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Check out Costa Rica's wildlife I © DeeShoot/Flickr
Check out Costa Rica's wildlife I © DeeShoot/Flickr
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10 Things to See and Do on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast

Picture of Jenn Parker
Updated: 14 June 2017
Costa Rica‘s Caribbean coast stretches 125 km (78 miles) between Nicaragua and Panama. Less developed than its Pacific counterpart, it makes for a fascinating trip for adventurous travellers in search of nature. Take a look at our round-up of the area’s top experiences spanning the north’s national park, through to the beaches of the south.
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Take in Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is one of the highlights of the Caribbean coast, and can only be accessed by a simple-to-arrange boat or small plane transfer. The park is home to many species, including 57 amphibian, 111 reptile, 300 bird, and 60 mammal. This diverse and tropical haven is made up of several different types of ecosystems spanning rainforest, mangrove forest, rivers, estuaries, and coastal beach. Between February and October, visitors can witness four different species of sea turtles (green turtle, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead) nesting on its beaches.

Limon Province, Costa Rica, +506 2522 6500

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Explore the reefs of Cahuita National Park

The Cahuita National Park is most famous for its vibrant coral reefs and abundance of tropical fish and other marine species. There are more than 500 species of tropical fish amid the reefs here – the most common types of corals are brain coral, elkcoral, stagghorn, and sea fans. The spectacular crystal-clear underwater scene is also home to two shipwrecks that can be visited on an organised dive. Be aware that snorkeling and diving are not permitted unless you are with a certified guide, as great efforts are made to protect the reefs from further damage both natural and man-inflicted, as well as potential extinction.

Limon Province, Costa Rica

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Hike through Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge

Take a professionally guided hike through Gandoca Manzanillo Refuge and experience both the lush jungle and outstandingly beautiful coastline. This area is home to white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas, 384 species of birds, and many other rainforest animals. It is also home to a wide variety of orchids, lichens, and bromeliads. Hiking here offers an amazing opportunity to experience the rich biodiversity of this special region.

Limon Province, Costa Rica, +506 2759 9100

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Spend the afternoon at Punta Uva beach

Punta Uva is considered by many to be the best beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. The crystal waters are as tranquil as a lake and are the most beautiful shade of turquoise, averaging an enticing temperature of 27°C (80°F). The picture-perfect beach is lined with palm trees, while under the water a coral reef thrives off the coastline and is easily accessible if you have a mask and fins. This stunning beach is the most perfect place to spend the day. It is also the only beach on the Caribbean coast where you can actually watch the sunset, since it faces west.

Limon Province, Costa Rica

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Visit the Sloth Sanctuary

The Sloth Sanctuary is home to sick, injured, homeless (due to deforestation or habitat loss), or abandoned sloths. Its goal is to rehabilitate the sloths and release them back into the wild – however, some are never capable of returning to their natural environment and will remain at the sanctuary for the duration of their lives. The Sloth Sanctuary offers daily educational tours where you will have the chance to see some of the resident sloths. All entrance fees and any additional donations go towards the work of the sanctuary and the sloths in their care.

Limon Province, Costa Rica, +506 2750 0775

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Visit the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center

The Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center is dedicated to nursing back to health animals that are in need of care. Sadly, animals such as monkeys, sloths, raccoons, coatis, jaguarundis, peccaries, porcupines, deer, and iguanas obtain injuries from car accidents, domestic dogs, or power line mishaps – they may also find themselves homeless due to habitat destruction, or are left orphaned after a parent is killed. The Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center takes in these animals and gives them a second chance at life. The center is also home to a beautiful and diverse botanical garden – if a visit to the the rescue center and botanical gardens inspires you, you can also help out by joining their volunteer program while visiting the Caribbean coast.

Limon Province, Costa Rica, +506 8317 0325

Learn about the indigenous tribes of the Caribbean

The Bri Bri tribe is indigenous to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama. This tribe has been in existence for the past 5,000 years, and has a rich culture that is deeply rooted in nature, having thrived in the jungles of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica for over 1,000 years. You can find out more from several opportunities and tours dedicated to this fascinating group of people and their ancient culture and way of life. Choose from available tours where you can learn all about natural healing from a medicine man; visit a Bri Bri family and learn about their traditions, practices, and ways of life; or discover more about cacao harvesting and the origins of chocolate from a local tribe.

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Take a chocolate tour

Caribeans Chocolate and Coffee is a small family-owned operation in Puerto Viejo, Limon, who also happen to offer one of the best chocolate tours. The Caribbean is the ideal environment for the cacao plant to grow, and for this reason there is a lot of great chocolate in Costa Rica. The country has a rich chocolate history which is explained on the tour – the sustainable permaculture farm works with local cacao farmers to produce the highest quality cacao and chocolate products. During your tour, visitors walk through the cacao forests, learn about the history of cacao and chocolate in Costa Rica, and find out more about how cacao is turned into chocolate.

Next to Tasty Waves Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, +506 8836 8930

Taste local food

Traditional Costa Rican food from the Caribbean has a totally different flavor than that served on the Pacific coast. While the staples are the same (rice and beans, plantains, ceviche, arroz con pollo/vegetables/shrimp/meat, etc), the spices are what make the Caribbean side of things so diverse, and often include coconut milk, ginger, curry, allspice, cinnamon, and chilli pepper. Puerto Viejo and the surrounding areas offer visitors some excellent dining options – Veronica’s Place and Soda Lidia are two establishments that really do Caribbean food justice.

Veronica’s Place – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, +506 2750 0132

Soda Lidia – Limon Province, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, +506 2750 0598

Party in Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo has a reputation for having the best nightlife. The clubs here play reggae, roots, and dancehall jams all night long, and there are rustic beachfront bars with happy hour specials as well as pool tables, reggae nights, ladies’ nights, and even mojito nights! There seems to be a drink special or live music at one of the many bars every night of the week. The laid-back vibe of Puerto Viejo makes going out at night a really fun experience, as everyone is just out to have a good time. Salsa Brava Bar, Johnny’s Place, and Tasty Waves Cantina are all popular places to go for a good time out.

Salsa Brava Bar – Limon Province, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Johnny’s Place – Avenida 73, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica

Tasty Waves Cantina – Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica, +506 2750 0507