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When to do it
Although the northern Caribbean coast has one of the heaviest rainfalls in the country--as much as five and a half meters per year--at Manzanillo the average precipitation is much less, similar to the two and a half meter-average of Guanacaste's coastal regions. The rain is distributed more evenly throughout the year than in other areas of the country making this a more pleasant "evergreen" environment, without the extremes of dry and wet that other areas experience. The average 77- to 86-degree temperature is moderated by the warm, shallow Caribbean water and refreshing tropical breezes.
As far as seasonal variations go, as in the rest of the country, the changing factor is rain and this is how it falls:
For diving, Shawn Larkin at Aquamor said March, April and May, as well as September and October, are "bookable" diving months, there's no doubt of weather conditions suitable for diving on any given day. He said the other months are variable, but periods of more than a couple days of bad weather are rare.
The drive to the Caribbean coast is a pleasant three hours on the Guápiles Highway over the Central Mountain Range and across the lowland plains. The scenery changes dramatically along the way from dense tropical forests through banana plantations and horticultural farms to the coconut palm-lined roads of the coast.
An adventurous way of getting to the coast is to sign on with a white water rafting trip, possibly down the Pacuare River, then catching transportation to Limón or Cahuita instead of busing back to San José. Check with tour operators listed in this article for availability of these options.
Interesting places to stay
If you are spending some time around the city of Limón, there are several places scattered along the coast road between downtown Limón and the port at Moín. Sitting high on a cliff overlooking the ocean and Playa Bonita is Maribú Caribe Hotel. A very pleasant location with large, comfortable rooms and a good restaurant. The staff is very helpful arranging tours to local attractions.
Stress release and escape from the rat race are what this area is about and one of the best places to achieve this goal is the Aviarios del Caribe Lodge. The treatment here is to drift silently through the canals for a couple of hours then sit on the veranda and watch birds flit by and sloths hang motionless from the trees. The rooms are large, well-appointed and very clean.
The newly-renovated Atlantida Lodge in Cahuita is the perfect retreat after a day in the wilds or on the beaches. The tranquil atmosphere of the grounds allows for quiet contemplation of the day's activities, and tomorrow's adventures. Don't miss Lucas's Mom's spicy vegetable soup and the Atlantida ceviche.
The Punta Cocles Hotel, at the beach of the same name, has a resort-type ambiance. Planted in the middle of the jungle, it offers generous, comfortable rooms, trails coursing the 25-acre property, and tours by local providers.
Shortly before reaching Manzanillo is one of the most unique "lodges" you will find in Costa Rica. Almendros y Corales (Almonds and Corals) Lodge Tent Camp opened in 1993 in a privately-owned area of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Each tent is erected on a raised platform, protected with a canvas roof and draped with mosquito netting. Add a private bath, hammock, electric fan and light and you have all the conveniences of modern camping in the heart of the jungle. A white sand beach is only a short stroll down a raised boardwalk.
Laura's Tours in Limón provides a variety of activities for adventuresome travelers. White water rafting on the Sarapiquí, ocean kayaking, diving at Isla Uvita, hiking in Hitoy-Cerere, sportfishing and a historical trip around Limón are but a few of their offerings. Telephone/fax: 758-2410.
Tony Mora at Cahuita Tours can show you everything you ever wanted to know about the place he grew up. Diving, hiking, camping, horseback riding, visits to Indian reservations and jeep tours are only the beginning. And if you ever contemplated hiking across the Talamanca Mountains to the Pacific side of the country, Tony can put you on the right trail. Telephone: 755- 0082; Fax: 755-0052.
Atlantico Tours in Puerto Viejo has this region covered. They will help you on your way to Tortuguero or Gandoca-Manzanillo or any place in between. Among their offerings is a three- hour horseback ride into the mountains and ending up along the beach. Telephone: 750-0004.
Also in Puerto Viejo is ATEC, a grassroots organization for "the development of socially responsible ecological tourism in Talamanca." They have a wealth of general information, several publications, and tours guided by local experts. Telephone: 750-0188.
If it's water sports in general and spectacular diving in particular that interest you, talk to the people at Aquamor in Manzanillo. Owner Shawn Larkin, a sixteen-year diving veteran, is a certified PADI Instructor. Shawn has recorded over one hundred dive sites in his little corner of the world around Manzanillo. From shallow, inshore plunking about to one hundred-foot wall dives, he'll show you the best of the best. Aquamor also offers half-day "resort" courses, and full PADI certification. Contact them by email at email@example.com or through Atlantico Tours in Puerto Viejo.
If you like seafood and you are anywhere near the Talamanca Coast, you owe it to yourself to drop in at Maxi's Restaurant. Fresh lobster the way you have never seen it prepared. Your Caribbean experience won't be complete if you miss this. Maxi's, on the beach in Manzanillo.
Other culinary delights distinctly Caribbean are Pan Bón--a spicy fruit bread--and "riceanbeans"--rice, black beans, coconut milk, delicious.
The author would like to thank these people for their help and generosity during the research for this article: