Nicoya Peninsula Attractions
The Nicoya Peninsula is the largest peninsula in Costa Rica at over 100km/62mi in length. Found at the northwest corner of the country, the peninsula juts southward into the Pacific Ocean. Roughly the last quarter of the peninsula is part of the Puntarenas province, while the upper section falls within the borders of Guanacaste.In the 1940s, roughly half of the peninsula was covered with rainforest, but by the 1960s it was mostly cleared.The beaches of the peninsula are the main attractions of the area, featuring large resorts and excellent water sports opportunities.Small islands in and around the Gulf of Nicoya make for interesting boating excursions. There are also several wildlife refuges found on the peninsula. Tourism and cattle ranching are the main industries of this region.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda covers 2,295ha/5,669ac of land between the town of Nicoya and the mouth of the Tempisque River. The limestone area is famous for its underground cave system, the reason the national park was created. There are 42 caves in Barra Honda, only 19 of which have been explored. The combination of rainfall and erosion created the caves, some of which are over 200m/656ft in depth.Tropical dry forest and deciduous vegetation are found above the caves. Barra Honda is a very hilly area, and there are many hiking trails. Trails to the summit of Barra Honda Hill provide excellent vistas of the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque River.Waterfalls with calcium formations can be seen in the rainy season. Animals in the area include several bird species, howler and white-faced monkeys, coatimundis and striped hog-nosed skunks.The caves feature stalagmites, stalactites, and other rock formations with interesting names such as organs, fried eggs, soda straws, popcorn, shark's teeth and pearls. Many creatures such as bats, salamanders and other invertebrates live in the caves and streams that run through them.The caves most often visited are Terciopelo, Santa Ana, Trampa, Nicoya, and Pozo Hediono. Pre-Columbian human skeletons were found in the Nicoya Cave, although their origins have yet to be determined. The caves at Barra Honda National Park attract people from around the world interested in speleology and geology.
Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve
Including the entire southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, this attractive reserve encompasses 1,172ha/2,895ac of land and 1,790ha/4,421ac of the surrounding ocean. The reserve was established in 1963 when the land was donated to Costa Rica from the late Olof Wessenberg and Karen Morgenson, years before a national park system was created in the country.Cabo Blanco is Costa Rica's oldest protected area and was called an "absolute" nature reserve because no visitors were permitted until the late 1980s. Today, there are many hiking trails through the reserve offering excellent opportunities for wildlife observation.Cabo Blanco preserves an evergreen forest where monkeys, squirrels, sloths, deer, raccoons and the elusive margay and ocelot have been spotted. Forest birds include the parrot and trogon. The coastal area and two beaches at the tip of the peninsula offer frigatebird, booby, and pelican observation.Marine life such as starfish, urchins, tropical fish and crabs are abundant. Cabo Blanco Island, 1.6km/1mi south of the mainland, is a nesting site of the brown booby. Elevation in the reserve reaches 375m/1,230ft, so some trails are steep and strenuous to climb.
Found at the northern end of the Nicoya Peninsula, Coco Beach is a popular destination. The attractive beach is set between rocky headlands and is popular with scuba divers. The beach is 1.6km/1mi long with dark sand and strong waves, hence a good spot for surfing as well. Coco beach is popular with Costa Ricans on the weekends, and the nightlife here is more exciting than in other beach areas.The Coco Beach area offers the best scuba diving in Costa Rica, and dives usually take place around volcanic rock pinnacles just off the coast. Other popular activities that can be undertaken from this beach are snorkelling, sailing and sportfishing. Several outfitters are available to outfit visitor's needs. There are many accommodation options in the area.
Montezuma, Costa Rica
Montezuma is one of the most popular destinations on the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. Until the 1980s, Montezuma was a remote fishing village but became very popular with foreign travellers who were impressed by its attractive surroundings and beaches. Since, Montezuma has become the most popular beach town offering an "alternative" atmosphere including artisans, hippie farmers and natural food producers.Montezuma features a beautiful rocky coastline and several waterfalls. Popular activities in the area include fishing, snorkelling, and sightseeing by boat. Popular nature and wildlife reserves are nearby. Montezuma offers several dining and options for accommodation, however the village tends to be very busy with travellers during the high season (December to April).
Santa Cruz, Costa Rica
This small town and the surrounding districts have a population of over 15,000. Santa Cruz is known as the folklore center of Costa Rica and the Guanacaste province, and the national university has opened a building here dedicated to researching and celebrating traditional songs, dance and instruments. Santa Cruz offers visitors a true experience of life in a small Costa Rican town.A fire in 1993 devastated Santa Cruz, burning down three blocks of the historic town center including the town landmark, Plaza de Los Mangos. Nevertheless, Santa Cruz maintains its reputation as a cultural center.The best times to visit are during fiesta times in late July and during the annual rodeo/fiesta over the second week in January. There is traditional Guanacasteco dancing and food, as well as marimba music.
Bernabela Ramos Park
This modern park features statues with folklore themes. Across the street are a ruined clock tower and a modern church with attractive stained glass windows.
Guaitil, Costa Rica
This small community is famous for pottery making. About 100 families here engage in the pottery industry, most of them descendants from Chorotega Indians who once inhabited the area.The village makes for an interesting excursion from nearby areas or a side trip en route to other destinations on the Nicoya Peninsula.The pots are made in a variety of sizes and shapes from local clays. They are fashioned in the pre-Columbian Chorotega Indian style, and are painted using natural colors. Artisans sell the pots in front of their houses, and lucky visitors may be invited inside to watch the potting process. Most of the ceramics seen decorating homes, restaurants and hotels in the Guanacaste province come from Guaitil.
Nicoya, Costa Rica
25,000 people live in and around Nicoya, the most important town on the peninsula. Many of the residents in the area claim to be of Chorotega Indian decent, the group living in the area before the arrival of the Spanish.The town is named for the Indian chief Nicoya, who welcomed Spanish conquistador Gil González Dávila in 1523. The chief gave many rich gifts to Dávila, part of the reason the country was named Costa Rica (Rich Coast).Today, Nicoya is the commercial and political center of the peninsula. The cattle industry is centered in this town, and it is also the transportation hub of the area. There are nearby beaches, natural attractions and several options for accommodations and dining.
Church of San Blas & Central Park
Nicoya's central park is an inviting place to stroll and observe local residents. The colonial Church of San Blas is a town landmark dating from the mid-1600s. The white, wooden-beamed church is built from mosaic tile and is being restored. Inside is a small collection of relics and colonial religious artifacts.
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Originally known as Playa Blanca, Flamingo Beach is perhaps the best-known beach area in Costa Rica. The luxurious Flamingo Beach Hotel (hence the renaming of the beach) is the most upscale in the country and boasts a large fleet of sportfishing boats. Several yachts are often moored at this beach, as well as the occasional cruise ship.The attractive white sand beach has been extensively developed for sportfishing and boating, and the facilities are excellent. Apart from swimming, snorkelling and scuba excursions are other popular activities. Accommodations here are pricey, and there are many options for fine dining.
Cabuya, Costa Rica
Cabuya is a tiny village found at almost the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Just to the southeast is Cabuya Island, an uninhabited islet where Cabuya's local cemetery is found. Interestingly, the island can only be reached during low tide, otherwise it is cut off from the mainland. Only a few accommodations are available in Cabuya, and popular activities include water sports, horseback riding, and touring nearby beaches and natural attractions.
Nosara, Costa Rica
Characterized by gentle waves and clean water, the curving Hermosa Beach is quieter and less crowded than others on the Nicoya Peninsula. The beach is 1.6km/1mi long and the sand appears to be a silvery color.Popular activities at Hermosa include scuba diving, sailing, sportfishing, swimming and snorkelling. Beach camping is free, and there are several options for accommodation and dining at this beach.
This remote beach is wild and mostly undeveloped. There are no villages nearby, so the area is much less crowded than other beaches. The 2km/1.2mi beach features tide-pools and is pleasant for walking.Many Costa Ricans come to this beach to fish and surf. The surf is high and rip currents are strong, so this is not the most popular beach for swimming. Ridley sea turtles nest here in December and January.
While this beach is smaller than others found on the Nicoya Peninsula, it is one of the most attractive. Clean and quiet, Ocotal Beach offers good swimming and snorkelling opportunities. Dive outfitters offer trips to nearby dive sites. There are several options for accommodations, however they are more expensive here than in other beach areas.
Some of the best swimming in the area is found at the protected, dark-sand Panamá Beach. The half-moon shaped, 2.4km/1.5mi long beach is nestled in the protected Culebra Bay. This beach was once quiet and undeveloped, however the Papagayo Project aims to build several hotels and condos in the area. The project continues despite controversy and lawsuits.
Several beaches are strung along the Potrero Bay. Swimming and water sports are popular, and hotels along the bay offer equipment rentals. The black sand beach found here is called Prieta Beach, while Penca Beach is a stretch of white sand. The largest beach strand is found in the middle of the bay and is called Potrero Beach. A small settlement is found here as well.
The bridled tern nests on this island from late March to September, and interested birders will often take boat tours to see the colonies. The waters around Catalina Island are a good place to scuba dive and see huge schools of rays, including the giant manta ray.
Carillo Beach has the reputation of being a "postcard-perfect" tropical beach, characterized by a curving shape, clean sand, palm trees and rocky headlands. It is great for swimming and sunbathing and is popular with Costa Ricans during the holiday season.
Conchal Beach is named for the many shells (conchas) that pile on this bay, leaving a "sand" of shell deposit. The water here is very clear, making Conchal Beach an ideal place for snorkelling. Boat trips and other water sports are also available, and horseback riding along the bay is another popular activity.
Gigante Bay Area
Negra & Avellana Beaches
Both these beaches are extremely popular with surfers. Avellana is a long, white-sand strand, while the darker Negra beach features rocky outcrops creating exciting surfing conditions. A few restaurants and accommodations are found near these less-crowded beaches.
Pochote & Tambor Beaches
These two long beaches are less developed and crowded than others. Bahía Ballena (Whale Bay) protects the beaches, which is the Nicoya Peninsula's largest bay on the southern coastline. Both beaches are calm and good for swimming and whales have been spotted in the bay. The Pánica River estuary divides the beaches.
Samara, Costa Rica
This small village has several hotels, restaurants, discos and bars. The main attraction is Sámara Beach and development is ensuing rapidly. The village inhabitants are a combination of fishers, farmers and wealthy retirees. Horseback riding and cycling are popular activities in the area, as well as various water sports.
This beach is gaining in popularity and has a reputation of being one of the most attractive and safest beaches in Costa Rica. The white-sand beach offers gentle waters, but has less shade and wildlife than other beaches in the area. Snorkelling, diving, kayaking and sportfishing are popular activities.
Brasilito, Costa Rica
The village of Brasilito offers a few small shops, dining options and the cheapest accommodations in the area. Brasilito Beach is 1.6km/1mi long and characterized by silvery grey sand and medium strength waves. It is a good spot for swimming.
Mal Pais, Costa Rica
This tiny village is on the west coast of the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula. Nearby is the attractive and rocky Santa Teresa Beach, extremely popular with surfers.
Paquera, Costa Rica
The tiny town of Paquera is the commercial center serving the farming communities and beach villages of the lower Nicoya Peninsula. It is a good place to load up on supplies or spend a night en route to nearby attractions.
Curu Wildlife Reserve
Found on the eastern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, this small 84ha/207ac refuge features a great variety of habitats. Curú includes deciduous and semi-deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, rocky headlands and sandy beaches fringed with palm trees. Many creatures live in the reserve, including over 200 species of birds, monkeys, pacas, deer, crabs, lobsters, iguanas, turtles, and three species of cats.This reserve is privately owned, although it maintains the status of a national refuge. The beaches and tide pools offer sightings of many marine creatures, and swimming and snorkelling are popular activities. Cruise ships often stop at Curú for day visits in the refuge.
A small beach is found here along with pre-Columbian Indian ruins. While there isn't that much to see here, arriving via a boat trip makes for a relaxing excursion.
Sugar Bread Beach
This small, white-sand beach features waters protected by rocky headlands. Snorkelling is a popular activity here.
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