Playa Cocles to Punta Uva
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Coral-colored Playa Cocles runs southeast for four kilometers from Puerto Viejo to the rocky point of Punta Cocles, beyond which Playa Chiquita runs south four kilometers to Punta Uva, where caimans can be seen in the swampy estuary of the Río Uva. From here, a five-kilometer-long gray-sand beach curls gently southeast to Manzanillo. Coral reefs lie offshore, offering good snorkeling and diving.
A Swiss couple offers tours and demos at their cocoa farm and chocolate “factory,” Chocoart (tel. 506/2750-0075, chocoart [at] racsa [dot] co [dot] cr, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $15 pp, by reservation only), at Playa Chiquita. You’ll learn all about cacao production, from the bean to the chocolate bar, on their hilly farm.
Wildlife lovers should head to the nonprofit Jaguar Rescue Center (tel. 506/2750-0710, www.jaguarrescue.com, tours 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Mon.–Sat., $10), at Playa Chiquita, where you can see all manner of wildlife—from caimans and monkeys to all the venomous snake species in Costa Rica. Owners Encar and Sandro are trained biologists who work to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals for reintroduction to the wild.
Fascinated by butterflies? Mariposario Punta Uva (tel. 506/2750-0086, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $5 adults, free children), a netted butterfly garden and reproduction center in the hills above Punta Uva, has some 20 butterfly species within its netted garden, and monkeys and other animals are easily seen on trails into the surrounding forest.
The dirt road to the butterfly garden ascends one kilometer to La Ceiba Private Biological Reserve (tel. 506/2750-0278, www.rpceiba.com, open by appointment), an animal rescue center that also works to rehabilitate wildlife for reintroduction into the forest. The delightful Spanish couple that runs it, Francisco and Angela, offer guided hikes ($30 pp for four hours). The forest reserve and two-hectare garden are great for bird-watching and animal sightings, and a lagoon is a poison-dart-frog breeding ground good for a nocturnal “sex show” tour. La Ceiba rents three wooden cabins with kitchens, huge decks, and modern bathrooms; they’re perfect for families.
The Ara Project
At this magnificent macaw breeding project (tel. 506/8339-4329 or 8339-2407, www.thearaproject.org, guided tours $20, by appointment only), green and scarlet macaws are bred for release into the wild. The breeding center features huge aviaries housing breeding pairs of macaws, plus flyways where they can fly and learn to flock.
Note: The Ara Project was due to relocate from Alajuela to Punta Uva by the end of 2011.
After dark, head to the thatched Sloth Society Bar (tel. 506/2750-0080) at La Costa de Papito hotel. This cool place has live music on Tuesday (Jim Vicks plays a “FunkaJazzaBossaBluezyRock” mix) and Thursday (Junior’s Calypso Trio).
Totem Beach Bar (tel. 506/2750-0758) has a Caribbean night with reggae vibes every Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Seahorse Stables (tel. 506/8859-6435, www.horsebackridingincostarica.com, from $55), near Punta Cocles, offers horseback rides by reservation. Edwin Salem, the gracious Argentinian owner, arranges occasional polo matches on the beach. He also offers sailing lessons on his 18-foot Hobie Cat, as well as overnight turtle-watching tours ($150 including lodging), plus surfing trips.
Punta Uva Dive Center (tel. 506/2759-9191, www.puntauvadivecenter.com) has scuba trips to the reefs of Gandoca-Manzanillo. Herschel at Quiet Kayak Tour (tel. 506/8357-7703, $50 pp) will take you up the Uva River.
Crazy Monkey Canopy Ride (tel. 800/317-4108, www.crazymonkeycanopytour.com), at Almonds & Corals Lodge Tent Camp (tel. 506/2271-3000, www.almondsandcorals.com), has zip-line rides at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. ($40).
Treat yourself to a decadent chocolate body rub and cacao butter massage at the Pure Jungle Spa (tel. 506/2750-0536, www.purejunglespa.com), at La Costa de Papito.
Be cautious swimming, as the riptides can be ferocious. Lifeguards are occasionally on duty. (For more information, visit www.cocles.org.)
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Costa Rica, 8th Edition