Manzanillo, Costa Rica: Caribbean Beach Visitors Guide
Manzanillo Costa Rica is the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the southern Caribbean with relaxed vibes and pristine beaches.
The Manzanillo Costa Rica Vibes
Manzanillo is about as chilled out of a destination as you can get. We head here when we want straight-up relaxation on beautiful beaches.
The perk here is that if you decide you would like some action in your life, there are plenty of things to do in nearby Puerto Viejo.
Background Info About Manzanillo Costa Rica
Nearest International Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose
Popular Things to Do
hiking, beach hopping, cacao tours, surfing
Best Way to Get Around
Rental car, walking in the downtown area
Best Time of Year to Visit
Dry season is from July until October
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Thomas (the German) and Sarah (the US-er).
We met in Virginia, moved to Germany, and have called sunny Costa Rica home since 2016.
We are on a mission to help you plan the perfect Costa Rican vacation.
Map Of Manzanillo
Manzanillo is located on the southern Caribbean coast just south of Puerto Viejo.
It is a short twenty-minute drive to the border of Panama.
Flights to Costa Rica
The easiest way of getting to Manzanillo is by flying in to the San Jose International Airport.
If you haven’t booked your flight yet, we suggest using Skyscanner. We consistently find the best rates through their website.
Driving to Manzanillo from San Jose
We like to rent a car and drive to Manzanillo on our own.
The drive is not too bad for first-time Costa Rica drivers.
In the beginning, you will have to do a little driving through San Jose though which can be stressful.
After making it through San Jose you will drive through Braulio Carillo national park which is really pretty. The roads are well maintained here but there are a lot of curves in spots.
Just note that, there has been a lot of road work here recently (they are widening the road so I doubt it will be over anytime soon) and there have been some backups.
From there you follow a straight road to Limon and then drive down the coast.
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I absolutely love the drive along the coast. The roads are in good condition and it’s beautiful.
You do not need a 4×4 for this route, but you might want something with a bit of power while driving through the national park.
strongly suggest renting a car with our favorite Costa Rica rental car company, Adobe.
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Private Shuttle to Manzanillo
Our favorite rental car company, Adobe now offers a private shuttle service. They can easily get you from anywhere in the country to Manzanillo, and then on to your next destination.
We suggest this if you don’t feel comfortable driving but also don’t want to sit on a hot bus with tons of other passengers.
All their transfer drivers are experienced, speak English, and will be happy to stop for short food stops and bathroom breaks whenever you need.
Public Bus to Manzanillo Costa Rica
Public Bus from San Jose
If coming from San Jose you can take the Mepe bus to Limon. From the Limon main bus station, you can hop on a second Mepe bus to Manzanillo. You can see a complete-time schedule here.
The ride to Limon will take you about four hours. From Limon to Manzanillo will be about two hours.
Total, you will pay about $15 per person for one way. At the Limon station, you can buy snacks and use the bathroom. There is no bathroom on the bus.
Public Bus from Panama Border
The border town is called Sixaola. There is a bus station here with busses running to Puerto Viejo about once an hour from 5:30am until 6pm.
The bus does not stop at Manzanillo, but it does stop in Puerto Viejo.
From there you can get a taxi or wait for the bus from Pueto Viejo to Manzanillo. This runs about every two hours. You can always grab some lunch and walk around Puerto Viejo while you wait.
Our Manzanillo Transportation Suggestion
f you are only going to Manzanillo or are heading down to Panama after, we suggest taking the Mepe bus or a private shuttle.
If you would like to take lots of day trips or check out other areas in Costa Rica after visiting Limon we suggest renting a car with our favorite car company, Adobe.
Just keep in mind that you can not take a rental car across the border into Panama. If you need to return your car, there is an Adobe rental car office in Puerto Viejo.
We have partnered with our favorite rental car company Adobe to bring our readers
Transportation In Manzanillo
Manzanillo is a small area and easy to explore by foot. If you would like to explore other places nearby (which we definitely recommend) you can rent a bike, take a taxi, or drive if you have a rental car.
This is one of the few areas in the country in which renting a bike to get around could be a great idea. You will feel relatively safe on the roads here.
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Manzanillo Costa Rica Weather
In Manzanillo, the rainy season technically runs from mid-December until the end of July.
Although it can be rainy, you just never really know. We have visited in January and had amazing weather. We have also visited in January and had total washout days.
One thing we have noticed though is that usually when it rains, it at least rains at night. Daytime rainstorms don’t happen that often in this area.
Also, the temperature stays fairly warm even when raining.
Another weird thing is that usually, July is the rainiest month, but come August, it almost completely dries up.
During the dry months, the weather is amazing and warm!
Things to Do in Manzanillo Costa Rica
Go Beach Hopping
There are tons of beautiful nearby beaches to explore. Start at Playa Manzanillo and head north. Stop along the way at Playa Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita and Playa Cocles.
We like to rent a bike for this adventure.
Hike at the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge
The refuge at the end of Manzanillo Beach is a great place to take a nice day hike. Just a warning, during the rainy season it becomes a complete muddy mess.
Enjoy a Chocolate Tour
There are a few different nearby companies that offer tours of chocolate production. Learn how you go from growing beans all the way to consuming sweet chocolate.
The nearby beach, Punta Uva is a popular surf spot. It is possible to rent a board or take lessons from the surf shops next to the beach.
Go Snorkeling or Diving
If you have your own snorkel gear, the waters around Manzanillo are perfect for snorkeling. If you would like to go diving, there are a few nice reefs in the area and several companies which offer diving tours.
Hike at Nearby Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is located in the town of Cahuita, just north of Puerto Viejo. We have a complete guide to visiting.
Go White Water Rafting
You may have to go to Puerto Viejo to pick up a white water rafting tour, but from here you can raft down the Pacuare River. There are one-day and multi-day tour options.
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El Refugio Grill – Everything is excellent here! This is our go-to dinner date spot in the area.
Pita Bonita – The perfect Middle Eastern lunch or dinner spot. I highly recommend the shared platter option if you are dining with a companion.
GypSea Cafe – My favorite of all favorites. This is definitely my go-to breakfast and lunch spot in the area. Everything is excellent and fresh.
Cool & Calm Cafe – A great Caribbean-style dinner spot on the beach. If you like seafood or fish, this is a great spot for it.
Cocolaba Lounge – Delicious basic Caribbean fare at a great price. They are open for breakfast and lunch.
Manzanillo Costa Rica Hotels
Congo Bongo EcoVillage Costa Rica – Cabin-style nice accommodations located next to the beach. Every detail is perfectly maintained here.
Faith Glamping Dome Costa Rica – The perfect unique destination. Here you can enjoy glamping in a unique dome. Each dome has a private bathroom and breakfast is included.
Cabinas Yamann – Basic cabins with a shared kitchen. There is a pool on the property for guests to use.
Casa del Mar – Budget-friendly wooden cabins with kitchen. The best part of this place is that it is a beachfront property. You can snorkel directly in front of the cabins. It’s great!
Vacation Rentals in Manzanillo
We always love renting a home or villa for our vacation in Costa Rica. This gives you more privacy and allows you the flexibility to cook your own meals.
Note: We try to only ever suggest places with good cancellation policies, but always double-check before booking.
Casa Del Mar – A rustic two bedroom cabina that can sleep up to 5 guests. It is located within steps of the beach.
Villa Noor – A 5 bedroom home that can sleep 12 guests. This is located on 5 acres of undisturbed land, so expect total privacy.
Ginger & Cacao – A luxury property with two houses that can sleep 8 guests. It is also possible to add in an extra small cabin for more guests. This is the perfect place for a large family or small group of friends who would like total privacy surrounded by nature and a private pool.
Manzanillo Travel Tips
– Manzanillo is super close to the Panama border. This is a great place to spend a few nights before crossing into Panama.
– This area used to not be the safest. It has garnered a better reputation in recent years, but please be aware of your surroundings and don’t go hiking alone.
– There are a few small mini markets in the area, but for major grocery shopping, you will need to head towards Puerto Viejo.
– I am almost positive there isn’t any ATM’s around here. You will need to drive further north towards Puerto Viejo to get cash.
Packing for Manzanillo Costa Rica
There isn’t much to Manzanillo besides beaches, cute cafes, and hiking. With that in mind, there is no need for any fancy clothing.
I always like a light sundress for dinners out, but besides that we basically just wear fast drying clothes and swimwear when here.
We sometimes bring our snorkel mask when here because the waters are usually calm enough to swim in.
Check out our Manzanillo Packing List on Amazon for all the essentials.
Manzanillo Costa Rica FAQ
Is Manzanillo Costa Rica safe?
Manzanillo Costa Rica used to not have the best reputation for safety. That has changed in recent years. In general, it is a safe place to visit.
Is it worth visiting Manzanillo Costa Rica?
Yes, Manzanillo Costa Rica is definitely worth a visit. It is a beautiful Caribbean destination that is home to white-sand beaches and good hiking opportunities.
Is Manzanillo or Puerto Viejo Costa Rica better?
That depends on what you are looking for in a destination. Manzanillo is more relaxed with not a whole lot to do besides hiking and enjoying the beaches. Puerto Viejo is popular with backpackers. There is a vibrant nightlife scene and many stores and restaurants.
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You Might Also Like Visiting
Bocas del Toro, Panama: a series of tropical islands and one of the coolest places you’ll ever experience
Tortuguero: A relaxed village that is only accessible by boat. This is a great place to stay for wildlife canoe rides and seeing turtles nesting
Puerto Viejo: A popular Caribbean coast town with backpackers. This town is great for surfing, yoga, and nightlife.
….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Guide to the Caribbean Coast for more ideas of places to visit in this area.