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Costa Rica Nicoya Peninsula

The Travel Guide to the Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica, with detailed Maps, Hotels and Tourist Information

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Peninsula de Nicoya, Costa Rica

Nicoya Peninsula Costa Rica
Peninsula de Nicoya, Pacific coast of Costa Rica

The Nicoya Peninsula is separated from the mainland of Costa Rica by the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque estuary. From its northern base in the arid Guanacaste lowlands the peninsula extends 140 km to the south where the landscape progressively becomes more moist and hilly.

Tourism and expat living is concentrated along the coast while the interior is very sparsely populated. Cattle raising shapes much of the landscape with backdrops of the steep-sided and densely forested inner mountain range.

Beaches in Costa Rica
Tortuga Islands near Montezuma

The most noted feature of the Peninsula de Nicoya are the beaches. Within the vast expanse of coastline are innumerable magnificent beaches with dramatic coastal scenery, and small villages, each with its own distinct charm. Water sports such as surfing define many local communities. Most areas have been discovered by surfers as the pacific side of Costa Rica presents one of the best stretches of surfing coastline in the world.

For eco-tourists the Nicoya Peninsula beckons with some spectacular natural phenomenas, from turtle beaches, to subterranean cave systems, bird hotspots, and maritime riches. They are protected in various nature reserves throughout the peninsula.

Animals in Costa Rica
Anteater in a coconut palm

Various eco systems provide habitat for numerous plant species and wildlife. Many animals are seasonal commuters and migrate between different eco systems. The coastal areas are therefore connected to the mountainous interior by various biological corridors.

Costa Rica's central pacific zone experiences two extremely different seasons: the dry season begins at the end of November and until May the sun drenches the land. Many trees lose their leaves and cars driving on the rutted dirt roads stir up clouds of dust, covering roadside foliage with a dull, brown layer. The first rainfalls to relieve the dry season occur in May, initiating the "little summer" with intermittent rain showers.
Rainfalls increase during the following months to become very heavy in September to November, when the peninsula turns into a dripping lush rainforest. Temperatures during the rainy season, called winter here, may sometimes drop to 22ºC, while in dry season temperatures can reach 36ºC.

Costa Rica Travel
Traditional ox cart, Costa Rica

The Nicoya Peninsula is divided into the provinces of Guanacaste which occupies the larger part in the north, and the province of Puntarenas in the south. Roads, which connect the two provinces, are still few and in poor condition. The only reliable north-south connection is along the Gulf of Nicoya.
Particularly on the southern Nicoya Peninsula the roads are in a horrendous shape. Most of them are unpaved, rutted and potholed so that even short distances take a long time to get there. Patience is the key to traveling, so it's best to slow down to enjoy your vacation in Costa Rica!

The Southern Nicoya Peninsula

Gulf on Nicoya in Costa Rica
Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica

The southern Nicoya Peninsula had long been one of Costa Rica's most secluded gems. From the hilly interior, the mountains sweep down to the Pacific Ocean, creating some of the most pristine and remote beaches in Costa Rica.
This tropical paradise had long been off the beaten path. It was cut off from the Costa Rican mainland through the Gulf of Nicoya and roads on the peninsula were barely driveable. Since the most popular entryway to the southern Peninsula de Nicoya is by ferry from the port town of Puntarenas, the region belongs to the province of Puntarenas and not to Guanacaste.
Since the turn of the millenium roads, ferry services, and public transportation improved significantly and development of the beach villages took off.

Costa Rica Nicoya Peninsula
Santa Teresa beach

Most notably Santa Teresa has rapidly transformed from a sleepy beach hamlet into a booming surf town with a still growing permanent population of expatriates. Other popular tourist destinations are the off-beat enclave of Montezuma with its vivid street life and scenic waterfalls. Tambor, located in a vast horseshoe bay, hosts the only large holiday resort of the southern peninsula. And the tiny fishing hamlet of Malpais attracts nature lovers to its rocky, though scenic coastline.
Lodging options range from cabinas and hostels for surfers to luxurious vacation rentals and top notch hotels. Fortunately, as of now, package tourism and chain hotels are not common to the area.

Montezuma
River and beach scenery in Montezuma

While Guanacaste is known for its dry climate, the southern Nicoya Peninsula receives more rain and is considered a transitional zone between dry forest climate and tropical rain forest. To experience the abundant flora and fauna eco tourists can can visit the Cabo Blanco Reserve. It sits at the very tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and was the first national park created in Costa Rica.

The Northern Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya Peninsula North
Beach near Tamarindo

The northern part of the Nicoya Peninsula belongs to the province of Guanacaste, whose Pacific coast is made up of countless stretches of sun-swathed beaches, divided by rocky bluffs and river estuaries. Some of Costa Rica's most famous surf and vacation spots are found in this region.

The surf capital and touristic center of Guanacaste is the bustling beach town of Tamarindo. It is Costa Rica's most developed beach area and boasts a large variety of hotels and services. Surfing is a predominant activity in Tamarindo, same as on the surrounding beaches. North of Tamarindo surfers frolic on Playa Grande while to the south a series of surf spots include Playa Langosta, Avellanas and Playa Negra.

Surf Nicoya Peninsula
Surfers watching the waves

Many beaches and river estuaries are protected wildlife reserves. On Playa Grande the rare leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs into the sand, and Ostional is one of the world's most important nesting sites for olive ridley sea turtles.
For those who want to spend a beach vacation in Costa Rica the relaxed village of Samara offers perfect swimming and bathing in its protected half moon bay. Nearby, the yoga and surf community of Nosara is ensconced in a jungle by the beach and offers many services for health and spirit. Inland the pleasant town of Nicoya is the cultural center of the Nicoya Peninsula and boasts Costa Rica's oldest colonial church.

Guanacaste
Bucolic scenery in Guanacaste

The interiors of the peninsula are still steeped in traditions - it's the land of cattle ranches and sabanero's - the Costa Rican variant of cowboys. Many of Costa Rica's most colorful traditions trace their roots in Guanacaste and its ranching history. The local folklore comes alive on civic fiestas hold in countryside villages during dry season. The merry communal parties feature rodeos with bull riding, typical food and dances at night to the sound of Marimba and Cumbia.

Agriculture and cattle trade still flourish on the Nicoya Peninsula but tourism is becoming more and more important. Development was fueled when the Tempisque bridge was built to connect the peninsula with the Costa Rican mainland. And recently the airport in Liberia was enlarged to receive international flights. Chain hotels and luxury resorts have ventured into Costa Rica's most important vacation region and real estate companies tout Guanacaste's beaches as the Gold Coast. Costa Rica's stable democracy and standard of living attracts many foreign investors who buy property in the tropical paradise. Many turn their homes into vacation rentals - a booming new market. Water resources however are limited in Costa Rica's arid north west where the main tourist season coincides with the annual dry season.