NORTH PACIFIC

North Pacific

Islands of the Gulf of Nicoya and Monteverde

The province of Puntarenas is the largest and one of the most important tourist regions in Costa Rica. It includes islands, coves, beaches, and natural treasures of great beauty. Its sun and beach destinations are complemented by unique protected forest areas. The city of Puntarenas is not only a place to visit but also a starting point for the southern Nicoya Peninsula, the Gulf of Nicoya, and its islands. Puntarenas is very close to the Central Valley – about 120 km (90 minutes) from the capital city of San José.

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The southern Nicoya Peninsula is full of natural beauty and offers exquisite frontline beaches. The rugged and mountainous landscape of the peninsula has an isolating effect on many of the small towns and beaches along the region’s coast, adding to their unique charm. The main attractions are the beaches of Santa Teresa, Mal País, Montezuma, and Tambor, the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, the islands of San Lucas, Chira, and Tortuga, and the very remote and exotic Coco Island.

Hotel Capitán Suizo is located in Playa Tamarindo.

The community of Monteverde, located in the northern highlands of Puntarenas, is an important region both nationally and internationally, as it is known worldwide for its conservation efforts and a lifestyle dedicated to respecting nature. At 1,440 meters above sea level, the misty, verdant mountains and prehistoric-looking cloud forests have made the mountaintop paradise of Monteverde a preferred hotspot for ecotourism in Costa Rica. Its main attraction is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, with its unique cloud canopy covering eight distinct biological zones, and with trails for observing flora and fauna. Birdwatching is especially spectacular to see species such as the Quetzal, Three-wattled Bellbird, trogons, toucans, and guans.

The main activities that can be done in North Puntarenas include: sun and beach time, surfing, photography, boat tours through mangroves, boat tours to see dolphins and seabirds, fishing, historical and cultural tours, visiting butterfly gardens, birdwatching, recreational cycling, hiking, horseback riding, and community-based rural tourism services.

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MAIN ATTRACTIONS IN NORTHERN PUNTARENAS

Puntarenas

The city and port of Puntarenas are a significant center for recreation and tourism in Costa Rica. There is a newly remodeled terminal for cruises, and support for maritime services to the south of the Nicoya Peninsula. In Puntarenas, tours can be arranged to visit the islands of the Gulf of Nicoya and mangroves in the estuary of Puntarenas. Puntarenas is known for its fresh seafood. Additionally, several buildings of historical interest and value can be visited.

Paseo de los Turistas

A lively and attractive port city, perhaps one of Puntarenas’ most interesting features is the “Paseo de los Turistas,” a tree-lined promenade adjacent to the beach. This promenade turns into a colorful street festival on weekends, as people from all over come to the popular restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, bars, and hotels found here. It runs parallel to Puntarenas’ main beach. In the immediate area of the cruise ship dock are kiosks selling handicrafts, and traditional beach desserts such as fruit salads with ice cream, and sweet frozen treats called “Churchill.” Near this area, you can find other facilities such as tennis courts, parks, showers, and bathrooms – everything you need to enjoy the beach.

Puntarenas Carnival

Float parades, seaside concerts, and many other recreational activities create a fun atmosphere for sharing the local culture of the Puntarenas community. Carnivals are scheduled during the month of February when it’s the dry season and ideal for enjoying the beach and events.

Nicoya Gulf Biological Reserves of Guayabo, Negritos, and Bird Island

Part of the Tempisque Conservation Area, this reserve encompasses the uninhabited islands of Guayabo, Negritos, and Pájaros, all of which are significant sites for migratory birds. Guayabo Island, in particular, is one of the largest nesting areas for brown pelicans in Costa Rica. Boobies, magnificent frigatebirds, falcons, and peregrine falcons are also common visitors here.

Turtle Island Biological Reserve

Turtle Island is the epitome of a tropical island paradise near the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in the warm, shallow waters of the Gulf of Nicoya. There are no hotels or other tourist services on Turtle Island, so you can enjoy it in its purest state. You can relax under the shade of coconut palms or sunbathe on bright white sandy beaches. Water activities such as kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling in the crystal-clear turquoise waters are very popular, or you can try a canopy tour. Several tour operators offer daily tours to Turtle Island from Puntarenas, Montezuma, and Herradura.

Absolute Nature Reserve Cabo Blanco

The oldest protected area in Costa Rica, Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was established in 1963 by a pioneering Scandinavian couple, Olof Wessberg and Karen Morgenson. Located at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve spans 1,172 hectares of tropical dry forest, crystal-clear waters, and lowlands of the Pacific. It’s a stunning area, with pristine beaches that can be visited via scenic trails. At the tip of the Peninsula, 2 km off the coast, lies Cabo Blanco Island – a rocky, white pinnacle where many magnificent frigatebirds, brown pelicans, and brown boobies can be observed.

San Lucas Island - Wildlife Refuge

he 1,156-acre San Lucas Island, once the site of the most formidable prison in Costa Rica, was declared a national wildlife refuge in 2001. It is one of the two islands in the Gulf of Nicoya with natural freshwater, which has attracted a wide variety of wildlife, such as howler monkeys, snakes, deer, pheasants, and at least eight species of bats. The old prison buildings are considered cultural heritage sites, which can be seen on a tour along with several ancient indigenous archaeological excavations.

Curú - Wildlife Refuge

The privately-owned Curú Wildlife Refuge protects dry tropical forests, beaches, mangroves, estuaries, and rivers in the southern Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, dating back to the barrel and close. It is one of the smallest sanctuaries in Costa Rica, covering just 84 hectares, but it is home to a rich and varied wildlife population spread across more than five ecological habitats. Guided walks along the refuge’s trails are a highlight of any visit to the Nicoya Peninsula.

Isla del Coco National Park

The province of Puntarenas in Costa Rica also contains the famous Isla del Coco (Cocos Island), a remote tropical island located 480 km off the coast that is protected as a national park. Considered «the most beautiful island in the world» by the famous oceanographer, Jacques Cousteau, who visited here several times, Isla del Coco is the ideal destination for divers and marine biologists, or simply if you appreciate the magnificence of nature. The island hosts almost 24 km2 of pristine natural wilderness on land, and nearly 200 km2 of protected marine ecosystem. More than 1,000 species of plants, animals, and insects, many of which are endemic to the area, have been discovered on Isla del Coco. Lush vegetation, beautiful waterfalls, colonies of migratory birds, abundant marine life, and extraordinary terrestrial and marine landscapes are some of Coco’s exclusive attractions. A trip to Isla del Coco is perfect for avid divers who wish to admire the schools of manta rays, whale sharks, and hammerhead sharks that frequent Coco’s beautiful waters. Diverse ecosystems and microclimates provide numerous ecological niches to allow for high endemism among plants, reptiles, spiders, birds, crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. The island’s contribution to scientific research on evolution and ecosystems is of great value to humanity and has been declared a World Heritage Site. Due to its status as a pristine national park, fishing and camping are prohibited. The non-profit organization Friends of Cocos Island Foundation (FAICO) is responsible for its care. Isla del Coco can only be reached by sea on a journey of around 36 hours that starts from the port of Puntarenas. Tours of 10 to 14 days are organized on live-aboard boats.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is a major ecotourism destination that attracts scientists, birdwatchers, and nature lovers from around the world. Within the 10,522-hectare reserve, you can explore the virgin cloud forest and tall ancient trees on well-maintained trails. A notable site is the viewpoint that is crossed by the Central Mountain Range; from here on a clear day, you can see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Monteverde Reserve is also one of the few remaining habitats in Costa Rica for the endangered Quetzal, along with 420 species of orchids, 200 types of ferns, 400 types of birds, 100 mammals, and 1,200 different amphibians and reptiles. With its mist, creeping clouds, and giant ferns creating a surreal environment, Monteverde Reserve is considered one of the most exceptional wildlife sanctuaries in the New World tropics.

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

The magnificent Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve spans 310 hectares and is located slightly above the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, yet it receives fewer visitors. It’s a charming and magical place with abundant hanging vines, epiphytes, and mosses seemingly covering every inch of the trees, exotic bird calls echoing through the canopy, and small mammals running across the forest floor. There’s a viewpoint along one of the trails where you can see the Arenal Volcano, provided the sky is clear. Proceeds from the entrance fees go towards managing the reserve and helping to improve the nearby community of Santa Elena.

Bajo del Tigre Trail

Part of the Monteverde Reserve, Bajo del Tigre (Below the Tiger) offers a 3.5 km trail system to enjoy the flora and fauna of the area. There are viewpoints with excellent views of the Gulf of Nicoya. Common wildlife seen here includes white-faced capuchin monkeys, armadillos, agoutis, and a wide diversity of butterflies, toads, and birds. These trails are particularly suitable for families; there is an information center, a shop, and various environmental activities. Guided «Twilight Walks» are also conducted here to see nocturnal birds, insects, and mammals.

Children's Eternal Forest

In 1987, the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL), an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of tropical ecosystems and their biodiversity, embarked on an innovative land acquisition program. Money was raised by Swedish students to purchase and protect threatened land in the Monteverde area. Since then, the MCL has worked with other organizations in more than 40 countries to help form what is now Costa Rica’s largest private reserve, the BEN. The reserve is crossed by the Central Mountain Range, spanning 22,500 hectares of primary and secondary forest, as well as several reforested areas.

MAIN BEACHES OF NORTHERN PUNTARENAS

Puntarenas Beaches

The beaches of Puntarenas stretch parallel to the Paseo de los Turistas, sitio de numerosos hoteles, restaurantes, bares y otros servicios turísticos. Además de la natación, se puede disfrutar de otros deportes acuáticos y actividades como paseos en bote.

Beaches of Caldera and Mata de Limón

This area features an estuary that can be explored by boat to observe the flora and fauna in the mangrove forest.

Doña Ana Beach

Located about 10 km south of Puntarenas, the beaches of Doña Ana are a paradise for surfers. Site of an annual surfing competition, the rocky coves and strong currents attract surfers from around the world. But be aware that the strong currents are very powerful, and the beach is recommended for experienced surfers.

Tivives Beach

This beach has strong waves, popular among surfers. The beach is large and there are mangroves; it’s ideal for hiking, horseback riding, and sunbathing.

Gigante Beach

Well named «Gigante Beach,» the wide Gigante Beach boasts abundant vegetation and small waves. Here, you can walk, horseback ride, and enjoy the flora and fauna.

Curú Beach

These perfect white sand beaches, coastal forest, and mangrove forest are part of the Curú Wildlife Refuge. You can enjoy guided walks along the refuge’s 17 trails, swim in the calm waters of the Gulf of Nicoya, and relax in the shade of tropical coconut trees. Wildlife in the refuge includes howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, raccoons, and many other animals.

Tambor Beach

Located near the Curú Wildlife Refuge, Tambor is a beautiful sandy beach with always calm waters ideal for swimming, kayaking, diving, and other water sports. Hiking and horseback riding are also very popular here. Tambor offers a variety of tourist services from budget to all-inclusive luxury accommodations. You can find a wide range of recreational activities in Tambor: Golf, tennis, sport fishing, diving tours, kayaking, boat rides, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking.

Pochote Beach

It’s a small rocky cove with lush vegetation and scenic beauty, Playa Pochote is excellent for hiking and enjoying the sea and sun.

Montezuma Beach

Near the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma is a popular destination for young travelers who enjoy the laid-back beach town atmosphere. The coastline is very beautiful, with sandy beaches combined with rocky areas and tide pools. There is abundant vegetation that is home to many types of animals such as howler monkeys and numerous birds. In Montezuma, you can enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, fishing tours, surfing, snorkeling, excellent restaurants, and live entertainment at night. Just outside the town is a 20-meter-high waterfall, accessed by a beautiful walk through the rainforest, with a large pool popular for swimming.

Mal País Beach

On the western side of the Nicoya Peninsula’s tip lies the small beachfront village of Mal País. It’s a surfer’s paradise, with consistent and exceptional waves throughout the year. Located 6.5 km north of the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve, Mal País is an excellent place to enjoy the incredible natural surroundings in peace and tranquility. Popular activities include surfing, horseback riding on the beach, snorkeling and diving, fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, and watching spectacular sunsets over the Pacific.

Carmen Beach

Nestled between Mal País and Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen is an excellent surfing spot. It’s less rocky than Mal País with foamy light beige sand. There are many luxury hotels and budget bungalows along this stretch of beach. Sunsets, as in Mal País and Santa Teresa, are sensational.

Santa Teresa Beach

The long, undulating beach of Santa Teresa is one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. Light beige, white, and gray sand with crushed shells and sea glass, interspersed with rocky tidal pools. Coconut palms and Pacific almond trees provide soothing shade from the hot sun. Santa Teresa is one of the premier surf beaches in all of Costa Rica. Other favorite activities include sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, horseback riding, fishing tours, canopy zip lines, mountain biking, long beach walks, and relaxing in hammocks. The town of Santa Teresa is quite cosmopolitan, with many different nationalities residing here and operating restaurants, shops, and hotels.

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In North Puntarenas and Monteverde