Gulf of Nicoya Peninsula

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Malpais/Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen

I’m not really sure why such a relatively small area has three different names, but it does, so let me see if I can explain it. Most people enter the area coming from Cobano, which is the main road into the Malpais/Santa Teresa area. After descending a fairly rough and steep road (4-wheel drive is highly recommended for this area), it forms a ‘T,’ and you either go left or right. This entrance is basically referred to as, ‘Franks Place,’ because ‘Frank’ obviously owns quite a bit of businesses on both sides of the road if his name is any indication.

If you take a left, you are basically going into the Malpais area. Malpais is NOT a town per se, but an area of spread out hotels, resorts and restaurants. The beaches are more rocky and remote and there’s no real surfing in this area, but the coastline is beautiful and a perfect place if you don’t want many people around in order to enjoy the solitude. If you happen to book a hotel in this area, you could have quite a long and dusty walk into the main surfing beach (Playa Carmen), and the town itself. Santa Teresa is the right at the ‘T,’ and is basically the ‘town,’ but you really can’t call it a town. It seems to be more of a conglomeration of shanty’s or simple structures made into little sodas, restaurants, surf shops and tour offices- they just happen to be close to each other. In Santa Teresa you will find most of the disco’s, bars and nightlife scene. There are plenty of resorts, hotels and services that become more remote as you venture out of town. Now to confuse even more, Playa Carmen, which is the main beach and directly in front of the ‘T,’ began as merely the name of the beach, but is now becoming its own little town and is situated smack between what is loosely Malpais and Santa Teresa. Playa Carmen basically starts at ‘Franks Place,’ and goes to the right, where it stops, I’m not really sure. The only major information you need to know is that if you book a room in Malpais, you’re basically a nice little walk away from the ‘town,’ and if you book somewhere in Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen, you’re pretty much in
the middle of things. In the Malpais/Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen area you can either be beach side or book various B&B’s and hotels that are situated on a steep hill, but offer a spectacular ocean view of the entire area.

This area is a huge surfing destination. Laid back, chill and offering a cool vibe, surfer/hippie types come from all over to enjoy the breaks as well as the atmosphere in general and you won’t be seeing and grand tour buses rolling down the dusty road with the older generation coming into town for a visit. There are other activities to enjoy here as well, but make no mistake, this area is mainly for surfers and sport fisherman or people that want to have some quite time in the more remote parts of the area.

The nightlife is also a great party, filled with grooves and dance beats that could have anyone dancing into the wee hours, and if you’re looking for something other than alcohol, then that’s probably available as well.

Don’t forget to visit Montezuma only about an hour away and here’s a helpful hint, you don’t have to go back up through Cobano to get to Montezuma, ask a local, he’ll show you the back way and it’s pretty easy and much more scenic.


In many ways Montezuma feels like the end of the line, but this charming little beach, is nestled on the eastern shore of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, down dusty roads that lead to ridges covered with tropical dry forest combined with contrasting green terraces etched out by rivers and tides. It is a coastline of whitish sand speckled with rocky peninsulas and protected by ancient cliffs formed some 80 million years ago. Unlike many other parts of Costa Rica, Montezuma has been largely untouched by commercial development and therefore is a beach lover’s paradise.

Dramatically located at the bottom of a plateau overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Montezuma has an enticing quality that goes far beyond its spectacular setting. With a strong emphasis on an eco-conscience mindset while maintaining a laid back lifestyle,

Montezuma has been a popular destination for hippies, new-agers, and eco-tourists. Not surprising since Montezuma has long been a haven for alternative thinkers. Without a doubt, this little cove town is among the best places for camping, relaxing and enjoying the wilderness.

Montezuma is known for providing very economical accommodations to its visitors. It also caters to the health conscience crowd as there are several health-food cafes throughout the town. Montezuma sustains a strong healthy bond between its culture and
Beautiful beaches and spectacular waterfalls all make Montezuma a must see.
Beautiful beaches and spectacular waterfalls all make Montezuma a must see.

Just north of Montezuma, is a large pristine sandy white beach and if one continues north along the beach, you will eventually discover a spectacular waterfall protruding from the rainforest emptying into the ocean. The first couple of rocky bays north have strong currents, but Playa Grande is ideal for swimming. To the south are beaches with surf crashing against volcanic rock and just a short walk away, another waterfall with a pool for swimming. It seems almost anywhere in Montezuma small streams flow down from the hills, forming waterfalls and pools, ideal spots to escape the intense heat of the summer. Speaking of waterfalls, they are not to be missed, so make the hike. Many people do some cliff jumping off the waterfalls- we'll let you make your own decisions. The rivers and streams crisscross the wide beach, which extends eastward to the solitary and beautiful Cocal, Cocalito and Quizales Beaches, and westward to the Cabo Blanco Strict Nature Reserve. All these sites possess very special features and can be explored on foot, mainly at low tide.

Montezuma has a mix of bars and restaurants that cater to all your nightlife needs. There’s even a disco south of town if you’re up for drinking and dancing the night away.

Don’t wait to visit Montezuma. This area is still relatively unspoiled by the interests of major commercial developers, but as you can imagine, the ever-present pressure to develop the land is an on-going, never-ending battle and who’s to say what the future may hold. The beachside community of Montezuma has a unique combination of culture and natural setting that should not be missed.


Playa Samara is a long, broad beach nestled on a curved horseshoe-shape bay, which affords an excellent view of its scenic beauty. Samara is approximately 5 kms. long and lies on the coast of the Nicoya Canton, just a little south of the peninsula, between hills, streams, rivers and cliffs formed of sedimentary rocks that are over 80 million years old. Many areas on the Pacific coast can have some serious surf, but here in Samara the water is usually calm and perfect for swimming. The reason the swimming is ideal is because an offshore island and rocky headlands break up most of the surf before reaching the beach. So, for those in search of a seaside getaway with white sandy beaches and protection from gigantic waves or dangerous under tow currents- Samara is the place for you.

Playa Samara is popular with both Tico families looking for a quick getaway and with young Ticos looking to do some serious partying; so weekends, in particular, can get rather crowded and somewhat rowdy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. That being said, Samara, with its calm waters, steep, and picturesque cliffs make this a very alluring, and attractive destination. Luckily, the
beach is so long, the crowds are normally will displaced and if you’re looking for some more secluded spots you can always drive along the rugged coastal road in either direction and discover some other spectacular and isolated beaches.

Playa Samara is easily accessible via a paved road the entire way to and from San Jose and also offers a wide variety of services and accommodations. For adventurers, there is nothing like an escape to the Isla Chora that is located within the bay itself and is ideal for snorkeling, kayaking, or enjoying a sunset.

Nosara and surrounding Area

Playa Guiones is one of Costa Rica's most reliable beach breaks, and the surfing boom had led to a similar boom in Nosara.
Playa Guiones is one of Costa Rica's most reliable beach breaks, and the surfing boom had led to a similar boom in Nosara.

When I say Playa Nosara, I also mean Playa Guiones, Playa Pelada, Playa Garza, and Playa Ostional. Actually the town of Nosara is 3 miles inland from the beach.

Nosara isn’t like Montezuma or Samara, there isn’t much of a town here and most of the development is going on closer to the beach. Although Nosara may have a little no-nothing town right now, the beaches deserve all the recognition they get- they’re stunningly beautiful and basically the dividing line between the dry northern Nicoya and the more fertile green beaches to the south.

People are drawn to the Nosara area for its rugged coastline and a stretch of protected beach that seemingly goes on forever. And the surfing here, particularly Playa Guiones, has some of the most reliable beach breaks in the country. It has become quite the surfing destination, which in turn has put Playa Nosara on the surfing map. Because the village of Nosara is located a few miles away, the beaches here are clean, isolated, and quiet. This area is popular with gringos, and they own most of the hotels and restaurants, so there isn’t a lot of Tico culture here, which I consider a drawback. Nosara is almost an entire community of foreigners, not almost, it is- Swiss, French, and of course, Americans.

Playa Pelada is a short white-sand beach with three deep scallops, backed by mangroves, and sea grasses, but the beach basically disappears during high tide, so get there early. There’s also some nice little tide pools at either end of the beach during low tide.

Playa Ostional is world famous among turtle lovers, and if you time your trip right, you may just see olive ridley sea turtles come ashore by the thousands in order to nest. This truly unbelievable event of mass egg-laying is a phenomenon known as an arribada. These arribadas take place 4 to 10 times between July and December. When the turtles aren’t here, you basically have the beach to yourself, but be careful of swimming, this place in known for riptides.

Nosara is accessed by taking the ferry from Tempisque Ferry across the Nicoya Peninsula and then drive for 2 hours until reaching Nosara. There is also a small airport.

You should know that this area is SPREAD out, and if you fly in, it can be cumbersome to get around without a vehicle. Just so you know.

Here’s a run-down of the surfing in and around the Nosara area. The best time to surf this here is Dec-April


This area receives consistent swells, good wind conditions and has become a popular spot for longboarders.


A beach break and a left reef that perform better on higher tides. There are many peaks with hollow, fast rights and lefts. The waves jack up off the sandbar creating a tough entry. On a large enough swell, try surfing at Playa Blanca directly in front of the Iguana Azul which offers double overhead epic lefts.

Playa Marbella

Located between Junquillal and Ostional, this is one of the area's most consistent breaks offering excellent conditions with the presence of offshore winds. No services.

Playa Ostional

Beach and reef break with rights and lefts that works on higher tides and south to southwest swells. Located north of Nosara.

Playa Nosara

Great beach break with peaks and shallow rock reef lefts that get barreling with a large south or southwest swell.

Playa Pelada

A rock reef on the north side which is best with a north swell at incoming high tide. Not very consistent and gets very crowded.

Playa Guiones

A beach break with a left point that works better at high tides and early in the morning. This area offers some of the most consistent year-round surf ranging from head-high to double overhead and much less crowded than the Tamarindo area.

Tortuga Island

A cruise to lovely Tortuga Island in the Gulf of Nicoya should be on any visitor to Costa Rica's 'must do' list. Humans don’t inhabit the island, and that’s ALWAYS a good thing. The beaches are pristine, the palm trees sway in the gentle ocean breeze, and if you had to be marooned on a desert island, Tortuga would be the best of a bad situation. Tortuga means turtle in Spanish, but you’re more likely to discover that many species of birds inhabit the island, far out numbering the turtles. The ideal tropical beach, Tortuga Island, Costa Rica is fast becoming one of the most visited locations in the country. Beautiful and undeveloped Tortuga Island is where you can swim, snorkel, play volleyball or just veg-out on the beautiful bright white sand, or you may even want to try a canopy tour.

Tortuga Island Costa Rica should be on any visitor to Costa Rica's 'must do' list.
Tortuga Island Costa Rica should be on any visitor to Costa Rica's 'must do' list.
Tortuga Island can only be reached by boat i.e., tour company. During the dry season (Dec.-April) and especially the weekends, it tends to be crowded since the island is enjoyed by tourists and local alike. But during the week, the peaceful beaches of Tortuga Island Costa Rica are a ‘must do’ for any visitor searching for the perfect tropical island getaway.

Nearly all of the tours headed for Tortuga Island Costa Rica are based out of San Jose. These full-day tours typically entail an early departure for the approximately 2 1/2-hour chartered bus ride to Puntarenas, where you board your vessel for a 1 1/2-hour leisurely cruise to Tortuga Island. You get several hours on the island and the tours usually include (but not always), continental breakfast, lunch and snorkel rentals. You can expect to pay around $100. per person.

Tortuga Island Costa Rica can also be reached from Puntarenas itself, and from the nearby docks of Montezuma and Tambor, which are much closer to Tortuga. These tours vary in travel time and length of stay on the island, but they are usually a fraction of the price as opposed to departing from San Jose. You can also find boats and tours companies (from Montezuma, Tambor, and Puntarenas) that offer fishing off the island and preparing the fish right on the beach at Tortuga for a spectacular and memorable lunch; also sunset cruises offering live music, snacks, bar, can also be arranged.

Traveling to the island itself can also be a treat, lucky visitors may spot the area’s little-seen whale sharks, who frequently hide out in the calm waters just outside Tortuga Island Costa Rica. Don’t worry about sharks, snorkeling and fishing is perfectly safe around the island and visitors will be treated to a wide variety of tropical fish beneath the ocean’s surface.

As if fishing, snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, relaxing weren’t enough, the island of Tortuga is a paradise, and exploration of the lush deciduous forest is also an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Tortuga Island Costa Rica is where Pura Vida was born.