A.M. Costa Rica
Special Report:
Costa Rica's Caribbean II
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Jo Stuart
About us
San José, Costa Rica, Monday, June 10, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 113

Turtles can be highpoint of a Caribbean vacation
A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
If this looks like a showerhead above a work of mosaic art, you´ve guessed right. The bathrooms at Shawandha Lodge give guests that "designer" feeling. 

A.M. Costa Rica/Patricia Martin
Rustic looking cottages contain king-size beds and artful mosaics at Shawandha Lodge in Playa Chiquita. A little trail leads from the 12 cottages to the gleaming beach. 

A.M. Costa Rica photo
At family's Italian restaurant "Amimodo," Michela makes friends of customers with her charm and wit. 

Photo by Didiher Chacon.
Egg collectors unseen by mother turtle give a good indication of the animal's gigantic size.

Photo by Didiher Chacon
This is the prize biologist seek. The leatherback eggs will be protected and allowed to develop.

Photo by Rebecca Whitfield
This mother is coming ashore seeking a nice nesting place above high water.

Photo by Joshua Alpert
Laying turtle clears dirt away from her nesting site in preparation for egg-laying.
Patricia Martin's report continued

Oct. 12 marks Columbus Day or "Dia de la Raza" (ethnic day) in Limón, galvanizing the city and environs into several days of festive, frenzied activity. Don´t even think about coming then unless you love costume parades, music and dancing, feasting and drinking! This is their "Carnaval" time, as opposed to the pre-Lent dates set aside in other parts of Latin America for carnival merrymaking. Anyone intending to visit Limón or the rest of the Caribbean on that occasion, or during Easter and Christmas, should make their reservations months in advance.


Heading toward the lowlands, we see a mirage of palm-lined sands and endless stretches of banana plantations. Cahuita National Park contains beaches of black volcanic and white sand, along with jungle trails for monkey sighting. A coral reef makes for splendid snorkeling. Cahuita Tours, (755-0232) in operation for 14 years, will lead you through the park, take you river rafting, or set up an extended tour to an Indian reservation or through the canals. Other companies to contact are Turistica Cahuita, 755-0071, dltacb@racsa.co.cr, and Terra Aventuras at 750-0426.


Low-end accommodations are standard around here, but more elaborate quarters are also available in the medium price range. Cabinas Sunshine and Cabinas Safari both have kitchenettes. People that I met recommended The Magellan Inn where they were staying (755-0035, magellan@racsa.co.cr) while other travelers were very pleased with their El Encanto B&B (755-0113, encanto@racsa.co.cr), where they said they could even do Yoga and get a massage. In Cahuita, you can sample spicy cooking at El Palenque and at Edith’s, among others. For disco and reggae, there´s Sarafina´s and Coco´s, and for live music on weekends, look for Soda Bumbata & Reggae Bar on the beach. 


The waves run big and bold around here during certain months of the year, to the delight of surfers. In and around town cheap accommodations flourish for the wave runners, and restaurants range from rice-and-beans hangouts to more sophisticated ethnic eateries. Amimodo is a pleasant, open-sided structure that serves good Italian food. The family establishment includes Lucia and Livio Illusing from Italy, son Jacobo as cook, and daughter Michela as waitress. Michela accepted our invitation to sit down at the table and chat. As she was explaining the menu, a large land crab scuttled by on the floor. Glancing at it, Michela said with a dead-pan expression: "And there you have tonight´s specialty!"

Oro Marisqueria has grilled lobster and shrimp; The Sunset Reggae Bar serves music and dancing with its pizza; Caribe fare is offered by The Garden, Tamara, Ms. Sam´s, Lidia´s Place, and Parquecito. For burgers, smoothies, videos and billiards, the place to stop is El Dorado. Adding to the variety of choice is a new Sushi restaurant in town. Local artists using all natural products exhibit at the Casa Sistaz Gallery. 


You can pay as little as $22 for a cabin at Casa Verde in the heart of town, with little extras to enjoy such as a ceiling fan, balcony and refrigerator. Contact (506) 750-0015, or log onto www.cabinascasaverde.com

Right along the black beach in a jungle setting is a 25-facility wooden lodge consisting of rooms and apartments. Rates begin at $50 for two at La Perla Negra Hotel in the current low season, while a spacious, equipped apartment sleeping four runs to $840 a week, with a discount by the month. This blissful nature retreat owned by U.S. architect Julian Grae and his wife Marlena (750-0111, hotel@perlanegra-beachresort.com) features an outdoor but sheltered gas barbeque for the guests´ use, free tennis and volleyball, a swimming pool and sea kayak rentals. A plus is the hotel´s close proximity to a protected area for turtles, just up the beach.


At both Playa Negra and Gandoca to the south of Puerto Viejo, two ongoing projects protect the future of the massive sea turtle known as the Leatherback. While the Hawksbill and Green turtles also come here in fewer numbers, it is the Leatherback that commands most of the attention around here. The Olive Ridley variety shuns these shores altogether, preferring Ostinional Beach on the Nicoya Penninsula for its port of call. 


Run by ANAI, a Costa Rican non-profit agency, in cooperation with the U.S.-based EcoTeach, the Playa Negra/Gandoca Leatherback project recruits the services of young people from around the world, and is one of many conservation initiatives by these organizations. Students on EcoTeach expeditions to Costa Rica may also become involved in reforestation, macaw protection, and cooperative programs with native Indians.


Biologists such as Sarah Jeffery from Britain, and Aaron Dunlap and Joshua Alpert from the U.S. join forces with volunteers from Colombia, Australia and Japan to patrol the beaches all night guarding against poachers, tend the hatcheries and carry out research. You can learn more by logging on to the website www.ecoteach.com, or even volunteer online by contacting Brad Nahill at turtlevols@hotmail.com

Ralph Carlson at info@ecoteach.com is another contact, who can advise how you might pitch in in late June and early July at the nesting site. If you happen to be in the Puerto Viejo vicinity, call 750-0563 for a visit, but remember that the crews are up all night, so confine your calls to the afternoon. The website also provides information of how you can "adopt" a turtle. 


According to Ms. Jeffery, in the southern Caribbean, poachers present a serious threat to the Leatherbacks, raiding the beach at night for eggs to sell to the local bars. The myth persists, she says, that these eggs have aphrodisiac properties, thus their popularity among certain cultures. 

Project workers set up night shifts to keep the poachers away, but the activity is more like a serious game of hide & seek, with no aggressive behavior on either side. The idea is to peacefully dissuade the poachers, and educate them to the shame of elimininating this massive species of turtle from our planet. Of course, egg theft is only one of the dangers to the species, with fishing nets offshore presenting another. 


The leatherback, one of seven marine varieties in the world, averages 5-7 ft. in length and reaches 1,000 lbs. in weight. Over the past 15 years, reports Sarah Jeffery, this species has declined by 75 percent, and without help will not last until the end of this century. 

In the southern Caribbean in the year 2000, nearly 300 nests were made by the turtles coming ashore, with approximately 100 eggs laid in each nest. Every single one of them was stolen or destroyed. Happily, much progress has been made since then by ANAI in collaboration with Eco Teach, by another 1.5 km. (9 miles) of egg protection on the beach, thanks to night patrols and hatchery care. Now, you´ll be able to witness the hatchlings scrambling toward the sea in the evening, and feel a surge of hope for their continuance. 

Incidentally, if you happen to be present for the laying of eggs at Playa Negra or Gandoca, do not attempt to use camera flashes or even regular flashlights. The light can drive the creatures back to the sea, perhaps never to return. Special red flashlights are used by the patrols to illuminate the spectacle.


The Gandoca nesting sands come under this land and sea refuge spreading all the way to the Panamá border. A coral reef attracts dedicated snorkelers, and Aquamor Dive School (Padi certified) provides excursions for dolphin sighting and kayaking as well as snorkeling. Call 391-3417. Birding and hikes along the Punto Mono trail give you an eyeful of nature, and here you´ll find a swamp of red mangroves. 


Throughout the lowlands, tour companies flourish like wildflowers, so take your pick: Quad Aventours (750-0126, quadaventours@yahoo.com) takes you off on quadracycles to Indian Reserves, Monkey Point and the Waterfalls. Willie´s Tours (750-0449) introduces you to indigenous life on the reserves, both KéKoldi and Bri Bri. 


On your own you can explore the beaches.The ones around Punta Uva are particularly beautiful and isolated, but do inquire on which are the safest for swimming. Also enjoy the Botanical Gardens at Puerto Viejo, with 60 kinds of fruit trees, flowering and medicinal plants, complete with poison dart frogs in a rainforest setting. 

The Butterfly Gardens covering four hectares with 70 types of winged beauty in Punta Uva should definitely be on the agenda. For trips on the Estrella River delta to sight otters, sloths, monkeys and caymen, get in touch with Aviarios del Caribe, 382-1335, aviarios@costarica.net.


We thought the catchy title would get your attention, but no it isn´t the name of a romance novel set in the South Pacific. Maho happens to be a gracious lady from Thailand who owns a fabulous lodge named Shawandha, featuring tasteful cottages by the sea. Drop into the rancho restaurant, enjoy the French cuisine, and take a look at the cottages with their king size beds and artistic tile designs in the bathroom. 

Then wander the white sand beach protected by a coral reef. You´ll surely agree that this is one of the most attractive facilities in the area. It´s location is at Playa Chiquita, just before Punta Uva. Ask Maho about her low-season rates at 750-0018, shawandha@racsa.co.cr


After Punta Uva, the pavement turns to dirt road for the remaining few miles to Manzanillo. Local buses run right down to the border town of Sixaola, though, so you can keep going to the very end of Costa Rica. If you wish to bus it all the way from San José to Limon and along the east coast, go to the terminal at Calle Central, Avenidas 9-11. Most visitors say that one trip simply isn´t enough — a taste of the Caribbean with its unique blend of flavors can become very addictive. 

Return to Part I