The Península de Nicoya is one of the most readily identifiable regions of Costa Rica jutting into the Pacific nearly doubling the coastline of the northern region. Swells arrive on the west facing shores after building over thousands of miles of nearly uninterrupted ocean creating a surfing mecca. Moving around the east side of the peninsula past Cabo Blanco the water quiets and forms perfect swimming beaches before reaching the mouth of the Río Tempisque and it’s marshes brimming with birds.
Peninsulas are surrounded by water on three sides and not surprisingly the character of the Península de Nicoya is largely defined by its coastline. Even the fourth edge of Nicoya is largely demarcated by water-the Tempisque River and associated wetlands define the northeast boundary of the region. Still, most visitors are more interested in the three sides washed by warm salt waves.
Golfo de Papagayo – Resorts and Luxury Rentals
In the north the Nicoya peninsula joins Guanacaste at the Golfo de Papagayo. This area features world class beach resorts, planned communities and smaller distinctive boutique hotels. The largest swells from the open ocean are blocked by the arc of the lower peninsula up to Cabo Velas creating many calmer beaches, although waves over three feet commonly crash on some shores.
Easy access to the “new” international airport outside Liberia makes this an ideal destination for travelers who mainly seek relaxation, and are happy with an introduction to a few highlights of the natural wonders of Costa Rica. Golden sands, sunbathing, swimming, golf, horseback riding, ATV tours, jet-skis, beach combing and sailing during the day give way to music, dancing, fine dining, baccarat at the casinos and moonlit walks in the evening.
Short day or overnight trips to the rain and cloud forest, volcanoes and tropical dry forests of Guanacaste provide access to ecological experiences.
Click for a printable map of Playas Tamarindo & Langosta.
Moving down the coast to Tamarindo the waves grow adding surfers and more young budget travelers to the mix. This region offers something for everyone; perhaps that’s why it’s growing faster than any other in Costa Rica.
Wildlife enthusiast flock to the leather back turtle nesting beaches of Playa Grande in Marino Las Baulas National Park and mangrove estuaries of the associated wildlife refuge. Divers and snorkelers marvel at the pelagic sea life that frequents the offshore islands and tide pools along the beaches offer a peek at undersea life without being submerged.
The surf culture is alive and well and while some surfers can afford to catch a wave in the morning before hitting the links in the afternoon, many are more budget minded creating a demand for low cost options that aren’t widely available further north. Budget travelers will find plenty of dorm space, communal kitchens, cold water showers, and bulletin boards with notices offering cheap rentals, ride shares and used surf boards for sale.
If the upscale resorts and villa rentals farther north aren’t exactly what you’re looking for you’ll find alternatives around Tamarindo’s golf courses as well.
Nicoya’s Rugged Southern Coast
The region from Punta Lagarto south to Cabo Blanco is far from deserted, the surf is much too good and beaches too beautiful for that, but it is isolated by rugged roads and river fords that are the norm rather than bridges. Accommodations are spread out and range from hammock hooks on a covered patio with outdoor showers to some of the most elegant small hotels in Costa Rica. As of 2020 there are still no large multinational resorts along this section of coast.
This region has its share of natural attractions as well. Perhaps the most important nesting site in the world for Olive Ridley Sea Turtles is Ostional National Wildlife Refuge just north of Nosara. In the peak season from May to December females ride in on the high tide, struggle up the beach and excavate nests in the sand in massive numbers. As many as 30,000 may come ashore in a few nights in spectacular events called arribadas.
Around the Point-The Cabo Blanco Area
The southern tip, Cabo Blanco, remains quite isolated from the rest of the Nicoya Peninsula. The regular ferry services from Puntarenas across the Golfo de Nicoya make access easier from Juan Santamaría International Airport outside the capitol than from the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport near Liberia.
On the southwestern shores the swells arrive from the open ocean creating surfing meccas around Mal País and Santa Teresa, but as soon as you round the point to the southeast facing coast the big waves are blocked.
The Río Tempisque roughly defines the northeastern boundary of the Nicoya Peninsula and along its banks you’ll find the unspoiled wetlands of Palo Verde National Park and Costa Rica’s only National Park Caverns at Barra Honda.