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The Nicoya Peninsula lies on Costa Rica’s spectacular Pacific Coast. Shared between the provinces of Guanacaste and Puntarenas, it’s a popular destination for those seeking well-earned rest and recuperation time.
High-regarded for its beautiful and often secluded beaches, it is also of interest due to its number of nature reserves, including Cabo Blanco. Further, all these sights are within easy reach of world-class hotels and a plethora of innovative restaurants.
1. Playa Samara
Still a low-key and authentic destination, Samara is a sunny little town on the western edge of Nicoya in Costa Rica, with one of its finest beaches. As well as being a classic tropical paradise, with large expanses of yellow-white sand edged by palm trees and forest that hums with life, its waters are also safe enough to make it a great destination for all ages looking for a relaxed getaway.
Just offshore in the turquoise waters, visitors can discover a stunning coral reef system, or take a boat to Isla Chora, which is particularly popular with snorkelers and scuba-divers. For the actively-minded, other possible adventures include sports fishing, canopy tours through the forest, and water sports, from kayaking to stand-up paddle boarding.
Near to the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma has developed from a remote fishing village to become popular with backpackers and eco-tourists. The village is surrounded by several quiet beaches, rivers and forest dotted with cooling waterfalls.
The most popular beach is Playa Montezuma. Though not overly crowded, following a path north through the jungle you’ll discover a string of small, secluded beaches and coves. Look out for monkeys and birds on the way.
Montezuma’s main attraction, however, is probably the waterfalls just to the south of town. A series of three cascades, they are a great place to picnic beside the crashing 25 meter fall of the largest cascade, or even to jump into the pools of the smaller cascades for a swim.
Escape to the beaches and hike in the rainforests of Montezuma in this 4-day Bacpackers Beach Escape tour.
At the northern end of the peninsula, Tamarindo is the center of the region’s surf scene. While the long beach is excellent for those looking to get onto a body or surfboard for the first time, there are also breaks (at Pico Pequeño and El Estero) that attract advanced surfers from around the world.
Tamarindo is also the place to try your hand at fishing from the shore, go horseback riding along the beach, or take nature trips along the estuary, the home to crocodiles and various bird species. During spring, it’s possible to watch turtles nesting on the beach after dark.
Looking for an escape to Tamarindo Beach? Check out the 4-day Tamarindo Beach Break Tour
4. Santa Teresa and Mal Pais
Santa Teresa at the opposite end of the Nicoya Peninsula to Tamarindo is another hub for surfers. Its an unspoiled strip of white sand and trustworthy waves making it a go-to destination for board lovers. Many have even made the town their home.
Mal Pais is quieter by contrast, maintaining its atmosphere of a small village closely linked to its natural surroundings. The gnarled trucks of ancient trees come right down to the shoreline here, where rocky volcanic outcrops mingle with small sections of beach.
Mal Pais is also a great base from where to visit the nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. This marine sanctuary is home to turtles, manta rays, dolphins and whales, which can be spotted by boat or stand-up paddle board.
Spend a few days relaxing and discovering the beaches of Santa Teresa and Tamarindo on this 10-day road trip tour in Costa Rica.
Worth visiting for its location alone, Tambor sits in the valley of a horseshoe-shaped bay called Bahia Ballena — or Whale Bay in the south-eastern region of Nicoya Peninsula. A tranquil small town, the placid waters of the bay are perfect for relaxing in and among the waves.
The bay’s beauty can be perhaps best admired on strolls along its volcanic, grey-colored sands. A path leads four kilometers from the pier at the southern end of the village to Cocalitos Beach, where a waterfall known as El Chorro pours into the Pacific.
If you’d prefer someone else to do the work for you, take a horseback ride into the hills around Tambor, which offer views for miles across the peninsula.
6. Tortuga Island
A great day trip from the peninsula is Tortuga Island, visible from Tambor. Boasting perhaps the best beach in Nicoya Peninsula, as well as the lush tropical rainforest, Tortuga makes it possible to combine twin loves of relaxing on pristine white sand beaches after hiking forest trails.
For true adventure-seekers, the forest canopy is home to a zip-line that launches people back to the jungle floor. Those who prefer to take to the water in some way can swim, snorkel and dive from the beaches, or take to a kayak or glass-bottomed boat. In addition to an array of colorful fish, octopus, sharks and dolphins, the waters are also home to three shipwrecks.
The main city on the peninsula, also called Nicoya, is the main transport hub for the region. Daily ferries link the town of Puntarenas on the ‘mainland’ and Nicoya City, from where buses head to all the destinations mentioned.
The nearest international airport, with flights from North America and Europe, is at Liberia, an hour’s drive from Nicoya. There are also domestic air strips at Nosara, Carrillo and Tambor, with regular flights from the capital, San José. Car hire is possible from both San José and Liberia. The peninsula’s roads should only be tackled with a 4x4.
The dry season on the peninsula lasts from November until May, when temperatures can hit 36°C. Intermittent rains begin in May and last till November. The heaviest rains take place between September and November, when temperatures remain steady around 22°C. Diving conditions are best during the rainy season (May to November), when underwater currents are generally cooler.
For anyone who loves spending time on the beach, or animal-spotting in tropical rainforest, the Nicoya Peninsula is the perfect destination, combining a long coastline of unblemished beaches and an interior of untouched tropical rainforest.
Traveling to Costa Rica? Chat with a local travel specialist in Costa Rica who can help organize your trip.
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