SOUTH PACIFIC

South Pacific

Capitan Suizo Hotel

The Southern Pacific region of Costa Rica is a wild tropical paradise filled with wildlife and lush vegetation. From charming secluded beaches to famous ecotourism destinations, Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. The climate is warm, tropical, and rainy throughout the year, and the forests of the Southern Pacific are some of the most abundant in the country.

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Stretching from Dominical south along the Pacific coast and eastward through the rugged Talamanca Cordillera to the border with Panama, the region encompasses such famous sites as the Costa Ballena, Marino Ballena National Park, Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park, Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, Golfo Dulce, La Amistad International Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Mount Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak. The beaches of the Southern Pacific Coast are some of the most pristine in the world and include legendary surf spots like Pavones, Zancudo, Dominical, and Matapalo.

Staying at Hotel Capitán Suizo on Tamarindo Beach

The remote and untouched Osa Peninsula is home to the vast Corcovado National Park, named by National Geographic as the «biologically most intense place on Earth.» Encompassing 108,100 hectares, nearly a third of the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is a stunning destination for adventure travelers who come to experience the pristine lowland jungle and diverse wildlife residing within the park boundaries. Approximately 10 percent of all mammal species found throughout the Americas live in Corcovado, and it’s home to the largest gathering of scarlet macaws in the country.

The list of things to do in the South Pacific is extensive: hiking, multi-day trekking and camping, mountain climbing up to the summit of Mount Chirripó, cultural visits to indigenous reserves, whale and dolphin watching tours, exploring mangrove estuaries by boat or kayak, sport fishing, surfing, diving and snorkeling, sea kayaking, swimming, and beach time.

You can reach the South Pacific by traveling along Highway 34, which runs along the scenic Pacific Coast, or crossing the Talamanca Mountain Range from the Central Valley. There are domestic airports in Palmar Sur, Puerto Jiménez, and Golfito for domestic flights.

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MAIN PLACES OF THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC

Marine Whale National Map

«Whale» means «ballena» in Spanish; the marine national park is named after the humpback whales that visit these shallow, warm coastal waters twice a year to breed and give birth to their calves. Humpback whales are an endangered species and are protected internationally. The two humpback whale populations from the northern and southern hemispheres migrate to the tropical waters of Costa Rica – from December to April from Alaska, and between August and November from Antarctica. Humpback whales are considered the «acrobats of the sea,» and since they swim slowly and live at the ocean’s surface, they are perfect stars for whale-watching trips. Located 13 km south of Dominical, on the Costa Ballena (Whale Coast), the Marino Ballena National Park also protects the largest coral reef on the Pacific side of Central America. The park’s dark sand beaches are pristine, wide, and uncrowded. In addition to the humpback whale, the park’s rich jade waters are home to large populations of dolphins, seabirds, and sea turtles. Scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and sailing are very popular here.

The Uvita Mangroves

«Uvita Beach (Playa) is located within the Marino Ballena National Park. One of its finest features is its beautiful landscape with estuaries and mangroves that are home to various species of seabirds, such as the Blue Heron, White Ibis, and Osprey.»

Whale Island

«Located 3 km off the coast in the Marino Ballena National Park, boat tours will take you to the island for great diving, snorkeling, and swimming.»

Chirripó National Park

Remote, wild, and scenic, Chirripó National Park is home to the highest mountain in Costa Rica, and the second highest in Central America – Mt. Chirripó – standing an imposing 3,820 meters tall. From the summit on a clear day, you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Costa Rica. Trails throughout the 50,150-hectare (123,923-acre) park test the hiking abilities of the most adventurous. While no real technical climbing experience is required to reach the summit of Mt. Chirripó, it is still a tough climb and endurance test, given the unpredictable weather that can be encountered here. Often shrouded in clouds, Chirripó can be one of the coldest places in the country; the lowest temperature ever recorded in Costa Rica, -9°C, was here. The park’s rugged and fascinating landscape is composed of primary forest and cloud forest up to about 2,740 meters, when it changes to alpine tundra swept by tropical winds. There is visual evidence that glaciers and volcanic activity carved many of the U-shaped valleys, lakes, and long rock formations. The most popular time to visit Chirripó is from December to May, during the dry season. Campsites are available at the upper base station Los Crestones but must be reserved in advance. Hikers should carry enough food and water, as well as camping supplies, for their entire trip, which typically takes two to three days to complete. Porters are available for hire to bring your supplies to the base station. Much of the park’s terrain is unexplored, and it is not recommended to hike without a guide. Chirripó National Park only allows 60 visitors on the trail at once, so reservations are essential.

La Amistad National Park

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the La Amistad International Park is a shared reserve protecting territories belonging to both Costa Rica and Panama. The park covers 400,900 hectares between the two countries’ mountainous territories and is considered the most extensive tropical forest in Costa Rica. With an impressive variety of ecosystems, including cloud forest, lowland tropical rainforest, glacial origin lakes, alpine meadows, and oak forests, La Amistad National Park hosts a highly diverse flora and fauna. It is estimated that two-thirds of all wildlife species residing in Costa Rica can be found here, including over 500 types of birds.

Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands

The Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands are home to some of the world’s largest mangrove trees in the largest mangrove reserve in Latin America. Acclaimed for its rich biodiversity, the 27,066-hectare reserve protects a substantial array of wildlife, including turtles, roseate spoonbills, crocodiles, monkeys, herons, kingfishers, caimans, and frogs. A unique project in Costa Rica involves the sustainable use of 200 hectares of forest, employing both traditional and modern techniques to generate income from the mangroves while ensuring the ecosystem’s survival.

Sierpe

Located along the broad, meandering Sierpe River, the quaint village of Sierpe is approximately 15 km south of Palmar Sur. Sierpe serves as the main access point to reach Bahía Drake, Caño Island, and the northern tip of Corcovado National Park and the Osa Peninsula. A picturesque settlement on the tidal river, Sierpe boasts numerous commercial services, luxury and budget hotels, and eco-friendly accommodations. It is also the gateway to the Térraba-Sierpe Wetlands National Park.

Caño Island Biological Reserve

Located in the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, 20 km off the coast of the Osa Peninsula in Drake Bay, the 300-hectare Caño Island is an incredible marine biological reserve in Costa Rica. It is best known for its spectacular offshore diving and snorkeling. The island’s crystal-clear blue waters offer fantastic underwater visibility, allowing you to clearly see sea turtles, dolphins, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracudas, large schools of fish, a variety of sharks, and humpback and pilot whales during the migration season. Caño Island is also an important archaeological site – several hand-carved, perfectly spherical stones have been found on the island that could be markers of a tomb from a pre-Columbian indigenous tribe. Pirates used the island as a safe haven during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Corcovado National Park

Exotic and wild, and mostly untouched due to its isolation and inaccessibility, Corcovado National Park protects 43,735 hectares on the Osa Peninsula of shallow lagoons, swamps, mangroves, rivers, tropical rainforests, and low-altitude cloud forests, as well as 46 km of sandy coastline. It is one of the most unique ecosystems in Central America, attracting naturalists from around the world who come to study its vast territory. In Corcovado, you can experience the biological diversity of one of the last remaining pristine natural areas, and the largest tract remaining of the tropical Pacific Wet Forest in Central America. Its trees are comparable in grandeur to those of the Amazon basin. In the park, 140 classes of mammals, 400 bird species, 117 reptile and amphibian species, 40 types of freshwater fish, 6,000 different insects, 220 types of butterflies, and 750 tree species coexist. Some of the most commonly seen species include jaguars, tapirs, many species of snakes, four types of sea turtles, anteaters, sloths, crocodiles, poison dart frogs, and four species of monkeys. In addition to Manuel Antonio, Corcovado National Park is one of the only other areas in Costa Rica where the endangered squirrel monkey is found. It also has the largest concentration of scarlet macaws in the country. The park’s trail system is extensive, and it usually takes hikers two to three days to walk from one side to the other; Corcovado allows camping.

Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve

Serving as a biological corridor between Corcovado and Piedras Blancas National Parks, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve is an incredible place to observe nature in its most pristine form. Its 70,000 hectares protect forests, rivers, mangrove estuaries, and strips of sand along the spectacular Golfo Dulce (Sweet Gulf).

Piedras Blancas National Park

Along with Corcovado National Park and the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, Piedras Blancas National Park forms an important biological corridor that protects a wide variety of flora and fauna species along the Golfo Dulce. The park’s 14,000 hectares are home to rugged mountains, the Esquinas and Piedras Blancas rivers, and the remaining lowland tropical forest of the Golfo Dulce area, which provides habitat for the increasingly rare jaguar.

Golfito Wildlife Refuge

The 1,309 hectares of Golfito National Wildlife Refuge nearly surround the city of Golfito and protect the community’s water supply. It borders Piedras Blancas National Park to the north and is part of the Osa Conservation Area.

Golfito

Golfito is the only city in Costa Rica located within a protected area. Situated in a small bay on the Golfo Dulce, the port city of Golfito stretches along the waterfront and features the architectural highlight of tropical wooden houses from the United Fruit Company era. In the 1950s, 90 percent of Costa Rica’s bananas came from Golfito. The city boasts commercial and tourist services, a hospital, domestic airport, boat dock, and public utilities. Several tourism companies offer accommodation and tours in the area. Another highlight is the duty-free shopping center in the city center, where various tax-free products can be purchased. Golfito serves as the gateway to visit other coastal communities such as Puerto Jiménez, Zancudo, and Pavones, and to explore the Golfo Dulce and its beaches.

Las Tablas - Protected Area

As part of La Amistad National Park, the Las Tablas Protected Area is also part of the UNESCO-declared La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. Located near the town of San Vito, its 19,602 hectares cover the upper basins of the Cotón, Coto Brus, and Negro rivers. Six species of felines identified in Costa Rica, howler monkeys, spider and white-faced monkeys, as well as coatis and sloths, are protected here.

Las Cruces Biological Station

The main attraction of Las Cruces Biological Station is the Wilson Botanical Garden, which encompasses approximately 8 hectares of beautiful tropical and subtropical ornamental plants, as well as lesser-known and endangered plant species from Costa Rica and elsewhere. It is a specially equipped place for education and scientific research.

Southern Pacific Stone Spheres

«The mysterious stone spheres of Costa Rica are only found in the southern Pacific region of the country, and they are unique in the world. Relics from indigenous times to pre-Columbian eras, their sizes range from a few centimeters to 2.5 meters in diameter; some depict figures of humans or animals from the area.»

The Indigenous Reserves

The Southern Pacific of Costa Rica is home to several indigenous groups, including the Cabécares, Guaymíes, and Borucas. You can visit several reserves; however, some of them have maintained their traditions. An exception is the Borucas, an indigenous tribe that successfully fought off the Spanish conquistadors in the 15th century. Their large reserve is near the town of Buenos Aires, stretching into the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains along the Térraba River. Boruca crafts are famous in Costa Rica and include fantastic masks made of balsa or cedar wood, expertly woven textiles, and musical instruments such as drums, maracas, and flutes. In the indigenous villages of Boruca and Rey Curré, you can buy this type of traditional craftsmanship. These villages maintain their native language and host traditional ceremonies, such as the annual «Festival of the Little Devils» (Festival de los Diablitos) on New Year’s.

Indio Stone - Archaeological Site

«This site reveals a petroglyph representing a ‘rock leaf’ detailing the Talamanca Mountain Range with its various relief forms; it’s a historic national heritage site located in the town of Piedra del Indio.»

General River

Starting in Chirripó National Park and flowing into the Pacific Ocean, the Térraba River generally becomes the Grande River and is the longest (196 km) and one of the largest rivers in Costa Rica. In some areas, white water rafting is offered on the river rapids.

MAIN BEACHES OF THE SOUTHERN PACIFIC

Dominical Beach

Known for its strong waves ideal for surfing and exotic dark sand beaches, Dominical is also popular for camping. The town has a wide variety of tourist and commercial services.

Dominicalito Beach

Just south of Dominical, Playa Dominicalito is a small beach with moderate waves, making it suitable for swimming and other water activities. Towards its southern end lies Punta Dominical, covered in lush tropical jungle. The beach is known for its spectacular sunsets.

Hermosa Beach

This beach and the neighboring Uvita Beach are joined by the Uvita Point in the shape of a V, forming a long, narrow isthmus of sand resembling an anchor or a whale’s tail. Playa Hermosa is a good surfing beach.

Uvita Beach

This is one of the most beautiful beaches on the South Pacific Coast. Its waves are moderate and safe for swimming. Playa Uvita has wetlands and mangroves at its northern end and is an ideal beach for walking and horseback riding. Playa Uvita is located within the Marino Ballena National Park.

Uvita Point

Punta Uvita forms a long, narrow sandy isthmus in the shape of a «whale’s tail,» which marks the beginning of the Marino Ballena National Park. It’s very popular for walking during low tide; however, it completely disappears during high tide, so be mindful of tide times. The tip of the «tail» is volcanic rock reef, and different types of crabs, fish, mollusks, and algae can be observed in the rocky tide pool area. The sheltered waters in the curved isthmus are excellent for swimming during low tide, especially for children.

Piñuela Beach

Located in a small and beautiful cove, the waves at Playa Piñuela are moderate and safe for swimming, especially at its southern end.

Ballena Beach

Located in the protected bay of Marino Ballena National Park, Playa Ballena features small waves and fine sand. The coastline landscape here is very picturesque; Isla Ballena can be seen near the shore. The waters of the National Park are frequented by humpback whales from August to October and from December to April each year.

Ventanas Beach

This beach is small, but it boasts a very beautiful landscape. It is named «Windows» because at its northern end, there is a rocky promontory with caves and arched openings through which the sea passes like a window; the area can be explored at low tide. Sea kayaking excursions are very popular here.

Garza Beach

Located south of Boca Brava, the waves at Playa Garza are excellent for experienced surfing. This beach is generally not suitable for swimming.

Drake Bay - San Josecito Beach

Comprising rocky areas and coves of great scenic beauty, Drake Bay features very humid tropical rainforest due to its frequent precipitation and rich biodiversity. Drake Bay is the starting point for sport fishing excursions, diving/snorkeling trips to Caño Island, and boat rides to reach Corcovado National Park. Long beach walks and horseback rides are very popular here, especially at San Josecito Beach at the southern end of the bay. Every year in February, the community celebrates the arrival of the famous British explorer Sir Francis Drake, after whom the bay is named.

Matapalo Beach

Located at the tip of the Osa Peninsula, Cabo Matapalo is one of the most remote and beautiful areas of Costa Rica. Beaches like Matapalo and «Backwash» are famous for their large surf waves. Some of the strongest and biggest waves roll in at break points over a rocky bottom and should only be attempted by experienced surfers. Another beach known as Pan Dulce has much smaller and gentler waves breaking on the beach, providing beginning surfers a safe place to learn. With its proximity to Corcovado National Park, the area is very scenic with a lush tropical rainforest ecosystem that is home to birds, monkeys, and other animals. Waterfalls are plentiful.

Platanares Beach

This spacious and pleasant beach features coastal vegetation and mangroves at the mouth of the Platanares River, near the town of Puerto Jiménez. It’s an excellent spot for sunbathing and enjoying the sea.

Blanca Beach

This beach is located inside the Golfo Dulce, surrounded by mountains with evergreen forests. With moderate waves, Playa Blanca is a tranquil place of great scenic beauty.

Pavones Beach

A picturesque beach stretching 1.5 kilometers in length, Pavones is located about 15 km south of Playa Zancudo. Pavones is the perfect destination for surfers looking to catch some of the world’s best longest waves. Pavones is famous for its long left-hand break, especially during Costa Rica’s rainy season (April to October) when the waves reach their peak. The waves here allow serious surfers on a good day to ride the waves for over three minutes at a time. Situated at the mouth of the Golfo Dulce, Pavones is the last sizable town along the Pacific before the border with Panama.

Cacao Beach

This small beach is located 2 km from Golfito, and the most convenient way to get there is by small boats (called «pangas» in Spanish). Playa del Cacao has very little waves, making it safe for swimming, and lush vegetation. You can walk from here on trails to observe the flora and fauna. From this beach, you can see the city of Golfito.

Zancudo Beach

Playa Zancudo is a beautiful black sand beach located 20 km south of Golfito that is famous among surfers. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing vacation, with pristine scenery and a completely natural environment. Stretching 6 kilometers in length, the fine sandy beach and moderate waves feature a beautiful mangrove estuary, and tropical vegetation with rows of coconut palms. Here, the Pacific Ocean is your playground for water sports such as surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, kayaking, whale and dolphin watching tours, or boat excursions through the mangrove estuary. For land lovers, you can horseback ride along the beach or hike trails near the estuary and river. Due to Playa Zancudo’s popularity among surfers, accommodations are affordable and the atmosphere is very laid-back with locals. The best way to get to Playa Zancudo is by taxi boat from Golfito.

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