Many hotels and tour companies rent sturdy "beach combers" with baskets for as little as $5 per day. Bikes are a great way to explore the nearby beaches of Punta Mona, Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita, Playa Cocles and Puerto Viejo. The road from Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo varies from paved to dusty and pot-holed, but the trip is scenic, traffic is slow and there are several restaurants and mini-markets along the way. It takes roughly one hour to bike from the center of Manzanillo to Puerto Viejo.
Bird and Wildlife Watching
Visitors to the Manzanillo area will likely be treated to sightings of howler and white-faced monkeys, two and three-toed sloths, toucans, iguanas, butterflies, frogs and other wildlife. Walks through the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge or nearby Cahuita National Park provide wonderful opportunities to spot tropical flora and fauna. In downtown Puerto Viejo, Finca La Isla Botanical Garden is ideal for birdwatching and poison dart frog spotting.
Most Puerto Viejo tour operators offer trips to the southern Caribbean’s two canopy tours. One of these tours is located in Manzanillo, and the other is an hour north of town. Canopy tours are an ideal way to see the area’s scenery while enjoying high-adrenaline fun. The canopy tour located in Manzanillo takes guests on a 75-minute, adventure-filled tour. Wildlife spotting is common and several platforms offer unparalleled views of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
Those with a sweet tooth will love the educational chocolate tours offered at local cocoa farms. For a look into the area’s past and current indigenous culture, visit the Chocolate House, rumored to produce the best local, organic chocolate, or any of the area’s other indigenous chocolate tours. Those interested in getting a firsthand look at chocolate production will enjoy Puerto Viejo’s own chocolate tour, which allows visitors to literally get their hands dirty while making delicious, fresh chocolate bars.
The southern Caribbean is particularly rich in indigenous cultures. The Bribri, Kekoldi and Cabecar tribes make up the area’s largest remaining indigenous cultures, and several tours offer insight into their way of life: chocolate tours educate on the history and importance of the cocoa bean; medicinal plant tours reveal age-old secrets of preventative, herbal medicine; culture tours offer a glimpse of modern indigenous life, which has remained relatively separate from the Costa Rican lifestyle.
Local trips with artisan fishermen can be arranged through several hotels and tour agencies. This traditional style of fishing uses a small dugout canoe or wooden panga and a hand-reel and line.
Local tour operators and hotels offer guided horseback trips through forested trails and along the beach, on both half and full day excursions. In Cahuita, tourists are treated to oceanfront horseback rides along Black Beach (Playa Negra), a beautiful and enjoyable treat.
Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge are both excellent options for light hikes along meandering trails. Several area tour operators offer informative, guided hiking tours to both national parks, in addition to several private reserves in the area.
Kayaks may be rented from local hotels for excursions through the canals of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. For those adventurers who prefer to have a guide, several tour companies offer kayaking excursions to the refuge.
Rafting and Tubing
A high-adrenaline rafting trip down the Pacuare River can be arranged through several tour companies in town. Packages include a day on class III and IV rapids, transportation, a guide and meals. In addition, Bocuare Jungle Adventures offers half-day tubing tours in the nearby Estrella Valley – one- and two-person inner tubes rush down the Estrella River, passing through the Cabecar Indigenous Reserve on class II and class III rapids.
Turtle Nesting Tours (March-July)
Manzanillo is an important nesting site for leatherback turtles, also known as baula turtles, the largest sea turtles in the world. In addition, Manzanillo beaches shelter smaller populations of nesting green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. During nesting season, camping, beach fires and flashlights are prohibited on the area beaches.
In addition, a guide is required to visit the beaches in order to protect and preserve the nesting turtles and their eggs. For those interested in an extended, hands-on turtle experience, volunteer programs work to relocate turtle eggs, patrol the beaches and record important information on the nesting turtles; there is a minimum commitment of seven days. Turtle nesting season peaks in April and May, with some activity during March, June and July.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Cahuita and Manzanillo are home to Costa Rica’s only two living coral reefs, which host more than 35 species of coral and 400 species of fish. Visibility is best in the waters off Manzanillo, though both areas benefit from calm surf. Snorkeling equipment can be rented from hotels and beachfront kiosks. Several tour companies offer snorkeling excursions to the coral reef near Cahuita National Park; pickup is available in Manzanillo. When the waters are calm, divers can enjoy more than twenty dive sites between Cahuita and Manzanillo. Local dive shops offer two-tank dives starting from $65 per trip.
Manzanillo’s gorgeous beach provides incredible sunbathing, beautiful beachside walks and gentle swimming conditions. Be sure to heed signs, and don’t hesitate to ask if the water is safe for swimming.
Salsa Brava is Puerto Viejo’s famous surf break and is often referred to as the country’s best wave. Located off the beach behind Stanford’s on Playa Negra, it is not Puerto Viejo’s only claim to surfing fame: Playa Cocles, just south of town, offers tall waves, steady surf and distant breaks. Surfing is also popular at the eastern end of Manzanillo’s beach, but be careful, as riptides can be strong. Surfboards can be rented at almost every beachfront shop, and many individuals and surf schools offer surfing lessons.