Tuesday, April 13, 2010
A Taste of the Caribbean
At the end of the main road that runs along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, there is a quaint beachside town called Manzanillo (pronounced “man-za-nee-yo”, not “man-za-nil-o”).
Manzanillo is the epitome of Caribbean. Located in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Marine and Wildlife Refuge, Manzanillo is a treasure trove for nature lovers. A dense coral reef lines the beach just meters from the shore and makes for excellent snorkelling. Sea turtles, barracudas, eels, reef sharks, sea urchins, and dozens of colorful fish are just some of the creatures you can expect to encounter. Mom-and-pop dive shops offer snorkel gear for just $3/hour. Diving gear and tours are also available. Kayaks run at $5/hour, and other tours include dolphin watching, bird watching, boat trips, and hiking.
The town of Manzanillo may be tiny, but the rainforest that surrounds it is massive. A hiking trail that starts just down the beach from the restaurant “Maxi’s” winds through the coastal rainforest all the way to Panama. The trail is a popular hike to the sustainable farm at “Punta Mona”- which is not accessible by road. If you decide to make the 5km+ hike to Punta Mona, which can take anywhere from 1.5-3 hours depending on the weather, lots of monkeys, sloths, lizards, and birds will keep you company along the way. Another 45 min-1 hour hike past Punta Mona will bring you to the town of Gandoca- which is even smaller than Manzanillo, if you can believe it.
Manzanillo is also known for its beautiful beach and good surfing. Cement tables are spread out under the trees, just before the shore, and it is common to see locals and tourists alike playing cards, hanging out, listening to music, and having lunch. Little shops and a few motels are scattered throughout the town, and all have a distinct Caribbean vibe with Rasta colors painted on the walls, reggae blaring from stereos, and Bob Marley memorabilia for sale.
One of the biggest gems in Manzanillo is the restaurant “Maxi’s”. While prices may be a little expensive, the mouth-watering cuisine is worth it. Be sure to order from the parilla (grill)- there is nothing quite like a plantain right off the grill, or a juicy pork rib with Caribbean sauce (not that I would know about the latter, but it’s what my fiance always orders. The amazing smell of the grilled meat almost makes me want to give up being a vegetarian. Almost). If “Caribbean” were a flavor, it would be anything cooked on the grill at Maxi's.
Maxi’s also sets the Caribbean scene with walls adorned by soccer banners, old-school reggae and hip-hop playing on the radio, a Caribbean staff who’s ancestors settled in Costa Rica from Jamaica, and a gorgeous view of the Caribbean sea. After hours of snorkelling, diving, hiking, surfing, playing with dolphins, or just lounging on the beach, kicking it at Maxi’s with a plate of food straight off the grill and a view of the sun setting over the Caribbean sea is a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Photo Credit: Christena Devlin