Jutting into the Pacific Ocean, the Nicoya Peninsula offers first-rate, beautiful beaches. The Peninsula's jagged and mountainous landscape, in effect, isolates many of the region's small costal towns, strengthening their unique allure and authenticity. Indeed, the sleepy villages that dot Highway 21 perpetuate a compelling laidback attitude, contributing to this region's overall tranquil vibe.
The Nicoya Peninsula is full of natural beauty, and it maintains equally rich biodiversity. Dominated by mountainous terrain, the once volcanic landscape is now sheathed by dry and wet tropical forest. Wildlife lovers delight in what the Nicoya Region has to offer. Its national parks and reserves include: Barra Honda, Marino Las Baulas, Vida Silvestre Curu, and Cabo Blanco.
Tourists seeking the country's coveted coastal scenery also gravitate to the Nicoya Peninsula, where luminous sunlight smiles on the radiant ocean. Within the last decade, a construction boom, fueled by tourism and a high demand for property, has produced many foreigner-owned beachfront properties and businesses. Indeed, in some small towns, visitors may be pressed to find the local Costa Ricans.
The Nicoya Peninsula stretches south, from the beaches of Guanacaste to the top portion of Central Pacific coastline. The Gulf of Nicoya comprises a shallow water body between the peninsula and Costa Rica's mainland. Access to the region is made easy, thanks to the country's modern public transportation services. Almost all destinations are accessible by bus. Ferries from the town of Puntarenas provide transportation between the Peninsula and central mainland. Additionally, Liberia's Daniel Oduber International Airport and several small airstrips in Nosara and Carrillo bring many visitors within short traveling distance of their final destination.
The region's well-paved Highway 21 allows access to all of Nicoya's towns, resorts, beaches, national parks, and reserves. However, most roads leading from the highway to coastal villages are unpaved. Use of a four-wheel drive vehicle is often required, particularly during the rainy season. As a general rule when driving on the Nicoya Peninsula, roads get much worse the further south you travel. Torrential downpours, which have a tendency to wash away roads or simply make rivers of them, often obstruct journeys. Also, some of the region's rivers are still without a bridge, requiring cars to ford them. As hindering as this may seem, it is all part of the Nicoya experience and charm.
Gulf of Nicoya
The Gulf of Nicoya (Golfo de Nicoya) lies east of the peninsula. Once mountainous terrain, the Gulf is a fascinating example of Mother Nature at work. Thousands of years ago, a volcanic fault line plunged the land into the sea, and only hilltops remained to form the Gulf's many speckled islands. Today, the aquatic wonderland is a stunning combination of marine habitat and coastal wetlands, dotted by its numerous islands.
The Gulf is made-up of shallow, yet nutrient rich water. It is an ideal habitat for mangroves, a unique tree found that grows in saline conditions along the Gulf's coast. Extensive mangrove forests play an essential role in the Nicoya Peninsula's ecosystem, and consequently, they have been established as protected territory by the Costa Rican government. These contorted, unique mangrove forests create incredible biodiversity found in few places outside of Costa Rica.
In the lower Gulf, by contrast, mangroves and estuaries are less prevalent. The water is deeper, saltier, and devoid of bottom feeders. Fish are more abundant, and the few locals that inhabit gulf islands live largely where they can depend on sustenance from the sea.
Of all the gulf islands, the largest is Isla Chira. It forms a nesting site for many exotic maritime birds including Roseate Spoonbills and other Long-Legged Waders. Vast mangroves and large estuaries support the island's extensive wildlife. The area is certainly off the main drag for tourists, and it offers few accommodations.
The uninhabited Tortuga Islands receive the Gulf's most ecotourism visitors. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities around these islands. The shallow Gulf radiates a transparent aquamarine, ideal for exploring the natural world beneath the water's surface. Private tours of the islands can be arranged from the port-town of Puntarenas. In Puntarenas, large ferries also provide transportation to the southern Nicoya Peninsula, either to Naranjo Beach (Playa Naranjo) or the hamlet of Paquera.