Punta Manzanillo in Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica.

© Rainer Lesniewski/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Gandoca-Manzanillo

Southern Caribbean

This little-explored refuge – called Regama for short – protects nearly 70% of the southern Caribbean coast, extending from Manzanillo all the way to the Panamanian border. It encompasses 50 sq km of land plus 44 sq km of marine environment. The peaceful, pristine stretch of sandy white beach is one of the area’s main attractions and the center of village life in Manzanillo.

Other than the village itself, and the surrounding farmland areas (which were grandfathered in when the park was created in 1985), the wildlife refuge is composed largely of rainforest. Cativo trees form the canopy, and there are many heliconia in the undergrowth. A huge, 400-hectare swamp – known as Pantano Punta Mona – provides a haven for waterfowl as well as hosting the country’s most extensive collection of holillo palms and sajo trees. Beyond Punta Mona, protecting a natural oyster bank, is the only red-mangrove swamp in Caribbean Costa Rica. In the nearby Río Gandoca estuary there's a spawning ground for Atlantic tarpon, and caimans and manatees have been sighted here.

The variety of vegetation and the remote location of the refuge attract many tropical birds; sightings of the rare harpy eagle have been recorded here. Other birds to look out for include the red-lored parrot, the red-capped manikin and the chestnut-mandibled toucan, among hundreds of others. The area is also known for incredible raptor migrations, with more than a million birds flying overhead during autumn.

Offshore, a 5-sq-km coral reef is a teeming habitat for lobsters, sea fans and long-spined urchins.

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