Close up of the brilliant plumage of a scarlet macaw.

A scarlet macaw. Photo © Adalberto H. Vega, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Guanacaste and the Northwest, Costa Rica

Guanacaste and the Northwest

At San Gerardo, on the Pan-American Highway, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Puntarenas, a paved road leads west to Punta Morales and the Golfo de Nicoya. There’s fabulous bird-watching among the mangroves that line the shore—known as the Costa de Pájaros—stretching north to Manzanillo, the estuary of the Río Abangaritos, and, beyond, to the estuary of the Río Tempisque. The mangroves are home to ibis, herons, pelicans, parrots, egrets, and caimans. You can follow this coast road through cattle country to Highway 18, five kilometers (3 miles) east of the Tempisque bridge.

Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre La Enseñada (La Enseñada National Wildlife Refuge) is near Abangaritos, two kilometers (1.2 miles) north of Manzanillo, 17 kilometers (11 miles) from the Pan-American Highway. The 380-hectare (939-acre) wildlife refuge is part of a family-run cattle finca and salt farm, with nature trails and a lake replete with waterfowl and crocodiles.

The Reserva Biológica Isla Pájaros (Birds Island Biological Reserve) is about 600 meters (0.4 miles) offshore from Punta Morales. The 3.8-hectare (9.4-acre) reserve protects a colony of brown pelicans and other seabirds. Access is restricted to biological researchers.

Parque MegaFauna Monteverde (tel. 506/2638-8193, 8am-5pm daily, adults $7, children $5), on the Pan-American Highway at Chomes de Puntarenas, has re-creations and exhibits relating to dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Kids might get a thrill from the rather crude life-size cement renditions along a 1.7-kilometer (1-mile) trail. At least there’s a splendid restaurant adjoining, and it has a butterfly exhibit.

A must visit is Santuario de Lapas el Manantial (tel. 506/2661-5419, 7am-5pm daily), a macaw-breeding center about six kilometers (4 miles) west of the Pan-American Highway, at Aranjuez. Both scarlet and green macaws are raised here and fly free and unrestricted. Also here are monkeys, tapirs, sloths, and other animals confiscated by the Ministry of the Environment from the illegal pet trade. Call ahead, as the entrance gate is usually locked.

Getting There

Buses depart Puntarenas for the Costa de Pájaros from Avenida Central, Calle 4.

Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.