If Costa Rica could be said to have a wild, wild, west then the Nicoya Peninsula would certainly be it. Rough and ready, spectacularly beautiful and offering fun adventure’s at every turn; this is one of the country’s most jaw-dropping corners and a place well worth exploring at length. Set on two provinces (Guanacaste in the north and Puntarenas in the south), Nicoya is Costa Rica’s largest peninsulas and has received much attention on recent years to the surprising longevity of its residents.
But we know their secret.
Who on earth would not live past the age of 100 when one lives in such subliminal beauty?
Where is it?
The Nicoya Peninsula is found off Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline, north-west of San Jose, opposite Puntarenas. Taking the coastal road all the way up to the Friendship Bridge from San Jose and driving onto the peninsula is a longer yet very rewarding option, as it offers the unrivalled chance of stopping along some of the country’s most revered seaside towns on the western coast. If time is of the essence, then simply drive to Puntarenas from San Jose and take the car & passenger ferry across.
What is the Peninsula?
Endless stretches of pristine beach, eclectic mix of wet and dry rainforests, rugged hills and an abundance of wildlife. You can hike the Capo Blanco Natural Reserve, visit the Montezuma and Rio Grande waterfalls, test your surfing skills in Mal Pais and enjoy a sundowner in Santa Teresa Beach at the end of a full day’s exploration. Families can enjoy frolicking in the calm waters of Playa Tambor, honeymooners can enjoy a romantic horseback ride on Playa Organos and animal lovers can relish in a visit to the Curu National Wildlife Refuge. Here, you’ll find more than 200 different types of birds, almost 80 species of mammals, over 80 reptiles and 20-odd amphibians.
Just off the coast opposite Curu is where you’ll find one of Nicoya’s most popular highlights: Isla Tortuga. Enjoying a day-trip here at the end of a Nicoya discovery trip is incredibly rewarding. The turquoise waters off its coast are ideal for swimming; the forests perfect for hiking and the zip-line just the ticket for those who just can’t seem to get enough of Costa Rican adventure tours. SCUBA diving and snorkeling aficionados can look forward to swimming with sting rays and sharks, and jet-ski and kayak riders will also find plenty of way to fill in the hours here.
Isla Tortuga is uninhabited so visitors head here on day trips from nearby ports, like Mal Pais on Nicoya and Puntarenas on the mainland. Full-day adventures normally include transport, food and a host of extras like snorkelling, diving, banana boat rides, volleyball games, lunch and drinks. Obviously, you do get what you pay for, so make sure you know exactly what your day trip will include before booking. The great majority of the ‘cheaper options’ will simply charge extra for lunch and activities.
Two Unique Seasons
The Nicoya Peninsula experiences two distinct seasons: dry (November to May) and wet (April to October). Temperatures here range from 22C(72F) in rain season, up to 36C(97F) during dry season.
How to Get There?
Exploring this peninsula with a rental car is by far your best bet, especially if you’re the adventurous type who loves nothing more than unpaved roads. Public transport here is still very limited, so unless you’re happy to stick to coastal hubs (where everyone else will be) consider this a most spectacular self-drive destination in Costa Rica. The most rewarding parts of the peninsula are inland, where you’ll meet just a few friendly locals riding ox-carts and very few visitors. If traveling here during wet season, note that there is only one road, connecting the whole peninsula along the eastern seaboard, which is open all year round. The roads on Nicoya are notorious and renowned as ‘the worst in Costa Rica’ so prepare for a wild but unforgettable ride (4×4’s are the best vehicles to take). Take your time and keep safe and you’ll be just fine.
Ferries from Puntarenas take visitors to either Paquera in the north, or Naranjo in the south, and run about six times a day. Passenger ferry tickets cost just $1,70 USD per person and vehicle tickets should set you back about $24 USD.