


  • Hiking on trails. Contact us for a naturalist guide and make your trip really great!
  • Dolphin watching tours
  • Turtle Tours, coordinate with the Minae office.
  • Fishing excursions for tarpon and snook
  • Scuba diving and snorkeling - swim just a little offshore to find coral reefs or coordiante with us for a dive tour. The best time for these activities: Sept / Oct and March thru May.
  • Camping is permitted - visit the Minae office for details. 


Tons of trails from 1 hour to all day hikes.

Different trials lead to Punta Mona and Gandoca, passing through primary and secondary forests, and along various beaches.

Wildlife & Plants:

Sea Turtles:

Four species of marine turtle call the South Caribbean home:

  • Leatherback Sea Turtle: From March thru July, the beaches south of Punta Mona are the most important nesting grounds in Costa Rica for the leatherback turtle. About 580 females come ashore to lay eggs.
  • Green Sea Turtle: Lays her eggs from July until October
  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle: She arrives from February until May
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle: She comes ahshore with the hawksbill from February until May

In the Red Mangrove Swamp and Lagoon:

  • Crocodiles & caimans
  • Shrimp
  • Snook and Atlantic tarpon
  • The only natural mangrove oyster beds

Parrots and toucans are among the 350+ species of birds seen here (100+ are migratory mainly from the north). Also included are: red-capped manakins, collared aracaris (small toucans), several species of raptor and many, many species of small song birds.

In the Water:

  • Angelfish
  • Blue parrot fish
  • Anemones
  • Crabs
  • Starfish
  • Sea fans
  • Sea cucumbers
  • Coral, sponges, algae and mollusks

And if You're Lucky:

  • Baird’s tapir (endangered)
  • Harpy eagle (endangered)
  • West Indian Manatee (endangered)
  • Great Green Macaws (endangered)

How do I Get There?

Contact us to book a tour of this park. 


  • It is hot here! Wear cotton or quick-dry clothing. Make sure to bring: sunscreen, a hat or bandana, water and bug spray
  • Get in touch with the Minae office for trail conditions. Due to heavy rains some trails can get flooded out.


Contact us to book a tour of this park.

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