Fishing: Central Pacific
The tip of the Nicoya Peninsula hides the most virgin beaches in Costa Rica. All-inclusive resorts and luxurious accommodations draw visitors to the unexplored land.
The beaches are most famous among the surf crowd and the adventurous looking to get in touch with nature.
Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco
The national park system was born in the Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve. This 2,896 acre (1,172 hectares) refuge is located on the point end of the Nicoya Peninsula, protecting wet and dry tropical ecosystems.
An efficient trail system allows visitors to explore the lush forest and deserted beaches of Cabo Blanco and Balsita with their fine white sand and refreshing tide pools.
Along the way, visitors may find howler, capuchin and spider monkeys, coatis, snakes, anteaters, sloths, tepezcuintles, parakeets, herons, trogons, and many other residents of the forest.
To get to Cabo Blanco Natural Reserve, the ferry from Puntarenas offers daily service but others prefer to go around the gulf. The second option may be a long trip, yet those who have been there guarantee it’s worth it.
This coral-colored beach is packed with relaxing tide pools and surrounded by lush vegetation teeming with monkeys, colorful birds and wildlife of all sorts.
A walk through the forest takes visitors to amazing crystal waterfalls where the temptation to jump in is much too strong to resist. Later on, visitors can hop on a horse and get to know the heart of Montezuma from the inside out.
The small town follows rules of its own: open-minded, respectful of nature and health-oriented. The philosophy is evident in the cuisine and the local concern for conservation of their privileged environment.
Rustic accommodations are popular among budget conscious tourists but higher-end lodging is also available.
The waves fly high in Malpaís making the location a unique getaway for hundreds of surfers that come looking for the perfect tube ride. Located close to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, ocean currents converge at this beach creating giant ripples in the water.
Malpaís has been featured in countless surfing magazines and documentaries attracting surfers from all over the world. Some experts have even chosen this small town as their permanent home, combining work and pleasure in rustic hotels and surf camps.
Visitors will be sitting on top of the world after you catch a wave, but if you would rather relax on jungle-framed beach, you can do that too.
At Tambor beach, first-class resorts take advantage of the turquoise waters, white sand and refreshing ocean breeze to offer comprehensive services to their guests.
All-inclusive services include all-you-can-eat restaurants open 24 hours and bars where visitors can get drinks without ever leaving the water. Visitors can later burn some of those calories off riding a banana boat or snorkeling on the ocean because water sports are included too.
Packages also offer discos and night shows that feature local talent dressed up in glamorous costumes.
Fresh seafood and an ocean view are in the lunch menu everyday in Puntarenas.
Located on a small peninsula stretching outward into the Pacific Ocean, the town is one of the most visited destinations on the coast. Its brown-sand beach runs uninterrupted for 7 miles (11 km) and a nearby mangrove attracts birding fanatics by the hundreds. Nightlife and a wide variety of hotels to choose from make it more appealing.
Puntarenas is 3 miles (5 km) long but just a few blocks wide. The best way to see it is following the waterfront boulevard known as Paseo de los Touristas (Tourists’ Avenue).
Dozens of vendors gather around the walkway offering souvenirs and all kinds of trinkets. Restaurants, cafés and sodas line up featuring typical seafood dishes and the catch-of-the-day.
Many Costa Rican visitors also come looking for the famous Churchill, a refreshing mixture of a snow cone and ice cream topped with insane amounts of caramel. It’s meant to be dessert but it’s so filling and delicious that many have it as a main course too.
Puntarenas’ biggest assets are the commercial ports and well-developed tourist infrastructure that attracts dozens of cruise ships every year. The migrant visitors spend a day in town or travel by land to the many attractions the country has to offer.
The Marine Park in Puntarenas is a must-see while in town. The site combines an aquarium, water museum, investigation center and learning facilities under the motto of environmental research and education through recreation.
One of the main attractions, Crocodile Territory, features six live reptiles for visitors to explore up close and personal.
Many of the marine species found in the country’s Pacific coast are displayed in glass aquariums that imitate their particular habitats.
Visitors will catch a glimpse of ocelo, jewel and fine spotted moray, urchins, anemones, white-tipped sharks, balloon fish, stars, blue spiny lobster, elegant sea horses, and many other underwater species.
The hottest spot in the mid-Pacific is the hip Jacó beach. A wide assortment of hotels and restaurants, enthusiastic nightlife and surfing tournaments are just a few reasons to drive 90 minutes from San José and be in the center of it all.
It’s by far the most developed beach town in the region.
Shopping centers and little stores have popped up from out of nowhere turning it into a commercial district. Accommodations range from four-star international hotel chains to small, inexpensive cabins designed for visitors on a tight budget.
Small restaurants on Jacó’s main road specialize in ethnic and rare cuisine but always taking advantage of the fresh seafood provided by local fishermen. Sushi, brick-oven pizza, vegetarian, Chinese, Mexican and Costa Rican cooking intertwine for a culinary trip around the world without leaving the beach.
The rising sun cues surfers as tide rises yielding massive waves and rookies guided by instructors from many of the in-town surfing schools venture out into the ocean proving that everyone can join in the fun.
Other attractions include the Crocodile Farm, a breeding center for American crocodiles that are later released into the wild. Visitors can get a safe look at these reptiles in enclosed lagoons. Far more friendly hosts, hundreds of butterflies at the Butterfly Farm welcome guests with their fluttering displays of color.
Herradura was a small beach overlooked by the tourism industry until a mega development discovered its potential and put it on the map. Ever since, it has become a high-end location in the region.
Set on a 1,100-acre (500-hectare) property surrounded by protected rainforest, the Los Sueños resort has taken luxurious getaways to a whole new level.
The Spanish colonial style architecture, horizon pool with swim-up bar, a Ted Robinson designed 18-hole golf course, spa, fitness center, more than 200 rooms featuring mountain and ocean views, and first-class service seem like a dream come true.
At the resort’s marina, more than 200 luxury sport fishing yachts anchor in its waters but guests can also take advantage of charter companies that offer trips out to sea. Several sport fishing events are also held in the Marina, famous for the quality and quantity of fish.
Six restaurants and lounges offer culinary art ranging from elegant multi-course meals to casual food with a dash of style.
Some visitors come to Los Sueños and never leave because the resort has residential areas where deluxe condos can be purchased.
Many beaches on the mid-Pacific go overlooked by the crowds of visitors that gather at conventional locations. So close to all the action, these beaches remain hidden in coves and bays like well-kept secrets waiting to be unveiled.
Playa Hermosa is a favorite among surfers looking for elbow room on the waves. Backed by a wetland area, exotic varieties of birds fly free and happy on the gray-sanded beach.
Palm trees and tropical forests surround Playa Esterillos, located just a few miles from Jacó. Rocks on its northern end captivate curious visitors with fossils imprinted millions of years ago.
Beaches Mantas, Blanca and Limoncito are part of the Punta Leona complex. For many years, these beaches were considered private property but a government ruling opened them to the general public. Surrounded by lush vegetation, they comprise a rich habitat where monkeys and birds frolic in the trees.
And located just a couple of hours outside of San José, the beaches Palma, Bejuco, Palo Seco and Espadilla will satisfy the need for sun and peace.
Reserva de Carara
Mesoamerican and Amazonian influences converge at Carara Natural Reserve rendering an amazing transitional forest packed with wildlife. The 11,613-acre (4,700-hectare) refuge protects a combination of dry and wet climatic zones and their representative species.
Flat terrain and clearly marked trails guide visitors through Carara as they get to know capuchin, spider and howler monkeys, coatis, ocelots, poison-dart frogs, peccaries, and great anteaters. Bird lovers would be thrilled with toucans kingfishers, parrots, fiery billed aracari and scarlet macaws flying through the forest.
As if that wasn’t enough, the nearby mangrove and wetland systems also provide a home to more than 400 species of birds, considered the largest collection of avian wildlife in Central America.
The endangered scarlet macaw is one of Carara’s most valued residents as more than 50 pairs are bred in the reserve and can be seen migrating.
Quepos is a cozy beach community surrounded by forested hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The town offers the best of both worlds: the green treasures of an environmental haven and the turquoise complement of the ocean’s grandeur.
Its tourism based economy is booming thanks to dozens of hotels, international restaurants, happening bars and the proximity to Manuel Antonio National Park. Filled with a comfortable and easy atmosphere, the air in Quepos is much thinner and fresher.
The tourism industry has taken advantage of the beautiful landscape and caters to visitors searching for an ecological retreat accompanied by the distinct scent of the nearby ocean.
Long beaches and African palm trees dominate the landscape in laid-back Parrita. The small town is the favorite hang out of visitors looking to unwind in a stress-free environment and enjoy the gifts of nature without traveling far.
The beach stretches for more than 7 miles (12 km) and is surrounded by estuaries and mangroves teeming with wildlife. Fishing is a major crowd-puller thanks to hundreds of tuna, marlin, wahoo, snook and dolphin fish that swarm about in the surrounding ocean.
Nearby Parrita river is a preferred whitewater rafting site, featuring class II and III rapids.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Visitors don’t have to choose between the forest and the beach because at Manuel Antonio National Park they can have both!
Located three hours from San José, the popular reserve protects 1,685 acres (682 hectares) of tropical rainforest lined by blue ocean waters and packed with the most unbelievable animals, birds and plants.
Well-maintained trails lead visitors to a lookout point offering breathtaking panoramic views of the park and the surrounding ocean. Walking through the forest, they’ll come across cheeky white-faced capuchin, spider and howler monkeys, sloths resting in the trees, iguanas, coati scampers, toucans, parrots, and scarlet macaws just to name a few.
Back on the coast, visitors have a selection of four white-sand beaches and most will agree that Manuel Antonio Beach is the prettiest of them all, featuring a receded bay, coral reef and soothing tidal pools.
Pacific green and olive ridley turtles pick this location to lay their eggs just like they have for centuries. Traps set during pre-Columbian times can still be seen on the rocks surrounding the beach, but the site is now under careful surveillance to protect the endangered species.
The Pacific meets the park on three sides because it’s located on a small peninsula called Punta Catedral. The former island is now connected to the land by a natural sand bridge.
Gulf of Nicoya Islands
Not far from the coast of Puntarenas, a string of pearly islands adorn the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. Combining local charm, beautiful coasts, wildlife and ecological attractions, the sites can be reached after short boat trips.
Chira is a preferred nesting site for roseate spoonbills, a flamingo-like stilt-legged bird that parades proudly on the mudflats. The community is also famous for the salt pans where hard working locals earn a living.
Dolphins and whales can be seen dancing around the open waters near islands Guayabo and Negritos. Both biological reserves are preferred winter nesting sites for the endangered peregrine falcons.
San Lucas Island offers a sneak peak into mythical culture. Its grounds were once a sacred pre-Columbian indigenous burial place and many years later, the island also housed a controversial prison.
An all-inclusive one-day-cruise to Tortuga Island is the perfect first contact with the open ocean.
Located only 2 miles (3.2 km) from the coast, state-of-the-art Catamaran Manta Rays take visitors to this tropical paradise on the aquamarine Pacific.
White sand surrounds the island and palm trees line up welcoming visitors as mild waves refresh swimmers jumping off anchored yachts. Trails lead visitors into the forested hills where canopy tours show the birds-eye-view of this seventh heaven on the tropics.
Kayaking, beach volleyball, water bicycles, glass-bottom boats and snorkeling are only a few added perks that guarantee a great time at Isla Tortuga.
Isla del Coco
Surrounded by legends of a hidden pirate treasures, Coco’s Island’s true wealth lays underwater. Considered one of the best diving locations in the world, the island is located 340 miles (550 km) off the southwestern coast, amid the vast Pacific Ocean.
Coco’s is an underwater mountain rising thousands of feet above the sea floor and part of the volcanic chain that extends south of the Galapagos.
Its surface is comprised of 20 square miles (52 km2) of tropical rainforest with the highest point reaching 2,080 feet above sea level (634 m). Part of the National Park system, the island and 240,000 acres (97,300 has) of water around it are a zone of absolute protection recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Beauty and danger co-exist beneath the surf where the largest concentration of marine predators dominates. White-tip, hammerhead, black-tip, silky and whale sharks roam the waters drawn by the abundance of food.
Flounder, creole, green jacks, striped marlins, tuna, barber and goat fish, sea stars, eagle rays, hermit crabs, sea turtles, dolphins, 14-inch (35 cm) shrimp, sea lions, and blue-button jellies are only a tiny part of the endless list of permanent inhabitants at Coco’s.
Lucky scuba divers get to experience it all, as well as a large number of world-traveling species that stop and rest in its waters.
The secret that lures so many marine creatures is the deep ocean currents that rise up to the island bringing cold water and creating the perfect environment for plankton, a fish delicacy. Smaller species attract larger ones and the food chain grows enticing more fish to join.
Coco features the most extensive and rich coral reef in the southeast Pacific. A paradise for snorkeling and scientists alike, the area has become a prominent laboratory for the study of biological processes and oceanic ecosystems.
Above the water things are just as interesting.
Hundreds of marine birds fly above the island searching for food in the ocean and land alike. Nesting sites can be found throughout the landscape where Galapagos finch, brown boobies, blue- and red-footed boobies, frigate birds and snowy white terns display their natural attributes. Native varieties have also been identified such as the Coco’s Island Cuckoo and Coco’s flycatcher.
The journey to this natural treasure takes approximately 36 hours on a boat leaving from the port of Puntarenas. Anchorage and basic facilities can be found on the island at Bahía Chatmam.
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips
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