Wednesday, October 20, 2021

[LIMÓN] Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

There are two prominent national parks in Limón along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast: Cahuita and Manzanillo. You will reach Cahuita first coming from San José, while Manzanillo is farther to the northeast almost at the border of Panamá. I wanted to visit both but alas, after many days of long-distance bus travels and sleep deprivation, my body suddenly demanded that I pay some sleep debt or else. And so I had to give up one national park and decided to go to Manzanillo instead.

The ex-Uber driver I met became my de facto transpo and guide in the province. He wanted to do Manzanillo and Cahuita in one day. Of course, he has his own motives, but I told him that we should see how the day would go first, although I already knew that Cahuita was already out of the question because I was still half-asleep as I hopped on his car. And so, we drove for half an hour from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca towards the Panamá border. Manzanillo is the winner.

Look at a map of Costa Rica and then Limón to the north. You will see a huge patch of green land jutting towards the Caribbean. That’s Cahuita. Scroll a bit to the right and you will see another patch of land that is just as verdant between Punta Uva and Playa Gandoca. That’s Manzanillo. Everyone is raving about Cahuita, for reasons I would soon discover. Manzanillo, on the other hand, is more untamed and secluded, which gives off a more tranquil vibe away from the multitude of tourists.

They say that Cahuita is an easier trek because it is relatively flat and thanks to its location right next to the beach. Tour Guide said that all you have to do in Cahuita is walk a flat terrain, look left for a view of the Caribbean Sea, and then direct your gaze to the right for the jungle along with all the flora and fauna that come along with it. Manzanillo is a different monster altogether. You have to go through an unkempt rainforest with several trails leading everywhere. Suffice it to say, you can easily get lost in there.

It’s a good thing that Tour Guide was all game. I wasn’t sure that I was. One of the main attractions in Manzanillo is a viewing deck which lies not far from the entrance. This is the part that most people definitely reach because of its proximity to the parking lot. The view is not that amazing to be honest. The sand is not that white, and the water is not that clear. Nevertheless, tourists and locals alike would adore the small solitary islet not far away from the shore which becomes the de facto selfie background.

The next challenge is what they refer to as the Cave. This one is also along the coast but requires a little bit more trekking in the jungle itself. Either way, it’s not that hard to reach. What you will see is a rather small cave trapping all the noise brought about by the waves slapping the shore. In the shallow lagoon where the Caribbean meets Costa Rica, we saw some starfish as well as small fish that we could not identify. Tour Guide had been warning about vipers since forever, but we were yet to see one.

And that’s just how far most people are willing to go. Why? The next attraction, a secluded beach called Playa Paulo Mena, requires a one-kilometer trek. 1 KM, you say? That isn’t bad to be honest. Well, I thought so too, children. What awaits is a never-ending trail of green everywhere complimented by wet brown mud, a lot of fallen tree trunks you have to jump over, as well as the constant threat of some random wild animal attacking you for lunch. Did we make it, then? Well I’m still here typing this, right?

But it didn’t come without setbacks. Jumping off one huge tree trunk, I twisted my left ankle. I can still walk and it’s not that painful so I guess we’ll consider this a success story. I don’t really know the difference between a jungle and a rainforest but I am keen to tag Manzanillo as the latter because it was drizzling as we got deep into it, meaning we were wet but not drenched. The trek back to civilization was hot and dry because the sun made an appearance. It’s like nature’s version of a washer and dryer combo experience, but for human beings. Good thing I had my pneumonia vaccine shot before I flew here.

Most tourists would go in in their bathing suits or shirtless. I would’ve done so but, bruh, it’s the wild. You don’t really know what poisonous plants or animals might come into contact with your skin in there, so I’d rather not take the risk. In the end, we reached the effing beach, which was secluded alright and with only four souls snorkeling when we arrived. Its charm really lies on the beach/jungle combo.

Envision a 1500’s scene in a Spanish colonization-themed film where the Spaniards are docking for the first time to pillage the New World. That’s exactly what it looks like. In fact, they say that this area of Costa Rica was where Columbus docked first. And this is perhaps the closest I’d get to being cast in Survivor or Pirates of the Caribbean. No thank you, Cahuita. There’s always next time. For now, I think I’ve reached my jungle quota for the month.

[LIMÓN] Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

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