Central Pacific Coast Attractions
Costa Rica's central Pacific coast is one of the country's top vacation destinations. Long and indented, the Pacific coast is better developed for tourism than the Caribbean coast. Almost the entire Pacific coast is within the boundaries of the Puntarenas province.The central Pacific coast offers an appealing mixture of luxury beach resorts, natural attractions, sportfishing towns, wildlife, and deserted beaches. Water sports such as snorkelling and surfing are popular, as is fishing and wildlife observation.Puntarenas is the most important town on the coast, and south of it lie coastal villages, wildlife refuges and national parks. The Manuel Antonio area features one of Costa Rica's most famous coastal national parks. December to mid-April is the dry season on the Pacific coast, and this coincides with Costa Rican school vacation as well as Easter. Hence, the dry season is the high season in this area.
Cocos Island is a national park with many plants, animals, and insects, as well as 80 species of birds. The waters around the island are popular for diving and snorkelling.
Hacienda Barú is a family-run nature reserve situated in steep coastal hills. The reserve covers 330ha/815ac and is comprised of many different habitats including beaches, mangroves and lowland and hilly rainforests.1km/0.62mi of the Barú River is within the reserve boundaries, as well as fruit orchards and cocoa plantations. Another interesting feature of Hacienda Barú are several pre-Columbian petroglyphs and cemetery sites that have been discovered on the grounds.Wildlife observation is a key activity at the reserve, and at least 300 species of birds, 35 species of amphibians and 56 species of mammals have been recorded at Hacienda Barú. There are walking trails and a wooden birding tower, as well as a rainforest canopy tour and an opportunity climb up to the forest canopy on a rope. Kayaking and horseback riding are also popular activities.
Ballena Marine National Park
Created in 1990, Ballena Marine National Park protects rock and coral reefs in 4,500ha/11,115ac of ocean surrounding Ballena Island. 13km/8mi of beaches, mangrove swamps, river mouths and rocky headlands on the mainland are also protected. All of Costa Rica's six species of mangrove occur within the park.There are two beaches within the park, Ballena Bay Beach and Piñuela Beach, and both are nesting grounds for the olive ridley and hawskbill sea turtles. Dolphins are sighted in the area year round, and humpback whales migrate through the area from December to March. Snorkelling is possible at Uvita Point. While a ranger station is present in the park, it remains largely undeveloped.
Useful tips: Turtles nest between May and November. Currently there is no admission collected for this park but that could change.
Ballena Island features nesting colonies of seabirds such as the blue-footed booby and the frigatebird. Lizards such as green iguanas and basilisks also make Ballena Island their home. Dolphins and whales can be spotted off-shore, as well as other marine life. Snorkelling in the reefs around Ballena Island is a popular activity.