Nicoya Peninsula Travel Guide
Use our Nicoya Peninsula Travel Guide to discover one of nature’s greatest masterpieces! One of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations, the Nicoya Peninsula is located along the Northern Pacific Coast. It is separated from the mainland of Costa Rica by the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque estuary. The beaches in this area are irresistible and beckon travelers from around the world. The mountains and forests are majestic and lush. Hidden caverns add extra mystery and excitement to the already stunning region. Wildlife reserves, national parks, and protected areas such as Cabo Blanco offer a peek into the true untouched flora and fauna of the peninsula.
Puntarenas & Guanacaste
The Nicoya Peninsula contains parts of both the Puntarenas and Guanacaste provinces. The main entrance to the southern part of the peninsula, however, is through the port town of Puntarenas. The southern part of this region receives more rain, while the northern part is much drier. Because of this, the region marks a climate transitional region between the drier forest climate and tropical rainforest climate.
Roads surrounding the Nicoya Peninsula used to be few and in poor condition, allowing the region to go largely untouched for most of history. In the last few decades, many roads have been built and updated allowing for an uprise in tourism. This has greatly helped the economy of the region. The recent renovations of the airport in Liberia make the Nicoya Peninsula an accessible destination for international travelers. Additionally, there is a ferry that travels across the gorgeous Gulf of Nicoya several times a day. This provides a relaxed means of transportation past several small islands inhabited only by maritime birds.
Throughout the Nicoya Peninsula, the population lies mostly along the coast. The inland region is sparsely populated. The inland region thrives primarily on farming and cattle ranching, while the coastal region is primarily supported by tourism. The city of Nicoya in the center of the peninsula served as one of the first settlements of Costa Rica.
The Nicoya Peninsula, like many other parts of Costa Rica, is a natural treasure. Among many other fun and exciting activities, the Nicoya Peninsula is a great place to admire Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Refresh in a cool pool beneath an enchanting waterfall, explore lush, dense forests, or search for exotic wildlife – the opportunities are endless.
If surf and yoga make your heart sing, Nosara, Samara and Carrillo are beaches that you must visit. In this area, you can find great waves and yoga studios with many workshops and classes available. The sunsets here are phenomenal and allow the opportunity for an unforgettable sunset horseback ride along the beach. This area is also home to many organic and eclectic dining options which will satisfy any palate. Nosara is often thought of as an epicenter of surfing and yoga culture in Costa Rica.
Tours & Beaches
Samara has a great little town with a handful of beachfront restaurants and many tours in and around the water. Horseback riding at sunset in Samara will provide an unforgettable and enamoring experience. Carrillo is somewhat secluded and an excellent beach to visit if you want to soak in the beauty of Costa Rica’s Golden Coast. Bonus tip: come during low season and there are very few people!
While enjoying the beaches, you can embark on a kayak, fishing, or snorkeling tour. At Samara Beach, you can find Isla Chora. A short kayak trip to Isla Chora will leave you at a plush, pink sand beach. This is the ideal place to snorkel in the turquoise waters of the Pacific while admiring the vivid marine life from the area.
Named after the indigenous chief of the area before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, Nicoya is the charming principal town in the heart of the Nicoya Peninsula. The tradition and history of this region is still palpable and evident in with the many festivals, foods, and architecture. Nicoya was Costa Rica’s first colonial city and boasts the oldest church in Costa Rica. Additionally, you can visit many neighboring towns to see the fascinating pottery of the Chorotega people.
In modern times, this beautiful town serves as a central location for those coming from small beach towns who need to conduct business, visit the bank, go shopping, and so on. Also located in Nicoya are the largest hospital and court in the area. Near Nicoya are the natural gems of Barra Honda National Park with it’s magical caves and Palo Verde National Park, home of the Tempisque River. This area is excellent for wildlife watching, especially for aquatic birds.
Mal Pais/ Santa Teresa
Known for its killer waves, eclectic cuisine, and optimal fishing conditions, the charismatic Mal Pais and Santa Teresa towns have captivated travellers and spawned a small area with a big appeal. The sea in this area is the perfect shape, color and temperature to invite a lively array of marine life. Charming boutiques dot the hills here while the enticing aroma of international cuisine wafts through the air.
This area boasts rocky coves, white sand beaches, waterfalls and rainforest. The natural beauty here is beyond what words can describe and the sunsets are out of this world. Activities here include fishing, boating, snorkeling, diving, hiking, horseback riding, biking, yoga and 4-wheel drive touring. Surfing is the main activity that attracts a large number of travellers, who arrive for the exceptional tasty waves at beaches like Playa Mar Azul, Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Manzanillo, and Playa Carmen.
Playa Los Suecos
Also located in this area is Playa Los Suecos (Swedish Beach). Sometimes known as the hidden beach of Mal Pais or Playa Murcielago (Bat Beach) is a favorite of many, particularly photographers who appreciate the photogenic panorama of this area. This beach has some of the whitest sand in the area, likely due to the innumerable crushed shells that have washed ashore. Thanks in part to the turquoise waters and tide pools here, the conditions for snorkeling are some of the best in the area. Perhaps if you visit during a very low tide, you can see a rare sea swallow at this beach. Another feature of Los Suecos Beach is the numerous bat caves where you find various species of bats, especially at Punta Murcielago (Bat Point).
Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula within the province of Puntarenas is the charming and bohemian town of Montezuma. This old fishing village is nestled amongst picturesque beaches and inviting waterfalls. It’s also home to something of a hippie, artsy community. This is a town known for its yoga and healing arts and therefore is a perfect option for those looking to find their inner peace and tranquility.
Saturday mornings in Montezuma are a delightful treat. The farmer’s market features local, organic food as well as artisan handicrafts. If you’re lucky, there may be local musicians playing while you peruse the market. At night, a visit to Chico’s Bar promises a good time and dancing to all different genres of music.
Visitors travel to Montezuma from both near and far for engaging activities. The Costa Rica International Film Festival and the International Beard and Mustache Competition are very popular – to name a few.
A short 5 miles from Montezuma lies the first protected area and national park of Costa Rica, the Cobano Blanco (“White Cape”) Nature Reserve. The reserve is named after the Cabo Blanco island located off the southern tip of the reserve. According to legend, this reserve got its name from conquistadores who noted the presence of bird guano covering the rocks in the area. For entrance to the park, you can utilize the Cabuya/Montezuma station. The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve encompasses 1,270 hectares of mixed forest and is classified as moist tropical forest. About 150 tree species have been identified.
Although there is a wide variety of animal life within the park, it is not always easy to spot animals while hiking. The best time to sneak in is right at 8 am when the park opens. There is both a short loop hike which winds across the bridges of the forest canopy and a more strenuous beach hike. The beach hike takes approximately 2 hours each way walking at a quick pace. This hike includes a more difficult terrain and is most suitable for those in good physical condition but does offer access to a completely remote slice of natural beauty.
The reserve is home to at least one Jaguar and many pumas. Also residing in the reserve are a multitude of wildlife including deer, coatis, anteaters, armadillos, pacas, monkey, porcupines, jaguarundis, margay cats, ocelots and many more. Cabo Blanco is a haven for bird enthusiasts. It’s by around 240 species of birds including large numbers of brown pelicans, frigate birds, laughing gulls, terns, ospreys and brown boobies. Along with seabirds you can also see magpie jays, motmots, long-tailed manakins, egrets, crested caracaras, black-headed and elegant trogons, chachalacas, ringed kingfishers and various types of parrots and parakeets.
One unique and intriguing feature of the Cabo Blanco reserve is that is houses three known shipwrecks, two of which are located within the protected area of the reserve. One wreck is the Caroline Star. This is the only one of the three that you can visit, since it’s outside of the park’s forbidden waters and is located just north of Cabuya Island.