South of Puerto Viejo, the paved road runs via Punta Cocles and Punta Uva to Manzanillo, a fishing village at the end of the road, 13 kilometers (8 miles) southeast of Puerto Viejo. Coral-colored Playa Cocles runs southeast for four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Puerto Viejo to the rocky point of Punta Cocles, beyond which Playa Chiquita runs south four kilometers (2.5 miles) to Punta Uva, where caimans can be seen in the swampy estuary of the Río Uva. From here, a five-kilometer (3-mile) 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,” Chocorart (tel. 506/2750-0075, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8am-5pm 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. Similarly, The Chocolate Forest Experience (tel. 506/8836-8930, $26) lets you experience “real” artisanal chocolate on tours (10:30am and 3pm Tues. and Thurs.).
Wildlife lovers should head to the nonprofit Jaguar Rescue Center (tel. 506/2750-0710, tours 9:30 and 11:30am Mon.-Sat., $15, by appointment only), at Playa Chiquita, where you can see all manner of wildlife—including caimans, monkeys, and 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, 7am-5pm daily, adults $5, children free), 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 (0.6 miles) to La Ceiba Private Biological Reserve (tel. 506/2750-0278, 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 4 hours). The forest reserve and two-hectare (5-acre) garden are great for bird-watching and animal sightings, and a lagoon is a breeding ground for poison dart frogs, good for a nocturnal “sex show” tour. La Ceiba rents out three wooden cabins with kitchens, huge decks, and modern baths; they’re perfect for families.
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 “funka-jazza-bossa-bluesy-rock” mix) and Thursday (Junior’s Calypso Trio). Totem Beach Bar (tel. 506/2750-0758) has a Caribbean night with reggae vibes at 6pm every Wednesday.
Sports and Recreation
Seahorse Stables (tel. 506/8859-6435, from $75, by reservation), near Punta Cocles, offers horseback rides. Edwin Salem, the gracious Argentinean 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) 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, at Almonds & Corals Lodge Tent Camp (tel. 506/2271-3000), has zip-line rides ($40) at 8am and 2pm daily.
Treat yourself to a decadent chocolate body rub and cacao butter massage or similar sensual delight at the Indulgence Spa (tel. 506/2750-8413) at La Costa de Papito.
Be cautious swimming, as the riptides can be ferocious. Lifeguards are occasionally on duty (more information).
Start the day at La Casa de Carol (no tel., Mon., Wed., Fri.), a lovely little French-run café at Playa Chiquita. A stone’s throw south, La Botánica Orgánica (tel. 506/2750-0696, 8am-3pm Tues.-Sun.) serves health food such as hemp-seed granola, whole-wheat pancakes, and lentil burgers. Vegetarians might also head to Punta Uva and the Jardín del Ángel (tel. 506/2750-0695), serving granola with fresh fruit and soy milk, plus dishes such as lasagna and curries.
Mediterráneo (tel. 506/2750-0758, noon-10pm daily), at the Totem Hotel Resort, has the advantage of beach views, plus great pizza, risotto, and Italian seafood with homemade pasta. By day its Bar Ostería (noon-8pm daily) serves as an oyster bar and also has Italian dishes.
Speaking of Italian, the finest cuisine east of San José is to be savored south of Punta Cocles at La Pecora Nera (tel. 506/2750-0490, email@example.com, 5:30pm-11pm Tues.-Sun. high season only, $5-20), a genuine fine-dining experience in unpretentious surrounds at fair prices. Ilario Giannono, the young Italian owner, offers delicious bruschetta, spaghetti, pizzas, calzones, and a large selection of daily specials—all exquisitely executed. I recommend the mixed starters plate, a meal in itself. A wine cellar has been added. Credit cards are not accepted. Ilario also runs the adjoining Il Gato Ci Cora (noon-10pm daily), serving salads, pizzas, and paninis.
At Punta Uva, I like to kick back in a hammock at the beachfront Punta Uva Lounge (tel. 506/2659-9048, 11am-5pm daily), with simple thatched dining areas in lawns opening to the beach; it serves sandwiches and simple rice and fish dishes, plus ice cream and cocktails.
La Casa del Pan (tel. 506/8879-1548) is a lovely roadside café that doubles as a French bakery and pizzeria.
Que Rico Papito (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2750-0080) has a tremendous tropical atmosphere beneath a huge thatched ceiling. Go for the Caribbean barbecue (7pm-10pm daily) and live music (Tues. and Thurs.).
For gourmet dining you can’t beat Magic Ginger Restaurant (Playa Chiquita, tel./fax 506/2750-0205, noon-2pm and 6pm-10pm Mon.-Sat.), at Hotel Kashá. Owner Louise Ducoudray dishes up culinary treats such as shredded chicken Bombay salad and swordfish in prune sauce with rum.
The open-air Le Numu (Playa Cocles, tel. 506/2582-0140, 7am-10pm daily), set in a lush garden at Le Caméléon, offers a chicly urbane ambience for enjoying such delights as duck breast salad ($14), salmon and mushroom tart ($14), and Dijon-horseradish-crusted mahimahi ($14). The bar specializes in martinis and hosts live calypso on Saturday twice a month.
You can stock up on food at the El Duende Gourmet deli and grocery, or at the fully stocked C. J. Marketplace, both at Punta Cocles; the latter has a no-plastic-bag policy (bring your own bag).
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.