Play in Costa Rica

Here are my boys getting ready to jump in the ocean!
Here are my boys getting ready to jump in the ocean!

Playing in Costa Rica is an easy task. All you have to do is decide what you are in the mood for!

Table of Contents

If you land in San José

In terms of where to start, lots of people fly to San Jose (the Capital) air fares are less expensive than flying to Liberia –Daniel Oduber Quiroz International Airport (the nation’s second largest city). From there, you can visit San Jose and learn the history of the country. Visit museums, take a day tour around this beautiful city.

Exploring the Central Valley, the outskirts of the city and areas like Zarcero, Sarchi, Grecia and San Ramon to experience less touristic areas and more authentic, natural landscapes.

West of San Jose is Escazu.

Historically, this has been where most of the ex-pats have lived because the climate is mild. Other areas in the Central Valley are Sabana, Rohrmoser, Santa Ana, Cariari and Los Arcos, San Antonio de Belen, Los Santos Valley, Alajuela, Atenas, Grecia, Naranjo, Sarchi are all areas that offer their own micro climate, and depending on the altitude, their climate fluctuates between 70 and 80 degreesF.

All of these communities offer lots of entertainment and activities such as golfing in the areas of Cariari and Los Arcos, forest reserve and coffee farms in Los Santos Valley. Picturesque towns are everywhere in these cities, great shopping, The fertility of their soil is due to the black soil in many of these towns, therefore you’ll find lots of fresh produce everywhere you go in Costa Rica, along with great dining.

More surfing!

It’s worth mentioning Santa Teresa, which is now a booming traveling destination in Costa Rica. It attracts especially a younger crowd and surfers for its scenic beaches and great surf. New residents is Santa Teresa have created an assortment of restaurants, venues and hotels in Santa Teresa, with lodging options from low-key surfers hostels to some of the most luxurious hotels in Costa Rica.

New at surfing? Playas Carmen and Playa Hermosa-meaning beautiful (there is another playa Hermosa in Guanacaste), offer easy-going brakes for novice surfers. The beach at these two locations is broad and long expanse of white sand edged by jungle.

The surf on Playa Santa Teresa is more challenging and presents both point and beach breaks.

Not into surfing? No problem!

Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen rank among the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, take advantage of the picturesque coastline for hiking, bathing in tidal pools or simply find a great spot under a palm tree for loafing and reading a book.

Other available activities in the neighboring communities: Snorkeling, fishing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, horseback riding or ziplining. Other attractions are the waterfalls in Montezuma, you can also take a boat and snorkeling tour to the Tortuga Island (Turtle Island). Nature lovers shouldn’t miss a visit to Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s oldest Nature Reserve.

Nightlife It seems that the entire town gathers on the beach to enjoy the spectacular and colorful sunsets, the cool breezes, watch the surfers, and make plans for the evening. Santa Teresa does not disappoint when it comes to nightlife, especially during high season, from December to March. The night comes to live with international DJs and events during the Christmas/New Year’s Holidays. All hotels in Santa Teresa, and nearly all restaurants offer free Wifi for their guests.

Things to Do In Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio has it all. If you’re looking for insanely beautiful sparkly turquoise waters and soft white sand surrounded by lush green jungle look no further! Not to mention, wildlife watching, a gorgeous national park, luxury resorts and you can easily see why visitors fall in love with this area.

Hiking the Manuel Antonio National Park while seeing wildlife – Forbes once called Manuel Antonio one of the most beautiful parks in the world! This is the place to experience hiking trails with the perfect combination of jungle and beach. If you want to see a sloth in their natural habitat, this is the place! As well as monkeys, frogs, deer and more.

More wildlife! Si Como No, private wildlife refuge. This is a very nice tour for kids and their parents. Its also an excellent option for wildlife photographers and camera enthusiasts alike. The cost is $39 for adults and $29 for kids under 12, and there is a high end hotel next to the area.

Kayaking Through Damas Island Mangrove

The near mangrove is an excellent place to kayak your way to a leisurely day of wildlife watching, while keeping the area undisturbed. You can also gain access by boat.

Visit Playa Biesanz

The least crowded of all 4 beaches in Manuel Antonio. This beach is ideal for kids because it’s in a bay so waters are very calm. Make sure to wear shoes or closed toes sandals as the trail to the beach is quite rocky.

Day Trip to Dominical or Uvita

For day trips, a visit to Nauyaca Waterfalls is a must. You can also check out the town, Dominical beach or even visit another national park, Marino Ballena in Uvita.

Zipline, Rappel, or ATV. MidWorld in Manuel Antonio National Park offers ziplining, ATV tours, rappel and more!

Catamaran Cruise

Take a sunset cruise or snorkeling tour and you might see dolphins or whales on the way. If you are looking for a “party cruise” you will find a boat there that fits 250 people, has two floors with Jacuzzi, slides, and even trampolines. There are also more quieter, subdued boats that will cater to families.

Visit Kids Saving the Rainforest Sanctuary. Visitors can take a tour of the sanctuary and learn about how they heal and rehabilitate various wild animals such as monkeys and sloths. Founded by 2 nine year old girls in 1999, Kids Saving the Rainforest helps the local communities to educate, promote and raise awareness about the environment. Adults pay $60 and children under 12 pay $45 transportation is included.

Parasailing. Take a 15 or 30 minute ride and experience spectacular view of the national park from the air, a view that you can’t get any other way. The cost is $85 per person for a 15 minute ride, $140 for 30 minute ride, it includes transportation to and from hotels.

Travel Tips for Manuel Antonio National Park:
  • Manuel Antonio is approximately 2 hours from San Jose/SJO Airport. From there, you can fly to local Quepos Airport, rent a car or take one of the buses that run from Terminal Transportes Tracopa.
  • Quepos is the closest town to Manuel Antonio and you can take a bus from there that runs all day for less than a dollar (310 colones). Some hotels offer free shuttles to the national park.
  • If you visit during high season (December-April) is best to book a tour before your trip.
  • During rainy season (June-November), you would want to go as early as possible since is normally sunny in the mornings and rains in the afternoon.
  • The majority of hotels are on the hill which is very steep and may be hard for some people to walk however, there are several hotels down by the national park.
  • Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and mosquito repellent, the area is very hot and a little humid.
  • You don’t necessarily need hiking shoes/boots to hike Manuel Antonio, wearing closed toed sandals are all you need.

Playing in Guanacaste:

Map of Costa Rica by Province

Depending on your mood, time, budget and how far you are willing to travel either by car or bus, there are lots to do in this beautiful area while in Costa Rica.

Want to relax? Go to the beach!

In the Guanacaste province you can literally spend days looking and finding a plethora of beautiful beaches some well known and some hidden gems that only the locals know about. In some cases, you’ll have all to yourself. These are just some of the beaches in Guanacaste below in no particular order:

  • Tamarindo beach

Although, a bit crowded specially in high season, we’re partial to Tamarindo because we LOVE spending at least an entire day sitting on the beach, watching the surfers try and sometime succeed in riding the waves, kids learning to surf and people watch since this is a very popular spot, you will not be bored here! Tamarindo is the go-to beach for beginners and mid-level surfers. The vibe is one of a surfers’ quaint, charming, small town. Once you get hungry, there are lots of great casual restaurants, food is fantastic, we have been going there every year for the past 7 years and tried out different restaurants every time and none have disappointed.

Shopping in Tamarindo? There are also lots of small and unique shops from art galleries, clothing, jewelry and many street booth vendors along the main street. Beware, Tamarindo’s prices have gone up during the last five years it probably has to do with the fact the is a very popular, touristy spot.

  • Playa Hermosa

This is another beach we love to visit every time we have a chance. Located just 20 minutes from the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, and 7 kilometers north of Playas del Coco, Hermosa is one of the best maintained beaches in the country. Hermosa meaning beautiful in Spanish, offers visitors crystal clear blue waters and magnificent scenery, which makes it a very popular beach strip on the Pacific coast.

Playa Hermosa proudly holds the “Bandera Azul” “Blue Flag” prize given to those beaches that demonstrate high environmental standards and excellent safety facilities. Offering a two- kilometer of beach surrounded by tropical forests and ridges of volcanic rock it’s a great place to relax and unwind. Rarely crowded, always laid back, warm waters, and ideal weather conditions, Hermosa will also be one of your favorite spots. Playa Hermosa offers convenient accommodations and nice, fairly priced restaurants lining the beach shore.

  • Playa Conchal

This beautiful white sand beach was made famous for one unique characteristic- it had shells instead of sand! There aren’t as many shells nowadays as people have taken them home as souvenirs, although you can still see bits and pieces of sparkling shells when you grab a handful of sand. Conchal is a beach you should absolutely visit when you are in Costa Rica.

  • Playa Brasilito.

If you’re looking to experience a more local, laid back small town flavor, Brasilito should be on your list. Although, located right next to Playa Conchal the two are completely different. Also, you can gain access to Playa Conchal through Brasilito. Playa Brasilito will provide the authentic, Costa Rican town feel, atmosphere and cuisine that lots of tourists are looking for.

  • Playa Flamingo

White sand, expansive beautiful beach. If you’re looking for more services in the form of luxurious resorts, upscale restaurants and high end condos, while still experiencing the “pura vida” laid back feel this is the place for you.

  • Playa Grande

If you want to experience great surfing, a less “touristy” area, where leatherback turtle nest Playa Grande is the place! Located along the Tamarindo Bay, Grande offers tan colored sand and bright blue waters. As part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park, Playa Grande it’s a famous spot for turtle nestings, therefore while open to the public, visitors aren’t allowed to go after nightfall in order to protect turtles and their babies.

  • Playa Avellanas

Want a remote, quiet surfing spot? Avellanas is the place! With its nickname “Little Hawaii”, is one of the best beaches in Guanacaste, Costa Rica for its waves, sunset and bars. Since waves in Avellana can reach up to 18 feet, is considered to be more adequate for intermediate and advance level surfers.

  • Playas del Coco

If you’re looking for a place where you can experience all that Costa Rica has to offer in one single place; a beautiful beach, shopping, local and upscale dining, as well as day and/or nightlife Playas del Coco is where you want to be. For visitors planning to explore the Guanacaste Province, Playas del Coco provides an excellent centric location. Located just a short drive away from Liberia’s Daniel Oduber International Airport, the town is one of Costa Rica’s most well-known, fastest growing communities, since it draws lots of local and international visitors each year. As the largest village in the Province of Guanacaste, Playas del Coco offers an abundance of accommodations and services for all visitors and all budgets.

Coco Beach is recognized for its accessibility to supreme fishing areas and scuba diving locations, as well as for being the midway point to Witches Rock, a world-famous surfing spot.

Daytime activities in Playa del Coco include, relaxing on the beach, visiting near by small islands like Catalinas or Bat Island or national parks, shark watching while scuba diving, or you may run into big size marine turtles nesting on the beach. Waves are usually gentle enough for kids to swim and the beach is long enough so that no matter how crowded it gets, you’ll always be able to find a spot. Other activities include surfing, sport fishing, snorkeling, hiking, horseback riding or simply bird-watching.

There is a vast array of bars, restaurants and shops along the town’s main road which also leads to the main beach. Various grocery stores including local and upscale, plenty of souvenir shops.

Year-end holidays, as well as Easter and high season weekends, can be quite busy as many of the local families use their free time as well. While Coco is family friendly during the day, night life can be very active and best for the adults-only set.

Nightlife at Playas del Coco. There is plenty to do when the sun goes down at Coco. Downtown Coco is an exciting party location with dozens of bars and small clubs.

  • Playa Panama

If you are looking to escape the crowds, have long walks on the beach and enjoy calm waters with the family, this is the beach for you! Just under a thirty minute drive from the Daniel Oduber Quiroz Liberia International Airport, Panama offers crystal blue waters, grey sand while being surrounded by nature, beauty and a laid back atmosphere. Although the area is in development, the serenity and pristine conditions of the beach have not changed.

Playa Panama doesn’t have a town, that might present a challenge for visitors to get around. The easiest and fastest way to get around is by car. You can rent a car, book a private shuttle(1-4 people from LIR to Panama cost about $50), there are taxis available as well as buses that run from the airport to Playa Panama three times a day.

Activities in Playa Panama. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sport fishing, jet skiing, paddle and wind surfing are all accessible in Playa Panama. You can also rent kayaks and canoes on the beach. There are also several national parks nearby like Rincon de la Vieja National Park or Palo Verde National Park where you can enjoy day hikes, hot springs and adventure tours. Right across the bay, you’ll find the Four Seasons resort also nearby is Diamante Eco Adventure Park with it’s longest ocean view zipline!

Playa Samara

Tropical palm trees lining miles along the white sandy beach seem to be waiting to welcome visitors in this secluded, off-the-beaten-path location. Located in the South Pacific coast of Guanacaste, 105 kilometers from Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quiroz International Airport and 225 kilometers from San Jose International Airport. Samara attracts younger couples looking to get away to more hidden and free of chain hotels and fast food restaurants. Samara is also known for its breathtaking sunsets and great surfing waves. Playa Samara has become a perfect destination wedding since hotels there remain reasonably priced, you can find bungalows, hostels and hotels their prices start as low as $16 per person note that prices may vary depending on when you visit.

What to do in Playa Samara. Snorkeling, surfing and stand up paddle board, fishing, kayaking, ATV tours, horseback riding, ziplining, Gyrocopter flight.

Daytime activities in Samara:

Kayaking or snorkeling to Isla Chorro (Chorro Island) or to the Cangrejal, the coral reel there is home to many tropical fish.

Camaronal Wildlife Refuge

Created to protect Camaronal beach, this wildlife refuge is where many turtles come to nest. The best time to visit is during rainy season, you can also take a night time turtle watching tour.

Ostional Wildlife Refuge

Hundreds of thousands of turtles come to nest at this beach in rainy season. Ostional is one of two places in the world where an arribada(mass gathering of turtles) occur and was created in 1984 to protect one of the world’s most important nesting sites of the olive ridley sea turtle. Ostional is only 1 hour away from Playa Samara.

Barra Honda National Park

Barra Honda’s main attraction is a large, intricate system of limestone caverns, decorated with multiple forms and figures. Only 19 of Barra Honda’s caves have been explored. The caves can be visited year round, tours must be accompanied by a local guide. Barra Honda is only an hour drive away from Samara.

Palo Verde National Park

Take a boat ride down Rio Tempisque to see caimans, monkeys, iguanas and immerse yourself completely into the Costa Rican bird’s world in Palo Verde.

  • Playa Ostional

If you want to see turtles during your visit to Costa Rica, then you have to visit Ostional Wildlife Refuge, as this refuge protects 238 hectares of protected land, including 15 km of beach where thousands of turtles lay their eggs. This phenomenon only found in 7 places in the world, popularly known as “arribadas” or arrival occurs during the peak of rainy season from August to December.

  • Playa Cabuyal

One of the lesser known, but equally beautiful spot is Playa Cabuyal. Located just a short drive away from Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quiroz International Airport.

What you will find at Playa Cabuyal: Soft white sand, calm blue waters surrounded by a lush forest. Plenty of trees around it as well as piece and quiet. There are picnic tables and bathrooms.

What you won’t find at Playa Cabuyal: Crowds, hotels or houses. Just you and nature! Note: If you’re renting a vehicle make sure you it’s a 4×4 to get there; although you’ll take the road to the Four Season’s Resort you’d have to veer off and drive on dirt road for a bit.

  • Las Catalinas- Playa Prieta, Sugar Beach, Danta and Dantita

Las Catalinas

Las Catalinas is a recently developed beach town along the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the Guanacaste Province, about an hour drive from Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia. With over 1,000 acres of tropical dry forest hills and valleys with extensive hiking, running, and biking trails, it hosts the annual Las Catalinas Triathlon and Open Water competitions growing in importance among local and international competitors in recent years.

A little bit about the history of Las Catalinas is that was envisioned as a car-free, fully walkable beach town, based on the principles of New Urbanism, favoring interaction in a wide array of pedestrian streets, public plazas, recreational facilities, houses, apartment buildings, a beach club, shops, restaurants, and a boutique adults-only hotel.

With its proximity to the sea (Pacific Ocean), along with its nature reserve and system of natural trails, have made it an increasingly popular destination in Guanacaste, being featured in articles and covers of major travel publications such as the New York Times, Travel+Leisure, and the Wall Street Journal.

Outdoor Activities at Las Catalinas: Swimming, snorkeling, boogie boarding, body surfing, equestrian activities, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding, hiking, mountain biking, yoga.

  • Playa Mina

You may find this beach as Playa Zapotillal on the maps, they’re the same. Located near Tamarindo, this hidden beach has a lot to offer! Soft white sands, stunningly clear water, lots of trees for shade.

  • PLAYING IN PUNTARENAS
    Map of Puntarenas, Costa Rica
                     .

Located in the Central Pacific area of Costa Rica, Puntarenas is the capital and largest city in the Province of Puntarenas. Nicknamed “La Perla del Pacifico” “Spanish Pearl”, the name Puntarenas comes from the portmanteau of Punta and Arenas, which means Point and Sands, respectively. The Puntarenas name is also given to the oddly shape province of the same name (see map) which is the most extensive province in the country, and it has its largest section in the South. Its port Caldera, is one of the main ports, and the oldest port in the country.

Once one of the most important seaports, Puntarenas is now a commercial fishing port for the country. offering the some of the most amazingly fresh seafood, including lobster and shrimp. Puntarenas also serves as a terminal for ferries and a docking station for cruise ships traveling across the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal.

Climate: Puntarenas is generally hotter than Costa Rica’s Central Valley, with daytime highs ranging from 30 to 35C or 86 to 95F.

If you want the feel of a local coastal town, and want to mingle with the locals, the town of Puntarenas is the place! Located just about 1.5 drive from San Jose, and as the biggest beach town near the capital, it’s a popular spot for city locals looking to escape the city life.

The town of Puntarenas, the capital city of the of the province with the same name, is a very simple and humble town. Known as “El Puerto” “The Port” because it used to be the largest fishing port in the country. Puntarenas’ locals “Puntarenses” or “Portenos” are very happy and friendly people.

Activities in Puntarenas

Transportation: Taking the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera, Montezuma, Tambor, Santa Teresa, Malpais, or any beach in the Nicoya Peninsula, is one of the best options since it will save you a lot of time compared to driving, and the views are beautiful.

  • Located on the east coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, 4 km west of the Paquera ferry landing. Not considered a tourist destination, Paquera is a quiet small town that delivers the “authentic” Costa Rican experience. Here, you won’t find fancy bars, or clubs, however, you will find local restaurants, small hotels, cabins, pharmacies, banks, etc.
What to do in Paquera:

Paquera Bioluminescence Kayay Tour. Bioluminescence is the biochemical emission of light by living organisms such as fireflies and deep-sea fishes. Due to the incredibly rich waters of the Paquera Bay and Gulf of Nicoya, this area is famous for bioluminescence from its sea life. You can take a kayaking tour or swim in the water to observe this incredible natural phenomenon.

Beaches near by: Organos, Pochote and Tambor. At Playa Pochote you can see scarlet macaws!.

The cost for the kayak tour is $35 for 1 hour. Fishing, boating and paddle boarding is available.

·       Tortuga Island. Famous for its Caribbean-like white sand beach and transparent turquoise

water, Tortuga Island is without a doubt, one of the most popular destinations for visitors. The most famous resident at Tortuga is a friendly and popular pig and tens of thousands of people have taken their photo with him over the years.

Playa Tortuga has been awarded the “Blue Flag” or Bandera Azul which is only given to the cleanest beaches. There are several tour companies that operate one day tours.

What to do in Tortuga Island:

Swimming, snorkeling, catamaran cruise (featuring live music!), kayak, jet skis, pedal boats, stand up paddle boats, all these activities are included when you book with a tour company. If departing from Puntarenas,the boats will take you on a 1.5 hour tour of the Golf of Nicoya to Isla Tortuga. Guests spend about 5 hours on the island and they provide various activities to enjoy. Overnight stays are not allowed on the island.

What to bring: swimsuit, sunscreen, sunglasses, hiking shoes aren’t necessary, as the hiking trail is easy, bring cash USD if you want to rent a jet ski or do other activities.

·       Curu National Wildlife Refuge- Montezuma

A 10 minute drive from Paquera ferry, westbound on the road from Paquera is this small, yet biologically rich coastal refuge near the town of Curu. It received protective status in 1981, creating the Curu National Wildlife two years later. Curu is home to 232 different bird species as well as a multitude of plant and animal life common to the region. Leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles use the park’s white-sand beach to lay their eggs during nesting season.

Privately owned, it offers rustic lodges onsite that can be rented. You can also find rudimentary cabin accommodations at $6 a bed, per-night it’s a great option for those looking to explore the many wonders of this beautiful refuge. Food and horse rentals are available at modest prices. You will need a four wheel drive vehicle to get around, as the road to Curu is unpaved.

What to do in Curu: Kayak or boat Bioluminescence tour is a favorite of many. Hiking while spotting: iguanas, capuchins and howler monkeys, deer, raccoons, coatis and more along with swimming and snorkeling.

·       PLAYA NARANJO

Located in Santa Rosa National Park, Naranjo Beach/Playa Naranjo is an ecological model. This beach is a protected area, construction here is not allowed. You will find here nothing but lush greens, beautiful natural surroundings quiet and a sense of being removed from the world. The beach is characterized by its fine sand, incredible waves and rugged rocks. This beautiful beach is famous for surfing, and the area near witch’s rock was a filiming location for the surfing classic “Endless Summer II”. Playa Naranjo is mostly accessed by boat or ferry.

·       SANTA ROSA NATIONAL PARK

Santa Rosa National Park protects some of the last remaining tropical dry forest in the world. The Guanacaste National Park and Santa Rosa National Park are now connected to protect a wide-ranging species such as jaguars, mountain lions, while simultaneously creating a biological corridor for birds and insects to make local seasonal migrations between the dry forest and the ever green cloud and rain forest. Santa Rosa is one of Costa Rica’s largest parks covering 49,515 hectares with a very wide range of habitats including beach, mangrove estuary, marine, farms, and tropical dry forest.

Santa Rosa National Park is located at the northwestern tip of Costa Rica 190 km (118 miles) northwest of San Jose. Nearest towns are Liberia and La Cruz.

What to do in Santa Rosa National Park:

Hiking: There are a number of excellent trails in Santa Rosa, including overnight trips. Swimming, surfing, scuba diving. Playa Nancite/Nancite Beach is one of the two beaches in Santa Rosa National Park (Ostional is the other), where Pacific Ridley sea turtles come ashore each year in large arribadas (arrival) to lay their eggs, in late summer.

·       MAL PAIS

The Mal Pais region as a whole, is a surfer’s paradise. This small coastal town is located at the southeastern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Encompassing roughly 6 kilometers of coastline, from Playa Carmen to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. Keep in mind that most people refer to the entire area of Playa Carmen and Santa Teresa as Mal Pais.

Mal Pais has preserved its serene, calm, less developed atmosphere when comparing it to Santa Teresa its counterpart. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, while enjoying a top-notch surfing while been surrounded by scenic views, this is the place for you!

What to do in Mal Pais.

Surf’s Up. This beach is known for packing consistent waves and a long beach break. Rocky beaches, sandy stretches decorated in sea shells, with volcanic formations along the shore.

Other activities include: Fishing, diving, snorkeling and kite surfing. Horseback riding, quad biking, hiking trails, canopy tours. Bird watchers love coming to Mal Pais to try to catch a glimpse of the great variety of coastal and migratory birds, including falcons, scarlet macaws, and kingfishers. And while on the subject of birds, it’s worth mentioning Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s first protected area; this park consists of 1,270 hectares rife with 150 species of birds, including laughing gulls, ospreys, and brown pelicans.

Nightlife. Great weather all year-round makes Mal Pais among Costa Rica’s hidden gems. Normally less crowded, still offers a variety of upscale and affordable accommodations, bars and restaurants along the coast which offer a party-vibe at night.

·       SANTA TERESA COSTA RICA

What once was a sleepy fishing village, has now become an increasingly a luxurious surfer’s paradise, complete with expats who made this area their daily reality and the occasional celebrity who likes to enjoy it for a week or two at a time. Santa Teresa’s now international community blossomed in the 2000s as more and more of adventurous travelers discovered its natural attractions: white-sand beaches, reliable, long-breaking waves and a vast species of wildlife.

The influx of multicultural new residents have created an array of restaurants, venues and hotels, with lodging options from low-key surf hostels to some of the most luxurious hotels in Costa Rica.

THE BEACHES OF SANTA TERESA

The town sprawls parallel to the coast and most visitors enter Santa Teresa, on its southern edge, at Playa Carmen,

-Playa Carmen

This is a very popular spot for sun bathers and surfers who can ride a long beach break. You can surf at night at Playa Carmen, the waves are lit with flashlights. Swimming in both Playa Carmen and Playa Santa Teresa are not recommended since the surf can be overwhelming.

-Playa Santa Teresa

The beach at Santa Teresa is a broad and long expanse of white sand surrounded by greenery; and although in recent years the area has become more and more popular, there is an absence of high-rise buildings.

-Santa Teresa North

With a picturesque coastal landscape, this scenic beach offers low tide along with a large rocky tidepool perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

-Playa Hermosa

Meaning beautiful beach, appropriately named, is the perfect example of a tropical beach both wide and sandy, complete with swaying palm trees and almendros. Ideal for swimming, bathing and gentle surf, Playa Hermosa has no underwater rocks, perfect for beginners. When swimming, beware of strong currents specially in the northern part of the beach.

·       MONTEZUMA

-The town of Montezuma. Regarded by many as a bohemian, charming town for its artistic residents, Montezuma is located on the Nicoya Peninsula. Montezuma is a small beach village that sits within high cliffs and a jungle where the small rivers pour out into perfect arcs to create perfectly picturesque waterfalls. By day, visitors enjoy the town’s relaxed, laid-back vibe, while exploring the charming wood houses, vibrant street life and enjoying notable restaurants that host excellent cuisine with lots of options for vegan dining. By night, a host of small bars and clubs welcome those ready to dance the night away.

The 3 Waterfalls in Montezuma. The beginning of the hike to Montezuma Falls is only a short distance from the town. Start at the main beach road and walk south until you cross a bridge over the river. Once you passed the bridge, follow the trail off to the right and upriver. After 20 minutes or so, you will see the first and tallest of the waterfalls. You can also drive and park your car at the fall’s parking lot for about $2

The Montezuma waterfalls makes for a great family adventure, as it’s one of the best waterfalls in the country. Make sure to wear hiking shoes as rocks can be slippery and bring bathing suit if you plan to swim –highly recommended!

·       CABO BLANCO STRICT NATURE RESERVE

Cabo Blanco was Costa Rica’s first national park, and remains one of its most beautiful. Established in 1963 by a couple of Swedish immigrants, it indicated the movement towards conservation as opposed to previous development strategies of building at all costs. Private land owners and conservationists concerned with overdevelopment of the Nicoya Peninsula worked together to lobby for the creation of a national park.

Located at the southernmost point of the Nicoya Peninsula, the reserve protects over 3,000 acres of land and more than 4,000 acres of adjacent ocean. Cabo Blanco pristine dry tropical forest is famous for its biologically rich ecosystems, consisting of unique plant and animal species such as sloths, anteaters, coatis, margays, ocelots, capuchin and howler monkeys, not to mention over 150 species of trees.

PLANNING YOUR VISIT.

A limited amount of visitors are allowed to enter the park each day since the 1980’s. Policies to reduce environmental impact are in place and presently, visitors are allowed daily with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays, no camping is allowed. Only 40 visitors are allowed into the park each day, making necessary to make a reservation to ensure that you’ll be able to visit. The park does not allow vendors therefore, remember to bring water and food with you.

CENTRAL PACIFIC, CONSERVATION AREA·

CARARA NATIONAL PARK

Carara is a favorite with bird watchers for several reason besides its ease of access. Bordering the Pan-American Highway, this park is unique as the Amazonian and Mesoamerican ecosystems converge here to form a distinct biological reserve where the climates of the Pacific dry north meet the humid south coast, favoring birds from both habitats to appear.

The Carara National Park is a 5,242 hectare of protected area, elevations range from 100 to 500 meters (328-1640 feet). Named after the Huetar Indian word for crocodile, this park is home to several ecosystems such as lagoons, marshlands, and gallery forests. Some of the local animals you will see in you guided tour are monkeys, crocodiles, armadillos, peccaries, waterfowls, opossums, sloths, boas, agouti, kinkajou, tayra, margay cats, jaguars, white tail deer, ozelots as well as Scarlett macaws, jacamars and trogons.

Carara National Park is a two hour drive from San Jose along the road between Puntarenas city and Playa Jaco in Puntarenas province on the Pacific coast.

Best time to visit. March and April are the ideal months to visit as there is little to no rain. Repellents and long pants are a must to avoid being bitten by the many insects that live here. No camping is allowed in the park. There is a visitor center in the park, as well as exhibition halls and an auditorium.

·       BOCA BARRANCA BEACH- SURF

Boca barranca is Costa Rica’s second-longest wave, (Pavones being first), sometimes up to a kilometer in length. It is also considered one of the best long boarding waves in the world.

Boca Barranca has gained publicity over the years in part thanks to the annual Rabbit Kekai long board contest, which draws some of the top pros in the sport each year.

Note: Albert “Rabbit” Kekai- born in Honolulu, Mr Kekai was an American professional surfer and one of the original innovators of the modern surfing. He was a dominant master of the sport in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and was also a winner of the Peruvian and Makaha International titles. Mr Kekai passed away on May 13, 2016

Beware of crocodiles! Like most river mouths in Costa Rica, crocodiles can be a problem and care should be exercised when surfing here.

Boca Barranca is centrally located on the Pacific Coast, in the Puntarenas province. Only 1.5 hour drive from San Jose International Airport. Bordering towns of Esparza and Niramar line the mountains, a short scenic drive away. The city of Puntarenas is just 15 minutes away offering cruises, sport fishing, and sailing.

·       CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK

Located in the South Pacific area and encompassing about a third of the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is the largest of Costa Rica’s parks and is known by many as the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national park system. Travelers come to this 103,290 acres (41,800ha) of misty rainforest for its diverse wildlife.

Representing a very diverse population of flora and fauna, including 10% of the mammals found in the Americas, Corcovado Park was declared a protected area in 1975 to prevent the harvest of precious resources and it is believed to have the largest concentration of macaws and virgin lowland rainforest in Central America. It’s also one of the very few locations in Costa Rica that harbor the endangered squirrel monkey (the other most prominent park being Manuel Antonio National Park).

Corcovado is home to over 500 species of trees, making up one quarter of the tree species in Costa Rica. There are also over 6,000 species of insects, 140 species of mammals, almost 400 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 116 species of amphibians and reptiles and 40 species of fish. Some of the most frequently viewed wildlife includes anteaters, sloths, jaguars, four species of turtles, crocodiles, several species of monkeys, and sometimes with luck, a tapir.

When hiking, be aware of the tide schedule, some spots might be easy to cross during low tide but impossible during high tide. Check ahead of time with the park officials at the headquarters in Puerto Jimenez or at any of the ranger stations to get current information regarding the tide schedule.

It’s common for hikers to spend 2-3 days to get from one side of the park to the other. Camping is permitted. Hiking from one ranger station to another is a great way to experience the park and also see Corcovado Lake (Laguna Corcovado), where tapirs are known to frequently stop and get a drink. La Llorona Waterfall (Catarata La Llorona), which plummets 30m (100 ft) onto the sandy shore along the beach between Sirena and San Pedrillo, is a very popular attraction.

The best time to visit is from January through April is when rain the least. From May through December, it gets the most precipitation which can leave some of the trails unrecognizable.

Park admittance is $6 per person, per day.

The park can be accessed from Puerto Jimenez by driving 44 km (27 miles) along Hwy 245.

Be sure to bring plenty of water and food, insect repellent, sun block and good hiking shoes.

·      The Caribbean Side of Costa Rica, Limon

Southern Caribbean Travel Information
Caribbean side of Costa Rica

Climate: Rain less than in the north; Dry- January to May, Driest- September & October, Wettest-November & December, June & July Temperature: Average high 87F

MANZANILLO

The main attraction of this tiny town is its beautiful white sand beach strip,        lined with palm trees, and is bathes with the calm and gentle waters of the Caribbean Sea. The small and laid-back fishing village of Manzanillo is the last town south of the surfing paradise of Puerto Viejo.

South of the famous Cahuita National Park and a 4 hour drive from San Jose, Manzanillo is among the most scenic beaches in Costa Rica, with gorgeous weather all year round. Largely influenced by afro-Caribbean traditions and customs, Manzanillo has a unique atmosphere and culture that is all its own. This town offers a relaxed and laid-back vibe with friendly locals and some of the most delicious local cuisines.

Activities in Manzanillo: With amazing coral reel offshore, Manzanillo is the perfect tropical paradise for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, or take a “dolphin tour” off the coast and catch a glimpse of the three species of dolphins that live in the waters near Manzanillo. Other activities are fishing and hiking to Monkey Point or Punta Mona.

There are a few eco-lodges and local hotels waiting to accommodate you in Manzanillo.

·      The Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge

Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, is one the most beautiful                  and scenic sites in the country. Located about 12 km southeast of Puerto Viejo, and just south of the small village of Manzanillo, boasts sandy beaches, gentle waves, coral reefs near the surface of the sea, making this region a paradise for nature lovers and underwater enthusiasts alike.

A unique habitat, this reserve includes 10km beach strip, a 740 acre forest, a coral reef and 2 swamps. It’s also the nesting area for several species of turtles, manatees, crocodiles, caimans, tarpons and dolphins. Among many other wildlife found here are; pacas, frigate birds, woodpeckers, parakeets, eagles, pelicans, toucans and motmots. Also inhabiting the coral reek are brightly colored fish and marine life including the blue parrot fish, sea anemones, urchins, angel fish, Venus sea fans, oysters, shrimp, lobsters, sea cucumbers and sponges.

Best time to visit the refuge is between March and April and from September through October, which are considered drier months, although rain is always in the forecast.

The turtle nesting season here lasts from March through May.

  • PUERTO VIEJO

Not to be confused with Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui in Heredia, this energetic town was formerly a quiet little fishing village. Puerto Viejo is among the top rated surfing destinations in the world. Located in Limon province on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, just 34 miles southeast of Puerto Limon and only 10 miles south of Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has become increasingly popular, especially with the young hip crowd for its relaxed atmosphere and its own unique blend of Latino, Afro-Caribbean and Bri bri indigenous cultures.

Puerto Viejo has quickly become one of Costa Rica’s premier tourist hot spots with international surfers who attempt to ride the famous Salsa Brava waves. A word of caution, swimming is not advisable here since waters here have a strong rip current.

More things to love about Puerto Viejo are its stunning white-sand beaches, tropical vegetation and its proximity to national parks such as the Cahuita National Park, Talamanca Indian Reserve and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.

Activities in Puerto Viejo: Aside from surfing, there is snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, boogie boarding, horseback tours, and mountain biking.

The town of Puerto Viejo has a wide variety of bars, discos and restaurants as well as budget friendly accommodations and hotels. Additionally, it offers plenty of great shopping opportunities.

  • BEACHES: PLAYA PUNTA UVA, PLAYA PUNTA UVA ARRECIFE

These are two of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, with palm tree adorned beaches, turquoise water and soft tan sand. In between the two beaches, is a nice little sightseeing spot with a short trail. The trail itself is very easy and short, it takes 5-10 minutes walk.

Known for its calm reef, protected water and white and tan sand, these are very popular beaches.

Located 8.5km (about 5 miles) from downtown Puerto Viejo, most of the area is located within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge so there are plenty of opportunities to see monkeys, sloths, and a great variety of birds.

The area counts with a large variety of hotels and vacation homes, ranging from modest to midrange up to luxury options, including 5 luxury eco-lodge tree houses near the beach.

Activities in Play Punta Uva and Punta Uva Arrecife: Swimming here is recommended due to its calm waters, snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving, stand up paddle boarding, sightseeing walking trail.

  • CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK

Cahuita National Park is best known for the coral reefs close to shore. Cahuita was created in 1970 as a National Monument to preserve the coral reefs off the Caribbean coast. Later, the area was reformed as a national park.

As the most accessible national park in the Caribbean south of Costa Rica, with developed roads and facilities it’s not overly touristic. Cahuita is a favorite among many. It consists of 2,732 acres of land and 55,200 marine acres and was created to protect the largest coral reef in the country.

The 600 acre reef has around 35 species of coral, over 500 species of fish including French angelfish, rock beauty and blue parrotfish, mollusks, crustaceans and sea turtles. With stunning white sand beaches, a wide variety of wildlife and a well maintained walking trail, this national park is a must for anyone visiting Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

There are also a few rivers in the park so wildlife can be seen such as white face monkeys, sloths, caimans, herons, snakes and lizards.

Currently, the park relies on donations and does not charge an admission fee.

Snorkeling is not allowed without a certified guide in order to protect the remaining coral.

The Villages of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo are a mix of multicultural community of locals and ex-pats from North America and Europe. Excellent French and Italian Cuisine compliment the local spicy seafood fare and the music plays long into the night.

Getting there. You can easily go from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita by bus or driving. From Puerto Viejo it’s about 17km.

·       SLOTH SANCTUARY
Young Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) on the tree

The sanctuary is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, research and release of injured or orphan sloths. Privately owned, the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, is located near the city of Cahuita, in the Limon province, Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Guided tours of the sanctuary are offered to the public.

·       PUERTO LIMON

Commonly known as Limon, it’s the biggest city on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. This port town, is the capital city and main hub of Limon province, it’s the sixth-largest city in Costa Rica, with a population of over 55,000. Most residents here have Afro-Caribbean ancestry, so Limon often provides a culture-rich experience minus the crowded and touristy environment characteristic of some other major destinations in Costa Rica.

Part of the community traces its roots to Italian, Jamaican and Chinese laborers who worked on a late nineteenth century railroad project that connected San Jose (the capital), to Puerto Limon.

Stretching along the Caribbean Coast, Limon is considered to be one of the most pristine and lush regions of Costa Rica, offering picturesque white sand beaches lined with coconut trees along the roughly 125 miles shoreline between Nicaragua and Panama.

Limon remains as one of the least traveled regions in Costa Rica, featuring everything from mangrove wetlands to towering mountains and an endless scenic landscapes throughout the region, allowing for exploration of untouched prehistoric rainforests and unmatched beauty.

The city of Limon is home to several local museums and attractions as well as stunning architecture unique to the area. Parque Vargas is a must-see attraction, it’s filled with tropical palm trees, where sloths are often found slowly climbing between branches.

Puerto Limon contains two port terminals, Limon and Moin, which permit the shipment of Costa Rican exports as well as the anchoring of cruise ships.

Getting there. Located approximately 160km east of San Jose and 55km north of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. From San Jose, you will take the Guapiles Highway for about 2.5 hoursthe port is obviously easily accessible by boat. More likely, however, from San Jose, you will take the Guapiles Highway, which will provide with beautiful sights and landmarks, including the Brava Volcano and the Braulio Carrillo National Park. Obviously, Limon is also accessible by boat.

·       TORTUGUERO NATIONAL PARK- NORTHERN CARIBBEAN COAST

Tortuguero which means “Region of Turtles” in Spanish, is nesting ground for sea turtles every year from Mach to mid-October. Known as arribadas, the nesting period occurs when the moon is fading. The main attraction of Tortuguero National Park is the turtles. Green sea turtles (facing extinction), leatherback turtles, and Hawksbill turtles nest on the beaches here.

A great way to see the turtles nest is from a boat, canoe, or kayak off shore, so as not to disturb the turtles during their nesting or mating period. If you wish to see these turtles nest, you’d need to be accompanied by a guide as no one is allowed to explore the beach by themselves during this period.

Protecting over 22 miles of beach strip beginning from the mouth of the River Tortuguero south to Parsimina, this national park is frequented by tourists from all over the world.

Declared a national park in 1970 to protect the green turtle population of the world from extinction, this park is also a wildlife sanctuary for monkeys, jaguars, tapirs, green macaws. The park is home to around 170 species of reptiles and amphibians, about 60 species of mammals and over 300 species of birds. Both native and migratory birds can be seen here including herons, parrots, toucans, egrets, jacanas, kingfishers, trogons, anhingas, kites and hawks. Another endangered animal found here is the West Indian manatee.

·       PLAYA BONITA, LIMON

Playa Bonita is the nearest surf spot on the Caribbean coast to San Jose. Located north of Limon, this beautiful beach is very popular among the locals. The waves break over a reef on the north of the beach. According to surfers there, the best time to surf the reef break is at mid tide while for the beach break, high tide is great. Dry season (Dec-April), offers the best surfing conditions.

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