Gandoca is a small community of around 350 inhabitants nestled between the jungle and the beach in the south-eastern corner of Costa Rica's Caribbean just a few kilometres from the Panamanian boarder. The town itself is mostly made up of one gravel road that ends at the beach with small family farms. On each side of town are protected areas of high ecological importance. To the north is the primary rainforest and wetlands of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and to the south is a mangrove lagoon teeming with wildlife.
The majority of the families have lived there for generations. It is a fairly isolated and removed from conventional tourism and yet still very vibrant and full of children's laughter. The remote nature of Gandoca has built a mostly self reliant community for generations. While the community is not rich within their economy, most people are land owners and the surrounding nature makes for a one of a kind environment.
Gandoca is surrounded by the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wild Life Refuge - a protected area of over 20,000 acres bustling with flora and fauna. The primary rainforest and the unique climate conditions make this one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
The Carribean coast of Costa Rica is totally unique and very well preserved. The beaches of Gandoca provide a shelter for different types of sea turtles which can be observed during their nesting season. There are a couple of surf spots nearby as well as pristine tropical reefs and fresh water lagoons. Fishing is a traditional occupation for the local people.
Adventures and other offerings
For those with an adventurous spirit and eagerness to learn, Gandoca has a lot to offer. Let the locals take you surfing, fishing, jungle hiking, birdwatching or boating in the sea and the beautiful fresh water lagoon full of mangroves and wildlife. Additionally there are many families ready to share their wisdom about cacao processing, chocolate making, coconut oil extraction and much more .
The Turtles of Gandoca
Turtles used to be so abundant in this area, that local folklore says you could walk out into the ocean on their backs. Hunting turtles and eating their eggs was commonplace, but as turtle shell trade boomed the slaughter of turtles became commonplace. Costa Rica finally banned hunting turtles in 1999. But so much damage was already done.
But there was hope in Gandoca; in the early 90's ANAI and other projects helped establish one of the first turtle projects in Central America. The project took off and volunteers from all over the world. Families in Gandoca found joy in sharing their homes with volunteers eager to help support the turtle program; at its peak Gandoca hosted over 500 people during nesting season. Families that had once relied on their land for prosperity were now supported by the new industry. The boom lasted from the 1990's into the mid 2010's.
Sadly, as climate change took its course the beaches became smaller and steeper making it harder for many of the turtles to nest. Many left to find more hospitable nesting grounds. Additionally, some corruption was uncovered within the main turtle project which led to a falling out with the community. These forces collectively led to a collapse in their ecotourism activities and the economy of Gandoca. Now with Punta Mona also closed, the banana plantations down the road are many people's best option.
Recently biologists have returned to Gandoca where they are working to collect data on the turtle populations. While the Leatherback nests are drastically lower than what they were years ago, the project has found a surprising number of nests from the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles and show that the population is slowly growing again.