A Costa Rica travel destination marked by mysticism, magic, lush vegetation, unexplored Wildlife Observation Tower, Costa Rica mountains and seductive beaches, the Caribbean coast is a territory full of adventure and pleasant relaxation.
Costa Rica's Caribbean coast runs two hundred kilometers between Nicaragua and Panama extending inland as far as Braulio Carrillo National Park and narrowing in the south where the Talamanca mountain range sits.
Typically different from the rest of the country, life in the Caribbean is a mixture of influences where indigenous heritage mixes with Black-African, Oriental and Spanish bloods offering as a consequence a rich combination reflected in spicy foods as well as "spicy" cultural expressions. It's this diversity that makes Costa Rica travel such a multifaceted and exciting experience.
On the northern end the land is a long, straight coastal strip separated from the sea by a series of freshwater lagoons extending to Tortuguero and Colorado River.
The city of Limon is capital of the province of the same name and marks the limit between the north and the south. It is also the main port of access to the country and one of the preferred Costa Rica travel destinations for the Caribbean cruise ships.
As an example of unique culture that reflects in language, food and dance, the Caribbean also offers world-class fishing, bird watching, horseback riding and all types of water activities including white-water rafting, ocean and river kayaking, first-class surfing and diving, snorkeling and canoeing. In the Talamanca region - yesterday's land - add hiking and camping in uncharted wilderness and visits to various Indian reservations. In one word, "abundance".
The Atlantic slope is an area of great biodiversity that the country is endeavoring to retain through several protected zones. Perhaps one of the most popular areas for Costa Rica travel is the northern coast where Tortuguero National Park and Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge protect a vast alluvial flood plain and the famous Tortuguero canals. A peaceful boat ride through these canals reveals abundant animal life and a multitude of birds in the exuberant foliage lining the waterways.
The fishing lodges of Barra del Colorado take advantage of the world-class tarpon fishing available here. The beach at Tortuguero is the most important nesting site in the western Caribbean for the green sea turtle. The giant leatherback and the hawksbill turtle also nest along these shores. Seeing these amazing, archaic beasts is a Costa Rica travel highlight.
Beaches and Forest Reserves
If a stop in Limon produces a little culture shock, it's a good equalizer for the journey ahead. Following the coastal road south, Limon quickly leads to the laid-back tropics envisioned in dreams of Costa Rica travel.
A good paved coastal road leads south from the city of Chauita and then to Puerto Viejo and Gandoca-Manzanillo. These are three fantastic beach areas where white as well as black sandy beaches enhance the rustic lifestyle of the wild Caribbean; the choice of where to play is up to you.
Small lodges and imaginatively decorated hotels line up along these beaches welcoming visitors whose time can be divided between beach relaxation, nightlife, surfing, sailing, fishing, hiking and much more - providing plenty of Costa Rica travel options. Cahuita National Park protects Costa Rica's true coral reefs while Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a bit further south, is still very much a wilderness. Backed by the Talamanca mountain range, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Gandoca-Manzanillo are truly sanctuaries for nature lovers and water sport fans.
The Talamanca Mountains are protected by government and private efforts. A good thing about being in the Caribbean region is that the visitor can easily move from a seashore landscape to forest reserves within a few kilometers and be sure that vegetation and landscape radically change.
About an hour south of Limon, one kilometer from the bridge over Rio Estrella, is Aviarios del Caribe, Costa Rica's newest National Wildlife Refuge. This privately operated reserve encompasses more than 104 acres of marshy land including canals and a lagoon. This is a truly beautiful Costa Rica travel experience. An early-morning canoe ride through these sleepy canals reveals a wealth of animal life; sloths, river otters, crocodiles and monkeys are a few of the inhabitants easily spotted in the area. This refuge, as with most of the Talamanca region, is a birder's paradise with over three hundred resident and migratory species.
Selva Bananito Private Reserve
One of the clearest examples of private efforts to preserve the beauty and the purity of nature in the region is Selva Bananito, a private reserve located 15 kilometer inland from the coastal road leading to Cahuita.
The reserve is a family owned farm encompassing 850 hectares of untouched vegetation. Bordering La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, the area is a sanctuary for bird and animals species located on the slopes of Cerro Muchilla. Birders and wildlife aficianados will appreciate this Costa Rica travel opportunity. The reserve extends from 100 meters above sea level up to 800 meters, assuring a variety of wildlife habitats. This "green belt" running from east to west in the southern part of Costa Rica is perhaps the largest unexplored territory in the country. It is a mystery indeed for scientists and a paradise for nature lovers.
Selva Bananito Lodge is built on a farm that belongs to the Stein family. Only one-third is used for farming, leaving the remaining land completely untouched. That one-third currently being exploited for farming purposes supports organic banana plantations and a cattle breeding program intended to produce dual-purpose breeds: cattle as useful for milk production as for meat.
A favorite Costa Rica travel sight is the rare Caribbean architecture. The cabins belonging to the lodge are built in the traditional Caribbean style: on stilts. This type of architecture reduces moisture inside the buildings and improves the view and ventilation. The entire construction was accomplished using what is called second-class wood, discarded by loggers from trees already cut for other purposes. The Stein family decided to build the cabins from this type of wood as a means of maximizing the use of a tree once it's cut down.
Costa Rica travel to Selva Bananito Lodge is a privilege that visitors shouldn't miss while on the southern Caribbean coast. Lifestyle goes slowly but smoothly here. Food is a blessing and friendly conversation with others visitors sharing a common love for nature is something that goes with you once you leave. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are wonderful moments to share experiences in the reserve with other guests; experiences where you have the chance of spotting a multitude of bird species or follow the tracks of what you think is a tapir, or who knows, perhaps a jaguar running away from mankind.
For those wishing to crown their Costa Rica travel experience with a day at the beach or a night on the Tortuguero canals, excursions and more can be arranged at the lodge.
One way or another, the contrasting Costa Rican Caribbean will indeed amaze you and perhaps will make you want to return as soon as you can.
This article has been reprinted with permission. It originally appeared in Naturally Costa Rica Vol. 2000-2001, on page 44